Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From Wisconsin: Quick, look before the snow melts March 5, 2020

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An iconic Wisconsin farm site photographed from Interstate 90 on February 15.

 

OH, WHAT A DIFFERENCE a few weeks make. I’m talking snow cover here. With temps rising into the 40s, even 50s in some places in Minnesota, and sun shining bright in the afternoons, the snow pack is diminishing.

 

Photographed on February 15 while traveling along Interstate 90 in Wisconsin, this tree stand appears like an island in an ocean of snow.

 

I can now see patches of grass in my lawn, curbing along streets and indications that we are getting closer to spring. As a life-long Minnesotan, though, I recognize the potential for lots more snowfall, even into May.

But for now, we’re delighting in days that lean toward spring. Sixty degrees is forecast for this weekend. Imagine how that will facilitate snow melt. And lift spirits.

 

This hillside barn is located near Madison, in an area more urban than rural.

 

That all said, I’m finally getting around to sharing snowscape photos I took in mid-February while traveling along Interstate 90 in Wisconsin, eastbound toward Madison. Scenes along that route are becoming familiar to me now given the frequency of trips to visit our second daughter, her husband and our son in the capital city.

 

A pastoral scene along I-90 in southern Wisconsin.

 

Wisconsin, for all the jokes about beer, brats and cheese, and fan fanaticism for the Packers and Badgers, is a lot like Minnesota. Friendly folks. Diverse landscape. Mostly rural with just enough urban. Interesting. I’ve enjoyed exploring Madison from botanical gardens to art museums to a repurposed mill next to my son’s apartment building.

 

In the valley east of La Crosse, the length of this barn along I-90 impresses me.

 

A picturesque farm site sits in the valley.

 

Another long barn.

 

 

With the exception of Rochester, Minnesota, and La Crosse, Wisconsin, the four-hour drive to Madison from Faribault takes us primarily through rural regions. I especially like the area east of La Crosse where high rolling hills border farm fields and farm sites in the valley. Hills and wide sky dwarf the farms, a strong visual that always impresses upon me our smallness in this vast universe.

 

This scene, especially, emphasizes our smallness.

 

Such are my thoughts as we travel. I never tire of looking at these rural scenes, often wishing we had time to follow backroads deep into the hills. We did once, years ago while vacationing, and nearly lost our way such are the twisting paths within those hills.

 

Nearing Madison, a traditional farmhouse and barn define this farm.

 

I digress. I expect if I was to photograph these sames scenes today, they would appear much different with snow no longer defining the landscape. What a difference only a few weeks make…

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

No day of rest on a snowy Sunday in Minnesota February 9, 2020

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A bank sign in Faribault flashes the weather late Saturday afternoon.

 

SATURDAY BROUGHT SUNSHINE and cold temps to Minnesota. Below zero in the morning, up to 20 in the afternoon. But that is manageable when the sun shines. Everything’s better under sunny skies in the depth of winter.

 

The grandkids, ages one and three, play hide-and-seek behind curtains for a short while until Grandma decided that probably wasn’t the best idea. (The parents were gone.)

 

We headed to the north metro to spend time with our eldest and her family, which includes our two darling grandchildren. I think everyone had the same idea to be out and about before the winter storm hit Saturday night. Roads were congested in areas and too many drivers wove in and out of traffic, not bothering to use their signals and cutting in too close. I always wonder, what’s the hurry that you must drive like this?

 

More snow to add to the piles. I took this shot from our driveway.

 

All of that aside, the promised snow arrived and we awoke to about eight inches on the ground Sunday morning. I was tempted to roll over, pull the covers tighter and snuggle in for more sleep when the alarm sounded at 6:45 a.m. But I didn’t.

 

A city of Faribault snowplow clears the street in front of my home.

 

I wondered if we would get out the driveway to make it to the 8 a.m. church service. But the arterial street past our house was already plowed so Randy needed only to gun it out our drive and then plow through the unplowed side street a short distance and we were on our way.

 

The beautiful snowy wooded hillside in our backyard.

 

Church was so empty that we all clumped together in front pews rather than sit in our regular spots. That is so un-Lutheran.

 

Randy starts down the driveway with the snowblower.

 

As any Minnesotan knows, the worst thing is to have the driveway all cleared and then the snowplow plows the end shut with a ridge of snow.

 

Making progress on clearing the driveway of snow.

 

Post worship service found Randy and me back home tackling snow removal—ours and that of a neighbor in her eighties. Randy maneuvers our Noah’s ark vintage snowblower while I shovel.

 

Our assorted shovels stacked in the garage.

 

Today I used all three shovels—the scoop shovel, plastic shovel and metal shovel. All serve a different purpose. Best for throwing. Best for pushing. Best for scraping. I’ve shoveled snow for enough decades to understand the importance of assorted tools.

 

Our driveway, clear of snow. Yeah!

 

Now I’m inside, feeling the ache of shoveling in my back, even if the snow was feather-light. But, hey, the sun is shining again and the snow has moved east into Wisconsin.

© 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

 

Waiting for the winter storm January 17, 2020

I expect the view from my front window to look like this by this afternoon. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

 

WE ARE ONLY HOURS AWAY here in southeastern Minnesota from a major winter storm expected to drop up to a foot of snow on some parts of our state. In my city of Faribault in Rice County, predictions range from five to nine inches.

No matter how you measure it, it’s still snow that will cause travel problems and which needs to be removed. Oh, joy.

 

This photograph, taken along Minnesota Highway 30 in southwestern Minnesota, shows how the wind drives snow across and onto roadways. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo January 2010.

 

But it’s not just the snow that will create issues. It’s the strong wind accompanying the snow. Winds tomorrow in the southwestern part of the state, my home area, could reach 50 mph. Thus the blizzard warning starting at midnight in that region.

 

While in southwestern Minnesota last weekend, I noticed snow already banking in drifts along drainage ditches, here east of Morgan.

 

I’ve experienced enough winter storms on the prairie to appreciate the seriousness of a blizzard. Reduced visibility creates white-out conditions. Snowdrifts block roads. And those powerful winds plunge the “feels like” temperature into the deadly range when exposed to the elements.

 

Along Minnesota State Highway 19 on the west edge of Redwood Falls, a sign advises motorists to check travel information.

 

Still, winter storm after winter storm, people fail to heed the dangers. In and post storm, the media reports vehicles stranded along roadways (mostly interstates) and motorists rescued. I’ve heard of drivers taking back county roads after GPS directed them there because the interstate was closed. Interstate closure is a pretty clear indication that no one should be on the road.

 

I expect lights on this sign to flash today and tomorrow, closing Minnesota State Highway 19 west of Redwood Falls.

 

Along certain sections of interstate and highways, snow gates are closed to block the roadway when travel becomes difficult, if not impossible. Just last week when traveling through Redwood Falls, I noticed signage indicating Minnesota State Highway 19 is closed when the yellow light on the sign flashes. A second sign advised motorists to check state travel conditions on MN511.org. While I appreciate that Minnesota Department of Transportation tool, I’ve often found it’s not updated enough.

The bottom line is this, though: Common sense should tell us to stay off the roads during a winter storm like the one barreling into Minnesota and elsewhere today. That said, I’ve advised the husband to leave work early for his commute home from Northfield, a 22-minute drive on a typical, non-storm day.

For those of you in the path of the winter storm, stay safe.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

More than a snowman, Faribo Frosty brings smiles, joy January 15, 2020

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Randy blowing snow from our driveway during a previous winter. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

AS I LOOK OUTSIDE my office window, I see snow and grey skies. And front steps which await shoveling by me, because I’m the clean-up half of Team Helbling Snow Removal. Randy operates the aged, mammoth snowblower. I use an assortment of shovels depending on moisture content and snow depth.

 

Grandpa and Izzy build their own Frosty in our backyard in December 2018. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

A time existed when I loved snow, when I built snow forts and snowmen, packed snowballs, raced across snow mountains, went sliding, made snow angels. Those are but memories although, with grandchildren, I am regaining an appreciation for the fun aspect of snow. On occasion, a snow person now pops up in our yard.

 

Faribo Frosty photographed in the Hoisington family’s front yard in December. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2019.

 

Up close with Faribo Frosty in December 2019. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Gracing the Hoisingtons’ yard at the corner of Third Avenue Northwest and First Street Northwest in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2019.

 

But in one Faribault yard, a snowman has established permanent winter residency. He is Faribo Frosty, a towering—as in more than 20-feet tall—and rotund snowman standing at 18 Third Avenue Northwest. This is home to Andy and Debbie Hoisington who, for the past 10-plus years, have gifted my community with this now local icon of winter.

 

Andy and his son Jake work on Faribo Frosty. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.

 

I’ve observed Andy and his son working on Frosty, climbing a ladder, packing snow. Andy sources ice from the local ice arena to keep Frosty at a healthy, tip top lovable shape.

 

My granddaughter hugging Faribo Frosty. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2018.

 

And folks of all ages love Frosty. There’s simply something about an over-sized grinning snowman with a bright red scarf and mittens that makes me happy. Numerous times in recent years when I’ve stopped to see Frosty, I’ve observed the joy Faribo Frosty brings. My own granddaughter last winter stretched her arms wide to hug Frosty. Moments like that make me forget about the cold and shoveling snow.

 

Faribo Frosty draws lots of appreciative fans. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2018.

 

And moments like this remind me of the simple joys in life, if we but pause to embrace them.

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Thank you, Hoisington family, for creating Frosty, for your winter gift to this community and beyond.

FYI: Click here to learn more about Faribo Frosty from a metro media source. His fame is spreading. Also click here to read my past posts about Faribo Frosty.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Shifting seasons November 6, 2019

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The snowy rural landscape in south central Wisconsin last Friday.

 

LAST WEEK I SMUGLY smiled as my daughter shared that 5.5 inches of snow fell in Madison, Wisconsin, where she lives. We’d had none yet here in Faribault.

 

The snowy landscape en route to Madison. The southern Minnesota landscape now looks similar after a Tuesday night snowfall.

 

That changed last night. I awoke this morning to a landscape layered in several inches of snow. So much for my attitude of better you, Wisconsin, than us in Minnesota.

 

Sections of the interstate still showed residual salt brine, or whatever is used to treat icy/snowy roadways in Wisconsin.

 

That all said, Randy and I traveled to Madison the day after their snowfall. Only residuals remained like snow flying off semis, dried salt brine on the interstate, snow in shadowed woods and upon fields, and, in the capitol city, snow atop parked vehicles.

 

The bluffs along the Mississippi River near La Crosse are still autumn beautiful, albeit muted under cloudy skies. I photographed this last Friday.

 

Built into the Mississippi River-side bluff along I-90, Minnesota side, near La Crosse, Wisconsin.

 

The beautiful and diverse landscape of southern Wisconsin as photographed from the interstate.

 

Despite Winter’s presence, we saw Autumn in seemingly no hurry to exit the Midwest. Stubborn leaves still clung to hillsides of trees. Rusty remnants of a season that, for me, was way too short this year.

 

From Minnesota to Wisconsin, so many cornfields remain unharvested. This one is in southeastern Minnesota.

 

For farmers also. I observed endless acres of unharvested cornfields during our four-hour drive to and from Madison. Way too much rain has muddied fields and delayed harvest. I feel for the farmers. They’ve experienced a difficult year with excessive rainfall. And now this snow…

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Minnesota: So this is spring? April 10, 2019

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My neighborhood Wednesday evening.

 

CLOSED SCHOOLS. Closed Interstate. Crashes and back-ups. All were the result of a winter storm that socked parts of Minnesota today, my community included.

Officials shut down Interstate 35 between Faribault and Medford for hours on Tuesday afternoon into evening following multiple vehicle crashes. Thirty-five, I heard. True? I don’t know. Then the detour route onto a county road was closed after a semi hit a railroad bridge, according to one report I read.

 

My snowy backyard photographed early Wednesday afternoon as the snow fell.

 

What a day. Ambulances and police cars screaming by my house along with all that detoured traffic. Snowplows scraping snow that fell at a rapid pace. Snow layering to six inches.

 

I photographed these crocuses in my front yard flowerbed just days ago. Now they are buried under six inches of snow.

 

Randy and I just got back inside after clearing heavy wet snow from our driveway and sidewalk and that of a neighbor. This is heart attack snow, thus I paced myself. I’ve had it with winter. Only days ago spring seemed here. Temps in the sixties. Sunny. Lawns hinting at green.

 

My backyard shortly after the snow began falling Wednesday morning.

 

And now this, this storm set to linger into Friday. Already winds are picking up. Cold. Biting. Nothing like spring.

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

On the road: A look at Redwood County flooding & snow pack March 24, 2019

Westbound just outside of Redwood Falls along Minnesota State Highway 19 late Saturday morning.

 

SNOW LAYERS farm fields.

 

Along Minnesota State Highway 19 between Redwood Falls and the Belview corner.

 

Massive snow piles still mark farm sites, this one along Minnesota State Highway 19 near the Belview corner.

 

A scene along Minnesota State Highway 19 near the Belview corner appears more winter-like than spring.

 

In the shade of yards and groves and northern hillsides, snow banks remain, reminders of a long Minnesota winter not yet over.

 

In many spots along Minnesota State Highway 19 between Redwood Falls and the Belview corner, snow pushed off the highway (some up to 100 feet from the roadway) remains.

 

Snow shoved from a once-drifted Minnesota State Highway 19 appears like wind-sculpted waves frozen in place just west of Redwood Falls.

 

A sign on the west edge of Redwood Falls along Minnesota State Highway 19 advises motorists to check the Minnesota Department of Transportation website for road closures.

 

In Redwood, the Redwood River appears mostly iced-over.

 

Flooding along Minnesota State Highway 19 between Redwood Falls and the Delhi corner.

 

But outside of town, snow melt floods fields, settles in low-lying areas. Frozen tile and frozen ground allow no outlet for all that water. Farm sites seem temporary lakeside properties.

 

A drainage ditch near the intersection of Brown County Road 29 and Minnesota State Highway 67 southeast of Morgan.

 

Ditches brim with water.

 

East of Courtland along U.S. Highway 14, fields are mostly bare of snow.

 

Between Morgan and Gilfillan, snow cover and flooding increase.

 

Southeast of Redwood Falls.

 

A survey of the countryside while driving from Faribault to Belview and back Saturday presents a perspective on the flooding and potential flooding in southern Minnesota. Not until Randy and I drove northwest out of Morgan did we begin to really notice the difference. Our observations of significant remaining snow pack and already ponding water visually confirms the reason for a flood warning in my native Redwood County.

 

Flooded farm field near Delhi.

 

Just east of Belview.

 

East of Delhi, a closure on the Scenic Byway road.

 

There’s a lot of snow yet to melt, especially west of Redwood Falls. That water must go somewhere since it can’t soak into the frozen soil. And that somewhere is likely into the Redwood River, which feeds into the Minnesota River, which feeds into the Mississippi River. What happens in rural southwestern Minnesota will eventually affect the Twin Cities metro.

 

Near Delhi.

 

Temps and precipitation will factor into the flooding equation, too, as winter transitions into spring. I will tell you that Redwood County, on Saturday, seemed still stuck in the final days of winter.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

First the massive snow, now flooding potential in Minnesota March 13, 2019

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A snow-socked neighborhood in Faribault, photographed on Sunday.

 

AS IF THIS WINTER of excessive snow hasn’t taxed us enough, now Minnesota is dealing with potential flooding. A flood warning is in effect until 8 a.m. Wednesday for my county of Rice, Goodhue County and several counties in Wisconsin. The National Weather Service has also issued a flood watch in other parts of Minnesota.

Expected temps in the 40s, even 50s, coupled with rainfall of several inches and a resulting fast snow melt, set us up for flooding. All of that water must go somewhere.

With the ground still frozen, that water won’t soak into the earth. Where will it go? In cities and small towns, the water should typically run into storm drains. But many are clogged by snow and ice, meaning the water will end up ponding on and flooding streets. And, yes, city crews have been working to open storm drains. But it’s a time-consuming and difficult task.

Many Minnesota riverside communities (like Stillwater and Hastings) have plans in place to sandbag. The Cannon and Straight Rivers run through Faribault. We’ve experienced flooding in the past. Will those rivers flood again? I don’t know.

 

Randy shovels snow from a portion of our house roof during a particularly past snowy winter. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Homeowners dealing with massive amounts of snow on their roofs and ice dams (and that includes us) face water leakage issues. Randy has been on our roof thrice this winter to remove snow, including Tuesday afternoon. He worked for hours in the rain to shovel snow, chip at ice dams and run hot water over snowy and icy areas on the roof. The ladder slipped once, with him on it. He rode it down to a lower roof level without falling. Yes, I cajoled/pleaded/begged him not to attempt another climb onto the steep, icy roof. Once he melted the icy section with hot water, he was back up a more stabilized ladder.

 

Ice dams on our house. This is a common problem, especially on older homes like ours. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2019.

Water is leaking under shingles and inside homes. Water is seeping into basements. That likely will get worse. I hope the water prevention system we installed in our basement several years ago continues to work.

This winter is truly challenging all of us. Mentally. Physically. And now in our pocketbooks. I know we’re not alone. Other areas of the country are experiencing similar catastrophic weather. If it wasn’t for the flooding and other water-related issues, I’d embrace the current warm temps.

We are in this together. We’ll get through this. We always do. We just need to get safely through these next several days.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A short drive around Faribault reveals winter’s artistry March 11, 2019

One of the most scenic settings in Faribault–the arched entrance to historic Shattuck-St. Mary’s School, a private college prep school.

 

A MUCH-HYPED WEEKEND winter storm brought more rain than snow to Faribault. Nearly six hours of rainfall followed by about four inches of snow in my southeastern Minnesota community. That’s significantly less than the forecast of up to a foot of the white stuff. For that I am thankful.

 

Randy shovels a path to the grill on the patio because, yes, he still grills in winter.

 

Less snowfall equals less work in clearing heavy wet snow from our driveway and sidewalk and those of our neighbor.

 

 

 

 

The storm also brought spectacular beauty. I awoke early Sunday morning to a winter wonderland of trees layered in white against a backdrop of blue. A blue that only deepened as the morning advanced.

 

 

After brunch, Randy and I took a short drive around town just because it was such a beautiful day with the fresh snow, the blue sky and the sun flooding the landscape with brilliance and a noticeable warmth. We knew any trails in town would prove too icy for safe walking.

 

 

A brief jaunt onto a portion of a slushy/icy/snowdrifted county road reminded us that a drive farther into the countryside would be unwise.

 

A narrow snow-banked sidewalk in southwest Faribault.

 

Driving around town also required a heightened awareness with snow piles blocking visibility at nearly every intersection. Many sidewalks look like trenches.

 

This fairy tale snow house graces the front yard of a home on the corner of Division Street West and Sixth Avenue Southwest.

 

I dodged puddles of melting snow to photograph a snow house along busy Division Street. Traffic passed within feet of me and I hoped I wouldn’t be splashed. I wanted a closer look. But snow and ice prevented me from doing that.

 

The tower of Shumway Hall at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School is stunning no matter the season.

 

All in all, the day proved lovely. Sun shining. Deep blue sky. New snow layering the landscape, transforming winter, for one day, into something artistically beautiful.

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling