Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

COVID-19 deaths reach 100 in Rice County April 7, 2021

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo used for illustration only.

YESTERDAY MY COUNTY of Rice reached a mournful milestone with the 100th death of a resident due to COVID-19. That individual was only in his/her upper fifties.

Not that age matters. Every individual is to be valued, whether a child, a senior or anyone in between. Yet, I am citing this age to reaffirm that COVID kills more than the oldest among us. None of us knows how COVID will affect us. We may experience mild or no symptoms or symptoms so severe we land in an ICU. We could become long-haulers. Or we could die.

In the span of a year, 100 individuals in Rice County, population 64,142, died due to COVID-19. That’s a lot of families grieving, hurting, adjusting to life without a person they loved. Think about that for a minute or ten.

SEEING MORE & MORE NON-MASKERS & HALF-MASKERS

And then consider this. Every time I am out in public—whether buying groceries or shopping at a Big Box store or popping into the local dollar store, I see half-maskers and non-maskers. Their numbers are increasing. Just the other evening I stopped to pick up balloons for my granddaughter’s birthday and two young women stood behind me in line, neither wearing a mask. I exited that store angry and frustrated and wondering what’s so d**n hard about wearing a face mask.

I feel that way a lot. We are so close to this pandemic ending and people are exhibiting incredibly selfish behavior by not masking, or by half-masking. This has been an issue since mask mandates went in to place in Minnesota last summer. This is not about making a political statement or taking away individual rights, but rather about public health, about preventing the spread of a virus, about saving lives. Why can’t people understand that? Do non-maskers and half-maskers ever pause to consider that they may unknowingly pass along a virus which could make someone really sick or even kill someone? Where is the sense of responsibility, the concern for fellow human beings?

So, yeah, when I see individuals like the young father in the grocery store with a gator pulled over the back of his neck and over the top portion of his head but not covering his face, I feel disrespected. I tried to avoid him. But he bounced around the aisles like a ping pong ball. Ironically, his elementary-aged daughter wore her face mask correctly. He should follow her example.

THIS IS PERSONAL

My husband, who works in an automotive machine shop, tells me mask compliance is getting worse with maybe half his customers masking. That concerns me. I love him. I don’t want some idiot I-don’t-give-a-d**n-about-COVID customer infecting him. He doesn’t have a work-from-home option. Only recently did Randy secure a vaccine appointment, even though he’s nearly 65. Our tech savvy daughter helped him land that. Without her help, he’d still be waiting. If you’re anti-vaccine, don’t bother to tell me in the comments section. I refuse to give voice to that viewpoint or to misinformation on this, my personal blog.

According to statistics shared on the Rice County Public Health website on April 6, nearly 42 percent of the county population has received at least one vaccine dose. That seems a good start. But I know from our experience that vaccine appointments are elusive. Randy drove to Owatonna for his shot at a Big Box store. There he met a young mom from Lonsdale desperate to get an appointment for her immune-compromised mother.

While Randy got vaccinated, I shopped for a few essentials. And the entire time, I dodged half-maskers and non-maskers and wondered why? Why can’t we all care about one another and do the right thing by masking, and masking properly? In one section of the store, a pharmacist injected a life-saving vaccine. And, in too many aisles, too many customers (and some employees) chose to ignore a very basic way to stop the spread of COVID-19 by masking.

100 DEAD AND COUNTING

And now here we are with 6,889 Minnesotans dead (as of April 6) due to COVID-19, with 100 of those in my county of Rice.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflections after a country drive April 1, 2021

Farmland dominates the landscape east of Faribault near Minnesota State Highway 60.

EAST OF FARIBAULT, the land stretches long and flat. Wide open. Fields punctuated by farm sites.

We followed this narrow, and muddy, gravel road.

Gravel and asphalt roads divide farmland into grids. Orderly. As if a ruler was laid across the earth and straight lines inked thereon.

Building sites break the monotony of fields.

Sunday afternoon, after a hike at Falls Creek County Park, Randy and I took a country drive. We are farm-raised, decades removed from the farm, but with an enduring connection to the land.

An old hayrack, so familiar to me, parked in a field east of Faribault.

On the cusp of spring planting time in Minnesota, the draw back to the land, to the familiarity of fields, calls. For me, there’s this deep yearning, this need to lay my eyes on the bare earth or the residue of last year’s crops.

I feel connected to all of this via my rural upbringing in southwestern Minnesota.

At times my heart aches for missing the land. I want to smell the scent of soil, to touch the cold earth, to remember all those springs back on the farm. The steady rhythm of the tractor, the corn kernels pouring into the planter and then the faint hint of green lining the black fields.

An aged abandoned outbuilding on a former farm site just outside Nerstrand.

Much about farming has changed since my leaving of the land in the early 1970s. But the basics remain. The planting, the growing and harvesting.

Power poles along a gravel road are such a strong rural visual.

And even though I’ve lived in town far more decades than on a farm, my rural upbringing roots me to the land and takes me back each season. To honor my hardworking farmer dad. To equally appreciate my mom who gardened and fed and raised six children on the land. My hardworking parents instilled in me a love of the land, a connection to place and the innate need to follow gravel roads into the countryside.

Dad farmed, in the early years with a John Deere and Farmall and IH tractors and later with a Ford. (Photo by Lanae Kletscher Feser)
A photo of my dad, Elvern Kletscher, taken in 1980.

This post is dedicated in loving memory of my farmer father, Elvern Kletscher, who died on April 7, 2003. Thank you, Dad, for raising me to appreciate the land, for teaching me the value of hard work. for instilling in me a love of God and of family. I am grateful. And I miss you.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Into the woods at Falls Creek Park March 31, 2021

Moss feathers across the end of a hewn tree.

AS SPRING EASES INTO MINNESOTA, I embrace the transition of seasons in indecisive weather and in the subtle greening of the landscape.

A greening vine in the otherwise muted landscape.

I don’t trust that winter has really, truly, exited. Yet, these early glimpses of spring assure me that the bulk of winter lies behind us.

Randy walks in the woods.

I saw that in the woods of Falls Creek County Park on Sunday afternoon. Randy and I hiked in this 61-acre park a mile east of Faribault off Minnesota State Highway 60. It’s a relatively unused park, one of the reasons we are drawn here.

Water rushes under the bridge and over rocks.

Here a dirt hiking path curves along the waterway winding through woods. Access to that path comes via an arched pedestrian bridge. There water rushes over rocks and we always pause to appreciate the soothing sound of rushing water.

The creek meanders, wide in some areas, narrow in others.
In places, the creek runs clear.
A fork in the creek.

And we also always walk to the side of the creek, to examine the water at the bend, before it flows under the bridge. Recent rain left that water muddied. Later we would find the creek flowing clear.

Loving the light, color and texture on this tree trunk moss.

Entering the woods, I determined to photograph signs of spring in the muted landscape. That requires focus. Examples of spring are elusive and seen mostly in vivid green moss carpeting fallen tree trunks.

A fallen tree provides a canvas for art.

But I can photograph only so much moss. Thus I expanded my perspective. Nature writes details upon the landscape. Even in a scene of mostly muted browns.

Hillsides of trees rising

and fungi laddering

and dried leaves curling.

Nature’s “antlers.”

And the branches of a tree twisting like antlers.

Nature’s sculpture.

And felled trees that appear like natural sculptures.

The makeshift bridge.

All of these nuances I noticed as we walked, as I stopped to take in my surroundings, as Randy steadied me while I crossed a makeshift branch bridge across a spillway.

Randy crosses the bridge out of the woods.

There is much to see in this seasonal transition, if only we pause to appreciate. To look. And really see. To hear. And really listen. It’s there. The poetry of wind and water and woods and words.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A COVID-19 update & thoughts from Rice County, Minnesota January 22, 2021

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo from Valley Grove Cemetery, used for illustration only.

SLIGHTLY OVER A MONTH has passed since I wrote about COVID-19 in my southeastern Minnesota county. And in those 34 days, 22 more individuals in Rice County have died due to the virus, bringing our total deaths to 69. Since the pandemic began, the number of people infected with COVID (January 21 county stats) stands at 6,139.

My heart breaks when I consider the death data, because behind every number is a person. Someone who loved and was loved. The virus claimed individuals ranging in age from 24 – 104. Most (42) lived in long term care centers.

I scrolled through area obituaries to find a few of those individuals who died due to COVID. I appreciate when families publicly share that cause of death as I think it’s a personally powerful way to make a statement to the community that, This virus is deadly.

READ THEIR NAMES

In my brief search, I found these names: Craig, 71; Ted, 77; Harvey, 75; Chuck, 89; Norma, 92; and Dave, 87. Dave, part of my faith family, was a long-time funeral home director prior to retiring and passing along the business to his son. Craig was a Faribault pastor, the first in my county to die of COVID-19 in April.

While my immediate family has thus far remained healthy, many extended family members have gotten and recovered from the virus. Friends have also been ill, including one hospitalized for two weeks. I indirectly know others who’ve been hospitalized and/or died. They are individuals I’ve sometimes prayed for for weeks as they’ve battled the virus and struggled to recover.

My niece will tell you the story of a friend who has suffered serious, severe and long-lasting complications from COVID-19. That’s the thing about this virus. We never know if we will experience only a mild case or something much more serious. Even deadly. Age is not a given protection.

MASK WEARING REMAINS AN ISSUE

Wearing a multi-layered, tight-fitting mask (and, no, a plastic face shield alone doesn’t count as CDC-approved protection); socially distancing; washing/sanitizing hands often; avoiding time with those outside our household, especially in enclosed spaces; and staying home when sick or with COVID symptoms remain as important as ever to help stop the spread of the virus. I can’t stress those health and safety protocols enough.

I continue to see people in public without masks or wearing them below their noses and sometimes even below their mouths. That frustrates me to no end—this inability to wear a mask or to wear it correctly by covering both the mouth AND the nose. It’s not that difficult. Even my 2-year-old grandson wears his mask properly. Why is it so hard for adults (like the cashiers at a local dollar store, some grocery store customers, etc.) to do so? Most troubling was the half-masker sporting a jacket for an area small town volunteer fire and rescue department. I want to scream at these people and confront them. (I don’t. I avoid them.) And, yes, that may sound judgy. But at this point in the pandemic, when a new variant is increasing spread, masks are even more important. People ought to care about protecting others. They ought to care that their neighbors are getting really sick and/or dying.

HOPEFUL AS VACCINES ROLL OUT

As of yesterday, 2,039 people in Rice County, or 3.1 percent, have started the vaccination process targeted first to those living in long term care settings and working in healthcare. It’s a start in a county with a population of 65,765. Some vaccines have also been set aside for childcare workers, educators and those age 65 and over. That said, the supply cannot meet demand. Yet, I am thankful for vaccination beginning and hopeful that will amp up under the Biden administration.

Randy and I are some eight months shy of the age 65 cut-off. I’m not worried about myself as much as my husband. He faces possible COVID exposure in the workplace. (And, yes, there have been cases.) As a highly-skilled and in high demand automotive machinist, working from home is not an option. So I ask him to mask and distance himself from co-workers and customers, especially those non-maskers and half-maskers.

If Randy gets COVID, I likely will, too. And I’d rather not test how my body will react. A severe case of whooping cough at age 50, which left me incredibly sick for three months, gasping for air, using an inhaler and taking a steroid, shows me just how awful an illness that affects the lungs and impedes breathing. I expect COVID would be worse. Much worse.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

As COVID continues, thoughts from Linda & me December 19, 2020

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I photographed my mom’s hands when I last visited her in-person in her care center in early March. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U

Each letter in the two rows above represents a person who lost their life to COVID-19 in my county of Rice.

Forty-seven individuals ranging in age from 24 to 94.

These were our family and friends and neighbors. Sons and daughters and husbands and wives and mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and one, Dave, part of my faith family.

I think sometimes we lose site of the humanity in the statistics. These numbers come from the Rice County Public Health weekly COVID-19 report, last updated December 18.

Of those who died in Rice County, Minnesota, to date, 25 lived in long-term care settings, 17 in private residences and five in prison.

My heart breaks for those who have lost loved ones to this horrible virus. I’m sorry. Deeply sorry. That includes extended family and friends now without a sister, a father, a father-in-law, an uncle.

A POWERFUL LETTER BY A DAUGHTER

My mom’s care center. The last time I visited my mom, it was on a phone through these glass doors. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Recently, I read an especially touching letter to the editor penned by Linda Hoffman of neighboring Owatonna and published in my local newspaper. It was titled The virus takes its opportunity where it can find it. Linda recently lost her mother, a resident of a care facility, to COVID. She addresses the issue of people disregarding masking and other health and safety protocols. Linda emphasizes how the repeated message that, of those who died recently from COVID in Minnesota, “60% were residents of long-term care facilities and most had underlying health conditions” may create a false sense of security. Her point: this may partially explain why some people are not masking, thinking it’s just old people in nursing homes who are dying. They are wrong, she says, as she writes of how a young person running around with friends can pick up and spread the virus.

It’s a powerful letter that ends with this admonition to those who fail to mask up, who live life like there’s no pandemic, who complain about closed businesses and government restrictions:

So when you hear the news that 60% of COVID fatalities are residents of long-term care facilities with underlying health conditions, don’t think that you had nothing to do with their death.

Wow. That’s powerful.

I JUST DON’T GET IT.

The reason the Rare Pair in Northfield gives for wearing face masks. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2020.

Like Linda, I’m weary of ignorant attitudes, of the failure to wear face masks. Every time I’m out and about in Faribault, which isn’t all that often because I’m trying to stay healthy, I see people without masks or people wearing them below their noses. I’ve observed preschoolers wearing masks without a problem and then will pass by an adult with no mask. And most of the time, those mask-less individuals are young adults, who can often be asymptomatic and spread the virus.

I don’t understand how, after 47 deaths in my county, after 5,152 confirmed and probable cases of COVID, after 177 hospitalizations (with 35 in ICU), people still do not recognize the importance of masking, social distancing, hand washing, and avoiding gatherings and crowds to prevent and stop the spread of the virus.

I MISS MY MOM.

Me with my mom during a January visit. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo January 2020 by Randy Helbling.

My 88-year-old mom (who is in hospice) and 90-year-old father-in-law live in care centers in other parts of Minnesota, in counties with incredibly high per capita rates of COVID. Their centers have been on lockdowns due to COVID cases more times than I recall. I want to visit my mom in-person, to hug her, hold her hand. I last did that in early March. But I understand the need to keep visitors away, to keep residents well. I would never risk giving my mom COVID and being responsible for her death.

I understand Linda’s anger penned in her letter. I feel her pain, appreciate her points. And I want to add that, even if 60% of Minnesota’s COVID deaths occurred in residents of long-term care centers, their lives are no less important. I value our elders. None of them should suffer and die, with or without family, from the virus.

Forty-seven individuals in my county, to date, have lost their lives due to COVID. It is incumbent upon each of us to follow health and safety guidelines to protect ourselves and others. Yes, vaccines are here and for that I feel grateful. Vaccinations take time, though. We need to commit to caring. About others, not just ourselves.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Virtual Faribault Christmas concert aims to uplift, help others December 16, 2020

Carolers perform at the Shattuck-St. Mary’s Christmas Walk in 2016. The community event, like so many other holiday activities, did not happen this year in Faribault due to COVID-19. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

AS I WRITE, CHRISTMAS MUSIC plays in the background on Twin Cities Christian radio station KTIS, inspiring me, uplifting me, encouraging me with faith-based songs.

In a typical year, I would sing Advent and Christmas hymns with my faith family in church. But now, during COVID-19, I’m watching services online. I feel grateful for this technology. But it’s not the same. I miss the in-person connection, the simply being there.

Inside the sanctuary of Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2019.

Greg Ciesluk, pastor of Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, was experiencing a similar feeling of loss. A self-proclaimed “music person” actively involved in the Faribault community, he considered how he could restore some Christmas joy. Cancellation of the Faribault High School choir’s annual performance—an 81-year tradition—at the local Rotary Club’s Christmas meal prompted Ciesluk to think creatively. (He’s a Rotary member.) The result: An hour-long virtual Christmas concert featuring local musicians.

A horse-drawn wagon gives rides in historic downtown Faribault during a past holiday celebration. Events like this didn’t happen this year. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

“Christmas in Faribault 2020” (type that into your search engine) debuts on YouTube at 7 pm Saturday, December 19. The concert can also be viewed on Faribault Community Television.

In Decembers past, Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church has hosted a community Christmas dinner. At a previous dinner, guests were invited to take poinsettias home, like this woman I photographed several years ago at the church. Because of the pandemic, this dinner was canceled. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Ciesluk promises a wonderful, uplifting experience in a “joyful, soulful and invigorating” concert.

From well-known local musicians like Doug Madow and Dr. Michael Hildebrandt to Beau Chant to a children’s group from Christ Lutheran Church and many more, including performances by Ciesluk, the virtual concert features pre-recorded songs submitted to Fox Video Productions for production.

Volunteers at Fourth Avenue UMC serve food at a past Christmas dinner. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

But a desire to uplift the community in this Christmas of canceled concerts isn’t the sole goal behind those putting together this virtual musical event. Organizers are encouraging viewers to donate to the Salvation Army as “a way to show God’s compassion and concern for those in need,” says Ciesluk. All donations stay in Rice County.

Ringing bells for the Salvation Army. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Give directly at red kettle donation sites in the county; via checks mailed to the Salvation Army of Rice County, 617 3rd Ave. N.W., Faribault, MN. 55021; or through an online link that will be included in the video. The concert will feature a spot from the Salvation Army. Sheriff Troy Dunn, who heads the county’s Salvation Army outreach, is serving as emcee.

Me, ringing bells for the Salvation Army in the past. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo by Randy Helbling.

Randy and I have, for many years, rung bells for the Salvation Army. It’s been a joyful, humbling experience. But this holiday season, because of COVID-19, we decided given our high risk age status, not to volunteer. Yet, I am helping in another way. Ciesluk asked if he could incorporate holiday/Christmas photos I’ve taken around Faribault through the years into “Christmas in Faribault 2020.” I agreed. Like him and his team of organizers and musicians, I am happy to help bring joy to others during an especially challenging year.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Escape into the Cannon River Wilderness Area November 20, 2020

SOME DAYS I WISH I could simply disappear, vanish into the woods or wheel across the prairie like the Ingalls family to an unknown destination. Far from reality. Far from COVID-19.

But, since I must live in the context of a pandemic, in the place I call home, I look for places to escape nearby. And, on a recent Sunday afternoon, Randy and I disappeared into the Cannon River Wilderness Area between Faribault and Northfield off Minnesota State Highway 3.

In the nearly 40 years we have lived in Rice County, we’ve only stopped here once, many years ago for a family picnic, but never to hike. On this day we followed the rutted gravel road along the river, past a junkyard and into the wilderness parking lot. We walked a short path to the Cannon River, then a longer one along the river to a foot bridge.

To get there, we passed two tents in the primitive camping area. I delighted in watching a young family gathered in the woods near river’s edge, enjoying the outdoors, away from distracting/detracting technology. At the next tent down, I observed a caged dog.

After passing the campers, we spotted a hillside bluff of limestone looming to the side of the trail.

Springs bubbled water across the muddy path partially covered by a thin layer of wood chips. I found myself tensing at the thought of traversing mud. My slip-on shoes, unlike Randy’s treaded boots, offered zero traction. And, with a history of two falls, one on rain-slicked wooden steps that resulted in a broken wrist and subsequent surgery to implant a plate, I felt angst.

But Randy offered his hand to steady me as we walked across mud, atop slippery rocks and balanced on railroad ties. Eventually, we reached the pedestrian bridge over the Cannon.

If anything soothes me, it is water and wind. And, on this early November day, I stood on that wooden bridge, taking in the elements that calm me. River rushing over rocks. Wind roaring through woods.

 

 

The sun, too, warming me and casting artsy criss-cross shadows upon the bridge deck.

Then I noticed the trees. Tornado trees, I term them. Two years ago, in September 2018, tornadoes ravaged Rice County, including the 800-acre Cannon River Wilderness Area. Evidence of the storm remains in fallen trees, limbless trees, trees stripped of branches. In the woods. In the river. Along the riverbank. Thoughts of tornadoes invite distress as I recall the 1968 deadly tornado in Tracy, Minnesota, a storm I remember from my childhood in southwestern Minnesota. Some things you never forget.

But for a short time, I forgot about COVID as I immersed myself in the natural world. Even among tornado trees, some of which groaned in the strong wind.

As Randy and I retraced our steps along the muddy path, I focused on getting safely back to the parking lot without falling. But in a single step onto a rounded rock, my shoes slipped and I felt myself falling to the right. Thoughts of another broken bone flashed. As did the likelihood that my camera would be destroyed. Yet, Randy, who had been gripping my hand, caught me, even as he, too, nearly landed in the mud. I felt gratitude for his strength, for his support, for his care. We have traversed many a difficult journey through life. Together. And for that I am grateful, especially during a global pandemic.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A look at COVID-19 in Minnesota & it’s bad November 13, 2020

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

THE PAST WEEK HERE IN MINNESOTA has been a difficult one as daily COVID-19 cases rise right along with deaths. The numbers are staggering. A record 7,228 positives reported Thursday. A record 56 reported deaths on Wednesday. I feel like I’m almost numbing to the statistics, to the ever-growing cases and deaths, including five new deaths reported in my county of Rice on Wednesday, another on Thursday. Likewise the number of care centers and schools with infections numerous enough to make the Minnesota Department of Health outbreak list lengthens.

Nearly every day recently I’ve received an email or a text notifying me that someone I care about, or one of their loved ones, is infected with the virus. That includes two sisters-in-law and a brother-in-law. Both my mom and my father-in-law are back in quarantine after new cases of COVID in staffers at their care centers. Concern for my husband at his workplace is ongoing given the many mask-less customers and co-workers not masking properly. He can’t do his job from home; he’s an automotive machinist. We discuss his work situation often and his need to put his health and safety first.

Social distancing remains part of the safety protocol to protect ourselves and others from COVID-19. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

This pandemic is out of control. You all know that. And it doesn’t need to be this way. I’ve long felt deep frustration over the failure of some many to follow basic health and safety guidelines like masking up (and that means wearing the mask correctly, covering mouth AND nose), keeping six feet or more away from others, washing/sanitizing hands, avoiding crowds, and staying home if you’re sick, have symptoms, have had contact with an infected person or are awaiting COVID test results. These are not difficult requirements to follow.

Posted on the door of a business in Northfield, MN. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2020.

A friend recently offered this comparison to those who claim masks do no good:

If you were having surgery would you want the surgeon to wear a mask? We wear masks during the pandemic for the same reason surgeons wear masks in surgery, to prevent the spread of germs.

He’s right. I’ve used that same analogy. And this week the Centers for Disease Control stated that wearing masks not only protects others, but also ourselves. I’ve long thought that. Yet, too many still view mask mandates as political, as government intrusion, as anything but what they are, a way to protect all of us from COVID-19. This is science and health-based. But, for some reason, too many people in my community of Faribault continue to ignore the science and our state mask mandate. I see unmasked individuals (and those wearing them below their noses or around their necks only) in public all the time.

The #1 reason to mask up. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2020.

I am thankful that Minnesota’s governor this week added restrictions to help stop the spread of COVID in my state. Those include closing bars and restaurants at 10 pm, banning bellying up to the bar and limiting games like darts and pool, capping funeral and wedding reception sizes, and asking us to limit private gatherings to 10 people from no more than three households. Already, people are whining and complaining. “What about Thanksgiving? And what about Christmas? And what about…?” (The Free Community Thanksgiving Dinner and Faribault Winterfest have been cancelled due to COVID-19. I’m so relieved organizers made those smart choices.)

I photographed this sign on a business in Crosby, MN. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

Yet, politicians continue to fuel the fire of opposition to mandates by citing economic concerns and abuse of power. I understand the economic fall-out. I’ve lost income due to the pandemic. My daughter lost her job. My son-in-law lost his job. (They’re working now.) The hospitality industry, especially, is hurting. I get that. I acknowledge that. But the constant criticism of efforts to stop the spread of COVID makes zero sense. We are in this together. Together. Elected officials who continually attack public health mandates are hurting efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19. I don’t understand why they don’t understand that this pandemic is, first and foremost, a public health issue that takes top priority.

Can you imagine being a healthcare worker right now (and I know some of you are)? Many are voicing their frustration over the failure of the public to grasp the severity of the pandemic, to follow basic preventative measures. Minnesota hospitals are filling. Our healthcare workers are getting sick.

The reason the Rare Pair in Northfield gives for wearing face masks. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2020.

We all want life to return to normal. But in between now and a vaccine, we must each adhere to health and safety guidelines. When we don’t, we risk our own health and the health of others. I, for one, don’t need more emails and texts telling me of loved ones or others infected with COVID.

And I don’t want to read more disheartening headlines like these published in my local newspaper, the Faribault Daily News, this week:

COVID-19 outbreak at care center swells to 74 staff, residents

COVID surge drives Faribault district to distance learning

With COVID cases on the rise, City Hall to shut its doors

We each have a responsibility to try our best to stop the spread of COVID by following health and safety protocols. Thank you to those who are doing just that.

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Note: I moderate all comments and will not publish inflammatory comments, including those which spread misinformation and false narratives.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

About that “stupid mask…” October 26, 2020

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The reason the Rare Pair in Northfield, Minnesota, gives for wearing face masks. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

“…if I didn’t have to wear this stupid mask…”

As his words slid across me, I felt my anger and frustration flare as they too often do these days. I wanted to lash out at him, this guy who expressed his disdain for wearing a face mask. But I held back as I waited for the bank teller to return with my deposit slip. I suppressed the message I wanted to share with him that wearing a mask protects others from COVID-19.

I wanted to tell him, too, about the 87-year-old Faribault resident who died the day prior due to complications of the virus. Dave. Part of my faith family at Trinity Lutheran Church. A man of faith, character and integrity. Well-known in the community, he was the second-generation owner of a funeral home, operated since 1995 by his son Scott.

As I write, I picture Dave with his broad smile, his genuine care and concern for others. To run a funeral home, you have to be an individual of compassion and understanding, of grace and kindness. A listener and comforter.

“Protect the herd” plays off the city’s “Cows, Colleges and Contentment” slogan in Northfield, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

All these thoughts filter through my mind when I consider how too many people still fail to wear face masks, fail to follow social distancing guidelines, gather in crowds and/or criticize these public health efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.

I see this every time I’m in public. The 40-something unmasked dad at the grocery store shopping with his unmasked elementary-aged son while nearby a 4-year-old has no problem masking up. The two men in another grocery store likewise without masks. The customer in the phone store who pulls his mask on and off with no concern for staff or other customers. And the young 20-something who walks into the phone shop like he owns the place, without a care for adhering to the many signs that call for wearing a mask and social distancing inside the business. The waitress at the end of the bar, standing with two other waitresses, her mask below her nose, as we pick up take-out. It is among the reasons I won’t dine at a restaurant. Half-masking doesn’t protect anyone.

I am beyond frustrated with what I perceive as selfishness, lack of care for others and lack of respect for science and our healthcare workers and so much more. At this point in the progression of COVID, I don’t expect opinions to change. I expect the “if I didn’t have to wear this stupid mask” attitude to continue.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

I expect my state senator will continue with his outspoken outrage over emergency measures taken in our state to protect residents during this global pandemic. After all, as he pointed out in a recent radio interview, his district has only tallied 20 deaths. (That number increased since the senator made that statement.) He continually terms the virus a metro problem. Statistics, facts, show COVID-19 is running rampant now in rural Minnesota. This is a disease that doesn’t distinguish between city or small town/rural, suburban or urban.

From the front page of the Faribault Daily News. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2020.

That brings me back to Dave, now the 10th Rice County resident to die due to complications from COVID-19. But Dave is not just a number. He was a husband, a father, a grandfather, a man who for decades comforted grieving families. Just like the first person, the Rev. Craig Breimhorst, to die of the virus in my county in April.

This is so important to remember. Behind every number, every statistic, is a person. An individual who loved and was loved. Dave was part of my faith family, thus his death from COVID affects me personally. So when I hear someone say, “…if I didn’t have to wear this stupid mask…” or I see people without masks or half-maskers or I hear of people attending sizable social gatherings, I feel my blood pressure and anger rising.

Dave will not have the funeral he deserves, like so many who have passed during COVID-19. His will be a private family service “in consideration of family health risks.” I respect and appreciate that decision. Too many funerals (and weddings) have been the source of COVID outbreaks in Minnesota.

FOR OUR HEALTH AND YOURS, the #1 reason to mask up. Posted at a Northfield business. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Yes, we’re all getting COVID weary. I get that. I understand the challenges, especially as we move into winter and the holiday season. This is not easy. But we have the power to, at the very least, do our best to protect ourselves and each other. To listen to the scientists and health experts. To don our masks. And to make smart, not stupid, choices.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts during this season of autumn in Minnesota October 20, 2020

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A cornfield fronts a farm site between Faribault and Dundas in rural Rice County, Minnesota.

LIVING IN SOUTHERN MINNESOTA, as I have for my entire life, I feel a strong connection to the land rooted in my rural upbringing.

A barn roof is barely visible over a cornfield, rural Rice County.

Each autumn, I reflect on this time of bringing in the crops. Of gathering the last of the garden produce. Of harvesting corn and soybeans from the acres of fields that define rural areas. I miss the sights and sounds and scents of farming this time of year. Once-green fields muting to shades of brown, Combines roaring down field rows. The air smelling of drying leaves and of earth.

A back country road north of Faribault, heading to Dundas.

For those reasons, I always appreciate a drive through the countryside, especially along gravel roads. The pace is decidedly slower than traveling on a paved surface.

A grain truck awaits the harvesting of corn in rural Dundas.

Although farming has changed considerably with bigger machinery and bigger farms and bigger yields, the basic connection to the land remains. At least for me. It’s part of my creative spirit, of my being.

Grain bins define a farm site along a back gravel road in rural Rice County, Minnesota.

Yes, it’s easy to get nostalgic about rural life. I offer no apologies for that because I shall always feel grateful for the 17 years I lived on a farm. I learned the value of hard work, of living with minimal material possessions, of working together, of recognizing that inner strength and fortitude and resilience are important as are honesty and good character.

Country roads intersect near Cannon City.

I am thankful I used an outhouse during my childhood, pitched manure, picked rocks, walked beans, fed cows and calves, pulled weeds, didn’t get birthday gifts… There’s something to be said for having grown up in such a setting, in a way of life that by necessity requires significant physical labor and living within your means.

Harvest finished in rural Rice County.
A grain truck parked in Northfield.
Corn stalk bales line a Rice County field.

In the winter, my hands cracked and bled from exposure to water and the elements. In the spring, when I picked rocks from fields, dirt sifted into holes in my canvas tennis shoes. In the summer, the hot sun blistered my skin as I pulled cockleburrs. (We didn’t have sunscreen.)

Pumpkins and squash for sale from a wagon parked at a farm site along Rice County Road 1 west of Dundas.
A house in Dundas decorated for Halloween.
A seasonal display anchors a corner of a downtown Northfield floral shop.

And so these are my thoughts as I immerse myself in the season of harvest via a country drive. A drive that takes me from the countryside into town, to seasonal displays and thoughts of Halloween and Thanksgiving and the winter ahead.

The road ahead may not be easy…

I fully recognize that the forthcoming winter will challenge all of us. I am determined to stay the course during this ongoing global pandemic. To mask up, to social distance, to wash my hands, to connect only with my small family circle, to try and stay as healthy as possible, to care about others…to tap into my can-do farm girl attitude of strength, common sense and resilience. For this is but a season of life, one which requires each of us to think beyond ourselves, understanding that our choices matter now, more than ever to the health and safety of all.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling