Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Reflecting on 9/11 from Minnesota September 11, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:45 AM
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My son drew this image of the attack on the Twin Towers for a class assignment some 20 years ago. To this day, this drawing illustrates how deeply 9/11 impacted even the youngest among us. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted image)

TODAY I REMEMBER, honor, grieve.

I remember the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on our country, my heart heavy with the weight of loss. Nearly 3,000 individuals died on that day when terrorists hijacked four planes—two hitting the World Trade Center twin towers, another crashing into the Pentagon and the fourth slamming into a field in rural Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Twenty-one years later, I recall exactly where I was when I learned of the attack. I expect that is the same for most every American, that moment in time forever locked in to memory.

I was in my living room with my 7-year-old son, who was not feeling well and home from school, and his friend, whom I was caring for that day. My husband called from work to inform me of the events unfolding in New York City. I switched on the television and watched in horror as the second plane targeted the second tower.

I reconstructed a tower using the same blocks my son and his friend used on September 11, 2001, to duplicate what they saw on television. These are also the same airplanes they flew into the tower. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Perhaps I should have switched off the TV, not exposed two young boys to the horrific scenes. But I didn’t. Soon Caleb and Sam were building towers from wooden blocks and flying toy airplanes into the stacks, the blocks cascading into a pile.

That visual sticks with me and in many ways reflects how, even in Minnesota, far far away from the epicenter of death and destruction, the impact on ordinary life was experienced. Something as simple as two children playing on my living room represented reality.

On the campus of Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, a plaque honors alumna Ann N. Nelson, who died on 9/11. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I recall, throughout that day and in the weeks thereafter, feeling unsettled, wondering if more attacks would follow. It was a time of uncertainty and certainly of fear in our country. But it was also a time of unity. We were united in our horror, our grief and in our determination to stand strong as a nation. At least that’s my observation.

Perhaps today, on the 21st anniversary of 9/11, we can temporarily reclaim that sense of unity which has seemingly vanished. We can, whether in Minnesota or New York City, pause to mourn those who died, to support those who grieve personal losses and to reflect on this memorable moment in American history.

TELL ME: Where were you when you heard about the 9/11 terrorist attacks? And how are you feeling today?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A crisis: In memory of all the Jordyns & Kobes August 12, 2022

A rural Rice County, Minnesota, cemetery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo used for illustration only)

NOT AGAIN. My reaction zipped in a flashpoint of disbelief over yet another young Minnesota man shot and killed by police while experiencing a mental health crisis.

The latest to die is Jordyn Hansen, 21, formerly of Faribault. He recently moved to Otsego in the northwest metro to live with an aunt and uncle. There, according to his aunt who was interviewed by a reporter from the Minneapolis Star Tribune, they hoped Jordyn could recover away from a previous lifestyle that amplified his mental health challenges. He had a history of mental illness and substance abuse and had been in treatment.

When Jordyn experienced another crisis early Sunday morning, his family members called police. Narratives of what happened after law enforcement arrived are vastly different. The police say one thing, the family another. In the end, the family seeking help for their loved one is now attending a funeral, which will be held this morning at my church in Faribault.

I didn’t know Jordyn or his family. Nor do I know the family of Kobe Dimock-Heisler, a 21-year-old man on the autism spectrum who was shot and killed by Brooklyn Center police in 2019.

Both cases involved families seeking help in a crisis. Both involved police response. Both involved knives and tasers and six gunshots that killed two young men. Each only 21 years old, with families and friends who loved them.

I could cite many similar cases, but I’ll leave it at that as I process how upset I feel about the deaths of Jordyn and of Kobe. I can’t put myself inside the heads of responding police officers. Nor was I there to witness what unfolded during each emergency. But I can, as a mother and community member, express my deep concern for this ongoing loss of life among those experiencing a mental health or other crisis. Why does this keep happening? And how can we “fix” this so no family member has to worry about their loved one being shot and killed when they call for help?

Jordyn’s family has started a gofundme fundraiser to help cover his funeral expenses. The goal is $10,000. Jason Heisler, Kobe’s father, donated $21 to the cause. I assume he chose that amount because both his son and Jordyn were 21 at the times of their deaths. It should be noted here that the National Alliance on Mental Illness defines autism as the following: Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental condition that affects a person’s ability to socialize and communicate with others. Consider that when you think of Kobe, who was on the autism spectrum.

Jason Heisler left (in part) this powerful comment on Jordyn’s gofundme site: …preventable should of never happened to this beautiful boy and his family. A mental crisis is not a crime.

Let me repeat that: A mental crisis is not a crime.

#

I am grateful to the many professionals, individuals and organizations (like the National Alliance on Mental Illness) that are working hard to improve mental healthcare and the response to those in a mental health crisis. Through education, training, advocacy, understanding, awareness, compassionate response and intervention, change is happening. Yet, the pace of change feels too slow. A key component in all of this is listening and communication. The approach to individuals in a mental health crisis needs to be thoughtful. A shift in attitudes to recognize that mental health is health should be the standard, not the exception.

I encourage you to help cover Jordyn’s funeral expenses by donating via his gofundme page or giving directly to his family. Thank you.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Doing my part to raise awareness about mental health August 3, 2022

A hand reaches skyward in a mental health themed sculpture that once graced a street corner outside the Northfield, Minnesota, Public Library. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2019)

WHEN HE HEARD ME rant for the umpteenth time about “people just don’t get it, they don’t understand,” he advised, “Then you need to educate them.”

He, my husband of 40 years, is right. Venting to Randy about offensive terminology and uninformed/misinformed comments and attitudes about mental illness does nothing other than temporarily ease my frustrations. Speaking out, writing, based on my observations and experiences, can make a difference. So write about my concerns I will, with the disclaimer that I am not a medical professional.

I photographed this shirt at an event at the Northfield Public Library. This message refers to the struggles with mental illness. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2019)

WORDS MATTER

Today—on the heels of recent offensive lyrics by Beyonce’—seems the right time to share what’s bothered me for way too long. The pop singer used the derogatory term, “spaz/spazzin,” in her new release, “Heated.” Although she was referencing spastic diplegia, a form of cerebral palsy causing motor impairments in limbs, and not mental health, the analogy fits. Her word choice proved offensive to people who are disabled. And rightly so. To her credit, Beyonce’ acknowledged her unintentional slur and is changing the lyrics. Just like Lizzo, who used the same wordage not all that long ago.

For the millions who each day bravely face mental health challenges and for those who love them, everyday careless language can hurt. Words like crazy, insane, nuts, it’s all in their head, off their rocker, out of his/her mind…are hurtful. As hurtful as the lyrics sung by Beyonce’ and Lizzo.

Recently, while reading a Good Morning America Book Club selection published in 2021, I came across this phrase: “the usual terrible but addictive schizophrenic medley.” In the context of this fictional story, the character was not talking about anything mental health related, but rather about what she was seeing on Instagram. I stopped reading and considered how insulting those words, especially to someone diagnosed with schizophrenia. I doubt the author intended to offend. But she did.

Buttons previously available for the taking at the Northfield library. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

IF YOU HAD…

Now you might say I’m being overly-sensitive. But consider if you, or someone you loved, was diagnosed with cancer, diabetes, whatever, and uncaring words (which I can’t even think of) were tossed out there. It’s no different for those diagnosed with bi-polar, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder…

I’m thankful individuals undergoing cancer treatment and/or who have survived cancer, for example, are not subjected to negative/offending words and behavior, but rather are supported with encouragement, fundraisers, even hot dishes delivered to their homes. That type of care and attitude should be a model for how all of us treat individuals dealing with a mental health crisis and their families. We should respond with equal love, compassion, care and understanding. And tangible support.

A sign explains the story behind the “Waist Deep” sculpture in Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2019)

CHANGING ATTITUDES, BUT MORE IS NEEDED

I recognize attitudes toward mental health are changing, that, as a whole, we are growing more informed, finally beginning to reduce the stigma of brain disorders. But much work remains. Individuals in a mental health crisis should have immediate access to care. Busy, understaffed emergency rooms are often the first-line treatment option. I don’t know of a single doctor who would send a person experiencing a heart attack home. Individuals in a mental health crisis, the equivalent of a heart attack, deserve the same immediate life-saving care. Yet the wait to see a psychiatrist often exceeds six weeks, at least here in greater Minnesota. That’s unacceptable.

There’s a need for more mental healthcare professionals and in-patient treatment and recovery centers. There’s a need for more funding, more research. Insurance companies should not determine care/medications or refuse to fully cover mental healthcare expenses.

This sculpture, once located outside the Northfield library, is called “Waist Deep” and addresses mental illness. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2019)

IT STARTS WITH EACH OF US

At a grassroots level—that’s each of us individually—more compassion, support, understanding are needed. A few years ago I walked into a southwestern Minnesota brewery and spotted a man sporting a jacket advertising a neighboring brewery. Imprinted on the back was an image of a straitjacket. I could not believe what I was seeing, especially after also reading the offensive name of the brewery. Later I looked online to read the brewery’s list of “Crazy Good Beer” with words like manic, catatonic, lobotomy, kookaloo… in the craft beer names. Simply writing this makes my blood pressure rise. I wanted to rip that jacket right off that beer drinker, so strong was my anger in that moment. Imagine the uproar, for example, if a brewery used words like chemo or radiation in its beer names or used an IV drip as its logo. Somehow a straitjacket is OK? Not from my perspective.

Imagine, too, if you have gone through cancer treatment and someone said you will be fine now that you’ve completed treatment. In the back of your mind, you recognize that the cancer could return despite the treatment. It’s no different for someone with a serious mental illness. Drugs work for awhile and then they don’t. Medications and therapy help manage symptoms, but there is no cure. Symptoms can return. Relapses, crises, happen.

I highly recommend this book, among many I’ve read on the topic of mental illness. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

GRATITUDE & RESOURCES

I appreciate every single person who has made a concerted effort to understand mental health, mental illness specifically. I appreciate organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which works tirelessly to support individuals and their families who face mental health challenges. I appreciate NAMI’s advocacy work and education. I appreciate mental healthcare professionals. And, most of all, I admire those individuals who deal with mental illness—whether depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, bi-polar… They are among the strongest people I know and they deserve, yes, deserve, our love, compassion, understanding, support and respect.

THOUGHTS?

RESOURCES: If you or a loved one are experiencing a mental health crisis, seek immediate help. Call 911. Call 988, the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Connect with NAMI. You are not alone.

Click here to read previous posts I’ve penned on mental health.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The Tin Man (or woman) in need of a heart July 28, 2022

The Tin Woman sculpture from Lockerby Sheet Metal lies outside the log cabin at the Rice County Historical Society in Faribault where she will be placed. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

WHENEVER I THINK of a tin man, I think of three specifics: The Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz, The Tin Man and his family in Faribault, and the absence of a heart.

This Lockerby Sheet Metal Tin Man awaits reassembly outside the county museum. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

In the classic tale by L. Frank Baum, The Tin Man is in need of a heart, or love. The Scarecrow needs a brain. And the Lion needs courage.

The family includes a baby in a buggy. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Now you can take away whatever you want from Baum’s book, for there are, indeed, many take-aways. But the basics of love, knowledge and courage stick all the way along The Yellow Brick Road to The Emerald City.

The Tin Woman, up close with her vivid red lips. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

I wish I didn’t believe this to be true. But too often these days I see heartless Tin Man after heartless Tin Man (you may also insert “woman” here) following a narrow pathway of self-focus with no regard for others. There’s no self-awareness of how actions, words, decisions hurt others. Or perhaps, more accurately, there’s no care for how others are affected by what we say or do. That can apply in business, in politics, in relationships, in friendships, in families…

The family even has a dog. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Sometimes I feel like our collective hearts are missing or atrophying and we really ought to work harder at being kinder, more caring, more considerate, more loving. Better people. Period.

The Tin Man and Woman stand outside Lockerby Sheet Metal in September 2010, when the Straight River flooded. That event devastated the business. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2010)

That leads me to The Tin Man and his family in Faribault. A few weeks ago I photographed them at the Rice County Historical Society, where they’ve been hanging out for awhile. Originally, their home was at Lockerby Sheet Metal, which closed abruptly in October 2018 after 110 years in business in Faribault. I’m thankful this family found a new home at the RCHS. They are local icons.

A sign on the Rice County Historical Society states its goal. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Keeping this family together, recognizing their collective value, says something about the heart of a community. Locals care about The Tin Man and family from an historic, artistic and business perspective. And, perhaps, also from a love perspective. These creations of Lockerby Sheet Metal can visually represent community love. Yes, that’s the marketing, creative and hopeful side of me writing.

This knight metal art sculpture from Lockerby Sheet Metal stands inside the RCHS entry. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Even as I believe too much heartlessness exists in today’s world, I also believe that we are capable of growing our love for one another, of strengthening our hearts. Rather than follow a self-focused narrow Yellow Brick Road, we can pause, stop, consider. Pause. Stop. Consider. When we recognize how our words and actions affect others, then we no longer rattle around like a Tin Man (or Woman) without a heart.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Southern Minnesota bird stories, past & present July 27, 2022

A tiny bird perches in a fountain at the Rice County Master Gardeners Garden, Faribault, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2022)

I HAVE A MIXED OPINION of birds. I appreciate them at a distance, but not necessarily up close, although I’ve grown more comfortable with their nearness as I’ve aged. Just don’t plunk me in an enclosed garage or other space with a trapped bird. Outdoors is mostly fine.

Unfolding of wings to splash in the fountain. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Recently I observed a cute little yellow bird, a finch, I think, dip into a tree stump water feature at the Rice County Master Gardeners Teaching Gardens at the county fairgrounds in Faribault. With a zoom lens on my 35 mm camera, I photographed the finch briefly splash in the water before flitting away. There was something joyful in that sole moment of focusing on a tiny winged creature.

Water droplets fly as this bird bathes in the fountain. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

We need such moments of simplicity. Of peace. Of birdsong, even if this bird isn’t singing. Moments to quiet our souls in the midst of too much busyness and too many distractions. And too much technology.

I remember how my mom loved the Baltimore orioles that one year, quite unexpectedly, showed up on my childhood farm in southwestern Minnesota flashing orange into the trees. She thrilled in their presence among all the blackbirds, sparrows and barn swallows. In her delight, Mom taught me that not all birds were like the swooping swallows I despised.

In my years of doing farm chores, I grew to dislike the swallows that dived as I pushed a wheelbarrow of ground feed down the barn aisle or shoved cow manure into gutters. That the barn ceiling was low only magnified their, to me, menacing presence. The swallows, I now acknowledge, were only protecting their territory, their young, in the mud nests they built inside the barn. And they ate mosquitoes, which I should have appreciated.

Yet I don’t miss the swallows or the rooster that terrorized my siblings and me, until the day Dad grabbed the axe and ended that.

More than 40 years removed from the farm, I seldom see barn swallows. Rather, in my Faribault backyard, I spot cardinals, wrens, robins and occasionally a blue jay. The front and side yards, however, bring massive crows lunching on remnants of fast food tossed by inconsiderate motorists who find my property a convenient place to toss their trash. I’ll never understand that disrespectful mindset of throwing greasy wrappers and bags, food bits, empty bottles and cans, cigarette butts, and more out a vehicle window.

And so these are my evolving bird stories—of shifting from a long ago annoyance of swallows to understanding their behavior, of delighting in the definitive whistle of a cardinal flashing red into the wooded hillside behind my Faribault home, of observing the feeding habits of crows in my front and side yards drawn to garbage tossed by negligent humans.

TELL ME: I’d like to hear your bird stories, positive or negative.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The realities of job loss, a personal story July 21, 2022

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My husband, Randy, at work as an automotive machinist. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

THIS IS MY TRUTH. It is 9:25 am, and I am exhausted. I’ve been awake since 4 am. Randy awoke two hours earlier. After a while of tossing and turning, I rolled out of bed and finished reading a book by a nurse who worked for 11 months in a Minnesota COVID ICU Unit. A review of that powerful book will be forthcoming.

But today this is a post about what’s keeping me awake. More precisely this is a story of job loss. In early May, my husband of 40 years learned that he will lose his job of 39 years as an automotive machinist at an auto parts store. Not because he didn’t do a helluva a job, but because the new out-of-state corporate owner is opting to close down the profitable and much-needed machine shop. Randy was given four months to wrap up work he had scheduled in, with orders not to accept new work. That’s substantially affected his income and his morale.

FEELING DEVALUED AND STRESSED

It’s been hard, really hard. The stress is wearing on us, Randy especially. He is one of the calmest individuals I know. But this, this disrespect and devaluing of him after 39 years of hard work and loyalty is tough to take. Every single day he deals with customers upset about the shop closure. Every single day he turns away work. Every single day he deals with rumors spread by co-workers and others. Every single day he goes to work weary of it all.

And that filters to me as I try to support, encourage and be there for him. I am angry. I am frustrated. I am tired and drained and stressed. Mentally exhausted. Randy likely feels that quadruple. We are grieving.

DON’T SAY THIS TO US

If one more person tells me to look on the positive side, that something good will come from this, I will scream. I don’t need to hear that right now. I need affirmation of my anger, my frustration, my exhaustion, my worries, my stress. Randy needs the same. We are entitled to these feelings. And we will own them.

I recognize that our current situation has happened to others. I’m sorry for that. But today this is our story.

YOU WORK HARD ALL YOUR LIFE & THEN THIS HAPPENS

Randy is not yet full retirement age. That won’t occur until early next year. Uncertainties exist about his future, including his end date, which may be as early as July 29 or perhaps August 31. Communication is lacking. An attorney has been consulted. None of this should be. Not after 39 years.

My heart hurts for Randy. He should be leaving his long-time job on his terms, in his time. Gone is the thought of a retirement party with customers, co-workers and family gathering to celebrate and honor Randy. He’s a good man. A decent man with a strong work ethic. Highly-skilled at his trade. Remarkable in his devotion to meeting customers’ needs and providing excellent service. He is dedicated, working long hours for 39 years. The list of attributes could go on and on.

I, of course, am biased. But anyone who knows Randy would tell you the same. He is farm boy strong with a background of physical labor. Talented and hands-on skilled. Grease rings his fingernails. Grease stains his worn steel-toed work boots. And sometimes grease stains his face.

Today I see his weary face. I see the exhaustion. I see the stress and uncertainty. He can’t sleep. Neither can I. We are exhausted.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Potted plants paint loveliness into Faribault yard July 14, 2022

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A mass of potted plants splash color and beauty into a corner lot in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

OH, HOW LOVELY this flush of flowers folding around a corner house in northwest Faribault. The scene proves eye-pleasing in color, composition and height.

I wouldn’t say that about every massive quantity of potted plants. I’ve seen enough scattered-across-the-yard pots to recognize when I see a well-done grouping. This one I like. A lot.

Pots of varied heights and sizes and positioned at various heights create a pleasing visual composition. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

The narrow color palette of purples and pinks mixed with some yellow is simply beautiful. Sweet potato vine and other spillers among the primarily petunias and million bells create a unified look. I also spot backdrop orange lilies and purple clematis in the mix.

Oh, how lovely this potted flower garden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

This gardener clearly worked hard to create this floral painting. Choosing all these plants, then potting and arranging them takes time, effort and an artistic eye. And money. Plants are costly as are pots and soil.

I deeply appreciate those who beautify my community via the flowers they plant, grow and tend. In recent years, I’ve cut back on gardening. No longer do pots of flowers grace my front steps, the patio or the driveway next to the garage. But old-fashioned hydrangea still spill around the corner of my house. Ferns wave. The occasional milkweeds, phlox and assorted whatever mix in unruly flower beds that my Grandma Ida would have appreciated. Her flowerbeds were, like mine, a bit of a lovely mess.

Old-fashioned zinnias grown by my friend Al, who sells them at the Faribault Farmers’ Market. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2019)

I miss the zinnias I once grew, the zinnias which filled my mother’s garden and then vases inside the southwestern Minnesota farmhouse of my youth. This spring my 3-year-old grandson planted zinnia seeds I gave to his mom, my eldest, on her February birthday. He was so incredibly excited when the seeds sprouted and even more so when the plants grew and blossomed. His mom praised him. “You have a green thumb, Isaac.”

He looked at his thumb and replied, “No, I don’t.” Sometimes we forget how children take everything literally.

Such joy flowers bring. Memories. Inspiring a new generation to perhaps plant flower seeds that will grow into a lovely mess of a garden or contained in a pot.

Lilies rise behind the potted petunias and other plants. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

This summer I celebrate the northwest Faribault gardener who brings beauty into his/her yard near the back employee parking lot of the Faribault Mill with this massive potting of flowers. This shows pride in community, pride in neighborhood and creativity.

TELL ME: Have you spotted a similar potted flower garden in your community? Do you grow flowers, either in beds or pots?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts prompted by BORN 2 RIDE July 12, 2022

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Biking along Minnesota State Highway 21 in Faribault on July 2. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

WE EACH HOLD STORIES, some shared, some not. Our experiences, our connections, our individuality all combine to create our life stories.

Recently I wondered at the story of a biker pedaling away from a mini strip mall in Faribault, then turning onto Minnesota State Highway 21/Lyndale Avenue around 7:30 pm on July 2. We had just exited Interstate 35 onto this busy 4-lane when I noticed the bicyclist.

I grabbed my camera to document the scene through the windshield on the passenger side of our van. It wasn’t like we could stop so I could ask questions.

Thus I am left only with clues, including the BORN 2 RIDE mini novelty Minnesota “license plate.” I surmise this biker hails from Minnesota and is a serious cyclist.

The mounded pack and tote on the bike trailer appear to corral a tent and belongings. This seems more a distance journey, perhaps with a cause, rather than a recreational ride.

The weathered signage, if only I could see all of the letters, would help me determine what message the biker wants passersby to see.

A tattered American flag points to patriotism and someone who could be a veteran. Maybe. Maybe not.

There are clues, but not a full story. In general, unless we directly hear individual stories, we are left to guess, to speculate and to possibly even get it wrong. How quick we can be in life to assess, to judge, to think we understand people without intently listening to their stories. Sharing of stories comes only with trust, at least for me. Not everyone can be trusted to keep our stories, to hold our truths, to respond with love, compassion and care.

I am a big advocate of listening, of not interjecting one’s own experiences into conversations in a way that focuses back on us. Just be there. Listen. And react with kindness.

Yes, my thoughts have wandered from that biker I photographed along a busy Faribault highway on July 2. But, like a writing prompt, that scene allowed me to craft a message. A message that we all need to pause, to consider the untold stories, to hear those stories if shared and to listen, really listen.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Connecting with nature along the Cannon in Faribault July 7, 2022

A mallard drake in the Cannon River along the shoreline at North Alexander Park, Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

NORTH ALEXANDER PARK in Faribault has become, for me, a place of refuge. A place to walk. A place to connect with land, sky and river. The park offers a paved riverside trail, part of the city’s inter-connected trails system, that bends into a tree-filled space.

A canopy of oak leaves. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

When life gets especially stressful, as it has thus far in 2022, enveloping myself in nature allows me to temporarily escape reality. Who doesn’t need a break? Focusing on the natural world rather than struggles and challenges brings a sense of peace, of calmness and sometimes clarity.

A mallard hen sits on the riverbank. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

This sprawling park on Faribault’s north side is home to many waterfowl, drawn to the Cannon River. I never tire of watching them, whether in flight over the water, in the water or beside the water.

A view of the Cannon River in North Alexander Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

Their numbers seem down this year, perhaps due to avian influenza. Still enough ducks and geese meander the shoreline and trail to make me watch where I step.

A pair of mallards huddle under the bleachers. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)
Up close under the bleachers. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

I even spotted a pair far from shore, under the bleachers at a ball field.

A mallard drake. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

While I’ve never been fond of winged anything up close, I certainly admire them (except bats) at a distance. Mallard drakes, with their iridescent green heads, practically shimmer with beauty. And the hens are lovely, too, in their mottled brown feathers.

A family of geese photographed about a month ago along the river. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

In the spring, ducklings and goslings draw my motherly eye. There’s something about a baby.

A pelican comes in for a landing atop the Cannon River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

The Cannon River also attracts pelicans. And eagles. On a recent riverside walk, I saw an eagle trace the river, reverse course and settle low in a tree along the opposite shoreline. Too far away to photograph even with my zoom lens. It just sat there. I was hoping it would swoop down to grab a fish. But, when I left, the eagle still perched in that tree. Quiet. Still.

A snuggling mallard hen, defined by mottled feathers. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

There’s something to be learned from observing waterfowl. How they sit. How they glide. How they navigate wind and water. How they adapt.

So I will continue these riverside walks, immersing myself in nature, discovering the peace and quiet that comes from connecting with ducks and geese, pelicans and eagles at North Alexander Park in Faribault.

TELL ME: Do you escape into nature? If yes, where’s your favorite place to go and how does being in the natural world benefit you?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

July Fourth thoughts from southeastern Minnesota July 4, 2022

An American flag graces Welch Mill Innertubing. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2021)

BACK IN NOVEMBER 2021, I photographed this symbol of America in the unincorporated village of Welch. Today, the birthday of our country, seems a good day to finally share this image from southeastern Minnesota.

There’s something about the simplicity of this scene which I find particularly appealing. An historic mill. Faded signage. Blue sky on a perfect autumn afternoon. And then the jolt of bold colors in the American flag. It all comes together visually, leading to thoughts of history and what that flag symbolizes. Freedom. Democracy. Maybe even hope in the face of so much division.

A flag inspires us to ponder, to reassess, to consider, to feel gratitude. To celebrate.

In this spot along the Cannon River and the Cannon Valley Trail in Welch Township in Goodhue County, American pride runs strong at the former Welch Feed Mill, now home to Welch Mill Innertubing. The business rents inner tubes, canoes and kayaks.

During my stop eight months ago, I viewed the scene through a photographic lens, with an artist’s eye, grateful for the freedom I have to come and go, to photograph, to express myself as an artist, unencumbered.

Happy Fourth of July from southeastern Minnesota!

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling