Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

After the snowstorm in Faribault December 11, 2021

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Randy guides the snowblower down our driveway Saturday morning. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)

OUR FIRST MAJOR winter storm of the season dropped about 10 inches of snow in Faribault Friday into the early morning hours of Saturday. But other areas got more. Much more. Double in Woodbury and parts of the metro. Like Lakeville and Eagan.

Each shovel serves a different purpose. The rusty one on the left is used to scrape close to the surface. The scoop shovel works great for tossing snow. And the wide plastic shovel, right, pushes snow. (Minnesota Prairie Roost copyrighted photo December 2021)

Saturday morning I grabbed a cup of coffee, ate a bowl of cereal and then headed outside to help Randy with snow removal. I focus on the places he can’t reach with the snowblower. Like the steps. And around the garage. And then I do clean-up, scraping away residual snow.

A close-up of Randy clearing the driveway with our ancient snowblower. Across the street, our neighbor blows his sidewalk. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)

As I stepped outdoors to a world of white, the sound of scraping shovels and of snowblowers broke any post-storm quiet. Everywhere I looked, neighbors were hard at work clearing sidewalks and driveways of snow.

The sidewalk past our house, cleared of snow. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)

There’s something comforting in seeing an entire neighborhood working separately, yet together, on a common mission. To dig out after a snowstorm.

Snowy evergreen boughs. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)

I paused, too, to appreciate the beauty of the snow. Layering my neighbor’s evergreen trees.

Seed heads. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)

Topping dried seed heads in my yard. Filling the woods.

Heading into downtown Faribault after lunch Saturday. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)
Snow pushed into a pile in the parking lot of Ace Hardware. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)
City snow removal crews push the snow into the middle of the street near Erickson Furniture before complete removal later. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)

Saturday unfolded into a day of blue skies and bright sunshine. Sun intense enough to melt snow from roads and other surfaces. That makes it far easier to get around. Friday evening Randy’s drive home from work along snow-packed Minnesota State Highway 3 took 45 minutes rather than the usual 22 minutes. I felt such relief when he finally pulled into the garage.

The snowy scene along Fourth Street Saturday afternoon. Note that Family Video closed several months ago. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)
Lots of snowplows were out and about. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)
Near the historic Brunswick Hotel building, approaching Buckham Memorial Library, along Central Avenue. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)

Last Saturday, our landscape was devoid of snow as we celebrated Winterfest here in Faribault. What a difference seven days can make.

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NOTE: My heart hurts for all those affected by the deadly and devastating tornadoes in Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky. That storm makes our major winter storm here in Minnesota seem only a minor inconvenience.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Rider in the storm or… January 30, 2018

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DAYS AFTER A MAJOR STORM dumped 16 inches of snow on Faribault, I spotted a motorcycle in the parking lot of a local liquor store. It wasn’t exactly bike riding weather with the temp at around 30 degrees.

 

Days after the storm, a fleet of city snow removal equipment lined up in front of my home as sunset broke.

 

Perhaps this Bold North biker had something to prove. Or maybe not.

 

 

 

I snapped a few photos of the bike with my smartphone, not even noticing the expired tabs and the travel bags until I reviewed the photos later. Hey, I’m not one to stand around outside in cold weather without proper warm attire.

 

 

Once inside Fareway Spirits & More, I mentioned the bike to the clerk. Turns out it had been sitting in the parking lot for days, moved there from the unplowed street (which is now plowed). She wondered if the abandoned motorcycle might be stolen, but had not phoned police. I didn’t either.

Monday evening the bike was still parked in the same spot in the cold and snowy Bold North of Faribault. From all forecasts I’ve seen, the weather in Minnesota won’t be suitable for riding anytime soon, including on Sunday. Forecasters are already predicting the coldest Super Bowl on record with lows of minus 10 – 15 degrees and a high above zero. If we’re lucky.

UPDATE, 7:15 pm, Tuesday, January 30: The bike, still parked in the same lot, is a Yamaha Star, Arkansas license, so reports the husband who stopped to check this evening.

© 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

 

A Groundhog Day snowstorm socks Minnesota February 3, 2016

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A City of Faribault truck plows snow on the street past my house Tuesday afternoon.

A City of Faribault truck plows snow on the street past my house Tuesday afternoon.

MINNESOTA HUNKERED DOWN on Groundhog Day during the first major winter storm of the season.

In the southwestern corner, nearer the Iowa and South Dakota borders, Interstate 90 closed as did all state highways south of U.S. Highway 14 due to white-out conditions. I grew up in that prairie area and fully appreciate the power and dangers of a blizzard.

In my county of Rice, we received about eight inches of snow—according to the husband’s snow-clearing estimates—by early evening. Randy reported icy, snow-compacted lanes and drifting snow on Minnesota State Highway 3, his route home from work in Northfield.

For Minnesota kids, Tuesday was a day off from classes. Many schools announced closings already Monday evening in anticipation of the storm.

Some businesses closed early. Activities were canceled. There was no bingo at the Eagles in Faribault, no euchre at the Morristown Legion, no LeSueur County Cattlemen’s annual meeting.

This morning we resume the task of clearing away snow.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Hey, Minnesota and Wisconsin, are you ready? November 9, 2014

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FIRST SIGNIFICANT SNOWSTORM of the season…

As I snapped this photo from my living room window, this pick-up truck slid on the snowy street.

I could be looking out my living room window tomorrow at a scene like this from February 2014 as the first snowfall of the season moves into my area of southeastern Minnesota.

I keep hoping the forecasters are wrong in their prediction for a “potent storm system” developing in Minnesota this evening and continuing into Monday/Tuesday. But it appears they are not based on the latest updates from the National Weather Service.

Snow falling at a rate of one to two inches an hour is predicted in this system which will stretch from the western border of Minnesota into Wisconsin.

Travel will be impacted. You think?

Total accumulations of up to a foot of heavy, wet snow are expected. My county of Rice is on the borderline of 4 – 8 or 8 – 12 inches. It appears places to the north, like the Twin Cities an hour away, will get the most.

My husband blowing out our driveway.

My husband blowing out our driveway. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2013.

Snow shovels are in place. Gas can has been filled. Snowblower is at the ready.

You can almost sense the anticipation. A major Big Box retailer was a zoo yesterday and looked equally as busy today. And, let me tell you, the grocery store was not the place to shop this morning after church.

It’s as if everyone is stocking up, preparing to hunker down, realizing that tomorrow’s efforts will be focused on snow removal and staying off the roads.

Be safe everyone.

Snow flies as Randy works the snowblower down the driveway. Fortunately we are not without power, although the lights flickered numerous times Thursday evening.

Clearing our driveway. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2014.

IF YOU LIVE in Minnesota or Wisconsin, how are you prepping for Monday’s mega storm? Are you ready?

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A snow day in Faribault February 21, 2011

“YOU DIDN’T BELIEVE ME. Give me a high five.”

That’s how the 17-year-old reacted at 7:07 this morning after learning that Faribault schools are closed today because of a snow day.

I wish I had been the one to deliver the good news to him, to a boy who typically lingers in bed until he risks being late for school, which he was one day recently, on a Thursday “late start” day of all days.

But this morning my son heard the “no school” news from his dad, who is currently blowing the eight or nine or 10 inches of snow from ours and our neighbor’s driveways.

Upstairs, the teen is likely back in dreamland and I’ve had a pleasant start to my morning with no snarling, no crabbing, no frowns or grumpy face.

Ah, yes, I love snow days.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Snow in Minnesota, again February 20, 2011

UP UNTIL ABOUT 45 minutes ago, snow was falling fast and furious here in Faribault, at a rate of an inch an hour.

Visibility had dwindled to a block in town. As for the country, I wouldn’t even want to guess.

But now, shortly after noon, the snow flakes aren’t as thick or as heavy and conditions have improved. Perhaps this is simply a lull in a storm predicted to drop up to 15 inches of snow here in southeastern Minnesota, more in southwestern Minnesota, “more” being 20 inches.

My area of Minnesota is currently under a winter storm warning until noon Monday.

In southwestern Minnesota, where my mom and other family members live, a blizzard warning has been issued. Snow and winds have created difficult driving conditions and low visibility on the prairie, according to information I just read on the Minnesota Department of Transportation website. I expect that snow gates, if they have not already been lowered across roads like Minnesota State Highway 19, will soon be put in place. That means you do not travel those roadways without the risk of a hefty fine. Prairie people, for the most part, understand the dangers of traveling in a blizzard and stay put.

I expect to spend my day holed up at home, wrapping up writing projects for Minnesota Moments’ spring issue. It’s a good day to do that and a good way to avoid working on income tax. I detest rounding up tax information and, this year, have put off the awful numbers task longer than normal.

On the way home from church, my husband and I stopped at the grocery store, a busy place at 10 a.m. As we entered the store, we were greeted by a shopper who just smiled and said, “Here we go again.” He was, of course, referring to the snow.

Then, a half hour later as we exited the store with our bread and other food packed into three bags, a cart-pusher, who was struggling to gather grocery carts in the snowy parking lot, declared, “Winter all over again.”

See the common word in their statements? That would be “again.”

Yup, here we go again.

I WOULD LOVE TO HEAR reports about weather conditions in your area. So submit a comment.

 

I APOLOGIZE for the lack of current photos, but I am without my Canon for a week while it is being cleaned.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The snow angels of rural Minnesota December 22, 2010

THEY ARE THE ANGELS of rural Minnesota.  The volunteer firefighters. The volunteer first responders. The volunteer ambulance crews.

If you don’t believe me, then spend some time in a place like Vesta, population around 330, on the southwestern Minnesota prairie where I grew up.  In small towns like this, the nearest clinic and hospital are often a 20-mile drive or more.

My mom still lives in my hometown and, because she’s getting up there in age, I worry about her. But that concern is offset somewhat by the knowledge that first responders will come to her aid in a medical emergency. And they have.

So when I read an article in the December 16 The Gaylord Hub, a community newspaper where I worked decades ago right out of college, I knew I had to share a story by reporter Lisa Uecker. She wrote about an ambulance trip from Gibbon to New Ulm during the December 11 blizzard.

Uecker is graciously permitting me to retell that story here. It’s worth your time to read for the lessons it teaches in dedication and care and how those in small towns will go the extra mile to assist their friends and neighbors.

In this instance, the miles, literally, were extra and a trip which should have taken perhaps 30 minutes became a 3 ½-hour ordeal.

The incident begins at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, December 11, during the height of the two-day blizzard. The volunteer Winthrop Ambulance Service receives a call to Gibbon some eight miles to the west. Once the crew reaches Gibbon and the patient, they backtrack to Winthrop knowing they must travel the longer, but safer, state highways rather than follow the shorter route along county roads. From Winthrop, they are headed 16 miles south along Minnesota State Highway 15 to the hospital in New Ulm.

A paramedic intercept is impossible, the crew learns, so snowplows are dispatched to meet the ambulance at the intersection of Highway 15 and Nicollet County Road 1 near Lafayette. One plow goes into the ditch. Another is low on fuel. The third has mechanical problems. None of the plows make it to the appointed rendezvous site.

 

If you're unfamiliar with Sibley and Nicollet counties, here's a map photo to show you the roadways and towns highlighted in this story.

The ambulance crew is on its own, traveling in white-out conditions near Klossner. The rescue vehicle soon becomes stuck on the shoulder. Because snowplows have been pulled off the roads, the Lafayette Fire Department comes to the rescue, freeing the ambulance with its pumper truck.

After passing Klossner, the ambulance gets stuck again, but the driver–ambulance captain and assistant Sibley County attorney Donald Lannoye–is able to rock the vehicle free.

Finally, at 6 p.m., the patient, who has been stable throughout the ride, is delivered to the New Ulm Medical Center.

The four-member volunteer ambulance crew spends the night in New Ulm.

In an interview with reporter Uecker, Lannoye says that once he passed Sibley County Road 8 right outside of Lafayette, he could never drive more than five miles per hour due to poor visibility and road conditions. The crew saw 11 – 15 cars in ditches and 4 – 6 cars stuck in traffic lanes near Lafayette.

Then Lannoye also reveals that his crew began their day at 5 a.m., transporting a patient on icy roads to Hutchinson.

If ever there was an outstanding example of the care and concern residents of rural Minnesota have for each other, then this would be it. We should all be thankful for volunteers like Lannoye, ambulance crew members Lisa Klenk and Todd Storms,  EMT-in-training Katie Uecker and Lafayette Volunteer Fire Department members who braved a blizzard to help their neighbors.

They are, indeed, snow angels.

IF YOU HAVE A STORY to share about how volunteers have helped you or someone you love, submit a comment. I’m certain there are many such stories out there.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling and Lisa Uecker

 

A Minnesota winter day in photos December 7, 2010

This refurbished barn overlooks the Minnesota River near Belle Plaine. The owners installed new windows, resided the barn and added a small deck off the hayloft, which has been remodeled into a party room. It was the site of a family member's July wedding.

YOU ARE IN FOR A TREAT today as I’m going to feature some guest photos by Harriet Traxler of Carver. I’ve never met Harriet and only recently began corresponding with her via e-mail.

But she has a wonderful little hobby that is near and dear to my heart. Harriet is a self-taught photographer who enjoys photographing everything from children to nature, animals and barns. Like me, she pretty much “wears” her Nikon D40 camera.

Next to photographing barns, Harriet most enjoys taking pictures of birds. Several years ago she took a photo that included 24 cardinals. Cardinals seem to especially like feeding on black oil sunflower seeds, she says.

It is her barn photos that first caught my attention. She has photographed more than 1,000 barns in Sibley County and compiled those images in 19 books which she prints and binds. If you’ve followed Minnesota Prairie Roots for awhile, you know that I also enjoy photographing old barns. In fact, right now, my camera is filled with barn (and other) images from a weekend trip to eastern Wisconsin.

But back to Harriet, if you’re interested in old barns and/or enjoy the photos posted here, stop by her website at barnsofsibleycounty.com. You may even want to consider purchasing one (or two or more) of Harriet’s barn books as a Christmas gift/gifts.

Even if you’re not from Sibley County where these barns were photographed, I promise you will enjoy these barn and other rural photos. One of my favorite images in Harriet’s books shows a herd of Holsteins gazing at her from behind a barbed wire fence with a farm site, including a red barn, in the background.

I’ll bring you some of Harriet’s stunning barn photos in the future.

But for today, this photographer is graciously allowing me to showcase several images taken on Saturday, after a major winter storm dumped up to a foot of snow on some parts of Minnesota. Harriet truly captures the beauty of this snowfall. And that is what we Minnesotans sometimes need—to see the beauty rather than all the hard work and inconveniences a major snowfall creates in our lives.

Enjoy and thank you, Harriet, for allowing me to share your photos on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

Farm equipment engulfed in snow makes for a scenic image.

St. John's Catholic Church in Faxon Township, Sibley County, dates back to the 1870s. It is often called "St. John's in the cornfield," Harriet says, because cornfields typically surround the church during the growing season.

Harriet didn't tell me where she shot this outdoor Christmas tree. But isn't it beautiful?

Text © Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photos © Copyright 2010 Harriet Traxler

 

Winter storm on the prairie December 1, 2010

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Snow blows across the driveway on the farm where I grew up near Vesta.

WHEN I HEARD yesterday of five-foot snowdrifts in the Springfield area, west of New Ulm, I simply had to get my hands on some photos from southwestern Minnesota. Honestly, unless you’ve lived on the flat, open, wind-swept prairie, you really can’t comprehend the ferocity of a Minnesota winter.

In that part of the state, November exited with a strong winter storm that whipped snow into hard, sculpted drifts, made roads nearly impassable if not impassable and closed schools on Monday and Tuesday.

Snowdrifts, some six feet high, sculpted around the grove and bins on the home place.

Although I have not lived on the prairie for nearly four decades, memories of winters there are as fresh as the five, up to 10, inches of snow that fell there.

I won’t tell you that I walked uphill two miles to school in snowdrifts eight feet deep. But I will tell you that when I attended junior high school in Redwood Falls some 20 miles from my farm home, we had a difficult time getting to school one winter. Because of all the snow and poor road conditions, buses would not make their rural routes. One bus left the cafe in my hometown of Vesta each morning bound for Redwood Falls. If you could get into town, then you could go to school. For my brother and me, that journey into Vesta was via an open cab John Deere tractor driven one mile down a county road by our dad. After school he would drive back in to town and bring us home.

I also recall during high school once riding home on a single school bus crammed with students who would normally fill two buses. The driver opted to take all of the Vesta area kids to Vesta (not home) in one bus as weather conditions were so poor. The bus crept along the highway with one student standing just inside the open bus door guiding the driver in near-visibility conditions.

The often brutal winters on the prairie also necessitated designated “snow homes,” homes in town where country kids could stay if snow stranded them in town. Although I had snow homes every year from junior high until I graduated in 1974, I never once had to stay at one. My siblings did.

Even though the prairie winters were harsh, as a kid, I loved winter. Rock-hard snowdrifts that circled the granary and the house and the barn and the snow piles formed by my dad with the bucket of his John Deere tractor became treacherous mountains to explore. We drove our imaginary dog sleds there, played King of the Mountain, dug snow tunnels, slid in our sleds…

Winters were fun back then.

Wind-whipped snow drifts around the abandoned milkhouse and silo.

I’m certain, though, for my parents, winter must have been a lot of hard work—pushing all that snow from the driveway and yard to open a path for the milk truck, thawing frozen drinking cups and a frozen gutter cleaner, emptying the pot that served as our bathroom in the cold front porch…

All of these memories rushed back as I viewed the photos my niece Hillary took of this recent winter storm in southwestern Minnesota. Her images are from the farm where I grew up, the place of sweet memories and of long, cold, harsh winters.

Snow began falling Monday afternoon in the Vesta area, causing low visibility and poor driving conditions as snow covered roadways, according to my niece.

Snow swirled into drifts in the farmyard on the farm of my childhood.

Snowdrifts formed at the edge of the yard, next to the grove.

IF YOU HAVE WINTER memories or stories to share, submit a comment to Minnesota Prairie Roots. I’d like to hear yours.

Text © Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photos © Copyright 2010 Hillary Kletscher