Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

This has to stop, these shootings July 19, 2017

Positive words posted near a garden in the heart of downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

SOMETIMES I COME across an article and accompanying video so profound that I am moved not to tears, but to sobbing.

Often I read those stories in Minnesota Public Radio blogger Bob Collins’ NewsCut column. He rates as one of my favorite writers for his ability to ferret out those stories that touch human emotions. You won’t necessarily see top news stories of the day featured online in NewsCut. But you will read stories that are deeply human, that elicit thought and emotions.

Sometimes Bob makes me laugh. Sometimes cry. Sometimes shake my head. And, almost always, he makes me think. His stories prompt plenty of reader interaction. Whether I agree with comments or not, I always find them interesting.

On Monday Bob published a story and linked to a video in a piece titled A wellness check by police ends with a son dead. The headline grabbed my attention. But it was the video of a grieving father that twisted my gut and made me cry in the deep sort of painful way that heaves your shoulders and unleashes primeval wailing.

In summary, the Massachusetts man’s 26-year-old son, despondent over a break-up with his girlfriend, holed himself up in his room with his dog and a gun. Police were called as was the SWAT Team. The parents were ushered from their home, the father pleading with police to just let his son sleep and to not over-react. I would encourage you to read the entire story and watch the video by clicking here.

 

I purchased this retro tray at an antique/vintage shop in St. Charles for its simple message. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Admittedly, I came to this story with emotions on edge after the police shooting of Justine Damond, 40, in an affluent south Minneapolis neighborhood late Saturday evening. She called 911 to report a suspected assault in an alley by her home, her family says. The death of this Australian woman, who moved to Minnesota several years ago to be nearer her fiance’, has triggered outrage and world-wide attention. And rightly so. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is now investigating the shooting of the unarmed, pajama clad Justine. Few details have been released. The police officer who shot Justine in the abdomen has thus far refused to be interviewed. Justine’s death continues to top the news in Twin Cities media.

Nearly every evening I turn on the 10 o’clock TV news to hear of another shooting in the Twin Cities. A drive-by, a targeted victim, a domestic and, yes, more and more, a fatal shooting by a police officer.

All of this leaves me wondering. Why? Why so much gun violence? Why the increase in fatal shootings by law enforcement officers?

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

Repeatedly, I hear of the need for more officer training. A recently-passed Minnesota state law requires police officers to receive specialized de-escalation, mental health and implicit bias training beginning in July 2018. In my county, that training is already happening and may have factored into a positive outcome for a 61-year-old local man who last week threatened suicide. He survived his crisis when police responded.

With increased societal awareness and openness, we’re seeing an attitude shift in handling of suicide threats and other mental health related calls to police like the one in Massachusetts. Common sense should tell you not to roll in with an excessive show of force and upset an already struggling individual. Lights, sound, action may work in Hollywood, but not necessarily in reality.

 

Sidewalk poetry in downtown Northfield, Minnesota, carries a powerful message. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

 

We can choose to remain calm, to listen to one another, to be compassionate and caring, whether we are a neighbor, a family member, a police officer or a stranger. I know that’s not always easy in a fluid and tense situation.

But something has to change. Too many people are dying due to gun violence in their homes, in alleys, along city streets, on sidewalks…from Minnesota to Massachusetts.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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About those dirty hands July 1, 2017

My husband enjoys his cheeseburger at the 2016 North Morristown Fourth of July celebration. This photo and a comment on it prompted this post. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2016.

 

I FEEL THE NEED to defend my husband. And if I was on Facebook, I’d go directly to the source of an uninformed and hurtful comment about a photo I took of Randy’s hands while he was eating a cheeseburger at the 2016 North Morristown Fourth of July celebration.

The commenter wrote that she would not eat a burger “with those dirty hands/fingernails. Yikes.”

 

My husband at work in the automotive machine shop where he is employed as the sole employee. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2013.

 

I take issue with that. Randy is an automotive machinist and has been for about 40 years. He works in a dirty environment on heads, blocks, brake rotors, flywheels and more that are oily, greasy, filthy—whatever word you choose to define the grime he touches.

 

 

His hardworking hands are permanently imprinted with the residue of his labor. He washes his hands multiple times daily. Removing every trace of grease would be nearly impossible. It’s not like he’s coming to the table with hands just pulled from some project. They are as clean as he can get them without extensive scrubbing. To suggest otherwise is just plain wrong.

 

Just one example of all the work that awaits my husband in the NAPA automotive machine shop. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2013.

 

I’ve often felt that blue collar employees don’t get the respect they deserve. Randy is good at what he does. Really good. His skilled work is in high demand. Always. Few people do what he does. His skills are advanced beyond basic garage mechanics to precision automotive machining. He repairs everything from cars to vans, trucks, semis, forklifts, snowmobiles, motorcycles, tractors and more.

Randy holds an incredibly strong work ethic. I keep telling him that, at his age of 60, he doesn’t need to work so hard and long. He stopped working Saturdays only a few years ago, often puts in 9-hour plus days and, up until this summer, received only 10 vacation days annually. But he continues to work hard because he feels an obligation to his customers, the people depending on him to get their cars back on the road, their tractors in the field, their boats on the water.

I admire his dedication. And I recognize those “dirty hands/fingernails” as those of a man who is not always appreciated as he should be. Without hands-on skilled tradesmen and women, this country could not function. Randy may not have a four-year college degree, but that does not make him or his work any less important than that of a college grad.

 

Randy’s toolbox. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2013.

 

I realize I’m getting a tad off topic here. But I grow weary of a society that generally places a higher value on white collar workers. Fresh out of college, our son, now 23, started a job in the tech field at a salary more than double his dad’s pay and with much better benefits. We always want our kids to do better than us. That is a good thing. But this personal example within our family shows the disparity between blue and white collar workers and the minimal value placed on 40 years of experience and those without a four-year degree.

 

Randy enjoys a BBQ pork sandwich and a beer at the 2013 North Morristown July Fourth celebration. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2013.

 

So, yeah, criticize my husband’s hands and you will hear from me. His are the hands of a man who has worked in his field for about four decades. His are the hands of hard work and dedication. His are not unwashed hands holding a burger.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

How we can become better at caring for others June 26, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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Perhaps we could learn something from owls, who have a superb sense of hearing. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Perhaps we could learn something from owls, who have a superb sense of hearing. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU. How often have you thought that and wanted to tell someone:

This is not about your challenge or difficulty. This is about me, what I’m dealing with right now.

Me. See, the person you’re looking at, the person standing right in front of you, the person emailing you, the person calling you, the person you think you’re trying to help. But you’re not. You’ve shifted the focus to yourself. You.

This is not about you, your personal experience projected onto mine or the impact of my situation on you. This is about me. While I empathize that you, too, have dealt with your share of difficulties, now is not the time to talk about them. I don’t need that kind of “help.” I just need you to listen, to hold the unsolicited advice, to encourage, to simply be there. I don’t need to hear your story.

Because I strive for kindness, I usually hold those thoughts inside.

I’m not a self-centered person. In my life, I strive to be compassionate and caring. Like everyone, though, I fail at times.

But I am convinced that, with some effort, all of us can become better at caring for one another. And that begins with listening. I direct you to one of the best articles I’ve read on the topic:

http://articles.latimes.com/2013/apr/07/opinion/la-oe-0407-silk-ring-theory-20130407

It comes from a 2013 op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times by Susan Silk, a clinical psychologist, and by Barry Goldman, an arbitrator, mediator and author. Titled “How not to say the wrong thing,” this article is a must-read for everyone. It may change the way you approach family and friends who are dealing with health issues, challenges, difficulties. The authors emphasize listening, really listening, and focusing not on yourself but rather the individual in need.

Please read the article and then share your thoughts.

TELL ME:  How do you help friends, family and others through difficulties in life? How have you been helped? Let’s learn from one another.

FYI: Please note that my thoughts here come not only from personal experiences, but also from my observations of others.  So when I use the words “I” and “me,” I’m referencing more than myself. I am grateful for the many genuinely loving and caring people in my life who truly know how to listen.

(H/T Hope Center Facebook page)

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Tax March in Hudson, Wisconsin April 15, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:48 PM
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WALKING FROM A CITY PARKING lot late this morning toward Hudson, Wisconsin’s main street, I heard the chant of voices. While I didn’t understand them—I have a hearing loss—the message was clear in the signs protesters carried. They wanted President Donald Trump to release his tax returns.

 

 

Whether you agree or disagree with their stand matters not to me. What matters most to me is that we live in a country where we are free to march with signs along a city street on a Saturday morning to express our opinions in a peaceful way.

 

 

This group was respectful and orderly. They joined demonstrators from across the country today in demanding that Trump release his tax information.

 

 

 

 

Their message actually surprised me given I knew nothing of the planned nationwide Tax March. I expected the demonstrators’ signs to be in protest of recent military action. Perhaps that is coming…

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

And the Pulitzer Prize goes to… an editor in rural Iowa April 13, 2017

Art Cullen is in the center of this photo on The Storm Lake Times website. That’s his brother to the right, his son to the left.

 

HE BEAT OUT WRITERS from the Houston Chronicle and The Washington Post.

He is Art Cullen, 59-year-old editor of The Storm Lake Times. On Monday he won the Pulitzer Prize in editorial writing “for editorials fueled by tenacious reporting, impressive expertise and engaging writing that successfully challenged powerful corporate agricultural interests in Iowa.”

 

A farm site just across the Minnesota-Iowa border on the west side of Interstate 35. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

That’s right. Rural Iowa. The state that welcomes visitors to “Fields of Opportunities.” The land of corn and beans and hogs. I like Iowa, just an hour south of my Minnesota home. It reminds me of my native rural southwestern Minnesota with fields, farm sites, small towns and wide open spaces.

That a writer from a northwestern Iowa community of around 10,000, from a newspaper with a circulation of 3,000, won the Pulitzer Prize delights me. You don’t need to be big city famous or work for some well-known newspaper to be recognized and honored. You just need to do outstanding work. It’s not easy being a journalist in a small town. I remember. I worked as a reporter, photographer and more at Minnesota weeklies and dailies decades ago.

To take a strong stand on the editorial page like Cullen did against corporate ag takes guts. And a deep understanding that the editorial page is the heart of the newspaper. As a journalism student at Minnesota State University, Mankato, in the late 1970s, I heard repeatedly that message of editorial importance. It ranked right up there with the basics of reporting—who, what, when, where, why and how.

 

Small farming communities define Iowa. This is downtown Garner, just across the Minnesota/Iowa border. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Cullen clearly understands community journalism and the accompanying responsibilities of a strong editorial voice no matter the risks. And there are risks—financial and otherwise. Express an unpopular opinion and you risk raising the ire of advertisers, subscribers and others. Read a sampling of Cullen’s editorials, and you begin to understand why he won the Pulitzer Prize. Here’s a man determined to consider the facts and then offer his common sense opinion.

I doubt Cullen’s new-found fame as a Pulitzer Prize winner will change how he approaches his job at The Storm Lake Times, a newspaper he co-owns with his brother and where his wife and son also work. I expect he will continue to work with the enthusiasm of a man passionate about community journalism. I appreciate that family-run newspapers like his still exist in an age when too many towns/cities have lost their hometown papers to newspaper chains. When that local ownership is lost, quality and quantity of local coverage usually diminishes.

The Storm Lake Times remains undeniably local. Alongside a photo and headline announcing the Pulitzer Prize are stories about a cat sanctuary, a second grader finding a four-leaf clover and a popular area fishing spot. It doesn’t get much more down-to-earth rural, more “this is still life in Iowa even when you win the Pulitzer Prize” than that.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Symbolism from the banks of the North Branch of the Zumbro River December 1, 2016

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THE NORTH BRANCH of the Zumbro River ripples Hamm’s beer Land of Sky Blue Waters blue toward Pine Island Trailhead Park.

 

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Through bare branched trees, sunlight flashes diamonds across the water’s surface.

 

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Light and darkness. Darkness and light. Intertwined, like good and evil.

 

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Farther down, as the river bends, I stand on the trail head bridge appreciating water so clear I can see the sandy, pebbly bottom. Sand sculpted by water. A bird’s footprint. Clarity. If only life was so simple, so clear, so still. Free of that which pollutes.

 

zumbro-river-228-vacant-bridge

 

I turn my attention momentarily away from the water to lines that shadow across the bridge deck. Lines like bars run the length of the pathway. So symbolic. Bars. They hold people in. They keep people safe. Yet they don’t when the system fails.

 

zumbro-river-221-randy-on-bridge

 

I peer through the bars that stop me from tumbling into the shallow water far below. Falling, falling, falling.

 

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Between the bars, I see my mini shadow and that of my husband. Shadows so near the water’s edge I fear they may fall in.

 

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The snake of the Zumbro slithers by, curving away until I can no longer see what lies beyond the bend. Beyond today.

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Note: I took these photos in October.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Voting for a scarecrow November 1, 2016

 

scarecrow-contest-253-pumpkin-head

 

WITCH (sic) ONE SHOULD I choose?

 

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Is this one It? Looks like a shady character hiding behind that signature hair style.

 

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This scarecrow stands out in the field. Just look at that perfect, practiced smile and that perfectly pressed plaid.

 

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The artistry here is certainly something to crow about.

 

scarecrow-contest-264-mummy

 

I’m struggling to wrap my head around the choices.

 

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Is this unique scarecrow raking in the votes? If only there were exit polls.

 

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I like this scarecrow entourage. But those signs bother me. BEWARE. Of what? And No crows. What’s wrong with crows? Yeah, I know they’re not robins…

 

scarecrow-contest-267-vote-for-me-sign

 

On the surface, I thought, how clever to post a campaign sign. But then I reread the words. Turning Green with Envy Needs Money popped out at me. You can’t sway my vote with sympathy, excess advertising, confusing rhetoric or via deflection.

 

scarecrow-contest-259-veiled-scarecrow

 

I hope the candidates will accept the outcome, respecting the democratic process that veils our votes in secrecy. No rigged polls here.

 

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There are so many choices. But really, these are just scarecrows. I shouldn’t take this election so seriously. There’s a more important election on November 8.

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FYI: These scarecrows are part of a Scarecrow Contest at the 100 Ladies and Gentlemen Craft Sale. That sale, located at 45986 Highway 56 just off Minnesota Highway 60 in Kenyon, continues from 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. November 3 -6 and November 10 -13. All items are handcrafted.

Disclaimer: There’s nothing political about the craft sale. It’s just that–a craft sale.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling