Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Thankful for rain… June 29, 2021

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Playing in the rain in July 2014 in southwestern Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

RAIN, RAIN, oh, glorious rain.

Much-needed rain fell here in southeastern Minnesota over the weekend and into Monday, easing the drought that has left lawns parched brown and soybean and corn fields stressed.

Rain fell from late morning to late afternoon Saturday, with 3.5 inches collected in the rain gauge at our house. More fell on Sunday, although those were showers rather than anything substantial. Monday afternoon, just as I was about to hang laundry on the line, raindrops began falling. That ended plans to hang clothes outdoors. But I was OK with that given the steady rain.

I still think like the farmer’s daughter that I am with my dad’s words echoing in my brain. I can almost hear him saying, “They got more rain north of Echo.” No matter how much rain fell on his fields near Vesta, he always thought Echo, seven miles to the north, got more. Or that their crops always looked better.

I never understood Dad’s dissatisfaction. And I can’t ask; he’s been gone 18 years now. But if Echo got rain, good for the farmers near that small southwestern Minnesota town.

Right now all of Minnesota needs rain. And if you got some, no matter how much or where, then I’m thankful.


TELL ME: Are you dealing with a drought or rain shortage where you live? Or if you live in Minnesota and got recent rain, how much?

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Here comes the sun, if but for a moment October 11, 2018

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That’s the sun, photographed through my office window, there between the utility lines.


WEDNESDAY MORNING AT 9:30 I’m in my office writing. And then I notice it, the sun blazing a spotlight through the grey sky.

I rise to pull down the pleated shade. And then I stop, realizing the stupidity of my automatic reaction to keep the sun out of my eyes.

We have not seen the sun here in southeastern Minnesota in days. Like eight straight. Or maybe it’s ten. Too many, anyway. Rather, our world rains grey, literally, autumn leaves spiraling, their beauty mostly lost in the gloom.

This is not the autumn I covet, I love, I desire in my favorite of seasons. When, I wonder, will the weather shift? When will the cobalt blue skies of October replace the steel grey? When will the rain stop?

But sometimes you need to grab those moments of light, as I did Wednesday morning. I paused in my writing to watch the orb of light that shown brilliant—if only for 15 minutes—between layers of grey clouds to the east.


Blue sky. Finally. And briefly.


Then I stepped outside and looked the other direction, toward treetops of autumn showcased against blue sky. Blue. Not grey.

And I thought of all those people in Florida and other parts of the South enduring the weather wrath of Hurricane Michael. And the people in the Dakotas and northern Minnesota already dealing with snow. And I thought, really, I may not like the grey and wet and cold. But, in true Minnesota lingo, I thought, “It could be worse.” Much worse.

TELL ME: What’s the weather like in your part of the country/world?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


From sunshine to storm on Labor Day September 4, 2017

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Looking to the north and the Minnesota River Valley just outside Delhi around 4 p.m. Monday.


TO THE NORTH, storm clouds bruised the sky late Labor Day afternoon.


To the east of Delhi heading toward Redwood Falls.


Brooding blue, then masses of grey before the rain gushed near New Ulm as we drove east from the southwestern Minnesota prairie toward home. The rainfall, while heavy at times, seemed nothing more than a September downpour.


Sky and corn define this area of Minnesota.


Well before we got to Mankato, the rain stopped.


The farther east we drove, the more ominous the clouds appeared.


Yet clouds continued to stack and I began to consider the possibility of severe weather as we entered Waseca, then Steele, counties. Randy switched on the radio to a local station but then turned it off when our son called from Boston. I ended the conversation as we reached Owatonna and exited U.S. Highway 14 onto Interstate 35.

Rounding the entrance ramp, Randy noticed a state highway patrol car and, then, a short distance later, another. By that time the rain had ramped. Wheels hydroplaned. And the wind blew so fierce the van rocked.

“I’m scared,” I said. “I want to get off the interstate.” Randy steered the van off the next exit, much to my relief. But I was still scared. I don’t like storms or strong winds like these of probably 50 mph. I’ve seen the damaging power of tornadoes and straight line winds and I respect them enough to fear them.


Just a few miles from Faribault on Rice County Road 45.


We drove through part of Owatonna, the wind still whipping trees. The short detour off I-35 proved enough to semi calm me before Randy directed the van out of town along a back county road. I wanted nothing more than to get home to Faribault. I’d had enough of the wind and the rain on an otherwise glorious September day in southern Minnesota.


TELL ME: Have you ever been caught on the roadway in a storm that scared you? I’d like to hear about your experiences.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A rainbow of holiday memories July 7, 2014

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One end of the beautiful double rainbow.

One end of the beautiful double rainbow.

THERE WAS NO NEED to search for the pot of gold at the end of the double rainbow arcing across the early evening sky north of Lamberton on July Fourth.

No need, because the garage on my brother and sister-in-law’s rural acreage held something much more precious than gold. Family.

Gathering inside the garage to watch the kids playing in the rain.

Gathering inside the garage to watch the kids playing in the rain.

Every Fourth, my mom, my siblings and their families and my family (those who can make it) gather to celebrate our nation’s birth and a day together. It’s become a wonderful tradition—a day and evening of conversation and laughter, food and fun, as only we can mark the holiday.

My nephew and great niece dance in the rain.

My nephew and great niece jump in the rain.

We remember. We build new memories. This year we imprinted those rainbows upon our collective memory and watched as the kids played in the rain.

Follow the leader or monkey see, monkey do.

Follow the leader or monkey see, monkey do.

Hands splashing in puddles. Feet dancing. Hair and clothes soaked.

I shot this of my great nephew and his mom and my great niece running back to the garage.

Through the rain-streaked garage door window, I shot this image of my great nephew and his mom and my great niece running back to the garage.

Such memories, such fun times together, truly more precious than gold.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Too much rain & too little June 17, 2014

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RAIN, RAIN, GO AWAY, come again another day.

Driving home in the rain Saturday afternoon near Owatonna.

Driving home in the rain Saturday afternoon near Owatonna.

Minnesotans are wishing just that. Give us some dry weather after this perpetual rainfall which has inundated our state in recent days.

If only we could ship this moisture west…to California.

My friend Norma would certainly welcome it. She tells me of temps over 110 in the southern central valley region. Dirt, not dust, storms brought unhealthy brown fog that lingered for two days. She tells of waves of dirt and brushing dirt from her car.

I cannot imagine.

She worries about valley fever spores that swirl in the arid climate. Valley fever is a lung infection brought on by inhaling a microscopic fungus that is found in the region’s soil.

She is concerned, too, about orange growers and other farmers. Already food prices are rising in grocery stores.

This area of California needs rain.

Just like Minnesota doesn’t need more moisture right now.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


After the rain June 5, 2013

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AFTER THE LONGEST WINTER I can ever remember in Minnesota, we’re now enduring an especially cool and rainy spring. Clouds hang heavy. Rain drips, sometimes pours. It is enough to dampen the spirits of even the most optimistic among us.

Raindrops on hosta.

Raindrops on hosta.

So, on a recent evening, after yet another rain shower, I grabbed my camera to photograph post-rain details. This self-made assignment gave me reason to pause, to appreciate the beauty of a single raindrop.

An American flag complements million bells and a geranium in a pot near my front door.

An American flag complements million bells and a geranium in a pot near my front door.

Sometimes you truly must stop, reassess, give thanks that you are dealing only with clouds and rain and cold.  Not a tornado or floods or wildfires.

Romaine lettuce.

Romaine lettuce in the beautiful evening light.

Lovely spheres of Allium.

Lovely spheres of Allium.

Backyard bird bath.

Backyard bird bath.

Rain-shined hosta leaves.

Rain-shined hosta leaves.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Rain, rain and more rain in Faribault July 15, 2011

I shot this photo from my living room window late this afternoon of flooded Willow Street.

AROUND 4 P.M., the sky turned black as night here in Faribault. And then the rain let loose. Rain pouring forth so fast that if I was Noah’s wife, I would have urged him to hurry up and finish building that ark.

For some 10 minutes or so, a boat would have been the preferred mode of transportation along the street past my house. The storm sewer couldn’t keep up with the rainwater rolling down the hill onto Willow Street, a main route through town.

Some drivers diverted to the opposite traffic lane to dodge the deepest water. Others splashed through without even slowing down. And yet others paused, tentatively tire-tip-toeing into the water.

Some drivers were cautious, others not so much, as they drove on flooded Willow Street.

Motorists drove through flooded Willow Street without too much concern.

Soon the onslaught of water swept across the roadway into a neighbor’s driveway, down the side of the garage and into the backyard. Next door, rain also surged onto the driveway, then channeled south down the sidewalk to another neighbor’s newly-blacktopped driveway.

The rain flowed across the street into the neighbor's driveway (left), along the garage and into the backyard.

The next two neighbors to have water from the flooded street surge onto their properties.

On my side of the street, at the near bottom of the hill, the curb contained the deluge of water.

It’s been quite a day here—rain, rain and more rain. Open the windows, close the windows. Open. Close. Check the skies. Listen to the weather report. Hang clothes on the clothesline and two minutes later pull them off after spotting heavy, threatening clouds moving in.

Then I checked the National Weather Service website to learn Rice County, my county, is now under a flash flood warning. Yes, it’s been quite a day with rain, rain and more rain.

WHAT’S THE WEATHER like in your area? Submit a comment and tell me.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A bride’s story: Come hell or high water July 10, 2011

“I TOLD HIM NO WAY IN HELL was I leaving my wedding dress behind,” Tina Marlowe Mann remembers.

And she didn’t. Nine months ago Tina defied a fireman’s order and saved her bridal gown. It was the last thing she brought out of her house during a 15-minute mandatory evacuation of flood-ravaged Hammond on Friday morning, September 24. When she exited her home, the fireman instructed her to park her 4-wheel drive Jeep on high ground, with the wedding dress inside, and walk out of the flooded town because the water had risen too high to drive out.

She refused and instead forged—with five adults, two children, a Rottweiler, two cats, a few clothes and that precious wedding dress—through water that reached the door panels and covered the exhaust pipes of her Jeep.

“We got stuck a couple times and I thought we might not make it out, but we did,” Tina recalls.

Come hell or high water, she would not allow the raging waters of the Zumbro River to snatch away her dream dress.

Two weeks ago yesterday, on June 25, Tina Marlowe married Micheal Mann at Beach Park in Wabasha wearing that rescued bridal gown. A reception followed at Slippery’s Bar and Grill on the Mississippi River.

Tina, on her June 25 wedding day, in the bridal gown she saved from a flash flood in Hammond in southeastern Minnesota last September.

As it did last fall, floodwaters once again threatened. “Ironically, this spring we spent a lot of time holding our breath, worried that Beach Park and Slippery’s might receive major damage from spring flooding,” Tina says. “For weeks we watched the hydrological reports from Wabasha with bated breath. We even made a couple trips down there just to monitor the situation with our own eyes—and we did a lot of praying.

“Then wouldn’t you know it that the week before the wedding, it rained every single day. A couple of those days the heavy rains took me right back to September…and I said to Mike, ‘Wouldn’t it be just crazy if we come home from Wabasha to find water in our house again?’”

Water from last fall’s flash flood filled their basement and rose several inches into the main level, displacing the family from their home for three months.

Tina and Micheal continued praying for the rain to stop as June 25 approached. Then on their wedding morning, the sun came out in Wabasha and, as the fog lifted from the Mississippi River valley, it looked to be a perfect day.

The weather forecast, however, called for afternoon showers. And the wedding was set for 4 p.m.

Within an hour of the ceremony, rain began falling. While Tina was slipping into her bridal gown at a Wabasha hotel, family and friends were moving everything from the decorated gazebo to the pavilion.

Tina and Mike

“Irony again prevailed because it rained from 3 until about 4:30, and then it stopped and the rest of the evening was picture perfect,” Tina says. “All of the bridal pictures were taken in the rain. Every person in my wedding party was affected by the flood in one way or another and here we were, standing in the pouring rain on the banks of the Mississippi River, having the time of our lives.

They say it is good luck to have rain on your wedding day because a ‘wet knot’ is much harder to untie. I truly feel blessed.”


TINA, RAIN ALSO FELL on my wedding day in May of 1982. My husband and I have now been married for 29 years.

I expect that you and Micheal, with the challenges you’ve faced, already had a tightly-tied knot. Your positive attitude in the face of difficulties continues to impress me, as does your strength.

Congratulations on your marriage. May you and Mike live a long, happy and blessed life together.

Mike & Tina at sunset along the Mississippi River on their wedding day.

READERS: I F YOU HAVE NOT READ the six-part series of stories I posted in March about Tina’s experience during the September 2010 flash flood in Hammond, you’ll want to check it out now. Go to my archives and click on these dates: March 13 – 15 and March 17 – 19. Click here to read the first post, “Part I, Tina’s story, surviving the Hammond, Minnesota, flood.”

Also, consider contributing to Hammond’s efforts to rebuild city parks. Tina, recently-elected to the city council, is leading efforts to repair the flood-damaged parks. Click here to read a blog post about how you can help.

PHOTOS BY SHERWIN SAMANIEGO PHOTOGRAPHY of Rochester and courtesy of Tina Marlowe Mann.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Where is Tom Sawyer when you need him? May 26, 2011

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Three of the seven panels yet to be stained.

LAST WEEK I STARTED re-staining the fence that borders our backyard. Progress has been frustratingly slow and tedious.

With rain falling daily or every other day, or so it seems, sunny, stain-applying days have been sparse.

Even when it’s not raining, I must wait until the wood dries, and then the rain is falling again. At this rate, I should finish by, maybe, Labor Day.

Pretty to look at, challenging to stain.

The other issue is the fence itself. Take a good look at this fence with the lattice work top border that nicely dresses up the panels. That decorative touch sure looks pretty. But it’s difficult and time-consuming to stain. We’re talking tiny foam brushes here to apply stain to that lattice.

Do you know how quickly foam disintegrates when brushed against rough wood? Or how easily foam brush handles snap?  Yeah, that quickly and that easily.

But, hey, at least we have a pretty lattice-topped fence that keeps our property from looking like a fortified stockade.

As careful as I was, I trampled several ferns growing next to the fence. I also broke off several iris buds.

Under ideal circumstances, I would have completed this project a month or more ago, before my ferns, hostas, irises and bleeding heart erupted through the soil. But given the less than ideal spring in Minnesota, that did not happen.

Therefore I am forced to sidestep plants as I stain. Sometimes I fail to sidestep plants as evidenced by trampled foliage.

In a hurry to finish this project, I am constantly checking the weather forecast, or asking my husband, “Is it going to rain tomorrow? Can I stain the fence?”

If the wood is dry and the sky cloud-free, I stain. And then, if rain is predicted within 24 hours, I drape the newly-stained panel in plastic

A sheet of plastic protects a newly-stained fence panel from yet another day of rain.

weighted with rocks and clipped in place with clothespins. Twice I’ve had to protect the panels.

And I’ve stained just three panels. Only seven more to go.

OK. OK. You are probably thinking, “Why doesn’t she spray the stain onto the fence?” Number one—the first two panels are too close to the house for spraying. Number two—plants. Number three—I don’t think spraying will work, although my spouse thinks it will. He intends to try spraying, but has not had time or a dry evening to attempt this application.

So for now this project is mine, solely mine, as I do not seem to possess the persuasive powers of Tom Sawyer. Tom, as you may recall, manipulated his friends into whitewashing Aunt Polly’s fence by making a game of the chore.

Could I possibly convince any of you that staining my fence would be fun? I’d even throw in a cold beer. Or two.

I've used nearly a gallon of stain on three panels thus far.

HAVE ANY OF YOUR SPRING projects been delayed by cold and rain? I’d like to hear. (I know. I know. Really nothing to complain about compared to cleaning up and rebuilding after a tornado.)

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Faribault flooding update September 24, 2010

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Under the viaduct, in an area that is typically dry land, the Straight River has spilled outside its banks.

THE ANGRY RIVER DRAWS me, as close as I dare walk to the raging waters. I cannot stay away. For the third time in 24 hours, I have moved in close, taken photos, captured in digital format this history, this flooding of Faribault that I am witnessing.

I am not alone. Residents, young and old, are drawn to the water. Dads bring their children, clasp their hands tightly, keeping them safe from the muddy, churning waters. An old man hobbles to the edge of the Straight River under the viaduct, lifts his cane and points. Others flip open their cell phones, snap images.

A man snaps a photo with his cell phone of the floodwaters under the viaduct.

The Straight River runs through TeePee Tonka Park, a low-lying area prone to flooding. Here water covers the WPA bridge leading into the park.

As the sun begins to slide in the sky, glaring across the water’s surface, I take photos. I climb the hill and stairs to the viaduct, intending to shoot a bird’s eye view of the flooded river far below. But, because I am afraid of heights, I cannot force myself to walk onto the bridge and I turn around.

A few blocks away, I slip past the barriers barricading Ravine Street near Faribault Dairy on the banks of the Straight River. I walk past the bright orange sign that warns DANGER RAW SEWAGE SPILL.

A warning sign on closed Ravine Street near Faribault Dairy.

A company employee outfitted in blue and wearing knee high waders guards the entry to the cheese plant. I figure he might give me some information. But he says only, “Everything’s secure and under control. That’s all I can tell you.” He suggests I check a Web site and then says I need to move back, on the other side of the sidewalk line that separates public property from private. My toes are only inches across the line, but he has his orders and I respect those.

An employee guards the entry to Faribault Dairy, which makes my favorite blue cheese, among other cheeses.

Near the wastewater treatment plant, I cannot believe how much the Straight River has risen in 24 hours. Water now skims the bottom of the bridge. The plant is nearly submerged.

Water has flooded into the wastewater treatment plant along the Straight River.

Water skims the bottom of the bridge across the Straight River on 14th St. N.E. by the wastewater treatment plant.

There I meet a young man who tells me that his sister was getting ready to move into the home she purchased about a year ago right next to the viaduct. She’s been redoing the house. But the Straight River overflowed, flooded the basement with three feet and seven inches of water, he says. With three sump pumps working, the water has now receded to 27 inches.

The basement of this house near the Straight River by the viaduct was flooded with 43 inches of water.

By the Faribo Woolen Mill, I duck under yellow police tape to view the flooding of the Cannon River. As I walk onto the Second Avenue N.W. bridge—the road is closed—I wonder for a moment if this bridge could be swept away like the one in Oronoco. The water is that fast, that scary.

Then, as I leave, a cop car arrives and I think that I’ve left just in time. I know I should not have crossed the yellow tape. But, like all the others who have come to see this moment in history, I cannot stay away.

The Cannon River has risen to bridge level on Second Avenue N.W. by the Woolen Mill Dam.

The Cannon River has risen perhaps 15 feet next to the former Faribo Woolen Mill building, which snuggles against the river by the dam.

Water covers portions of Second Avenue N.W. and land by Faribault Foods.

A scene on Second Avenue N.W. near Faribault Foods.

These photos were taken between 5:30 – 6:45 p.m. Friday evening.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling