Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Taking snow removal to the second level in Minnesota March 1, 2018

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Randy blows snow off our driveway following a February 2014 storm. This winter has been similar in snow and cold to that of four years ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2014.

 

IF RESIDENTIAL SNOW REMOVAL in Minnesota involved simply clearing driveways and sidewalks, our work would be easier.

 

In this image, you can see the depth of snow on the roof.

 

But when snow accumulates and no January thaw arrives to reduce the snow pack, we start thinking about problems like too much snow on roofs and those damaging ice dams.

 

 

Sunday afternoon, after our most recent 4-inch snowfall the day prior, Randy pulled out the ladder and climbed to the flatter section of our house roof. He had about 18 inches of accumulated snow to scoop and toss from roof to ground. After awhile, he was working up a sweat in the bright sunshine.

 

 

Just inside the kitchen, I watched him labor. I’ll shovel snow, but only if it’s on the ground.

 

 

My job was to monitor my husband, to see that he stayed safe and didn’t overdo the shoveling. Now that we’re in our sixties, I tend to think more about how shoveling can cause heart attacks and back issues. And then there is that slipping and falling off the roof factor to consider. Randy seems mostly to ignore my concerns. I wish he wouldn’t.

 

Randy guides our ancient snowblower along the driveway following a late January snowfall of about 15 inches. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo January 2018.

 

Already that day he’d fired up the snowblower to clear snow from our sidewalk and that of three neighbors and also blew snow from our drive and a neighbor’s. I shoveled steps and walks and followed with clean-up. Our snowblower is bulky and heavy and so aged it should probably be in a museum. Has any Minnesota museum ever done an exhibit on how Minnesotans deal with snow? That could be interesting, tracing the history of how that process has evolved. There’s the fashion aspect, the equipment facet, the weather factor…

 

 

With the sun shining and temps rising into the balmy forty-ish range this week, all of Randy’s rooftop shoveling paid off with shingles now visible and ice dams melting. We’re good until more snow stacks and temps plunge. Next week.

TELL ME: If you live in a snowy state like Minnesota, how do you handle snow on the roof and ice dams? If you don’t have to deal with these issues, feel free to comment anyway.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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The poetry of winter in the woods February 27, 2018

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HERE IN THE NORTHLAND, Winter pens poetry upon trees. If only we pause to notice.

 

 

I noticed last week as I photographed the visual poetry that glimmered, layered, clung to tree branches within view of my backyard.

 

 

Freezing rain sluiced ice along branches like strings of diamonds draped upon the woods.

 

 

Then snow fell, icing the same branches in white.

 

 

Darkness emerged later with moody Winter unleashing roiling emotions.

 

 

Tangled. Twisted. Tumultuous.

 

 

But hope shone in the shelter of snowy evergreens, lovely in the gloaming of the day. I observed therein the loveliness a poet sees when words flow from the brain into layers of verses. There’s a feeling of satisfaction, of comfort, of accomplishment. And the light, oh, the light.

 

 

 

The sky, too, the setting for these poems of February, delights. Not when grey. But when blue, oh, so blue.

 

 

This is Winter’s poetry, written here upon the Minnesota landscape, if we but choose to see and read it.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Check back tomorrow for a post that contrasts this one with a wish for Winter to exit.

 

February at the ballpark & I’m not talking spring training in Florida February 23, 2018

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ON A FEBRUARY AFTERNOON, sunshine heats the earth, slants shadows upon snow fallen fresh that morning. It is a rare day of respite from a too-cold winter in Minnesota and I am anxious to get outside.

 

 

So Randy and I hop in the Chevy and head toward Dundas, just south of Northfield. I want to walk in Memorial Park, home of the Dundas Dukes. Randy pulls the car into the riverside park, loops and stops on a snowy road next to a trail. We exit, tread with caution along a path, diverting off the icy route as needed to avoid slipping.

 

 

Passing the abandoned playground, I observe swings hung statue-still.

 

 

I note footprints through the snow leading to a Little Free Library. Used even in winter.

 

 

A short hike away, I step onto the foot bridge spanning the Cannon River.

 

 

I pause midway, focus on ruins of the Archibald Mill,

 

 

bridge shadows,

 

 

an open spot of water,

 

 

the river ribboning white between shoreline trees.

 

 

In the simplicity of this place, these scenes, I feel content. I am here with Randy, who appreciates the natural silence as much as me.

 

 

 

Overhead I watch a Delta airliner angling down toward the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. I wonder about those aboard. Would they rather be leaving than arriving?

 

 

Some 1,700 miles away in the warmth of Ft. Myers, the Minnesota Twins toss and catch balls, swing bats and practice in the sunshine of opening week of spring training. Here in Dundas, opening day is still months away. I imagine the bold orange seats and grandstands filled with spectators, the cracks of bats, the swish of baseballs when the Dukes meet the Hampton Cardinals here on April 29. I can almost hear the conversations and laughter that will soon fill this place.

 

 

I head back toward the car, tracking in the footsteps of those who, like me, dream. Of sunny summer days. Of baseball. Of walks in the park. And of rivers that run free of ice, free of snow, free of winter under a Minnesota sky.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

How one little girl put some fun back in my Minnesota winter January 24, 2018

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My granddaughter watches while her grandpa rolls a snowball.

 

AS I’VE AGED, I complain more about Minnesota winters. But I didn’t always dislike this season of cold, snow and ice. I once loved being outdoors in the winter—rolling snowballs in to snowmen, engaging in snowball fights, racing up and down snow piles, sledding, digging caves into snow banks, making snow angels, running across rock-hard snow drifts, ice skating and constructing snow forts. Winter as a child was fun in between doing farm chores.

Even when I had my own three children, winter remained semi fun with some of the same winter activities. But as the kids grew, so did their disinterest in outdoor winter play. It’s been years since I’ve thought about the fun aspect of the months spanning November – April in Minnesota.

But then along came my granddaughter who is now nearing age two. On Saturday Randy and I offered to play with Izzy so her parents could have an afternoon out. My motive was also grandma selfish in wanting some time with this sweet little girl.

 

Ready to head outside into the snow.

 

With temps around 40 degrees, I decided (and Grandpa went along with the idea) it would be a great day to play with Izzy in the snow. After I bundled her into her snowpants, boots, coat, cap and mittens and then got myself ready, we finally headed to the backyard. I’d forgotten how long it takes to get a little one into snow gear.

 

 

Once in the backyard, Randy and I pulled Izzy around on a Lion King sled Randy recently retrieved from the garage rafters. It’s the same sled Isabelle’s mama used as a child.

 

 

While Grandpa rolled snowballs and stacked them into a snowman, I played with Izzy. She trundled in the snow as best she could, occasionally reaching for my hand to assure she stayed upright. When I started throwing snowballs at a tree trunk, she burst into waves of giggles. She may have been laughing at Grandma’s inability to hit the target about 50 percent of the time.

The time outdoors with my granddaughter on a balmy January afternoon in Minnesota put the fun back in winter for me. Oh, the power of a child. Over a grandmother.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Hardy Minnesota anglers November 27, 2017

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AHEAD OF US while entering Morristown, orange flashed as three boys dashed across a county road to the side of a bridge.

 

 

Their presence here impressed me on a late November Sunday afternoon of temps hovering around 35 degrees. I wouldn’t be out in these brutal elements angling for fish in the Cannon River. But I suppose when you’re dressed in insulated pants and snow pants and warm coats and boots and other cold weather gear, the temp is tolerable.

 

 

And I suppose there’s something to be said, too, for the endurance and exuberance of youth. While I thought the boys a bit too dedicated to fish on a frigid day like this in southern Minnesota, I respected their decision. Here they were, outdoors, and not sitting in front of a screen. In today’s tech-focused age, that’s something.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Returning to photography, starting in my Minnesota backyard September 1, 2017

Brilliant red canna lilies splash color into my backyard patio.

 

IN THE THREE MONTHS I couldn’t use my Canon DSLR EOS 20-D this summer because of a broken right shoulder, I feared I would lose my photography skills. But I didn’t. This week, with my muscle strength returning and weight restrictions eased, I did my first photo shoot using my 2.5 pound (with a short lens) Canon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I experienced joy, pure joy, picking up my DSLR and focusing on subjects in glorious light. I started in my backyard, easing myself into the comfortable familiarity of pursuing my passion. I felt giddy with excitement as I photographed a monarch caterpillar clinging to a leaf near milkweeds that free-range seeded.

 

Coleus

 

A segment of a canna leaf.

 

 

I moved to potted plants and blooming flowers and garden perennials.

 

 

And then I noticed, as I roamed about seeking photo ops, a mini chrysalis dangling from the side of the garage and camouflaged against the green siding. I moved in close, delighting in my discovery.

 

Coleus

 

Canna lily seed pods

 

Polka dot plant leaves up close.

 

As I shot more frames, trying different angles, new perspectives, I remembered just how much I love this art. I seek interesting ways to present what I photograph. I seek light that will enhance an image. I consider textures and color and backdrops and distance. I challenge myself to think and photograph outside and beyond the norm.

 

Coleus leaf close-up

 

All of my skills, retained in my rote memory, returned. And so did the passion, full-blown and beautiful and aching to be released.

 

Hibiscus acetosella soar in pots on my patio.

 

It’s good to be back, camera in hand.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Patio art June 12, 2017

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THE WHITE GLOBES stretch across the patio in a string of lights creating a party ambiance.

 

 

There’s nothing remarkable really about the lights purchased years ago in the end of summer discount aisle at Target. They add a mood setting touch to our backyard and practical functionality once the sun sets.

 

 

Beyond that and the inconvenience of hanging and removing them after each usage—they’re not waterproof—I hadn’t thought much about the patio lights.

 

 

But that changed one recent evening when, relaxing in my lawn chair, I tipped my head back, eyes drawn skyward.. The white orbs glowed golden against inky blue. In that moment, I saw art.

 

 

Do you ever experience delights like that, when the ordinary transitions into something more, something so lovely that you pause and appreciate? Or, if you’re me, you dash indoors to grab your camera.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling