Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From Bridge Square in Northfield: Black Lives Matter August 4, 2020

Messages related to the Black Lives Matter movement are chalked in Northfield’s Bridge Square.

 

BRIDGE SQUARE in Northfield. It’s a gathering spot for the community. A place to relax and enjoy music and conversation and even popcorn from the popcorn wagon. Water flows from a fountain. Benches beckon visitors to linger. Colorful flowers spill from large, lush planters. Nearby, the Cannon River roars over a dam. People fish and picnic and walk along and over the river. It’s a beautiful setting of trees and sky and water.

 

This is a common phrased used in the current Black Lives Matter movement. Chalked names fill the sidewalks at Bridge Square.

 

The downtown park also provides a place to express public opinion, most recently related to the Black Lives Matter movement. On a recent walk through Bridge Square and several blocks along the River Walk and Division Street, I read the concerns expressed about lives lost, about racial injustice…

 

A broader view of the names and messages leading to and surrounding the fountain.

 

Written in chalk were names of the dead. And messages. Powerful. Heartfelt. Even as rain and sun have faded the chalk writings, the meaning remains that Black Lives Matter.

 

Next to the fountain, this fading portrait of James Baldwin.

 

Next to Baldwin’s portrait, one of Paul O’Neal.

 

Chalk portraits of James Baldwin and Paul O’Neal give faces to names that we should all remember. Like Baldwin, an author and Civil Rights activist. Like O’Neal, shot in the back by Chicago police in 2016. And, more recently, the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, sparking nationwide protests, unrest, destruction, and calls for police reform and justice.

 

Barricades have been set up along this street next to Bridge Square to separate traffic and pedestrians/protesters on a bridge spanning the Cannon River.

 

The poem I found particularly meaningful in relation to Black Lives Matter and the death of George Floyd.

 

After crossing a partially barricaded street to follow the River Walk, I paused to read a poem imprinted in the sidewalk as part of Northfield’s Sidewalk Poetry Project. Reading the seven-line poem, the final line—Just breathe—struck me. George Floyd, when he lay dying on a Minneapolis street, said, “I can’t breathe.”

 

I followed the River Walk, eventually turning onto this footbridge across the Cannon River.

 

And so I walked, down steps, along the pedestrian river path hugging the banks of the Cannon River. I thought of that poetry and of those names and messages in Bridge Square.

 

One of many Black Lives Matter signs I spotted in downtown Northfield, this one in the upper story window of an historic Division Street building.

 

I considered how, no matter our skin color, our background, our education, our whatever in life, that we are all just people. We see beauty. We feel sunshine. And sometimes we share the silence that forms in our minds.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Faribault: A Sunday morning walk in the park July 27, 2020

Randy and I walked Sunday morning along a recreational trail in Faribault’s North Alexander Park. The path follows the Cannon River. That’s the Faribault Woolen Mill in the distance.

 

MID SUNDAY MORNING and I desire to get out of the house. For one reason. A mouse. After I went to bed Saturday evening, Randy spotted a mouse running across the living room. Have I told you yet that I am terrified of mice? I understand that my fear is irrational. But that does not change my feelings about rodents. I’ve had too many mouse encounters—in a bathroom in the dead of night while pregnant. Another with a mouse found floating dead in a crockpot. And a live mouse in a silverware drawer. Yes, I detest mice. I figured if we left the house, we would come home to find the elusive mouse caught in a trap. Snap. Dead. It didn’t happen.

 

The trail winds through a wooded part of the park. At the distant shelter, a group was setting up for a grad party.

 

But, hey, we had a nice time at North Alexander Park in Faribault, where we walked a recreational trail and I paused numerous times to take photos. It proved a welcome break from mouse brain. And also provided photos for this blog. Win-win.

 

Three growing ducklings in a row.

 

The watchful mama duck trails behind.

 

Overnight rainfall raised the water level of the Cannon River considerably, but not to flood stage.

 

As usual, ducks and geese populated this park and I found myself dodging droppings. For the first time ever, I also observed a couple throwing bread to the fowl. I thought to myself, please do not encourage them to wander away from the river and onto the pathways further into the park.

 

Typically, this playground is swarming with kids.

 

Randy and I saw a few other humans. Walking dogs. Setting up for a graduation party. A dad and his two kids on the playground.

 

 

 

 

And on a nearby tree, a beautiful woodpecker searching for bugs. (If only he could scout out mice.)

 

The empty softball diamond. Check back for some interesting signage photos.

 

Across the road, the softball diamonds were vacant. On a typical summer weekend, they would likely be busy with tournaments.

 

Looking through the fence at the Faribault Aquatic Center. No kids. No pool open this summer.

 

This sign made me laugh. Check the weather forecast before you head to the pool.

 

On this incredibly hot and humid July day, the pool remained closed due to COVID-19.

 

Likewise, just down the street, the Faribault Aquatic Center was also vacant, locked down due to COVID-19. I took a few photos and laughed at a sign inside the front entry that advised of no refunds in the event of lightning. It rained all night Saturday into early Sunday morning here in Faribault. Plenty of thunder and lightning.

 

 

 

 

Across the road at the Rice County Fairgrounds we found one final surprise—a horse show. Not yet underway, but in the process. I’ve always liked horses.

But mice? No. Not one bit…

 

In the midst of aging, the joys of a walk in the park May 24, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , ,

 

WE’D PLANNED, ALL ALONG, to wheel her outdoors, into the sunshine of a mid-May afternoon in rural southwestern Minnesota. She embraced the idea with a hint of concern. She worried about the wind, always the wind. So I searched the drawers in her room for her stocking cap, even though she didn’t need it on this 80-some degree day. I couldn’t find the cap she wanted to protect her ears.

Soon Mom forgot about the wind in the busyness of preparing for her excursion. Staff rolled a wheelchair into her room, attached a portable oxygen tank, helped her move from easy chair into wheelchair. Mom noted how good it would be to get outside. And it was. Too many months have passed since her last wheel around the care center and into the adjoining city park.

 

The tree I can’t identify. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2017.

 

As Randy pushed her wheelchair along the sidewalk fronting Parkview, Mom noted the brightness of the afternoon. I started to view the world through her eyes, cloudy with the age of 86 years. She can’t see much at a distance. Thus I became her eyes. I described the pink splash of a blossoming crabapple tree, the rough bark of a tree I couldn’t identify. I doubt Mom saw the American flag stretched straight by the wind when we paused on the sidewalk.

 

A feature in the mini golf course in the city park. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2017.

 

Just writing this, I feel a certain sadness that comes in observing how age steals the person you love, diminishing vision and memory and mobility. Yet, aging counters that loss with a return to the simple delights of life. I tried to remember that as we wound around the care center, past the mini golf course, to the park shelterhouse, past the aged log cabin and the barn swallows swooping.

 

Apple blossoms on an evening in May. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Occasionally we stopped, once so I could stride across the grass to an apple tree. I picked a twig of blossoms, took it back to Mom. She lifted the fragrant petals to her face, told me she couldn’t smell their sweetness. Yet, she clutched the flowers in her left hand, between thumb and forefinger. I checked my emotions in the poignancy of the moment. I wanted Mom to breathe in, once more, the intoxicating scent of spring.

On our way back to the care center, Mom noted dandelions popping yellow through the greening grass. I wish now that I had paused to pick a bouquet for her, to bring back those memories of a little girl gathering dandelions in her fist, of Mom plunging the sticky stems into a jelly jar to set upon the farmhouse kitchen table.

 

The log cabin in the park is a reminder of the passage of time. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2017.

 

This aging of parents is difficult. Roles reverse. I feel a mix of sadness and anger and then, because I have to, thankfulness that my mother is still here for me to hug and to kiss and to hear the words, “I love you.”

 

TELL ME: Do you have an aging parent? If so, how are you handling this stage of life?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Delighting in Owatonna’s Mineral Springs Park on a Sunday afternoon April 19, 2016

A sign explains the legend of Princess Owatonna, represented in an early 1930s statue in Mineral Springs Park.

A sign explains the legend of Princess Owatonna, represented in an early 1930s statue in Mineral Springs Park. The statue was restored in 1986, but appears in need of repair work again.

I DRANK A LONG, deep drink of glacier cold spring water bubbling from a fountain in Owatonna’s Mineral Springs Park. Water that tasted of iron, of the earth. Water that, as legend goes, holds healing power. Princess Owatonna, the daughter of Chief Wabena, supposedly drank daily of the springs along Maple Creek, regaining her health.

I drank from this fountain of spring water.

I drank from this fountain of spring water. Owatonna Mineral Springs Company spring water was served on railroad dining cars back in the day.

Whether legend or truth, it mattered not to me. I drank more, until my husband pointed out rust running across the park roadway from the spilling water fountains. (I should have noticed the rust in the fountain bowls.)

Maple Creek winds through the park. Several pedestrian bridges cross the waterway.

Maple Creek winds through the park. Several pedestrian bridges cross the waterway.

This 48-acre park is a lovely place, nestled at the base of wooded hills, the creek flowing through.

Maple Creek runs surprisingly clear.

Maple Creek runs surprisingly clear.

I watched this drake for a long time swimming in the creek.

I watched this drake for a long time swimming in the creek.

I was especially impressed by the clarity of the water, so clear I could see the webbed feet of a drake paddling. So clear I could see the creek bottom. So clear I could see a minnow swimming.

The Princess Owatonna statue up close.

The Princess Owatonna statue up close.

Sunday was the perfect day to visit this park with the 1930s statue of the Indian Princess after whom this southern Minnesota community is named. So legend claims.

On the wooded hillside, these wildflowers bloomed.

On the wooded hillside, these wildflowers bloomed.

Sun baked heat into the afternoon at an unseasonably warm 70-plus degrees. Wildflowers bloomed. Hints of buds greened trees. A butterfly darted.

Fishing in Maple Creek, although there were not fish to be seen except minnows.

Fishing in Maple Creek, although there were not fish to be seen except minnows.

Kids raced around the playground, energized. Guys tossed horseshoes. A boy fished with his dad. Walkers walked dogs. The signature scent of roasting hot dogs drifted from the picnic shelter grill.

People smiled. How could you not? Sunday marked a glorious summer-like spring day in Minnesota. As beautiful as they come in April.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Community pride: A vision & two gardens, all because she cares about Faribault August 26, 2015

Behind several of these buildings in downtown Faribault, two gardens have been created.

Behind several of these buildings in downtown Faribault, two gardens have been created.

WITHIN MY COMMUNITY, there’s a new sense of optimism rising, a positivity that shouts “community pride.”

Rather than whine and complain about what Faribault lacks, locals are taking action. They are finding solutions and digging in to make this city an even better place.

Several months ago, the Faribault Daily News began publishing good news snippets on the editorial page every Saturday, citing examples of local community pride. This came after editor Jaci Smith called Faribault residents out on their negative attitudes about our community. A group, Citizens in Action, has formed locally to assist with clean-up and other public and private projects in the Faribault area. And recently the Faribault Foundation awarded its first ever Community Pride grants of $500 each to four projects that reflect exactly that—community pride.

The Second Street Garden, started last year and still in development.

The Second Street Garden, started last year and still in development.

Businesswoman, crafter and all-around optimistic long-time Faribault resident Dee Bjork received one of those grants for the Second Street Garden, a mini garden she began developing last year on a once blighted space in the heart of downtown. It’s a work in progress and a spin-off of a garden she created six years ago behind her sister and brother-in-law’s flooring store next to The Crafty Maven, the business she and another sister run.

Dee is a go-getter, a woman who cares deeply for her community and those who live here. She is always smiling and helping and encouraging.

That is how this all started, when Dee noticed a mom sitting on a bath towel on a curb downtown watching her kids play. She remembered her own childhood. Her mom lounged in a lawn chair, sipping iced tea while watching Dee and her siblings play ball in their yard.

Dee and Michelle

Dee and Michelle. Photo courtesy of Dee Bjork at The Crafty Maven.

Dee wanted the same for families living downtown. So she created Michelle’s Garden, named after a young girl she had begun mentoring. Michelle, now a teen, still lives downtown Faribault with her family and remains near and dear.

A street side view of the space now occupied by the Second Street Garden.

A street side view of the space now occupied by the Second Street Garden.

A lovely sign defines the garden.

A lovely sign defines the garden.

Beautiful flowers and plants spill from containers at Dufour's Cleaners next to the garden.

Beautiful flowers and plants spill from containers at Dufour’s Cleaners next to the garden.

With the success of Michelle’s Garden, the focus shifted recently to another spot, a vacant area between a dry cleaner and a hair salon. Dee wanted, she said, “to create a beautiful space outside in a space that was neglected but had potential.”

Flowers spill from a raised bed in the Second Street Garden.

Flowers spill from a raised bed in the Second Street Garden.

She wants the Second Street Garden to become a multi-purpose green space for those who live, work and shop downtown.

A side view of the Second Street Garden.

A side view of the Second Street Garden.

Already the lot, once filled with rock and debris and generally neglected, is shaping into an oasis of flowers and vegetables. Neighbors, gardeners, church members, youth and more—70 people, according to the list Dee’s kept—have worked together to create the two downtown gardens. There have been cash and plant donations, too, and a community planting day.

Plans call for latticework to eventually hide these utility boxes.

Plans call for latticework to eventually hide these utility boxes.

A splash of flowers in the garden.

A splash of flowers pop color into the garden.

Potted tomatoes will eventually be planted in yet to be built raised beds.

Tomatoes will eventually be planted in yet to be built raised beds rather than in pots.

And now Dee has that $500 Community Pride grant, and is seeking additional funding to continue with her vision for the Second Street Garden. A concrete pad will be poured for the dumpster and garbage containers that sit on a side of the lot, a necessity for those who occupy the adjoining building. The dumpster will also be fenced. She plans, too, to have a concrete pad installed for seating under a pergola. The city has promised a picnic table for seasonal placement. Latticework on the pergola will hide utility boxes. More raised beds are planned for the tomatoes that now grow in pots along a wall.

Gorgeous petunias add color to the garden.

Gorgeous petunias add color to the garden.

A dog waits on stairs overlooking the garden.

A dog waits on stairs overlooking the garden.

Veggies to give away.

Garden veggies.

Already the two gardens are lush with growing vegetables—tomatoes, squash, eggplant, peppers, brussel sprouts, kohlrabi, broccoli and zucchini—to be distributed among those downtown and also shared with customers at The Crafty Maven.

Encouraging words posted at the garden.

Encouraging words posted at the garden.

Dee saw a problem and solved it. And because of that, Faribault’s downtown is a better place.

FYI: Check back tomorrow to learn about another project that has been funded by the Faribault Foundation’s Community Pride Grant program.

If you wish to help Dee with the Second Street Garden, consider a cash, labor or materials donation. Contact her at The Crafty Maven.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

An Old MacDonald style park in Mankato August 18, 2015

One of two barn style buildings at Sibley Park in Mankato, Minnesota.

The barn style stable at Sibley Farm in Mankato, Minnesota.

GROWING UP, MY DAUGHTERS had a Fisher Price barn that, when the doors opened, “mooed.” For hours they would play with this toy farm. Being a rather unwise mom who determined that everything from their childhood could not be kept, I gave the barn, silo, Little People, tractor and animals to friends with little ones. My eldest once reminded me that was a mistake. I agree.

A fenced pond is in the foreground and a second barn type pole shed in the background.

A fenced pond is in the foreground and the farm’s barn in the background.

But now she, and other twenty-somethings who hold fond memories of the Fischer Price barn, can see a similar real-life barn at Sibley Farm in Mankato’s sprawling Sibley Park.

Kids love the tractors, this one located next to the bridge spanning the pond stocked with fish and dotted with water lilies.

Kids love the tractors, this one located next to the bridge spanning the pond stocked with koi and dotted with water lilies.

Friendly sheep are a favorite.

Friendly sheep are a favorite.

The fabulous farm-themed playground.

The fabulous farm-themed playground. There’s also a traditional playground, shown in the background.

I explored the farm on a recent Sunday afternoon, delighting in the animals, the pond, and the agricultural-themed playground. What a brilliant idea, to create this educational and engaging tribute to the region’s rural roots in the heart of southern Minnesota farm country. The farm park opened in 2008 and was partially funded by a $200,000 gift from the Al and Erla Fallenstein fund through the Mankato Area Foundation.

A young family checks out the alpacas.

A young family checks out the alpacas.

When I got to the pygmy goats, a young boy was feeding them grass.

When I got to the pygmy goats, a young boy was feeding them grass.

The farm animal sculptures provide perfect photo opportunities.

The farm animal sculptures provide perfect photo opportunities.

This agricultural-themed park makes my farm girl heart happy—to see kids petting farm critters, posing with farm animal statues, racing to tractors, and clamoring onto barn, silo, straw bale and even cornstalk playground equipment. This is a place for families, for anyone who grew up on a farm, and for those who didn’t.

The farm features Ayrshire cattle like this one seeking shelter in the heat of a summer afternoon.

The farm features Ayrshire cattle like this one seeking shelter in the heat of a summer afternoon.

We need to hold onto our rural heritage. And one way to do that is through parks like Sibley Farm.

Your guide to Sibley Farm in Mankato.

Sibley Farm’s lay-out.

FYI: Sibley Farm is located at 900 Mound Avenue and is open daily from 6:30 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. mid-spring, summer and early fall. Admission is free. Click here to read a 2011 post I wrote about a goat-napping caper at this very park.

BONUS PHOTOS:

A sign at the playground.

A sign at the playground.

And the chickens.

The playground chickens.

I absolutely love the creativity of the playground cornstalks.

I absolutely love the creativity of the climbing apparatus designed to look like cornstalks.

Love the signage at the farm-themed playground. There's also traditional playground equipment, background.

Love the signage at the farm-themed playground. There’s also traditional playground equipment, background.

Playground pig sculptures.

Playground pig sculptures.

A musical detail on the playground.

A musical detail on the playground.

The miniature ponies are kid-sized friendly.

The miniature horses are kid-sized friendly.

Bring coins so kids can feed the animals.

Bring coins so kids can feed the animals.

Daily instructions posted inside the barn for employees.

Daily instructions posted inside the barn.

Found feathers displayed in the barn.

Found feathers displayed in the barn.

Appropriately printed lockers.

Appropriately printed lockers.

CHECK BACK TOMORROW for a similar, but much smaller, project proposed for the Redwood Falls Public Library.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Fill the grain bin in Dennison October 6, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:05 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

SO, TODAY WE’RE GOING to talk signs. Not just any signs, but those homemade signs you find in rural Minnesota.

Chances are, no matter where you live, you drive or walk by creative signage every day and don’t give it a second thought. The signs have simply become part of your landscape. You fail to notice either the messages or the art.

And, yes, signs fall into my definition of art.

But then one day an outsider like me comes to town. And I view your town with fresh eyes. I notice the details—the windows and doors, the wood and brick, and the signs that define your community.

Main Street in Dennison, from city hall north.

That is how I happened upon a unique fundraising sign in Dennison, a community of 168 which straddles the Rice/Goodhue county lines in southeastern Minnesota. My husband and I stopped in Dennison while on a Sunday afternoon drive to view the fall colors in the Sogn Valley area.

There, along Goodhue County Road 9, the main east-west road through town, I found this sign appropriately placed by the Farmers State Bank.

Fronting the road and the bank, this sign tracks contributions to the park fund.

Now, whoever dreamed up this sign deserves some type of recognition for effort and creativity.

Dennison is a farming community. The sign reflects that ag heritage with the half-full grain bin. You did notice the corn and the grain bin, right?

The goal is to fill this grain bin and build that park. Want to help? Contact the city or Farmers State Bank.

The promoters of this park project could have designed the typical graph or thermometer sign to track contributions. But, instead, the sign honors the rural heart of Dennison. You simply have to appreciate that type of creative thinking.

You also have to value the sense of community that defines towns like Dennison. Here folks work together to raise funds for a park and don’t/probably can’t rely on government.

Well done, Dennison, and may you get a good corn yield this fall. Enough to fill the bin.

CHECK BACK for another post featuring interesting signage I found in rural Minnesota.

CLICK HERE to see signs I photographed recently in downtown Janesville.

ALSO, CLICK HERE to see sign images taken a year ago in Pemberton.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling