Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

February at forty degrees February 15, 2018

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IN SNOW TINGED with dirt, a curled brown maple leaf lies, a remnant of autumn lingering in this month of February.

Above, the sun flares against a blue sky bordered by bare branches.

Below, laundry hangs on the line. Drying at forty degrees.

I delight in it all—heat of the sun, fence line shadowed on a dwindling snow pack, ice melt dripping from gutters, long johns on clothesline, interior kitchen door flung open. All hold the hope of spring in a Minnesota winter that seems always too cold, too snowy, too long.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Frosty returns to Faribault February 7, 2018

 

FOR ME, WINTER in Faribault wouldn’t be winter without the ginormous snowman standing in the front yard of an historic home at 18 Third Avenue Northwest.

 

 

Here the Hoisington family has crafted a giant Frosty for the past nine winters, first acquiring sufficient additional snow from church parking lots and now from the Faribault Ice Arena. This year’s snowman came to life in early December, although I sidetracked to view it for the first time several days ago.

 

 

I’ve seen and photographed this towering snowman for three, now four, years. Still, I react the same—with a broad smile. There’s something about a snowman, no matter it’s size, that recounts the winter fun of childhood. And that’s a good thing to remember when I tire of the cold and snow in the Bold North.

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Click here to see my 2014 blog post on this snowman.

Click here to read the 2015 post.

And click here to read the 2016 post.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

How one little girl put some fun back in my Minnesota winter January 24, 2018

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My granddaughter watches while her grandpa rolls a snowball.

 

AS I’VE AGED, I complain more about Minnesota winters. But I didn’t always dislike this season of cold, snow and ice. I once loved being outdoors in the winter—rolling snowballs in to snowmen, engaging in snowball fights, racing up and down snow piles, sledding, digging caves into snow banks, making snow angels, running across rock-hard snow drifts, ice skating and constructing snow forts. Winter as a child was fun in between doing farm chores.

Even when I had my own three children, winter remained semi fun with some of the same winter activities. But as the kids grew, so did their disinterest in outdoor winter play. It’s been years since I’ve thought about the fun aspect of the months spanning November – April in Minnesota.

But then along came my granddaughter who is now nearing age two. On Saturday Randy and I offered to play with Izzy so her parents could have an afternoon out. My motive was also grandma selfish in wanting some time with this sweet little girl.

 

Ready to head outside into the snow.

 

With temps around 40 degrees, I decided (and Grandpa went along with the idea) it would be a great day to play with Izzy in the snow. After I bundled her into her snowpants, boots, coat, cap and mittens and then got myself ready, we finally headed to the backyard. I’d forgotten how long it takes to get a little one into snow gear.

 

 

Once in the backyard, Randy and I pulled Izzy around on a Lion King sled Randy recently retrieved from the garage rafters. It’s the same sled Isabelle’s mama used as a child.

 

 

While Grandpa rolled snowballs and stacked them into a snowman, I played with Izzy. She trundled in the snow as best she could, occasionally reaching for my hand to assure she stayed upright. When I started throwing snowballs at a tree trunk, she burst into waves of giggles. She may have been laughing at Grandma’s inability to hit the target about 50 percent of the time.

The time outdoors with my granddaughter on a balmy January afternoon in Minnesota put the fun back in winter for me. Oh, the power of a child. Over a grandmother.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

So…we got a little snow here in Faribault… January 22, 2018

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My patio and backyard photographed around 4 p.m. Monday when the snow let up for a bit. You can see the snow depth by looking at the table and the vintage lawn chairs near the tree to the left.

 

SNOW HAS BEEN FALLING for more than 15 hours now in Faribault with an unofficial accumulation of 14.5 inches measured on my backyard patio.

 

The heavy snow made for some beautiful scenery.

 

Love these snow-laden branches.

 

Strong winds plastered snow to the side of our house, for awhile completely covering the kitchen window.

 

Coupled with high winds, blizzard conditions continue in the region. The Minnesota Department of Transportation advises no travel along roadways like Interstate 35 from Owatonna, past Faribault to just south of the metro. For awhile today, Rice County pulled its snowplows. My husband’s commute home from Northfield along Minnesota State Highway 3 doubled in time to 45 minutes. I convinced him to leave work early, around 12:30 p.m. Conditions were the worst he’s seen on the road in 34 years of driving to and from Northfield.

 

Randy begins the process of clearing snow from our driveway at 4 p.m. Monday.

 

Now, after three hours of tag team snowblowing and shoveling, we have our driveway and sidewalk cleared and that of a senior neighbor. My back aches and I’m tired. It’s been a long time since we’ve had this much snow in one shot.

 

 

Soon I’ll kick back, watch the evening news for snowfall totals across Minnesota. And then sometime during the middle of the night, I’ll startle to the banging of a snowplow blade on Willow Street or the beep of a city plow backing and clearing the intersection.

 

 

When I awaken Tuesday morning, I’ll separate curtain panels and peer outside to see the driveway apron packed with bladed snow. And the process of clearing snow will start all over again.

© Copyright 2018 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

 

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