Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

In Minnesota: Neither rain nor snow or… March 12, 2017

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…shall stop my husband from grilling in our Faribault backyard.

Grilling conditions: 19 degrees Fahrenheit and heavy snow falling around 6 p.m. Sunday

On the menu: Chicken breasts, baby red potatoes and asparagus.

Bonus for the husband’s work lunches: brats

TELL ME: Would you grill in these conditions or worse? Let’s hear.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Back to winter in Faribault February 25, 2017

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WHAT A DIFFERENCE a week makes.

Last Saturday, temps reached nearly 60 degrees here in southern Minnesota in a landscape bare of snow. Today, as I glance out my office window, snow covers the ground and the temp hovers around 30 degrees.

My neighborhood on Friday morning.

My neighborhood on Friday morning. With schools and some businesses closed due to the winter storm, traffic was lighter than usual along this arterial road through Faribault.

Faribault was among cities in the path of a Thursday into Friday storm that dumped a lot of snow. I estimate a foot here. After a string of exceptionally warm spring-like days, the snow is a bit of a shock. It shouldn’t be. Afterall, this is February, not May, in Minnesota.

Randy blows a path around the car so I can sweep the snow from it without walking knee-deep in snow.

Randy blows a path around the car so I can sweep the snow from it without walking knee-deep in snow.

Friday evening my husband and I tag teamed–him with the snowblower and me with the scoop shovel–to clear snow from our property and that of a neighbor. The task took 90 minutes, a lot longer than usual due to ice under the snow. The snowblower couldn’t gain traction and moisture-heavy snow clung to blower blades. I moved slowly, too, nearly slipping twice on the ice.

In the fading light of day, Randy works to blow snow from the driveway.

In the fading light of day, Randy works to blow snow from the driveway.

Add to that, a city snowplow dug into our street, depositing clumps of asphalt at the end of the driveway. Randy figured that out when he hit the hidden chunks with the blower. Not exactly safe to have pavement missiles shooting from the snowblower. So more shoveling ensued.

Snow from the Walmart and mall parking lot if pushed into mini mountains.

Snow from the Walmart and mall parking lot is pushed into mini mountains.

Today compacted snow on city streets is melting. Snow is shoved from parking lots into mini man-made mountains, which, if I was still a kid, I would find ideal for King on the Mountain. The sun shone bright on a Winter Wonderland which just days ago looked nothing like winter.

I grew up playing on snow mountains like this on the farm in southwestern Minnesota.

I grew up playing on snow mountains like this on the farm in southwestern Minnesota.

TELL ME: What’s the weather like in your area? Is your landscape snow-covered? Or is your environment one of warmth and greenery?

Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 

A determination to rediscover the joys of winter in Minnesota January 20, 2017

This huge, hard-as-rock snowdrift blocked our farm driveway in this March 1965 photo. I think my uncle drove over from a neighboring farm to help open the drive so the milk truck to reach the milkhouse.

I pose with my mom and four siblings atop a hard-as-rock snowdrift blocking our farm driveway in this March 1965 photo. Location: rural Vesta, Redwood County, Minnesota.

BACK IN MY LIFE-ON-THE-FARM days, I loved winter. Every bucket of snow pushed from the farmyard with the loader of the John Deere tractor created a mountain. Soon a whole range rimmed the yard. There my siblings and I roamed, our imaginations taking us to the wilds of Alaska.

I am trying to reclaim that enthusiasm for winter—for carving caves into snowbanks, for sledding down hills, for building snow forts, for tossing snowballs. Not that I plan to engage in any of those activities. But I need to rediscover that winter can be fun. And my go-to place for that now is Faribault’s River Bend Nature Center.

 

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From 1 p.m. – 4 p.m. this Saturday, January 21, River Bend celebrates its annual WinterFest with kicksledding, snowshoeing, games, nature crafts, animal shows and more.

 

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I’m uncertain whether I will make that event. But I embraced the winter season by hiking the trails of River Bend in the balmy 30-degree warmth of a recent January afternoon. You can read about that by visiting the Faribault Tourism website “Stories” section. Click here. Enjoy.

TELL ME: How do you embrace winter? For those of you living in warm weather climates, go ahead, laugh, or share a story.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in Faribault December 10, 2016

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Let it snow.

 

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Let it snow.

 

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Let it snow,

 

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in historic downtown Faribault on Saturday afternoon.

Beautiful.

Just beautiful.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In which I see that, yes, winter really has arrived in Minnesota November 22, 2016

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A scene along Minnesota State Highway 23 between Foley and St. Cloud on Sunday afternoon.

A scene along Minnesota State Highway 23 between Foley and St. Cloud on Sunday afternoon, after the sun emerged from grey skies.

THE FIRST SNOWFALL of the season always arrives with considerable hoopla here in Minnesota. As if we hadn’t seen snow that layers the ground in white.

Round hay bales create a snow fence along Highway 23.

Round hay bales create a snow fence along Highway 23.

Last week, sections of my state got plenty of snow. We’re talking two feet in Leader in north central Minnesota. Mixed with high winds, blizzard conditions prevailed in many regions. Down here in the southeastern section? Only flurries. And I’m just fine with that.

Just outside of Monticello.

Just outside of Monticello.

Under grey skies on the flat land north of Monticello, snow dusts fields.

Under grey skies on the flat land north of Monticello, snow dusts fields.

However, a Sunday day trip 2.5 hours north and west of the metro took my husband and me into a snowy central Minnesota landscape.

Along Benton County Road 3 north of Gilman.

Along Benton County Road 3 north of Gilman, snow covers the rural landscape.

And, yes, I confess, I delighted in seeing snow-covered ground for the first time this winter season. There’s something about that initial snow that is magical and pure and, well, beautiful.

I snapped this wintry scene as we pulled into a convenience store/gas station in Foley.

I snapped this wintry scene as we pulled into a convenience store/gas station in Foley on Sunday afternoon.

This truck clearly has not moved in awhile.

This truck clearly has not moved in awhile.

The heavy, wet snow is piled now along the roadside, here in Foley.

The heavy, wet snow is piled now along the roadside, here in Foley.

A rural resident cleans out the end of his driveway along Benton County Road 3.

A rural resident cleans out the end of his driveway along Benton County Road 3.

Some parking lots were treacherously icy, like this one where we turned our van around in Gilman.

Some parking lots are treacherously icy, like this one in Gilman.

As long as you don’t have to deal with the snow and ice. As long as roads are clear, which they were except for icy patches on Benton County Road 3 north of Gilman.

I especially appreciate the visual contrast of red barns, this one north of Gilman, against the white landscape.

I especially appreciate the visual contrast of red barns, this one north of Gilman, against the white landscape.

Everything always seems sharper, brighter on a white canvas.

I photographed this train by the Minnesota State Correctional Facility in St. Cloud. It's heading for Clear Lake.

I photographed this train near the Minnesota State Correctional Facility in St. Cloud. It’s heading for Clear Lake.

Today brings a predicted wintry mix of precipitation to Minnesota. Rain mixed with snow, which likely will create slick roads. That type of winter weather is always unwelcome. But this is Minnesota. I should expect this.

I'm already waiting for spring, even though winter has just started. Here the same train I photographed in St. Cloud passes through Clear Lake as we all wait.

I’m already waiting for spring, even though winter has just started. Here the same train I photographed in St. Cloud passes through Clear Lake as we all wait.

But I don’t have to like it. And I don’t. Is it May yet? The novelty and excitement of seeing the first snowfall has apparently already faded for me.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Up on the rooftop shoveling snow February 10, 2016

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WHEN YOU LIVE IN MINNESOTA, not only do you have to shovel snow from sidewalks and driveways, but also from roofs. That is if too much snow accumulates on your rooftop and/or ice dams form.

 

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Typically every winter, we face those problems, which require my husband to haul out the ladder and climb atop the south facing house and garage roofs to shovel away snow.

 

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Sunday afternoon, when the air temp was at a relatively comfortable level for winter, he scooped snow from the house roof. I am always watchful of his movement, lest he slip and tumble off.

Thankfully this section of our roof is sloped only slightly, unlike the sharp-pitched section covering the rest of the structure. When he scales that two-story high area to clear leaves from gutters or to adjust the rooftop TV antenna, I’m nervous. I’ll admit that. He’s not young any more. But even youth doesn’t protect from falls. The last time our roof was shingled (due to defective shingles), I didn’t have to lobby, much to my surprise, for hiring professional roofers.

I digress.

But there are days I wish we lived in a rambler.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Out & about on a dangerously cold January weekend in southern Minnesota January 18, 2016

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Saturday afternoon in Montgomery, fierce wind whipped this over-sized flag and a light snowfall.

Saturday afternoon in Montgomery, fierce wind whipped this over-sized flag as light snow fell.

BITTERLY COLD. Double digit below zero temperatures. Minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit Sunday and Monday mornings. Dangerous windchills of minus 35 and 45 degrees. Exposed skin that can freeze in 10 minutes or less.

That’s our reality in Minnesota these days as Arctic air settles over our state. It is the topic of conversation. We Minnesotans love to talk about our weather.

Cold enough for you?

Staying warm?

How long is this supposed to last?

With windchills in the minus 20-degree range, Saturday afternoon, these snowmobilers dealt with machine break-down issues in the countryside.

With windchills in the minus 20-degree range Saturday afternoon, these snowmobilers dealt with machine break-down issues in the countryside.

We hole up indoors. Or we embrace the cold. As best we can. On Saturday I observed youth playing hockey outdoors while others skimmed across an adjacent skating rink. I spotted three snowmobilers parked alongside the road after a snowmobile apparently struck a highway sign. I saw vehicles ringing rural bars.

Reduced visibility driving into Montgomery Saturday afternoon.

Reduced visibility driving into Montgomery Saturday afternoon.

Me? I snugged inside the van with my husband, mini quilt across my lap, as we crisscrossed Rice and nearby counties. We just drove, feeling the need to escape reality for an afternoon. Our meandering took us to downtown Lakeville, where we ducked in and out of several home-grown shops.

Since my last visit to New Prague, an antique shop has opened in this former hardware store. The shop holds a large collection of vinyl records and vintage Czech jewelry.

Since my last visit to New Prague, an antique shop has opened in this former hardware store. The shop holds a large collection of vinyl records and vintage Czech jewelry.

Then we aimed west, stopping at a New Prague antique shop before driving toward Montgomery.

I am always struck by how desolate farm sites appear in winter. This one lies between New Prague and Montgomery.

I am always struck by how desolate farm sites appear in winter. This one lies between New Prague and Montgomery.

Sunshine occasionally sliced rays across the white-washed landscape. It is so cold you can see cold in the sun. It is so cold you can hear cold in the crunch of snow beneath tires and boots. And you can certainly feel it in the sting of cold slapping cheeks.

Traveling Minnesota State Highway 13 toward Montgomery Saturday afternoon.

Traveling Minnesota State Highway 13 toward Montgomery Saturday afternoon.

Snow swirled through the wind-driven air near Montgomery, veiling the sky.

The building doesn't look like much from the outside. But step inside Montgomery Brewing Company to find an inviting taproom in an historic building.

This historic building doesn’t look like much from the outside. But step inside Montgomery Brewing Company to find an inviting taproom.

In this Czech community, we stopped for a cold one at Montgomery Brewing Company. You would think on a bitterly cold January day like this, few people would venture out for a beer. But the place was hopping with couples popping in for tap beer, conversation and growlers.

Winter does not stop Minnesotans from riding their bikes. This one was spotted in Montgomery.

Winter does not stop Minnesotans from riding their bikes. I spotted this one in Montgomery Saturday afternoon.

Back to the east in my county of Rice, Faribault’s F-Town Brewing Company offered beer samples at the Snow Crush Fat Tire Race at River Bend Nature Center on Saturday. An after-party followed at the brewery. Had the temperature been warmer, I likely would have been at the race shooting photos. But there’s a limit to what I’ll do in sub-zero/hovering around zero temps.

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FYI: All of these edited images were shot from inside a warm van.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling