Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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

 

More than a fall hike at Falls Creek Park October 6, 2020

A cluster of maple leaves in fall colors photographed at Falls Creek County Park, rural Faribault, Minnesota.

AS A LIFE-LONG MINNESOTAN, I remain fully cognizant that the season will soon change to one of cold, colorless and confining.

In the woods at Falls Creek Park, some trees are already stripped of leaves.

Thus, a week like the one predicted with sunny skies and temps in the 60s and possibly 70s, is to be celebrated.

Maple leaves cover the earth, from my backyard to here, at Falls Creek Park.

As I look out my office window mid-Monday morning while writing this post, I see sunshine. Sunshine which casts shadows of leaves swaying in the wind onto my office walls.

Subtle colors color these leaves at Falls Creek.

For today, the wind blows with a fierceness that assures the laundry pinned to my backyard clothesline will dry quickly. I’ve taken extra measures to assure the wash stays clipped to the line. The wind is that strong.

Throughout southern Minnesota, leaves are changing color and falling from trees.

Leaves spiral from the backyard maple at a dizzying rate that makes me melancholy. Soon the branches will be stripped bare, exposed to the sky, a strong visual reminder to me that Autumn is nearing her exit.

Fungi ladder on a fallen tree trunk.

I need to hold onto this season, to embrace and celebrate her for as long as I can because I recognize also that this winter ahead—this winter of COVID-19—will prove particularly challenging. The sense of isolation will be heightened as Randy and I continue to keep our circle small.

And so now, while we can, we spend a lot of time outdoors, walking on trails through woods and along rivers. Like at Falls Creek County Park, about a mile east of Faribault just off Minnesota State Highway 60. The 61-acre park seems mostly undiscovered. We last visited in June, although when the kids were still home, we went there more often to picnic and hike.

An opening in the woods leads to a bridge across Falls Creek.

On a recent weekend, we revisited this peaceful and primarily wooded destination, which includes about 3,000 feet of creek footage. After parking in the over-sized gravel parking lot pocked with potholes, we headed down the hill and across an expansive grassy space toward an opening in the woods.

Water rushes around rocks, like this one, in the creek.

Through that gap, a picturesque bridge crosses Falls Creek. I love that cute little bridge spanning the narrow waterway. There’s something magical and fairy tale like about the arc of that bridge, where I stand and listen to water rush over rocks. Clear water, mostly unseen in this area of southern Minnesota with most waterways polluted by fertilizer run-off.

The creek curves through the woods.

After that creekside pause, Randy and I headed onto the dirt trail into the woods. It runs along the creek bank, in some sections nearly eroded away. In one spot, we walk upon thick sticks laid on the pathway to stabilize the walk way.

Sticks laid on the path to stabilize it in an eroded area.

Randy makes it all the way to the falls, only to find it eroded, too, and not as he remembers. I’ve stopped just short of that destination and turned back to retrace our steps. There are no trails spidering through the woods, only this solo one and another that, for a short distance, veers to our right.

Randy walks on the leaf-covered trail, embraced by the woods.

Yet, we delight in being here. In the woods, even if not particularly colorful. Beside the creek. Just us, until we hear voices in the distance and eventually meet a couple from a neighboring town. They are lovely in every way for not only their appreciation of this place but also of others they’ve met here. That includes a group of young men from Somalia, immigrants who’ve resettled locally and spoke to the couple about past challenges. It was incredibly refreshing for me to hear the couple’s kind words about these young men rather than the unkind words I all too often hear about individuals who’ve fled war-torn countries and atrocities we can’t even imagine for a new life in Minnesota.

The lovely bridge across Falls Creek.

Even though I digress from the nature theme of this post, I feel it important to share this sidebar. There are stories to be heard, lessons to be learned, when we take pause to appreciate, to listen. To cross bridges into the woods.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Following the backroads of Rice County into autumn October 2, 2020

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Fall colors as photographed in rural Rice County, Minnesota, on September 26.

 

THIS AUTUMN FEELS especially fleeting, as if the days are slipping too quickly into the cold and dark of winter’s grip. The sun now rises shortly after 7 a.m. and sets just before 7 p.m. The darkness is closing in and I feel it.

 

Ripening corn and soybean fields surround this farm site in Rice County.

 

This year, more than ever, I feel an urgency to get outdoors, to delight in every single moment of autumnal beauty, of semi warm temps, of days without snow.

 

Heading uphill on the backroads of Rice County last Saturday.

 

And I feel this way due to COVID-19. The reality is that the winter ahead will prove challenging as we hunker down indoors, limiting our contact with others as we attempt to stay healthy and protect others. At least that’s my plan, Randy’s plan.

 

Cornfields ripen, awaiting the harvest. I feel like we’re all waiting. Just waiting in this season of COVID.

 

We’ve already managed seven months of this cautiousness, this recognition that we hold a responsibility to do our part. For ourselves. And for our friends, family and neighbors. I’m particularly worried these days about the upsurge in cases in Wisconsin, where our daughter and her husband and our son live. But I worry, too, about Randy facing potential COVID exposure daily at work because of a failure among others to mask, mask properly or to follow other safety/health regulations. I am beyond frustrated, as I’ve stated here in previous posts.

 

Another Rice County farm site. COVID knows no differences between rural and urban. We’re seeing that now in Minnesota, where cases of the virus in rural counties are spiking.

 

We’re weary of it all. Truly weary. Who isn’t experiencing COVID fatigue? But, as our health officials have advised, this is no time to let down our guard, to give up, to live our lives like there’s no pandemic. Because Randy and I are trying to be careful, we gravitate outdoors, whether on countryside drives or hiking. Nature and time outdoors provide a peaceful and uplifting escape.

 

Driving down Rice County’s backroads to view the ripening crops and fall colors.

 

Last Saturday took us onto backroads in our county of Rice, where we’ve found fall colors to be especially lovely. And mostly undiscovered. We had no particular destination and I can’t even tell you where we drove. But we drive and turn and turn and drive and follow whatever roads seem interesting.

 

Farm sites prove interesting to me on these rural drives.

 

The overcast day wasn’t especially beautiful for leaf-viewing. But, this time of year, you take what you get and enjoy whatever appears before you.

 

Color tints treelines in rural Rice County.

 

I encourage each of you, especially if you live in the Rice County area or other parts of Minnesota, to take a fall color drive this weekend. These days are fleeting as leaves change colors and fall, moving us closer and closer to the long winter ahead.

 

TELL ME: Do you have a recommendation for a great place to view fall colors?

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From milling flour to drinking whiskey in Rice County, history tour Part II August 25, 2020

At the ruins of an historic flour mill in Dundas, a kiosk provides historical info, including this map of flour mills in the area.

 

RICE COUNTY IS RICH IN HISTORY, especially in historic buildings. I value that about this region of Minnesota. I appreciate that many aged structures remain, well cared for and treasured. I appreciate, too, those who share their knowledge of the past.

I grew up 120 miles west of here, on the prairie. Given the difference in landscape and settlement time and other factors, the history of southwestern Minnesota differs considerably from southeastern Minnesota. I am still learning about Rice County, the place I’ve called home for 38 years.

 

Vintage vehicles were among those on the history cruise, here at Christdala Swedish Lutheran Church near Millersburg.

 

On Saturday I expanded my understanding of this area by attending the first ever “Cruising Rice County History” tour, an event that took attendees through the county to seven historic sites. In yesterday’s post, I covered three of those places—Prairieville Church, Nerstrand City Hall and Valley Grove Churches.

 

The Archibald Mill ruins are fenced to keep people from wandering onto the historic site.

 

Today we head west to the small town of Dundas, just outside of Northfield, and then even farther west to the even smaller settlement of Millersburg. Pre-tour, I was familiar with each point of interest on the cruise. But I still picked up tidbits of information either new to me or forgotten over the years.

 

A few walls remain of the once flourishing flour mill on the west side of the Cannon River in Dundas.

 

Kiosk info details flour milling history here.

 

Tour participants check in at the flour mill ruins, where they could learn more about Rice County flour mills from local historian Jeff Jarvis, Susan Garwood (director of the RCHS) or read printed info.

 

In Dundas, the ruins of a long-gone flour mill, destroyed by fire, focused the third stop. I learned of the mills the Archibald brothers, from Canada, built here around the 1860s along the banks of the Cannon River. Their flour was world-renowned and their flour patent eventually sold to what is now General Mills. It’s quite a history in a region once known for its flour mills. If only one remained…

 

The history cruise took us throughout rural Rice County. This farm field lies along Rice County Road 1 on the way to Millersburg from Dundas.

 

Before heading to the next stop, Randy and I picnicked at Memorial Park in Dundas. That left us a bit crunched for time as we aimed out of town along Rice County Road 1 past farm sites and farm fields to the Millersburg District #20 School House Museum. We’ve been here before, toured the museum.

 

The former Millersburg School now houses a museum operated by the Christdala Preservation & Cemetery Association. Exhibits include school and church items, tools and info related to the James-Younger bank robbery.

 

While we couldn’t go inside the schoolhouse, we could peek our heads in the door.

 

Appropriately, a bell sat on the check in station at the schoolhouse.

 

An historic marker outside the schoolhouse. You can also see the swings, remaining from the playground, to the right in this photo.

 

The back side of the historical marker outside the schoolhouse.

 

As the story goes, the Younger gang stopped for whiskey at the Millersburg store in September 1876 at the current location of Boonies.

 

But this visit I picked up some info not necessarily related to the 1881 school, but to the 1876 robbery of the First National Bank in nearby Northfield. Here, four members of the James-Younger Gang stopped for whiskey at the then Millersburg Store (today Boonies Bar & Grill across from the schoolhouse), stayed at the Cushman Hotel just down the road and the next day met up with fellow outlaws in Dundas.

 

Christdala’s defining steeple. The church is on the National Register of Historic Places. Randy and I recently picnicked on the front steps of Christdala.

 

I was delighted to find the doors open to Christdala Swedish Lutheran Church.

 

And on their way back from robbing the bank, the gang followed the same route, taking us to the next stop on our tour, Christdala Swedish Lutheran Church. I’ve also visited here many times, including just a few weeks ago. Swedish immigrants built this church in 1878 high atop a hill, spurred by the death of friend and neighbor Nicolaus Gustafson. He was an innocent bystander killed in a shoot out during the Northfield bank raid. Because the Swedish community had no cemetery, Gustafson was buried in Northfield.

 

Simple stained glass windows inside Christdala in colors of the Swedish flag.

 

Today you’ll find Gustafsons buried in the Christdala graveyard along with many others whose surnames end in “son.” This long-closed church was open during the history tour. Although I’ve previously been inside, I wasn’t about to miss another opportunity to step inside this small Swedish church, complete with Swedish flags and stained glass windows in the Swedish colors of blue and yellow.

 

One of the many displays inside the Rice County Historical Society Museum, this one honoring Native Americans who lived in the county.

 

The RCHS recently acquired metal art sculptures from Lockerby Sheet Metal, a long-time Faribault sheet metal fabrication company no longer in business. Those pieces are being restored. This knight currently stands in the museum entry.

 

On the historical society grounds are these two historic buildings: the Pleasant Valley School District #22 schoolhouse (educating children in Bridgewater Township in the late 1850s) and Holy Innocents Episcopal Church, built in Cannon City in 1869 and later moved here.

 

With time pressing to get back to (event sponsor) the Rice County Historical Society Museum in Faribault, Randy and I didn’t linger for long. We needed to turn in our poker run cards and look around the museum and grounds before everything ended. While Randy handed in our losing poker hand, I breezed through the museum exhibits and took a few photos inside and out.

 

Many of these historic places still exist thanks to preservation groups and history enthusiasts.

 

And I considered what a lovely day it had been. Out and about, enjoying and appreciating local history, thanks to the hard work and efforts of those who value Rice County history enough to preserve and share it.

 

Please check back for a follow-up post on an historic building I discovered in Dundas, and not on the tour, but with a powerful and timely message posted.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

“Cruising Rice County History,” Part I August 24, 2020

This shows a portion of a guide, designed by Jeff Jarvis of West Cedar Studio, for “Cruising Rice County History.”

 

WE CONSIDERED WHETHER WE SHOULD take the tour, expecting that we’d likely visited all of the historic places featured in “Cruising Rice County History,” the first ever cruise of historical sites in our county. But, in the end, because Saturday was beautiful weather-wise and COVID-19 has left us with few leisure options, Randy and I opted to attend the event sponsored by the Rice County Historical Society.

 

First on the tour, Prairieville United Methodist Church, founded in 1870; existing church built in 1902; and congregation dissolved in 2019.

 

Vintage tractors added interest to the stop at the Prairieville country church.

 

A cornfield snugs right up to the Prairieville Cemetery behind the church.

 

We joined 84 other vehicles on the tour, which took us east of Faribault, then north and west and, finally circling back to the RCHS in Faribault. Only one of the seven featured spots—Prairieville United Methodist Church and Cemetery—was a new to us point of interest, although we’re certainly familiar with the country church along Minnesota State Highway 60.

 

First stop: The Rice County Historical Society to pay our $20/vehicle tour fee and pick up our map and other info.

 

Many volunteers worked the event, including this guy who welcomed tour participants at the historical museum.

 

Before heading out of town, the tour took us through historic downtown Faribault, where I thought we were going to see a display of historic brewery items at a local bank. But apparently we are supposed to view this on our own sometime. Anyway, I photographed this banner outside the State Bank of Faribault.

 

Yet, at each stop, from two country churches to flour mill ruins to an old schoolhouse and an historic town hall, we learned new information, both from site hosts and from educational hand-outs.

 

The Nerstrand City Hall (tall brick building)l, built in 1908, is on the National Register of Historic Places. After three wooden buildings were destroyed by a major fire in 1904, the city required all future buildings in the business district to be made of brick or stone and with firewalls between.

 

Nerstrand City Hall, up close.

 

A plaque marks the Nerstrand City Hall as an historic structure.

 

Peering in the windows of the locked city hall.

 

On the back of Nerstrand City Hall, bars cover a window, a reminder that a jail was once housed here.

 

We were disappointed we couldn’t get inside some of the historic buildings, but expect safety concerns factored into closed doors. Participants in the Saturday event were asked to mask up and social distance. And they did. So we felt comfortable.

 

One of the two historic churches at Valley Grove, near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. Randy and I have been to this site many times, thus didn’t linger here. It’s one of our favorite spots in rural Rice County. So peaceful and beautiful atop a hill. The woodframe church pictured here and a stone church directly across from it were built by Norwegian immigrants.

 

Two couples, including friends of ours (left), visit outside Nerstrand City Hall. This alley runs between the hall and the fire department.

 

We also chatted from a distance with friends, either hosting site stops or on the tour. What a joy to see familiar faces after months of minimal social interaction. Even if their smiles were hidden behind masks.

 

Driving toward Nerstrand.

 

Driving through rural Rice County, we saw lush fields of towering corn and acres of soybeans among farm sites.

 

The route followed only paved roads, with plenty of gravel roads to see alongside.

 

I also enjoyed the rural route given my love of the country. There’s something freeing about traveling along paved back roads bordered by acres of cropland, intersected by gravel roads, punctuated by farm sites.

 

Young and old attended the “Cruising Rice County History” tour. This photo was taken at Valley Grove.

 

Thank you for joining my photo tour of “Cruising Rice County History,” Part I. Check back for Part II tomorrow.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Picnicking at historic Christdala Swedish Lutheran Church August 16, 2020

On the backroads in Rice County, heading northwest of Faribault.

 

IN MINNESOTA, WE LOVE our summers. And that has a lot to do with our long winter season of too much cold, too much darkness and too much being cooped up inside. Factor in COVID-19, and summer days are even more beloved.

This summer, especially, Randy and I often pack sandwiches, fruit and whatever else for a weekend picnic lunch. It gets us out of the house/town and into nature, exactly what we need when so few options exist for escaping anywhere these days.

On a recent Sunday we contemplated our choices and decided to head to Cannon Falls, a lovely river town about a 40-minute drive northeast of Faribault. But, as we backed out of the driveway and looked to the east, we saw storm clouds building. Change of plans.

 

One of my favorite rural sightings: aged barns. This one is near Circle Lake.

 

Instead, we drove northwest, with the intention of picnicking at Circle Lake near Millersburg. A much shorter drive on a day of unsettled weather and possible afternoon storms. As farm-raised kids, Randy and I always delight in traveling rural roads—paved and gravel—to reach our destination. On our way to the lake, I observed acres and acres of cornfields, far exceeding soybeans. Not uncommon.

 

The sign marking Circle Lake’s public pier.

 

No comfortable place to sit here…

 

A view across the lake of the surrounding countryside.

 

Randy missed the lake turn, backed up on the county road and then proceeded down a gravel road toward the public access point on Circle Lake. To our dismay, we saw no picnic tables either at the boat launch site or the adjoining patch of green space. A bit farther, though, we spotted a public fishing pier and decided to eat our lunch there.

 

Christdala Swedish Lutheran Church, rural Millersburg. This congregation is no longer active with the church open only for special services and events.

 

Except, upon exiting the van, the stench and sight of stagnant green lake water, a floating dead fish and an obviously neglected dock caused us to, once again, change plans. I suggested we drive to Christdala Swedish Lutheran Church, a nearby historic church set atop a hill overlooking the countryside. We could, I suggested, sit and eat on the front steps.

 

A long flight of steps lead up to Christdala.

 

And that’s exactly what we did, after we climbed a flight of steep steps and passed under an arch leading into the fenced church property. We turned our backs to the sun, settled onto the cement steps and pulled our sandwiches and other food from the cooler. It’s the first time I’ve picnicked next to a graveyard.

 

Near Minnie’s gravestone, I photographed this interesting fungi on a stump.

 

As we ate, we talked. About Minnie’s gravestone, in our direct line of vision. She died at age 23. Like too many who lost their lives prematurely so long ago, pre-modern medicine.

 

Christdala Swedish Lutheran Church painted in 1969 by Faribault artist Rhody Yule. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

We talked about our friend Rhody Yule, who showed select original religious-themed paintings here in September 2010. He gifted his 1969 painting of Christdala to the church on that Sunday afternoon. I organized the outdoor exhibit and a more extensive gallery show months later at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault. Randy and I shared how much we liked Rhody, an artist we met while on a Sunday afternoon drive two years prior. He quickly became a good friend, someone we delighted in for his gentle spirit of kindness and deep faith. A true joy.

 

Posted next to the front door.

 

The steeple rises high above the treetops.

 

A summary of church history is posted next to the parking area at the bottom of the hill.

 

We noticed paint scrapings on the ground, indicating the 1877 church was recently repainted. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places, significant because the first Swedish settlers in Rice County founded this congregation, built this church.

 

Another marker nearby honors Swedish immigrant Nicolaus Gustafson.

 

One of those immigrants, Nicolaus Gustafson, was fatally shot by Cole Younger in the attempted raid of the first National Bank in nearby Northfield in 1876.

 

Just a sampling of the Swedish names on gravestones at Christdala.

 

There’s so much history and heritage here in names like Johnson, Anderson, Paulson, Gustafson, Nelson…the “son” of Swedish ancestry.

 

I spotted this probably glow-in-the-dark cross near a gravesite.

 

The graveyard surrounds Christdala church.

 

A wrought iron fence encloses the entire property.

 

We meandered through the graveyard separately. I didn’t recall the wrought iron fencing or the graveyard expansion with plenty of open space for future burials. It’s a lovely and peaceful spot behind the church, away from busy enough Rice County Road 1.

 

Randy saw this snake before me, but didn’t tell me. He knows I intensely dislike snakes. He suggested I move in for a closer photo. Nope, won’t get any nearer.

 

Randy directed me to a small stone marking the additional graveyard space as a 2008 donation from Arnold and Phyllis Horejsi. Arnold, 91, died on March 23 with services delayed until August 18 and burial at Christdala at a later date. I walked over to the marker, commenting on the many small holes that pock the land. And then, as I focused my camera lens on the stone, I noticed the garter snake. Striped. Too long. Head up. Tongue flicking.

That was it. I was done touring this cemetery, especially after I saw a second snake nearby. My mind fixated on snakes slithering over my feet and I couldn’t help but think of the biblical reference in Genesis to Satan as a snake. I wanted out, away, gone.

 

A heavenward view of Christdala.

 

And so I waited near the front steps for Randy to finish his graveyard tour. I aimed my camera lens skyward, away from the ground and slithering snakes. High toward the steeple. To the cross.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Of gravel roads, barns & cornfields August 3, 2020

Rural Rice County, west of Faribault, Minnesota.

 

ON A SULTRY SUNDAY SUMMER AFTERNOON of oppressive heat and humidity, I needed to get out of the house. Away. Into the country. On a drive. It was too hot to walk, to do anything outside of air conditioning.

 

Steady rain the night before kept the dust down on gravel roads we drove.

 

Following back county and township roads in and around Faribault, Randy and I got the rural fix we needed. For me, the crunch of gravel upon tires and the washboard vibration of a road in need of grading.

 

The corn crop around here looks good.

 

I needed, too, to see cornfields stretching across the land, tassels flagging fields. My heart aches at the sight, for the missing of living in the country. Memories still root me there.

 

 

And then I spotted a barn flashing bold red into the landscape on the edge of Warsaw. I’ve long admired that well-kept barn.

 

 

Weaving through Warsaw, Randy reminisced about living there decades ago as we passed his former rental place. At the Channel Inn in Warsaw, we paused only long enough for a photo of the vintage signage.

 

Without my telephoto lens on my camera, I couldn’t get a good shot of these turkeys. But you can make out two along the treeline and one by the field. The rest went the other direction.

 

And then we followed more gravel roads, routes not previously taken, but which revealed a PIG HOTEL sign on a house. I missed that photo op, but I promise to return. I almost missed the wild turkeys edging the woods.

 

 

A bit further, I saw the cutest little brick barn. Solid. As good as new. Beautifully poetic in its construction.

 

 

Past a gravel pit and an unknown lake and farm sites set among fields on rolling land, we aimed back toward town. Past Ableman’s Apple Creek Orchard, a favorite, and a roadside sign reminding us that we are not alone. Ever.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling