Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Finding creative ways to deal with our “new normal” March 20, 2020

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A message on the now closed Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault reminds us that we are in unprecedented times.

 

ALTHOUGH I EXPECTED IT, the news still felt like a punch to the gut. My county of Rice now has its first confirmed case of COVID-19. I feel more unsettled. Like the bubble of protection has popped. Not that we in this region south of the Twin Cities metro ever were in a bubble. But, as the saying goes, until it hits home…

Media reports say the case is related to international travel.

 

A snippet of the cancellations, restrictions and closings published in the Faribault Daily News.

 

We’re all on a journey right now, traveling to unexpected places as each day, even hourly, we go down new roads. Schools closed. Then libraries. Next, bars and restaurants and other gathering spots. Churches, hair salons, clinics, government offices… The list grows daily. Events canceled.

 

From an obituary published in my local newspaper days ago, prior to the 10-person gathering limit.

 

Among the most difficult of those challenges is grieving the loss of loved ones without a traditional public funeral service.

So how are we coping? How are we managing this new normal? I’d like to hear from you. Your ideas. Your stories. Your creative ways of helping others, of staying connected when you can’t be together. How are you keeping it all together personally? For yourself and your family.

I’ll open the conversation. Yesterday a sister-in-law emailed the extended Helbling family (of which there are around 60 spread across multiple states) and asked for updates. Responses started coming in from my nieces, in-laws and my own immediate family. Just to hear how everyone is doing at this time, during this global pandemic, helped reassure me. I didn’t realize until that moment how much I needed to hear from those I love.

Many are now working from home. There are concerns for those employed in retail. Some, like my second daughter and her husband, are now without work. Kids are home from school and parents are scrambling to keep them busy. At my niece’s home in Apple Valley, Dad now hosts a daily story time with the neighbors. They gather outdoors, with a minimum social distancing of six feet, for 30-40 minutes of reading. They’ve started with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. This is in Minnesota, remember. But they’re making it work. On good weather days.

 

This sign hangs outside the NAPA, Northfield, Auto Parts Store. Photo by my wonderful husband and NAPA’s automotive machinist, Randy.

 

At my husband’s workplace, NAPA Auto Parts in Northfield, the business now offers curbside pick-up as an option to customers.

In my home office, I’ve been hard at work on a new series of blog posts scheduled to roll out Sunday on Warner Press. The weekly posts will feature selected bible verses, sometimes paired with personal insights, with the goal of offering hope, comfort, peace and encouragement.

 

From the Trinity Lutheran Church, Faribault, Facebook page. Such uplifting Scripture is being posted daily.

 

I’m also editing and proofing devotionals posting daily on the Trinity Radio and Video website. My faith family is working hard to connect in a time when our church doors are closed.

Extraordinary times call for extraordinary creativity. They call for each of us to care, to connect, to extend kindness and love. We may not like where we’re at now, limited in our abilities to live life as we knew it pre-COVID-19. But we need to make the best of it. And when we share ideas, like I’m asking you to do here, we are all the better for having pooled our creativity.

SO LET’S HEAR FROM YOU.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

How a drive along a back road prompts thoughts about farming today February 12, 2020

 

I CALL IT THE BACK ROAD to Morristown, Rice County Road 15 south of Faribault and running west to Morristown. The more-traveled main route follows Minnesota State Highway 60.

 

 

But, I prefer the back way, which takes me past farm sites hugging the county road.

 

Looking across a snowy field along Rice County Road 15 near CR 45.

 

Here I feel immersed in the rural setting with less traffic, open land spreading wide under an equally wide sky.

 

 

I know some of the people who live along this road. They are salt-of-the-earth folks, hardworking, caring… Dairy farmers. Retired pig and crop farmer. A farmer who balances crop farming with a full-time job in town. Families raised on the land, with only one son among those I know along CR 15 continuing in farming. One son’s moved to Nashville, where he’s finding success as a professional oboist. I’m working on a story about him for a regional arts and entertainment magazine.

The times they are a changin’.

 

 

But then agriculture has always been evolving. I think back to my great grandparents and my grandparents who broke the land and farmed with horses in an especially labor-intensive way of life. And then machinery replaced horse power for my dad and his farmer brothers. And my middle brother, who no longer farms, saw even more advances in mechanization and technology. I barely recognize the farms of today.

 

 

I’d like to think, though, that those who still work the land do so because they love and value the land. In recent years I’ve observed a shift in attitudes toward a deepening respect of the soil, of using less chemicals (or even none), of adapting innovative erosion control practices, of protecting waterways…

 

 

I recognize the challenges of balancing the need to earn a living from the land, getting the highest yields possible, with decisions about farming practices. It’s not easy. Public perception and government regulations and weather and fluctuating markets add to the stress. It’s not easy being a farmer today. This is not our grandparents’ farm. Nor even our parents.

 

 

To those who choose to live on and work the land, I admire your stamina and determination. While I miss the peace and solitude of living in the country on land where the nearest neighbor lives more than a driveway width away, I realize I never would have made it as a farmer. I don’t have the guts or the fortitude or adaptability necessary to farm.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Documentation of why you should stay off rural roads during a winter storm January 19, 2020

Just outside of Faribault Saturday afternoon along Rice County Road 25, this old farmhouse was easily visible during the storm.

 

THE WEATHER IN MINNESOTA has calmed considerably since Saturday when high winds created blizzard and near-blizzard conditions throughout much of the state.

Now we’re dealing with frigid temps, just two degrees above zero mid-morning here in Faribault with an expected high of maybe 10 degrees. Yes, that’s cold, even for those of us who are life-long residents. But we’ve seen much colder, in the double digits sub-zero.

Weather often dominates conversation in Minnesota because it so dramatically affects our lives. Our plans. Our off-work time, especially in the winter when snow removal can seem like a part-time job. But, hey, we choose to live here, right?

 

Visibility was good as we started out on CR 25 Saturday afternoon.

 

And sometimes we make choices that aren’t too smart. Like mine yesterday to venture with Randy into the countryside to check out conditions. Per my post late Saturday afternoon, here are more photos from that short drive east of Faribault and back.

 

Lots of farm sites and rural homes hug the roadway, breaking the wind.

 

The American flag flying straight out shows the strength of Saturday’s wind on a rural site just east of Faribault along CR 25.

 

After we passed this barn on our friends’ farm site, conditions deteriorated.

 

Heading east out of town along Rice County Road 25/197th Street East, conditions were good. Blowing snow was minimal and we could easily see farm sites along the route. But then, as we edged into more open land, with no treelines or farm sites breaking the wind, visibility quickly lessened.

 

We drove into near white-out conditions along CR 25 near the intersection with CR 23.

 

Blowing snow diminished visibility.

 

We found ourselves enveloped in white, white-out conditions is the proper term.

 

Snow blows around low-slung buildings along CR 23.

 

Snowdrifts partially edged and crept onto sections of CR 23.

 

As we continued to drive south on CR 23, blowing snow reduced visibility even more.

 

Yes, I was scared and even asked Randy to turn around and retrace our route. Easier said than done. Instead, he eased onto County Road 23. Blowing snow still limited visibility although I could see near-the-road farm sites in the haze of white. Considerable drifting of snow near and onto the road now concerned me.

 

Snow pushed back from the roadway at the intersection of CR 23 and Minnesota State Highway 60 and photographed from the front passenger side window.

 

By the time we reached Minnesota State Highway 60, I was so ready to be done with this little adventure. Plowed snow banked the intersection. Randy rolled down his window to check for oncoming traffic.

 

Once on Minnesota State Highway 60 heading west, travel improved. More farm sites border this highway than along the county roads.

 

Then, thankfully, as we drove west toward Faribault, with less open space and farm sites breaking the wind, visibility improved.

 

Conditions as we approached Faribault were good, considering what we’d just driven through.

 

Lesson learned: Stay home during a winter storm, especially when you advise others to do so.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

About the current winter storm in Minnesota…a little advice January 18, 2020

Blowing snow reduces visibility along Rice County Road 25/197th Street East near its intersection with CR 23/Gates Avenue mid-afternoon on Saturday, January 18, 2020.

 

IF ANYONE IN MINNESOTA doubts the danger and fierceness of the current winter storm, just look at this photo.

Taken mid-afternoon, this shows white-out conditions along Rice County Road 25 near Faribault.

In a moment of stupidity, I agreed to go for a little drive in the country. Randy said we’d just head east of town past the rural homes of several friends, then follow another county road for a few miles to Minnesota State Highway 60 that would take us back to town.

Bad idea. The nearer we got to the T intersection of CR 25 and CR 23, the worse the conditions. I admit to a moment or ten of panic when I felt lost in a sea of white. Randy maintained his usual calm demeanor as he turned onto County Road 23 and visibility did not improve. He skirted the edges of drifts, kept the car on the roadway and got us safely to highway 60.

And, no, I did not exit the car to take photos. That would have been a really bad idea given the brutal whipping wind gusting between 30 – 50 mph. People die in weather like this if stranded outdoors. Not that I expected to be stranded. But who does?

If you yell at me in the comments section, your criticism is deserved. Maybe consider this a public service announcement or a first-hand field account from a former journalist.

Stay safe. And don’t be tempted (like me) to venture outside of town during a winter storm/blizzard. Not a good idea.

Watch for more photos in a future post.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A Sunday afternoon autumn drive in Rice County October 22, 2019

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A beautiful oak tree along the shore of Union Lake at Albers Park, Rice County, Minnesota.

 

IN THIS TOO WET and too gloomy of Minnesota autumns, days like this past weekend are a gift. Sunshine and dry weather. Trees morphing from green into sometimes blazing red. Skies still and beautiful and the scent of earth and harvest prevailing.

 

One of my favorite places to photograph in rural Rice County in autumn: the shoreline of Kelly Lake.

 

A mass of maple leaves at Albers Park.

 

From the shores of Union Lake, the steps leading down to the lake at Albers Park.

 

On Sunday afternoon we took a drive through western Rice County to view the fall colors. I needed the outing after a week of mostly lying around feeling awful. An all too early in the flu season virus struck me hard. Residuals remain and I’m still not back to 100 percent.

 

Across the water, colorful trees line the shore of Kelly Lake.

 

Autumn beauty in a single leaf.

 

A playground at Albers Park stands empty on a beautiful October Sunday afternoon.

 

But a few hours away from home viewing the changing landscape, taking photos and walking about in the beauty of autumn lifted my spirits considerably. Especially since I missed my niece Katie’s wedding on Saturday. Nothing will make up for that. But such is life. I knew wedding guests wouldn’t appreciate my not entirely healthy presence.

 

Not everyone could play like me on Sunday. Farmers were working hard to harvest crops on a rare sunny day.

 

On a beautiful autumn afternoon in southeastern Minnesota, none of that mattered. Sunshine does the soul good. So do fresh air and thoughts focused outward instead of inward.

The afternoon ended perfectly with a stop at an area apple orchard. More to come on that.

 

Maple leaves up close.

 

I hope that you, like me, have found time to delight in these closing days of autumn. Trees in colorful glory. Sun streaming. Scents of harvest and earth rising.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

“Night at the Museum” brings history to life & memories, too, Part II October 2, 2019

Chatting it up in the Harvest and Heritage Halls.

 

THE ENTHUSIASM OF THE KIDS impressed me. Girls in Laura Ingalls Wilder style calico bonnets and prairie skirts and dresses. Boys in period caps and hats and bib overalls. And then the teens in football jerseys, celebrating locally-grown 1941 Heismann Trophy winner Bruce Smith.

 

A photo cut-out of Bruce Smith next to Pleasant Valley School and next to a grassy area where kids (mostly) tossed footballs.

 

All engaged in Night at the Museum, an event hosted by the Rice County Historical Society last Saturday. They led activities, participated and presented a local living history that reminded me of those who settled and grew this southeastern Minnesota county.

 

Checking out the one-room Pleasant Valley School.

 

One of many vintage books inside Pleasant Valley School.

 

Pleasant Valley School, built in the 1850s, and Holy Innocents Episcopal Church, built in 1869. Both were relocated to the Rice County Historical Society grounds.

 

While it’s easy to romanticize that life, the reality is that life back-in-the-day was labor intensive and often difficult. But also joyful. Just like today, only different in the joys and challenges. Back then students learned from books and used slates and chalk. Lots of rote memorization within the confines of a bare bones one-room country school. Today’s kids use different tools—primarily technology. And hopefully they learn in better ways than simply memorizing and regurgitating.

 

 

As I pounded out words on a manual typewriter in the Heritage and Harvest Halls, I thought how grateful I am for computers. Writing and photography are so much easier with this tool. No more xxxxing out words on paper or buying and processing film. When I spoke with my husband Randy on a crank telephone, I recalled the days without a telephone and how my mom ran to the neighbor’s farm when a fire started in a hay bunk next to the barn. Now I use a cellphone and, yes, also a landline. Watching two men team up on sharpening an axe, I recalled the mean rooster on my childhood farm. When we’d all had enough of his terrorizing us, Dad grabbed the axe.

 

Visitors ride in a wagon pulled by a vintage John Deere tractor during Night at the Museum.

 

 

One of many area business signs now displayed at the museum.

 

When I saw a Surge milking machine, I remembered how hard my dad worked on our family’s crop and dairy farm and all those years I helped with barn chores and watched Dad head out to the field on his John Deere tractor.

 

Behind glass, memorabilia from a local dairy, closed years ago.

 

A storyteller, left, roasts hot dogs with another volunteer.

 

 

These are the places, the times, I remembered as I walked from spot to spot at the Rice County Historical Museum grounds. Night at the Museum provided many opportunities for reflection, for remembering when I was young (er)…

 

Folks gathered around the fire to hear these musicians perform at Night at the Museum.

 

FYI: Please click here to read my first post about this year’s Night at the Museum.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Connecting with history during “Night at the Museum,” Part I October 1, 2019

This volunteer informed visitors about the history of an 1856 log cabin, once located near Nerstrand, Minnesota.

 

WHEN HISTORY BECOMES AUTHENTIC, I get interested. Not to say I dismiss museum exhibits packed with information, artifacts and such. But I engage most with the past when that past comes alive.

 

The festive setting outside the late 1850s Pleasant Valley School welcomed visitors to A Night at the Museum.

 

That happened Saturday during the Rice County Historical Society’s annual Night at the Museum. Volunteers dressed in period costume took visitors like me back in time—

 

Gathering outside Pleasant Valley School before “class.”

 

Inside the school entry, a place to wash.

 

 

 

Propped against the wall at the front of the classroom.

 

As the early evening sun slants through the windows, class begins.

 

into a one-room country school,

 

Next to the school, Holy Innocents Episcopal Church, built in 1869 and moved here in 1959 from Cannon City, Minnesota.

 

Waiting for “worshipers” to enter the church.

 

 

Beautiful vintage altar cloth authentic to the church.

 

 

An 1800s hymnbook.

 

an aged Episcopal church,

 

Outside the 1856 log cabin, visitors could walk on stilts and mow lawn.

 

 

Inside the log cabin, a young visitor learns about pioneer era beds.

 

an 1856 log cabin…

I found myself watching, listening, experiencing the history of Rice County, Minnesota. I didn’t grow up here so this place doesn’t hold the same significance it would for life-long residents rooted here for generations. But I’ve lived in Faribault long enough to care about the history of this county and the people who shaped it.

 

Inside the Harvest and Heritage Halls, many local business signs are now displayed. I remember these businesses, some of which closed in recent years. I love signage for its art and its history.

 

And I’ve lived long enough to now see items like local business signs, typewriters, telephones, a Surge milking machine and more in museum exhibits.

I am grateful for efforts to preserve these parts of our past and to showcase history during interactive events like Night at the Museum. To witness history in this way connects me personally to the past of this place I’ve called home since 1982.

FYI: Check back for Part II from this living history event.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling