Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Still missing: Daryl “Dice” Budenski of Northfield November 29, 2022

I photographed this missing person sign along a Northfield city street in August. Daryl “Dice” Budenski remains missing. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

IF YOU’VE EVER EXPERIENCED the panic of a loved one temporarily gone missing, then you hold insight into a loss that extends beyond minutes to hours to days, then weeks, months, years. That is reality for too many families across this country, including right here in Minnesota and right here in my county of Rice.

Slightly over a year ago, 71-year-old Daryl “Dice” Budenski vanished, last seen around 3:30 pm October 1, 2021, near Koester Apartments in Northfield. His baseball cap and money clip were found during subsequent searches, according to media reports. But nothing else. Dice, who has brown hair and brown eyes, stands 5-feet 9-inches tall and weighs 145 pounds, remains missing.

Photographed in the window of a downtown Northfield business several months after Daryl Budenski disappeared. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo February 2022)

Entering year two now of his disappearance, those who know and love Dice are resolute in their desire to bring him home. A Search for Daryl Budenski Facebook page centers those efforts. Missing persons signs are still posted in Northfield.

In a recent Facebook post, childhood friend David Johnson wrote the following poignant memory about Dice:

He was my first friend in 1955. Along with his brother Steve, we did everything together. Collected baseball cards, stamps and coins, rode bikes, attended church school, built snowforts…we ruled Division and Woodley Sts. He gave his best effort in High School sports and was a teammate of my first tournament softball win. A Northfield lifer, he loved his sports.

From David’s description, I can almost picture the two young boys racing their bikes through the neighborhood, rolling and hoisting gigantic snowballs into snow forts, huddling together over coveted baseball cards pulled from bubblegum packs. Because of David’s stories, I now feel an emotional connection to Dice (whom I don’t know). Dice is a friend. Dice is someone who loves sports. Dice is a part of the fabric of Northfield. He is rooted there. He is not just another missing person in Minnesota. He has a community of family. He is loved.

I read urgency, frustration, concern and more in the Facebook posts and comments all aimed at finding Dice. Those feelings are justified. Recently, $2,000 was raised through GoFundMe to place a memorial bench honoring Daryl “Dice” Budenski in downtown Northfield. That is telling. The initial hopeful mindset of finding Dice alive leans into bringing him home. What hasn’t changed is the depth of love and care so many hold for him.

IF YOU HAVE ANY INFORMATION on the disappearance of Daryl “Dice” Budenski or his where-abouts, contact the Northfield Police Department, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension or the nearest law enforcement agency.

I photographed this missing person bulletin posted in a Redwood Falls convenience store in 2018. Mato Dow was last seen on October 13, 2017, in Redwood Falls. If you know of his whereabouts or have any information related to his disappearance, contact the Redwood Falls Police Department. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2018)

CURRENTLY, 101 INDIVIDUALS are listed as missing on the Minnesota Missing and Unidentified Persons Clearinghouse website. That includes nine missing in southeastern Minnesota, from the communities of Owatonna, Janesville, Rochester, Wabasha, Winona, Hastings and Mankato. Daryl Budenski is not on that list. John Deeny has been missing the longest, disappearing from Janesville in March 1973. His current age is 69. The most recently listed in my area is Wendy Khan, gone missing from Mankato in June 2018. She is now 51. If you have any information on any of the 101 missing, please contact law enforcement.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Music, memories & a heartwarming moment November 17, 2022

This shows a portion of the recital program cover. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted & edited photo November 2022)

RECENTLY I ATTENDED a senior voice recital for a vocal music education major whom I cared for as a preschooler. His mom, my friend Jane, invited me. I was delighted to join the family in celebrating Nick’s musical accomplishments and those of another music student, Josie.

I didn’t know quite what to expect. I’ve never been to a senior voice recital at a college. And I haven’t seen Nick in a really long time. He and his family moved from southern Minnesota to Duluth when he was about four. Sure, I’ve seen the yearly Christmas photos. But that’s not the same as seeing someone in person after a significant time span.

When Nick walked onto the performance stage in that beautiful recital hall at St. Olaf College in Northfield, my jaw nearly dropped. The preschooler I remembered had stretched lean and tall. Yet the Nick I recalled was still there, just a grown-up version of himself.

Then, when Nick opened his mouth and a deep bass-baritone boomed, I experienced another jaw-dropping moment. There was no resemblance to the voice of the four-year-old who loved to sing pa-rum pum pum pum, repeating the refrain from “Little Drummer Boy” as he played on my living floor all those years ago. Yet, the same love of singing remained, now refined and flowing with ease from the depths of a young man clearly gifted in and passionate about music.

From my side seat, I had a good view of Nick and his mom, who never stopped smiling. It was such a joy to watch both of them and to hear “my” little boy, all grown up, performing with such skill, such talent, such grace and, occasionally, drama.

Afterwards, I approached Nick, realizing he wouldn’t recognize me. But, since he knew I was coming, he was prepared and wrapped me in a hug. It was a heartwarming moment, this embrace from the little boy who once held, and always will hold, a piece of my heart.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Why I thrift & some thrifting finds November 2, 2022

Vintage glasses found in a Northfield thrift store, Used-A-Bit Shoppe. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

VIA UPBRINGING AND FINANCIAL NECESSITY, I am a thrifter. I believe in recycling, reusing, repurposing, upcycling, whatever term you peg to using that which has already been used.

Thrifting is a great way to find affordable art. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

As a child, I occasionally wore clothes stitched from feed sacks. Or maybe they were flour sacks. Doesn’t matter. The point is that farm women like my mom were innovative in crafting clothing for their children. Clothes were passed down from oldest to youngest (ask my sister how much she “hated” my hand-me-downs), from cousins to cousins. Store-bought clothes were always selected from the sales rack.

Furniture crams a space at Used-A-Bit Shoppe in Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Throughout my entire life I’ve held that perspective of passing along, of not needing new. My first furniture—a worn green arm chair and sofa from the 1950s—in my first apartment came from my parents’ living room. My waterfall desk and kitchen table and chairs came from my maternal Grandpa, chest of drawers from my childhood bedroom. My coffee table was a wooden crate that once held newsprint or some print-related part from Crow River Press, the Hutchinson press that printed The Gaylord Hub, my first place of employment out of college.

These colorful plates caught my eye. Dinnerware is always in stock at thrift shops and garage sales. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Into marriage and child-rearing, I purchased used. Baby equipment and kids’ clothes came from garage sales. Likewise I’ve amassed a vast collection of original art from thrift shops, rummage sales and recycled art sales. Furniture passed down from family or acquired at garage sales or auctions defines most of the furniture in my house. Even today. My dishes are the indestructible Spring Blossom Green Corelle dinnerware, once my mom’s company dishes, now my everyday dinnerware.

An overview of used merchandise in the households section of Used-A-Bit Shoppe, Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I’m pleased that items made decades ago continue to function in my home. I feel no need to update. Old is often constructed better than new. Old often holds memories, too. That matters.

A sandwich board outside Used-A-Bit Shoppe, River Park Mall, Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Even though I’m at that age when I no longer want more stuff, that doesn’t keep me from occasional thrift shopping. That differs from thrift purchasing. If I notice a garage sale while out and about, I’ll stop. The same goes for thrift stores like Used-A-Bit Shoppe in Northfield. Recently I popped into the shoppe in the River Park Mall. Housed in two separate spaces, one area features furniture and the other a mix of glassware, dinnerware, home décor, collectibles, puzzles, books, linens, toys and much much more. Proceeds from the volunteer-run nonprofit benefit FiftyNorth, a gathering place for older adults (and a whole lot more).

Smiley faces were popular when I was a teen in the 1970s. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Each time I meander through a thrift store, I find goods that draw me close. Something will trigger a memory, evoke a feeling, catch my eye. On this visit, a smiley face bowl took me back to the 1970s when sunny yellow smiling faces were everywhere. I even had a smiley face bulletin board in my lime green bedroom.

One of several quilt blocks, some finished, others not. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2022)

I delight, too, in art and vintage glassware. When a Used-A-Bit volunteer showed me a stash of finished and unfinished quilt blocks, I paused to appreciate the handiwork and consider the woman who stitched them. I wondered why anyone would give up this connection to a loved one. We all have our reasons for letting go.

A colorful beverage cart from Costa Rica. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

The furniture side of the shoppe, where I last purchased a framed vintage print of University Hall at Purdue for my son, a graduate student there, presented the most unusual finds of the day. A colorful ox cart/beverage cart from Costa Rica is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I could envision this reused in some utilitarian, fun way. On a patio. At a restaurant. In another shop.

This image shows the size of the 1968 world wall map. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

But the show-stopper of my Northfield thrift shopping was a pull-down 1968 world map. That massive map took me straight back to Vesta Elementary School, to the maps teachers unfurled to open our minds to places beyond the farm fields of southwestern Minnesota. Priced at only $75, I considered the vintage map a work of art, a piece of history, a memory-keeper.

Interesting artsy vessels at Used-A-Bit Shoppe. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Colorful kids’ chairs just waiting for the right buyer at Used-A-Bit. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

An artsy vase… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

There’s so much to be found when thrifting. Art. History. Enough to furnish a home. Entertainment. Memories. And in the all of it, this recycling of goods benefits our planet by keeping stuff out of landfills.

The 1968 world wall map up close. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

TELL ME: Are you a thrifter? If yes, where do you thrift and what are some of your most treasured finds?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

About recycling, a hard truth & what we can do October 27, 2022

A graphic on a recycling dumpster in Northfield inspires. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

JUST INSIDE OUR GARAGE, a green plastic tote rests on a shelf. It’s located a few quick steps from the kitchen door, providing easy access to our temporary recycling box. Once the box fills, Randy dumps the contents into the official hideous dark-blue-with-bright-yellow-lid plastic recycling bin. Every other week the refuse hauler picks up our recyclables for delivery to the Rice County Recycling Center.

The City of Northfield “Youth Live Green Recycling Team” program aims to get youth involved in recycling corrugated cardboard. Participating groups get monetary funds for monitoring the public recycling containers, keeping the area clean and informing the public about cardboard recycling. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Now I should feel mostly good about that, right? I’m placing milk jugs and other plastics, cans, newspapers, envelopes, an excessive amount of campaign mailings, other paper products and more into recycling. I’m doing my part to keep stuff out of the landfill, to protect the environment.

Rules on a recycling container in Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

But when it comes to plastic, most of my efforts may be for naught, according to a recent report by the environmental education and awareness group Greenpeace. The nonprofit shared that less than five percent of recycled plastics are made into new products. Why? Simply put, it’s costly to collect and sort the plastics. I’m not surprised by that explanation. Money factors into most business decisions.

Youth and adults painted a mural on Just Food Co-op, Northfield. Among the themes, Mother Earth. Rice County Neighbors United led the grant-funded project. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Yet, I’ll continue to recycle and hope for an environmentally-friendly shift in attitudes on both consumer and corporate levels. We as consumers need to consciously choose non-plastics. I’m as guilty as anyone else in not thinking often enough about what I personally can do to reduce my use of plastics, focusing on reduce before I focus on recycle.

Mother Earth in progress on the Just Food Co-op mural. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

What am I doing right? This has nothing to do with plastic, but rather with reducing energy use. I either line dry my laundry outdoors or indoors on drying racks, with the exception of sheets and towels in the brutal cold of winter. Come a 40-degree sunny January day, though, and you will find my laundry on the line, snow layering the ground.

Mother Earth a month later. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I also buy used. And I donate or give away—rather than toss—items I no longer need. The boulevard along our busy street has proven an ideal location to give away a swing set, bookcase, headboard, recliner and much more. Recently Randy and I hauled several purple dove tail drawers from a vintage school art table to a downtown shop, Lily of the Valley. The owner sells repurposed furniture, gifts, clothing and more in her boutique and I figured she could use the drawers to display merchandise or come up with some other creative use. We kept the maple top to possibly reuse ourselves.

Then there’s our yard. We live in a city with a compost center, a place to haul leaves and plants that are composted, basically recycled back into a nutrient-rich natural fertilizer for flowerbeds and gardens. This time of year we make multiple trips to the compost site to dump off mulched leaves fallen from the single tree on our property and from neighborhood trees. I feel good that we are keeping yard waste out of the landfill. I use some of the leaves as winter mulch for my flowerbeds.

A shopper rolls out her cart of purchases in reusable bags. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Sometimes I use cloth tote bags while grocery shopping, but sometimes I don’t. I could do better.

Northfield’s recycling containers are outside two grocery stores. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

My efforts may not seem like much in the all of the environment. Yet, I know the recycling, the reusing, the things I do matter. What you do matters. Together we can make a difference by our choices.

TELL ME: Do you recycle? I’d like to hear more about your efforts to protect the environment.

FYI: To read the Greenpeace report on plastic recycling, click here.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Shifting seasons October 18, 2022

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Trees were ablaze at the end of September in Northfield’s Bridge Square. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

FRIDAY MORNING BROUGHT the first snow flurries of the season to southern Minnesota. Not enough snow to stick to the ground here in Faribault, but in other parts of the state flakes accumulated.

Seasonal displays drew my eye to this floral shop on a corner in downtown Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

We are in the time of transition, shifting from autumn toward winter. One day the sun shines bright on trees still ablaze in color and temps feel comfortable. Other days, grey clouds blanket the sky, blocking the sun, with winter attire needed outdoors.

Inside Used-A-Bit Shoppe, glassware in a seasonal hue. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

In these waning days of autumn, I am reminded of how much I love this season—for the colors, the mostly moderate temps, the scent, the feel, the gathering in. It’s as if we Minnesotans recognize that every single gloriously sunny day needs to be celebrated, to be photographed in our memories, to be pulled out when winter days draw us in.

Biking across a bridge over the Cannon by Bridge Square. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

A few weeks ago I was in neighboring Northfield, about a 20-minute drive away. This art-strong historic college town along the Cannon River presented scenes that hold the essence of the season. From colorful trees to blooming flowers to seasonal displays, the visuals of autumn unfolded before me.

Outside Just Food Co-op. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

People were out and about. Dipping into Just Food Co-op. Shopping at the thrift store. Sitting on a park bench waiting to share a faith message. Walking a dog. Biking across a bridge spanning the river.

Fallen leaves add interest to the Arb creek. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I felt no hurry, only an appreciation for the day, time to meander while waiting for Randy to complete an appointment. Afterwards we headed to Cowling Arboretum for a short walk and an engaging conversation with another hiker. It was one of those chance encounters that left me feeling uplifted, encouraged, blessed.

Coneflowers flourish at Cowling Arboretum. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Wild grapes. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Wildflowers thrive in the sunshine along the Cannon River at Cowling Arboretum. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

As I immersed myself in nature on that final day of September, I noticed wildflowers in bloom, leaves floating in the creek, the curve of grapevines, the hint of color in a few trees. If I was to revisit the Arb today, I would surely view a different scene. Each day moves us nearer, oh, so much closer, to winter.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflections on harvest from fields to art October 13, 2022

Harvesting, left, in a field along a gravel road near Dundas. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

DUST HANGS OVER THE LANDSCAPE like smoke. Hazy. The air dirty with debris kicked up by combines sweeping across corn and soybean fields in southern Minnesota. Harvest is well underway here as farmers bring in the season’s crops.

Trucks haul harvested crops from fields to bins and/or grain elevators. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

From back country gravel roads to the interstate, I’ve witnessed this scene unfolding before me in recent weeks. Combines chomping. Harvested corn and beans spilling into grain trucks.

Harvesting beans. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2022)

Farmers work all hours of the day and night in the rush to finish gathering crops before winter arrives. In the dark of night, bright headlights spotlight fields. In daylight, sunlight filters through clouds of dust.

A grain truck pulls into a farmer’s grain drying and storage complex. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Harvest is part of my DNA by having been raised on a southwestern Minnesota crop and dairy farm. Decades removed from the land, I still take notice of the harvest. The smell. The hues. The hurry. I understand this season in rural Minnesota.

“Harvest” by Raymond Jacobson. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

In nearby Northfield, I recently happened upon a bronze sculpture, “Harvest,” which had gone unnoticed by me. It’s been there since 2008 at Sesquicentennial Legacy Plaza along the Cannon River, near the post office, near Bridge Square. In all my visits to Northfield, to the Riverwalk area, I missed this public art created by Raymond Jacobson.

Close-up details of the wheat incorporated into “Harvest.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

The historic Ames Mill along the Cannon River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

An interpretation of a stone grist mill for grinding wheat into flour is included in the sculpture. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

It’s beautiful, fitting for a community rooted in agriculture. The 3,000-pound sculpture symbolizes Northfield’s heritage of wheat farming and milling. Just across the river sits the Ames Mill, where the gristmill in the late 1860s produced 150 barrels of wheat daily.

Malt-O-Meal was a major funder for the sculpture. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

In 1927, John Campbell of the Campbell Cereal Company took over the mill and began producing Malt-O-Meal hot cereal. Today Post Consumer Brands owns the mill and still makes that hot cereal. Dry cereal is manufactured at a nearby production facility. Many days the scent of cereal wafts over Northfield.

Harvested wheat and a plowed field cast into bronze. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

All of this—the smell of cereal, the “Harvest” sculpture, the historic Ames Mill—reminds me of the importance of agriculture in our region. It reminds me, too, of my rural roots. I am grateful for my farm upbringing. I am grateful, too, for those who today plant, tend and harvest crops. They are essential to our economy, feeding the world, providing raw product.

Wheat stalk details on an informational plaque which is nearly impossible to read due to weathering of the writing. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

That this season of harvest is honored in a “Harvest” sculpture shows a deep appreciation for history, heritage and agriculture in Northfield. The public art gives me pause to reflect on inspiration in creativity. Today I celebrate the artistic interpretation of harvest displayed along the banks of the Cannon River.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

So much to do this weekend in the Faribault area September 16, 2022

Performers at the 2019 Hispanic Heritage Celebration in Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2019)

IF EVER THERE WAS A WEEKEND packed with community activities, especially in Faribault, this is the weekend. Here’s a summary list of events, most of which I’ve attended through the years.

Let’s start with Friday, September 16:

The artsy front of a Ford Torino at a past car show. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

The final Faribault Car Cruise Night of the season takes place from 6 – 9 pm in the parking lot of Faribault Harley-Davidson. Besides vintage vehicles, there will also be food vendors and music.

Moving to Saturday, September 17:

Goats were a popular draw at Family Day in 2019. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2019)

Start out early by shopping the Faribault Farmers’ Market, which opens at 7 am in Central Park and closes at noon. But this isn’t any ordinary market day. This is Family Day with farm animals, a bounce house and more for kids. That starts at 9 am and continues til noon.

Flea market vendors set up shop on the grounds of the Rice County Historical Society during a past market. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Blocks away to the north, the Rice County Historical Society hosts its popular Fall Flea Market from 8 am – 2 pm in the parking lot and on the grounds.

At 11 am, until 2 pm, Harry Brown’s is hosting a Car Show at the fairgrounds.

Riding her Harley during a June 2020 Car Cruise Night. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo June 2020)

Meanwhile, way across town, Faribault Harley-Davidson celebrates an Anniversary Bash from 9 am – 10 pm as the motorcycle dealer marks 45 years in business. There will be a bike show and ride, music and food vendors.

At Divine Mercy Catholic Church on the south edge of Faribault, folks will gather from 4 – 9 pm for the annual Spirit Fest. That features food, music, an auction, bake sale, hay maze, drive-in movie, fireworks and much more.

Out-of-town events on Saturday, September 17:

The Montgomery Arts & Heritage Center, 206 First Street North on the north end of downtown. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2020)

The Arts & Heritage Center of Montgomery has a morning full of activities that include a book-signing by Barbara Marshak of New Prague, author of Painted Skies, beginning at 10 am. Sister Anita Smisek presents on “Minnesota’s Big Woods Musicians” at 11 am. Guests can also view the work of wildlife artist Tom Miller, current exhibitor, and see the Czech dancer topiaries created by Meghan Petricka. The arts center opens at 9 am and closes at noon.

Dancers perform at the 2019 Hispanic Heritage Celebration. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2019)

From 11 am – 6 pm at Central Park in Northfield, Hispanic Heritage Celebration 2022 is happening. That event features food vendors, arts and crafts activities, dance and art, all themed to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.

One more nearby event, on Sunday, September 18:

Wagon rides are part of the country social. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

The Valley Grove Preservation Society hosts the Valley Grove Country Social from 1 – 4 pm at its hilltop location near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. This is the site of two historic churches. The event includes an organ recital at 2 pm, Scandinavian music performed outdoors, prairie and cemetery walks, horse-drawn wagon rides, rope-making and more.

There you go. Rain, unfortunately, or fortunately since we need moisture, is in the forecast for Friday and Saturday…

For detailed information on all of these events, please search online.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Loving home-grown ice cream shops like The Blast September 14, 2022

A sign points to the Blast’s location in downtown Northfield, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

THERE’S STILL TIME. Still time to indulge in a sweet treat before winter closes in and home-grown ice cream shops shutter for the season here in Minnesota.

The Blast walk-up window is located at the end of the “tunnel” to the left. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

On an August weekday afternoon in Northfield, Randy and I popped into The Blast, an ice cream shop in an out-of-the-way spot just west of the library, off Division Street and down the sidewalk toward the Cannon River. The walk-up window is located inside a “tunnel” wedged between buildings and labeled “The Nutting Block, Est. 1893.”

A steady flow of customers kept this employee busy taking ice cream orders. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

We happened upon this business a previous summer Saturday, but left after seeing the lengthy line of customers. This time, on a Wednesday, there was no waiting. Rather, the friendly teen behind the window waited patiently for us to choose from a wide array of treats.

A Red Raspberry Sundae. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

I opted for the limited specialty Puppy Chow Flurry while Randy chose a Red Raspberry Sundae. Puppy Chow is a snack made from Chex cereal covered first in melted chocolate and peanut butter, then coated in powdered sugar.

Lots of choices at The Blast. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Selections at The Blast are vast and deciding isn’t easy when the choices in smoothies, slushies, shakes, malts, floats, frosties, flurries, sundaes and cones seem nearly endless.

A group orders ice cream treats on an August weekday afternoon. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

We both enjoyed our soft-serve ice cream treats at a riverside picnic table on a perfect summer day. There’s something about summer and ice cream that go together, especially soft-serve ordered at a walk-up window.

Through the order window, I spotted this portrait. Anna drew multiple portraits and hid them around the shop, her co-worker told me. A fun discovery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

The Blast has adjusted hours now that school is back in session and days are shorter. Current hours are 3:15 – 8 pm Monday – Friday and 11 am – 8 pm Saturday and Sunday.

As soon as I saw this sign, I knew I would order the Puppy Chow Flurry. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

As with the limited edition Puppy Chow Flurry, The Blast continues to offer seasonal or limited edition specialty flavors. Like the current pumpkin spice and apple crisp, oh, so fitting for fall in Minnesota. This time of year we crave those flavors.

The Puppy Chow Flurry. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

My appreciation for home-grown ice cream shops with creative offerings runs deep. I’m all in when it comes to trying something new, something different, something decidedly cold and yummy and all about summer here in southern Minnesota.

This sandwich board sign along Division Street directs customers down the sidewalk toward the river, to The Blast. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

TELL ME: Do you have a favorite home-grown ice cream shop? What’s your ice cream treat of choice? The Blast also has a location in Owatonna, where I’ve found another terrific ice cream place, The S’Cream.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The poetry of the Cannon River in Northfield September 13, 2022

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A portion of the Poem Steps descending to the River Walk in Northfield, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

WELCOME TO THE RIVER starry-eyed…

The historic Ames Mill, on the far side of the bridge, hugs the Cannon River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

Thus begins a poem authored by 17 Northfield area poets and gracing steps leading to the River Walk in the heart of this historic southeastern Minnesota community.

The backs of buildings along the river. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

Like the poets drawn to the river to create these inspirational Poem Steps, I, too, feel drawn to the river that runs through Northfield. Every time I’m downtown, I aim first for the path that traces the Cannon River behind the mostly aged buildings lining Division Street.

A section of the river-themed poem up close. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

There’s something simply magnetic about a river. Listen to the words of these speaking waters. I can almost hear the stories—of the Indigenous Peoples, here first, of the settlers who followed and harnessed the water to mill flour, of the poets and others who today listen to these speaking waters.

Flowers fill planters on a riverside balcony. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

The Cannon in Northfield, as it has for generations, brings people to water’s edge. To angle for fish, to dine, to gather as community, to celebrate the arts, to simply be in the river’s presence.

A flower-edged pedestrian bridge spans the Cannon River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

I appreciate how this community recognizes the historic, poetic and natural beauty of the river and shares that via the River Walk. It’s such a beautiful walk, beauty enhanced by potted flowers and hanging baskets that jolt vibrant hues into the landscape. A pedestrian bridge provides a middle-of-the-river perspective.

Lush flowers spill from a planter on the River Walk. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

Listen. The river tells us where it needs to go.

Historic buildings define downtown Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

And so I follow the river path, then loop up to the fronts of businesses along Division Street. Yet, the essence of the river remains, her poetry inspiring me.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

So much to appreciate about Northfield’s Bridge Square September 7, 2022

An overview of Bridge Square looking toward Division Street. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

BRIDGE SQUARE IN THE HEART of historic downtown Northfield holds a yesteryear appeal as a long-time community gathering spot along the Cannon River. Today its purpose remains as relevant as ever. I’ve observed festivals and concerts here, focused events like Earth Day and the Riverwalk Market Fair, read poetry here, heard music, watched college students chalk messages onto concrete. Individuals, too, pause here to enjoy the fountain sculpture and other art, to picnic, to simply embrace this beautiful spot.

A banner in downtown Northfield promotes the community’s annual celebration. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

This park centers Northfield, home to many home-grown shops and eateries and best-known perhaps for the September 7, 1876, attempted robbery of the First National Bank by the James-Younger Gang. This week Northfield honors the long ago townspeople and a heroic bank cashier who stood up to the outlaws. The town will buzz with activities and people, all here to celebrate Defeat of Jesse James Days. That runs September 7-11.

The Northfield Historical Society by Bridge Square once housed the First National Bank. The bank entry is around the corner and not shown here. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Weeks before this event I was in Northfield, first touring the Northfield Cemetery to view the gravesites of bank employee Joseph Lee Heywood and Swedish immigrant Nicolaus Gustafson, both shot and killed by the outlaws. Gustafson, at the time of the raid, was vending vegetables in, I believe, current day Bridge Square. The First National Bank is located around the corner.

The popcorn wagon has set up in Bridge Square since the 1970s. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Popcorn boxes lined up in the wagon. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

The popcorn wagon brings back memories of Vern’s Popcorn Stand in my hometown of Vesta. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

My focus on that afternoon was not on the historic robbery, but rather on Bridge Square. I noticed first the 1918 popcorn wagon which is open from mid-May to mid-September and operated by FiftyNorth, the local center for seniors. It was closed when I was there. But I could imagine the sound of popping kernels, the scent, the taste of buttery popcorn scooped into boxes. There’s something about a popcorn stand that hearkens to bygone days.

“How much for that doggie in the window?” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

And there’s something about an old-time barbershop such as Bridge Square Barbers with a barbershop pole and then, bonus, a doggie in the window. I spotted the dog lying on a fleece bed in a corner. Seemingly content, only lifting his head when I approached for a close-up photo.

Love this barbershop dog photographed through the window. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Earlier this year a sign in that barbershop window prompted me to write a story, “Barbershop Prompt,” which I submitted to a writing competition. My story earned second place in creative nonfiction and will publish in volume 31 of The Talking Stick, a northern Minnesota-based anthology. I also earned an honorable mention in fiction. Once the book publishes, I’ll share more.

Beautiful flowers circle an art installation in Bridge Square near the Cannon River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

I also took in the art of Bridge Square. Northfield is big on the arts with an Artists on Main Street program, sidewalk poetry and other art installations in addition to the performing arts.

The historic Ames Mill sits along the Cannon River. Originally a flour mill, the mill later was used to produce Malt-O-Meal hot cereals and is today owned by Post Consumer Brands. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

And then there’s the history. Aged buildings like the riverside Ames Mill. The river running through is a real asset to the downtown, especially with a river walk behind buildings hugging Division Street.

Detailed top of the art installation. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

At the heart of all of it is Bridge Square—a place which melds history and art, land and sky and river, commerce and individuality. Most importantly, the village square brings peoples together to converse, to celebrate, to honor, to discuss, to disagree, to buy popcorn from the popcorn wagon, to simply be.

Bird in flight in the Bridge Square sculpture. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

TELL ME: Does your community have an outdoor gathering spot like Bridge Square?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling