Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Throwing tomatoes October 20, 2021

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Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2015.

ONCE UPON A TIME in The Land of Plenty, the villagers gathered in the harvest. Pumpkins. Potatoes. Squash. Root vegetables. And then the last of the tomatoes, much of the fruit rotting atop the soil in a plentiful yield.

In a typical year, the villagers would toss the over-ripe tomatoes to the swine. But this was anything but a typical year. What was once discarded as undesirable fodder now held value. Great value.

And so the villagers rolled empty wheelbarrows into their garden plots. They stooped to scoop and pluck the decaying tomatoes swarming with bugs. As they toiled, they hummed in unrestrained happiness. They had a plan. And their plan, they determined, would allow them to unleash their anger and frustration in a visible way, a way that would hurt beyond mere words.

OVERRUN & OVERWHELMED

While they focused on the unseemly task of salvaging rotten tomatoes, others in the village worked hard to treat those who had fallen ill—seriously ill—after encountering The Great Invader. Those caregivers felt overwhelmed by tending the sick, some of whom lay in the streets awaiting an open cot inside The Village Center for Healing. There were not enough beds, not enough caregivers to handle the sick and dying.

DENIAL

Yet, despite their frustration and exhaustion, those healers forged forward. Even as the villagers denied the presence of The Great Invader and his ability to inflict great pain and suffering. Even as village elders succumbed. Even as a life-saving potion could have stopped The Invader. Denial raged like a virus in the village and through-out The Land of Plenty.

At the Office of Truthfulness, efforts continued to share information about the life-saving potion and its availability through-out the land. But the villagers would hear none of those truths. They listened instead to The Village Know-It-All, who spouted of poison and control and loss of personal freedom. Swallow a potion reserved for swine and other livestock, he suggested to those who encountered The Great Invader. But, above all, never ever publicly acknowledge that the rulers of the kingdom, or those in The Ministry of Health, cared about anyone other than themselves, The Know-It-All impressed upon his believers. The leaders and officials, he claimed, desired to overtake the villages, to trample upon the villagers, to steal their individual rights.

Meanwhile, villagers continued to fall ill. The Great Invader felt comfortably at home in remote rural regions where few accepted the preventative powers of a powerful potion. Even as elders and others lay dying, wheezing and struggling to breathe, their loved ones denied the presence of The Great Invader. They attributed the illness to unknown spores and pollen from a poisonous plant. They would not credit the source cited by the village caregivers, for to do so would undermine their beliefs, their integrity. Their credibility.

A PLAN

And so, in their anger at The Ministry of Health, the Office of Truthfulness and those relentless caregivers, the villagers hatched a plan. On a sunny afternoon, they rallied at the town square. And then, wheelbarrows heaped with rotting tomatoes, they wheeled along cobblestone streets to The Village Center for Healing. There they waited, en-masse, for the healers to emerge after a long shift of tending the ill. And when the first caregivers exited, the villagers began lobbing orb after orb after orb of decaying fruit toward the weary healers. Smack. Smack. Smack.

The villagers felt empowered. How dare anyone tell them their loved ones, friends and neighbors had succumbed to The Great Invader. They knew better. It was all a lie. The virus. The effectiveness of some unknown potion. Lie. Lie. Lie. So they wedged their way among the cots filled with the sick and dying and emptied their wheelbarrows of rotting tomatoes typically reserved for swine.

COVID-19 virus. Photo credit: CDC

MY DEAR READERS, in every story truth exists, this one no exception. In a statement last week, Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm shared her anger about mistreatment of hospital staff by COVID-19 patients and families who don’t believe they or their loved ones have the virus.

Minnesota remains in a precarious point in this pandemic with few ICU, pediatric and other hospital beds open. A northwestern Minnesota family lost a loved one recently after he was unable to get transferred from a small town hospital to a facility with a higher level of care due to no ICU bed availability. An extended family member of mine was also unable to be transferred to a Mayo hospital in Rochester due to no beds. That’s reality. On Saturday, my neighbors buried their father, who died of COVID.

As The Great Invader/COVID-19 continues to rage, I urge you to get vaccinated if you are not yet vaccinated. Too many continue to get seriously ill and/or die. As I read stats here in Minnesota, the ages of those who are dying of COVID includes not just seniors, but increasingly those much younger. This virus does not discriminate. We need to think beyond our individual selves to the health and safety of the broader, collective community. We need to care about others—from our most vulnerable eldest and health-compromised to our youngest, who cannot yet be vaccinated.

Please also continue to mask up, whether vaccinated or not. Social distance. Stay home if you are sick. Most of all, care like you are part of a community.

Click here to read posts from my series about The Great Invader. Note that I moderate all comments on this, my personal blog, and choose which to publish and which not to publish.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

As words fly, The Great Invader presses on September 30, 2021

COVID-19 virus. Photo source CDC/Alissa Edkert, MSMI; Dan Higgins MAMS, 2020

ONCE UPON A TIME in The Land of Plenty, the villagers determined they’d had enough of the restrictions, recommendations and mandates imposed during a far-reaching health emergency. The Great Invader be damned, they would live life like it was 2018, pre-intrusion into their quiet village lives.

And so they did. They gathered in the arenas. They gathered in the squares. They gathered in the taverns and around the hearth. They packed the marketplace. They crammed into wagons and traveled hither-and-yon without worry. They cared only about their own happiness. No one, not even the Ministry of Health or the rulers of the kingdom, would tell them what they could and could not do.

DENIAL

Despite their best efforts, there was no denying The Great Invader’s presence in the land, even in the smallest of villages. But the villagers would never publicly acknowledge that. Such validation would only undermine their integrity and cast them as supporters of the kingdom leadership. They would not defect or risk becoming outcasts among their own. So, if worry or doubt entered their minds, they dared not share their concerns.

Even in that state of outcry or denial, depending on perspective, the Ministry of Health continued to post documents from the Office of Truthfulness in the village square. Oftentimes The Village Know-It-All would rip down the official scrolls, especially those listing deaths caused by The Great Invader. He didn’t need The Counters in the village adding numbers and circulating the results.

FACT & FICTION

Stopping the flow of information from respected wordsmiths, though, proved much more difficult. The writers were relentless in penning pieces about The Great Invader and his effect upon the people of the kingdom. To counter their efforts, The Village Know-It-All began posting his own carefully crafted stories for all to see. He was especially skilled in the art of manipulation. Whatever he wrote would be quickly repeated as the truth. He held that type of power.

OPPORTUNITY GALORE

The Great Invader, who could be everywhere and anywhere simultaneously, recognized opportunity when he saw it. He would up his efforts to invade the villages, to sicken the villagers, to cause pain and suffering. And even death. His job would be so much easier among those who refused to believe the Office of Truthfulness, who spread false information and who refused to take a life-saving potion available throughout the kingdom. He felt giddy with anticipation as he continued his invasion. This was proving much easier than he ever hoped, ever dreamed, ever thought possible in The Land of Plenty.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo.

AS COVID-19 CASES continue to surge, here are some recent headlines from Minnesota media sources, plus one from Minnesota-North Dakota. Please, if you are unvaccinated, get vaccinated. Please wear a mask in public or in close proximity indoors to those outside your immediate circle, regardless of vaccination status. Be safe. Be well. Care about others. We need to stop The Great Invader/COVID-19.

Local hospitals see record patient volume in emergency departments—Faribault Daily News

The number of schools in Minnesota with confirmed COVID-19 cases has tripled twice in the last two weeks. What’s going on?—MinnPost

“How will we keep going like this?” School nurses, staff worry about burnout—Minnesota Public Radio

Hundreds of U of M faculty want stronger vaccine policies—Minnesota Public Radio

Protestors Demonstrate Against Vaccination Mandates Thursday in Redwood Falls—KLGR radio

Carris Health—Redwood Hospital and Clinic Reinstates COVID Visitor Restrictions—KLGR radio (posted on the same date as the protest story)

Avera Marshall reopens drive-up COVID testing as need grows—The Marshall Independent

Latest surge wears on Carris Health—Rice Memorial Hospital staff 18 months into the pandemic—West Central Tribune (Willmar)

Trending rise of COVID-19 continues in Morrison County—Morrison County Record

As hospitals struggle amid delta surge, North Dakota puts extra ambulances on stand-by—The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead

North Dakota baby’s nearly fatal fight with COVID-19 signals new risk to children—The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead

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Click here to read my previous posts in this series about The Great Invader. Note that I moderate all comments on this, my personal blog.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Into the fire September 20, 2021

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2021, used for illustration only.

ONCE UPON A TIME in The Land of Plenty, the disbelieving villagers decided they’d had enough. They’d had enough of the Ministry of Health and its ongoing efforts to keep The Great Invader from continuing his march across the land. They were weary of being told what to do. They were weary of anything that limited their freedom. They were simply not going to listen. They would live their lives as they wished, unencumbered. And so they did.

Most, but not all, carried on as usual despite increasing reports of illnesses and deaths caused by The Great Invader. They didn’t fear him. After all, they’d gone this long without encountering him. Why worry now? They mocked those who expressed concern. They dismissed the daily lists of dead posted on multiple scrolls in the village square. They ignored, too, the stories of healers overwhelmed by the sick now lying on cots in the streets. They refused to listen to anyone who expressed even the slightest concern about the health of the kingdom.

INTO THE FIRE

Yet, despite their best efforts, they could not completely squelch the stories that circulated. It was rumored that The Great Invader had infected many in the region who refused a life-saving potion that would protect them. It was rumored, too, that many of the children in neighboring villages (and perhaps some of their own) had also fallen ill. And when a representative of the Ministry of Health tacked official documents from the Office of Truthfulness onto a post in the village square proving the stories were fact, not rumor, they ran him out of town. They built a roaring fire, ripped down the scrolls and burned the words of truth to ashes.

They would have none of this They danced in the square, hands joined in celebration. They sang, their boisterous voices rising. And when they grew weary from all the song and dance, they crammed onto long plank benches and drank their fill of ale. Their tongues loosened. Spittle flew. And they determined that no one, not even The Great Invader, held power over them or their village.

AND THEN…

Days later, The Village Know-It-All, who led the local anti-Ministry of Health campaign and subsequent celebrations, fell ill. The villagers heard him hacking, his voice raspy with phlegm. He looked unwell. Pale. Weak. Perhaps even running a fever. Snot dripped from his nose. Still, his adoring admirers circled close as he barked at them in a hoarse voice. He instilled fear in most. Few dared challenge him.

Yet some in the village, noticing his declining health, discreetly distanced themselves from a man they’d never liked, whom they secretly considered a bully of low intelligence. Doubt crept into their thoughts. And they began to wonder if perhaps the Ministry of Health officials had been right all along. Perhaps The Great Invader had infiltrated their village. If only they’d read fully the words of warning posted in the village square. If only they’d chosen truth over fire.

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NOTE: In every story, truth exists, this one no exception. As The Great Invader (COVID-19/delta variant) continues to ravage The Land of Plenty and beyond, please choose truth. Take care. Be safe. Be well. Think before you dance or sing in the village square. And, above all, care for one another, especially our children, our seniors and those who are health-compromised.

This marks the fourth in my ongoing series about The Great Invader. Click here to read my previous three posts.

NOTE: I moderate all comments on this, my personal blog.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The Great Invader readies for school August 26, 2021

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An abandoned rural Minnesota schoolhouse, used for illustration only. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2016.

ONCE UPON A TIME in The Land of Plenty, a rising revolt threatened the kingdom, especially the remote villages.

The Great Invader observed the discontent, the disagreements, the squabbling and outright lies. He delighted in the division permeating the land. He was an opportunist who wasted no time sneaking into villages and even cities. The more misinformation spread, the more he gloated, the easier his mission to inflict sickness and death upon the land.

When he learned the Ministry of Education was meeting to discuss plans that would thwart his efforts, he took note. He needed to gather information, to strategize and then to implement a strong plan of attack.

So The Great Invader slid into the meeting room, tucking into a corner unseen. His invisibility was especially useful in situations like this. Already, he liked what he saw—people packed together, most without protective armor. Perfect. He felt giddy inside. He had allies.

ANGRY, DEFIANT VILLAGERS SPEAK

When the villagers stepped up to address the Ministry of Education, The Great Invader could hardly contain his joy. They—with the exception of two—sided with him, expressing outrage toward any efforts to protect the young children of the kingdom. This was going so much better than he had hoped.

“You will not tell us what to do,” said one defiant mother, her son posed beside her. “My children will not wear masks when they are in the village school.” That defied official recommendations from the Ministry of Health to wear protective face masks.

The Great Invader nearly revealed his presence by pumping his arm in celebration. That sent a ripple of air into the room. He reminded himself then to sit still and listen.

THE GREAT INVADER LOVES WHAT HE’S HEARING

Another mother stepped forward, claiming a mask would traumatize her children, that a face covering was unnecessary, and that she, and her children, had rights. The Great Invader nearly danced right there in the midst of his powerful grassroots allies.

But even he couldn’t believe the mother’s statement that “No kids have died (from the virus he inflicted).” He knew this to be a bold lie and hadn’t expected such an uncaring and uninformed public declaration of untruth. Yet, this only bolstered his campaign, so he quietly applauded.

And he applauded, too, when a villager attacked the recommendations of the Ministry of Health and called face masks “child abuse.” He hadn’t even considered that, noting the need to share this with his Office of Misinformation. He felt such gratitude for the angry villagers filling the room.

UGH, SOMEONE CARES, HE THINKS

But he loathed the two mothers who spoke in support of masking in the village school. The shared their concerns for the health and safety of their children, all the children and the village educators. This was not helpful. Not at all.

PLACES TO BE, WORK TO DO

In the end, The Great Invader needn’t have worried. The Ministry of Education voted only to strongly recommend (not require) wearing of face masks in the village school. He noted, though, two dissenting votes. One ministry member expressed her deep concern about the safety of the young village children. The Great Invader filed that for future reference before slipping from the room. He felt certain many of the village children would come to school unmasked. Oh, how this pleased him. He could roam freely, infecting the youngest with incredible ease.

Now, with schools opening soon, he had work to do. Routes to map. He would target the children of the kingdom, especially those too young to take a magic potion that helped many of the village elders and others keep him at bay. He held deep disdain for those who chose to protect themselves, their families and friends, and other villagers. How dare they challenge him. How dare they try to stop him. How dare they…

NOTE: In every story truth exists, this one no exception. The setting and quotes in this story are, sadly, real. Be safe. Be well. Care about our children. And each other. The Great Invader (COVID-19) is still hard at work in The Land of Plenty and beyond.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From the wagon repair shop… August 19, 2021

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Minnesota Prairie Roots August 2011 copyrighted file photo, used here for illustration only.

ONCE UPON A TIME in The Land of Plenty, a lowly worker headed off to work in the local wagon repair shop. He wasn’t feeling particularly well. But he couldn’t take a day off simply because he felt sick. He had a family depending on his paltry wages to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads.

In the depth of his heart (his mother had always modeled mindfulness of others), the young man felt a tinge of guilt about laboring when he was ill. He, after all, was fully aware of a deadly virus which swept through the region and well beyond the borders of his homeland. None-the-less, need prevailed over his underlying fear of The Great Invader.

The wagon repair shop owner expected him there, sick or not. The wealthy owner held no concern for the virus and would quickly dismiss anyone who failed to show up, so focused was he on filling his coffers with gold.

And so the young man went off to work, feeling he had no choice in the matter. He continued to repair carts and wagons and sometimes even chariots inside the dank, windowless shop. Occasionally he paused to swipe the back of his filthy hand under his runny nose and to sip tepid water from a dirty tin cup.

Within days, those who worked beside him fell ill, the sickness spreading like wildfire. Even the wagon repair shop owner, who sat in a corner enclosure counting his coins, fell ill. But that didn’t matter. Everyone was expected to be at work. There were carts to fix. Wagons to repair. Chariots to get on the road. A coin box to fill.

Then one day, the young man overheard a conversation between the senior repairman and the wagon repair shop owner. The older man shared how sick his wife had become with the virus. She lay in bed wracked by fever and coughs, unable to function. Guilt swelled within him. And anger rose as he listened.

“Everyone’s sick,” the shop owner said dismissively. “You can’t stay in your hovel and hide when there’s work to be done.” The lowly worker heard not an ounce of care or concern. No compassion or mindfulness.

Regret overwhelmed the young man. What if the senior repairman’s wife died? He could not shake his sense of responsibility, his role in spreading the virus. If only he had listened to his inner voice, his conscience, his heart. His mother. If only he’d cared about those who toiled beside him and their families. If only he’d joined the line of villagers who waited for hours for a magical potion distributed throughout the region to help stop The Great Invader. If only…

NOTE: In every story, truth exists, this one no exception. Please click here to read my first post about The Great Invader published in February 2021.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Ten minutes in downtown Northfield January 19, 2021

I love walking along the Cannon River in the heart of downtown Northfield, Minnesota.

PHOTOGRAPHING MINNESOTA COMMUNITIES remains a focal point of my photography. I love to document people, places and events with my camera.

This image seems so iconic Americana, hearkening back in time to places like fictional Mayberry. This barbershop is across the street from Bridge Square in Northfield.
I don’t know the symbolism of this graphic art, photographed above a doorway.
Northfield always does a great job with window displays, including this holiday-themed one.

My photos present visual stories. I suppose you could say I am both the writer and the editor. I choose what to photograph and how. I decide, in the moment, whether to show you a detailed up-close subject or whether to cover a broader area. Both are important in storytelling. I also decide the perspective from which I will photograph. Down low. Eye level. Or some other angle.

I found this add-on structure to a kitchen ware retail shop and upper level deck charming. This is on the back of the building.

During a recent visit to Northfield, one of my favorite Minnesota communities about a 20-minute drive away, I had exactly 10 minutes to photograph before our food order was ready for pick up on the other side of town. I asked Randy to act as time-keeper. When I’m photographing, I lose all track of time, so engaged am I in the creative process.

Bundled up to walk the dog at Bridge Square on a cold winter afternoon in Northfield.

We parked near Bridge Square, the heart of downtown Northfield and a community gathering spot. On this late January afternoon with the temp not quite 20 degrees and with COVID-19 reducing the number of visitors to this typically busy downtown, I observed only a few people out and about. Often finding a place to park proves challenging. Not so on this Saturday.

The historic Ames Mill sits on the banks of the Cannon River across the river from Bridge Square.

We walked toward Bridge Square, adjacent to the Cannon River. Turning the corner off Division Street, the wind sliced cold across my face. I knew that exposing my fingers to snap the shutter button of my camera would be numbing. My mittens, which open to finger-less gloves, help. I’d highly recommend these if you work a camera in a cold weather environment like Minnesota.

The backs of buildings can prove as interesting as the fronts. My eyes were drawn to the sign and to the brick buildings.

For the next 10 minutes, while Randy walked ahead of me—I always lag when I’m photographing—I concentrated on the half-block square area around me. The signs. The buildings. A woman and her dog. The river.

Northfield residents, businesses and students at its two colleges often express their viewpoints in publicly-posted signs and art.

In this short segment of time, I composed a short story, or at least the beginning of one. With these minimal images, I show you history, nature, voices. A glimpse in to the heart and soul of Northfield. This brings me joy, this ability to follow my passion, to share with you these visual stories through my photography.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

It’s all about stories in Faribault’s new branding campaign April 4, 2019

Faribault tourism’s newest billboard along Interstate 35 focuses on Crafting American Stories. Photo edited. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2019.

 

I CONSIDER MYSELF a storyteller, using images and words to share stories. Storytelling resonates with people, connects with them, builds a sense of community.

 

The home of town founder Alexander Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2017.

 

Now my community of Faribault is embracing the same storytelling concept through a new branding campaign themed as American Stories. A collaboration of the Faribault Main Street Design Committee and the City of Faribault, including the park and rec department, this storytelling approach seems a good fit for my southern Minnesota city. We truly are a place of stories—from past to present.

 

The first in a series of banners to be placed throughout Faribault includes this one photographed outside the Paradise Center for the Arts. The historic Security National Bank building backdrops this image. See the end of this post for more details.

 

Already, this American Stories theme has launched on the Faribault tourism website, on a billboard along Interstate 35 near Faribault and in banners hung throughout the downtown historic district. We truly have a gem of a downtown with many well-preserved historic buildings. Now Preserving American Stories banners flag this historic area.

 

A photo I took inside the Faribault Woolen Mill retail store several years ago after the mill reopened. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

More banners are yet to come, according to Kelly Nygaard of the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism office and the Faribault Main Street Coordinator. Those markers will include Experiencing American Stories to be posted near River Bend Nature Center, Crafting American Stories near the Faribault Woolen Mill and Shaping American Stories near the Minnesota State Academies for the Deaf and for the Blind and by Shattuck-St. Mary’s School. Additionally, Making American Stories banners will be placed throughout town.

 

This sculpture of Alexander Faribault trading with a Dakota trading partner stands in Faribault’s Heritage Park near the Straight River and site of Faribault’s trading post. Faribault artist Ivan Whillock created this sculpture which sits atop a fountain known as the Bea Duncan Memorial Fountain. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Says Nygaard: “America is often described as a melting pot, and Faribault has always had diversity with Alexander Faribault himself being part First Nations. We have a beautiful downtown, great industry, a wide array of educational options, and plenty of fun ways to experience the outdoors and fun events.”

 

One of my all-time favorite photos taken at the 2012 International Festival in Faribault shows the diversity of Faribault as children gather to break a pinata. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

 

I agree. This stories theme not only portrays the many unique aspects of Faribault, but it creates a sense of identity. And, I hope it also instills in locals a sense of pride in this place we call home. Individually and together we are Faribault’s stories.

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A close-up of the banner posted outside Buckham Memorial Library.

 

ABOUT THAT Preserving American Stories banner. The banner photo features the then Plante Grocery on Third Street which “offered customers a wide variety of household products and foods in baskets, barrels and boxes,” according to info on the Faribault Heritage Preservation Commission website. 

 

 

In my photo of the banner, you will see the top of the 1870 National Security Bank building. The HPC website provides this additional information about the historic structure:  “A Classical Revival-style brick facade covers a stone structure constructed originally by mercantile entrepreneur F.A. Theopold. The building was leased by Security Bank in 1899. The bank eventually purchased the building, and a fourth story was added in 1914, possibly the same year that brick was used to radically alter the structure’s appearance.”

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling