Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Latest snowstorm in Minnesota shatters February snowfall record February 21, 2019

My neighbor blows snow from his driveway on Wednesday.

 

HEY, MINNESOTA, we did it. Yesterday’s winter storm pushed us into the snowiest February ever. The current month’s snow total in the Twin Cities as of noon Wednesday was 30.4 inches. That’s a new record, according to the National Weather Service.

 

 

The NWS February snowfall totals for the Twin Cities posted mid-day Wednesday.

 

 

This shatters the February record snowfall of 26.5 inches set 57 years ago in 1962.

 

The forecast on a Twin Cities TV station Wednesday morning predicts more snow.

 

Snow was still falling Wednesday afternoon into evening, earlier in the day at a rate sometimes reaching two inches an hour. With eight days remaining in the month and forecasts for more snow in upcoming days, that record-shattering 30.4 inches will rise even higher.

 

Another neighbor shovels her driveway. The amount of snow on the ground, in piles, everywhere, is insane.

 

Passing by on my street, a white truck in a white landscape.

 

The City of Faribault did a great job clearing streets in my neighborhood on Wednesday.

 

Bravo, Minnesota.

 

I just want the snow to stop, But we still have to get through the rest of February and then March and April.

 

But now that we’ve claimed the snowiest February ever, can we be done with winter?

 

Winter beauty from my backyard.

 

THOUGHTS? I welcome positive comments about winter and snow and waiting for spring. Or I’ll accept congratulations/sympathy on behalf of my state for this new February snowfall record.

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Bring on the snow February 19, 2019

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Wind sculpts snow into drifts in rural Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

YOU KNOW THE MINNESOTA WINTER is getting too long when your husband says…

Maybe they canceled the snow.

(He made that comment Sunday morning upon looking out the bedroom window to, once again, see snow falling, as predicted.)

 

As much as I appreciate the hard-working snowplow drivers, the constant plowing in of sidewalks and driveways (after Randy has already cleared them) increases his snow removal workload and is especially frustrating. This is the plowed in end of our sidewalk during a previous winter. But this photo could be from this winter. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

They plowed the snow and blew it onto the sidewalk.

(He made that comment Monday morning upon looking out the bedroom window to see snow and chunks of snow/ice thrown onto the walk. He then suited up in his coveralls and boots to, once again, clear snow before leaving for work.

 

Randy begins the process of clearing snow from our driveway following past winter snowfall. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I got the old Minnesota work-out this morning.

(He made that comment Monday morning upon completing snow removal duty.)

 

A huge, hard-as-rock snowdrift blocks our farm driveway in this March 1965 photo taken in rural Vesta, Minnesota. I’m standing with my mom and four of my siblings. I remember the winters of my childhood being particularly snowy.

 

This is, it seems, the long winter, the endless winter, the forever winter. More snow is forecast for Wednesday and Saturday. Minnesota will likely break the record for snowiest February ever dating back to 1962 when 26.5 inches fell in the Twin Cities during the month. The current month metro snowfall total of 22.6 inches ranks this February as the fourth snowiest ever. I foresee no difficulty breaking that. So bring it on. If we’re going to get snow, we may as well have something to brag about.

(In Faribault I’m pretty certain we’ve exceeded that record-breaking 26.5 inches as we’ve gotten more snow than the Twin Cities. I just don’t know where to find the data to back that up.)

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

About that McDonald’s muskie billboard… September 16, 2016

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McDonald's muskie billboard in Minnesota

 

WHEN I SPOTTED this billboard about six weeks ago in the north metro, I wondered about the muskie part of the message. I still do. Other than catching muskie in the summer and preferring a smoothie in the heat of summer, I don’t see much connection between the two in this McDonald’s ad.

I wondered if I was missing something. So I googled the topic to find a column by Pioneer Press Outdoors Editor Dave Orrick titled “Some people really do hate muskies. There, I said it.” He then laid out the polarizing story of muskie stocking in some Minnesota lakes. It should be noted that his opinion piece is not tied to the McDonald’s ad. It just happened to rank third in my Google search.

After reading Orrick’s column, I offer two suggestions to McDonald’s: Don’t erect an identical billboard in Cass or Crow Wing counties. Or choose a different, less controversial, fish.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My view of “The Cities” February 16, 2016

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MINNEAPOLIS AND ST. PAUL. Two cities. The Twin Cities. Or, as I called them growing up, simply The Cities.

Frame 7: I love this painterly view of the Minneapolis skyline.

The Minneapolis skyline, Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2015.

I am more familiar with Minneapolis, specifically south Minneapolis where an aunt and uncle lived until retiring to Arkansas.

Sailboats sit upon the waters of Lake Harriet.

Sailboats sit upon the waters of Lake Harriet. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, September 2009.

About once a year during my childhood, our farm family would pile into the Chevy—Dad, Mom, six kids and Grandpa—to visit our metro dwelling relatives. And, on a few occasions during summers of my youth, I boarded the Greyhound bus in Vesta to travel solo some 140 miles to Minneapolis for one-on-one time with my Aunt Rachel. We would bike around Lake Harriet, tour the Rose Garden, catch a city bus to purchase fabric at Munsingwear.

The Minnesota state capitol

The Minnesota state capitol, Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

To the east in St. Paul, my youthful memories connect to the State Capitol building and Minnesota History Center, which I toured as a sixth grader. I waited in our farmhouse kitchen one dark spring morning for headlights to swing into the yard indicating my ride to Vesta Elementary School had arrived. My stomach churned at the thought of leaving Redwood County on a school bus bound for St. Paul.

Driving through St. Paul on a recent Saturday morning.

Driving through St. Paul on a recent Saturday morning.

Growing up in a rural area, I’ve never been particularly comfortable in big cities. Traffic and tall buildings and cement and closeness and busyness sometimes overwhelm my senses. But I manage and I appreciate the cultural opportunities a place like the Twin Cities offers, although I seldom take advantage of such offerings.

Creeping along in a congested area near downtown Minneapolis.

Creeping along in a congested area near downtown Minneapolis. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

My trips to The Cities are primarily through or around. To visit family.

Approaching St. Paul from the south, the speed limit drops.

Approaching St. Paul from the south, the speed limit drops.

Each city, I’ve observed, has a unique look and feel. Minneapolis appears urban while St. Paul seems rooted to the land with a deep sense of place and history. I feel more comfortable in St. Paul, where even the Interstate 35-E speed limit drops to 45 mph for awhile upon entering the city. In Minneapolis, traffic races along Interstate 35-W toward downtown.

For awhile, my eldest daughter and son-in-law rented an apartment in a high-rise in the Mears Park neighborhood of Lowertown St. Paul. It’s the happening place, akin to Uptown or Northeast Minneapolis. The daughter lived in Uptown prior to her marriage and subsequent move to St. Paul. Now she and her husband have settled in a northern burb.

I prefer gravel roads to interstates. My East Coast dwelling son appreciates the extensive mass transit system in Boston.

I prefer gravel roads to interstates. This scene was photographed while traveling under an Interstate overpass in St. Paul. My East Coast dwelling son appreciates the extensive mass transit system in Boston.

My rural roots, and those of my husband, have not threaded into the DNA of our offspring. All three of our adult children live in metropolitan areas—in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Massachusetts. They need to be where they are happiest and feel most comfortable.

Not where I wish they lived. Geographically close and far away from any place defined as The Cities.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

When an outstate Minnesotan travels through “the Cities” May 14, 2015

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The downtown Minneapolis skyline on Mother's Day.

The downtown Minneapolis skyline on Mother’s Day, later afternoon. The combination of grey skies and photographing this scene while traveling at Interstate speeds give this unedited image a painterly quality.

I AM NOT A VENTURING into the big city kind of girl. You’re not surprised, are you?

Approaching downtown Minneapolis from the north.

Approaching downtown Minneapolis from the north.

 

A concrete divider separates lanes on a particularly curvy stretch of Interstate near downtown Minneapolis.

A concrete divider separates lanes on a particularly busy and curvy stretch of Interstate near downtown Minneapolis.

There are way too many curves in this section of Interstate 35 approaching downtown Minneapolis from the north.

There are way too many curves in this section of Interstate 35 approaching downtown Minneapolis from the north.

If not for the traffic congestion, I would likely hold a different attitude toward cities. But the high speed at which vehicles travel in close proximity across spans of lanes unsettles me. Too much closeness. Too little space. Too much concrete. Too much of everything overwhelms me.

Edging out of the Twin Cities metro with only 24 miles to Faribault.

Edging out of the Twin Cities metro with only 24 miles home to Faribault.

I am always relieved when we exit the worst of the traffic craziness and land spreads out on each side, free, unencumbered by visual barriers of tall buildings, houses crammed together and sound buffering walls.

Crossing the Interstate 35W bridge.

Crossing the Interstate 35W bridge.

As much as I wish my husband and I could avoid the Twin Cities metro, we cannot. We must drive through it and around it to visit loved ones or to pick up/drop off family at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Sometimes I wish the airport had expanded into cornfields farther south, nearer our home. But then we would deal with the roar of airliners. And that I would not like.

A personalized Mother's Day message on a billboard momentarily distracts me.

A personalized Mother’s Day message on a billboard momentarily distracts me.

Likewise, construction of the new Minnesota Vikings stadium draws my photographic attention.

Likewise, construction of the new Minnesota Vikings stadium draws my photographic attention.

Interstate 35 south of downtown Minneapolis.

Interstate 35 south of downtown Minneapolis.

So I try to make the best of these necessary journeys through the Twin Cities metro. I use my camera to distract me while the husband focuses on the road. And, surprise, I am beginning to feel more comfortable. Well, not too comfortable.

I have no plans anytime soon to go into downtown Minneapolis.

The downtown Minneapolis skyline on a grey Sunday afternoon.

I am not yet ready to venture into the heart of the city.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts on mass transit in Minnesota: memories & more January 15, 2015

MY EAST COAST COLLEGE son enthuses about mass transit, specifically about the T in Boston. It’s his go-to form of transportation if he’s not walking or unicycling.

The lack of wide-spread mass transit in Minnesota frustrates him. As I see it, cars, cost, lower population, and a much larger geographical area all factor into less public transportation availability here than out East.

I’ve reminded him that many a compact East Coast state would fit inside Minnesota’s borders. We don’t have nearly as many people living here as there.

The light rail heads toward the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

The light rail heads toward the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

To be fair, mass transit exists in Minnesota’s larger communities and cities with bus service and, in the Twin Cities metro, light rail. And even in rural areas, limited bus service is available in some counties.

Decades ago, when I visited my Aunt Rae and Uncle Bob each summer, riding the Greyhound bus solo from my Uncle Harold’s gas station along Highway 19 in Vesta in southwestern Minnesota all the way to downtown Minneapolis, I experienced big city mass transit.

An excited nervousness jittered through me as Rae and I boarded a Minneapolis city bus to wherever she wanted to take me. To the Munsingwear warehouse to sort through piles of fabric. Or maybe downtown to view an art exhibit. Specific destination details mostly elude me now all these decades later.

But the wonderment of wheeling along narrow city streets, the bus pulsating to a stop, door swishing open, passengers boarding, remains with me. To be young and in the big city hustle far from corn and soybean fields and bellowing cows opened my eyes.

I saw beyond rural. I saw the possibilities. Another life. Another world.

Not that I ever fell in love with the big city. But riding the bus through Minneapolis sparked something inside me. A yearning for art galleries and music and museums and architecture. A library. An appreciation for people who didn’t look like the German Lutherans and Catholics back home. An almost dizzying awareness of noise and lights and motion. And tall buildings.

Vehicle traffic and light rail meet at this oddly configured intersection near the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

Vehicle traffic and light rail meet at this oddly configured and confusing intersection near the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

I wonder if, today, a young girl from outstate Minnesota boards the Metro Blue Line (light rail) with her parents, perhaps headed to Target Field for a Twins game or to the Mall of America, and feels the same thrill I experienced decades ago riding the bus through the streets of Minneapolis.

Does she imagine the possibilities, study the faces, note the traffic, delight in her destination, desire to explore more of the city? Or is she overwhelmed by it all, wishing only to leave?

FYI: The Minnesota Department of Transportation has a statewide rail plan for an inter-city passenger rail line running from the metro to my community of Faribault and perhaps farther south. This proposal is in the early discussion stages. Click here to learn more.

Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A brutally cold Sunday in Minnesota January 4, 2015

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TODAY APPEARED deceptively lovely. Blue sky. Sunshine. Fresh layer of snow overnight.

A rural scene along Interstate 35 north of the Northfield, Minnesota, exit.

A rural scene along Interstate 35 north of the Northfield, Minnesota, exit.

But appearance is not reality.

On this Sunday in Southern Minnesota, the temp dipped to minus two degrees Fahrenheit by late afternoon.

A tough job on a cold day, cleaning up after a crash.

A tough job on a cold day, cleaning up after a crash.

On Highway 36 in Roseville, a Minnesota state trooper faced the unenviable task of clearing debris from a crash scene. Only his cheeks and nose appeared visible from behind a black mask as he worked in the brutal cold. He faced the additional danger of two lanes of heavy traffic propelling toward him. All it would take is one inattentive driver…

Steam hangs heavy in the air during cold spells.

Steam hangs heavy in the air during cold spells.

Near downtown Minneapolis, smokestacks billowed steam, always more prominent on days like today.

A sun dog photographed from Interstate 35 between the Northfield and Faribault exits.

A sun dog photographed from Interstate 35 between the Northfield and Faribault exits.

As day shifted to evening, sun dogs showed up, bright columns of light flanking the sun.

Another sun dog, photographed just before the first Interstate 35 exit southbound into Faribault.

Another sun dog, photographed just before the first Interstate 35 exit southbound into Faribault.

It’s been one cold day in Minnesota.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

On the road metro Minnesota photography November 25, 2014

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I’M NO FAN OF METRO TRAFFIC. But then who is, I suppose?

A view of downtown Minneapolis on a foggy Saturday from Interstate 35.

A view of downtown Minneapolis on a foggy Saturday afternoon from Interstate 35.

I try to make the best of it, though, to focus on details of my surroundings rather than on the crazy drivers weaving in and out of traffic or the tailgater or the road construction or the sudden flash of brake lights.

As you can tell from that second paragraph, my attempts at distracting myself are not all that effective.

My primary distraction tool is my camera, typically at the ready to photograph whatever unfolds before me from the front passenger seat.

Why are the interstates around downtown Minneapolis so curvy?

Why are the interstates around downtown Minneapolis so curvy?

On Saturday, while traveling Interstate 35 into Minneapolis, I missed two photo ops because my Canon DSLR sat at my feet, zippered inside the camera bag. What was I thinking?

After my husband noticed a dog with his head hanging out a truck window (why do dogs do that?) and after I spotted a woman texting while driving, I snatched my camera from the bag. I wasn’t about to miss more such photo opportunities.

One of the few scenes I shot while traveling Interstate 35 into Minneapolis.

One of the few scenes I shot while traveling Interstate 35 into Minneapolis.

As Red Wing, Minnesota photo blogger Dan Traun advises, “You always have to be ready.” And Dan is. Among his photographic specialties are shooting streetscapes and everyday slices of mostly metropolitan Minnesota life. He’s good, no great, at what he does. His timing is uncanny as is his ability to notice a scene worth documenting. Most shots are taken from his vehicle.

Approaching yet another curve, this one under a railroad overpass.

Approaching yet another curve, this one under a railroad overpass.

Dan shows you buildings and everyday life and streets and alleys and all those subjects folks see daily, but perhaps don’t notice like they should.

We should all slow down and appreciate life. Even those crazy drivers in the metro.

PLEASE CHECK BACK to see the craziest subject I photographed along Interstate 35.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

I’ll take country over big city any day August 5, 2014

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Approaching downtown Minneapolis. Growing up on a southwestern Minnesota dairy and crop farm, I would travel with my parents and siblings once a year to visit relatives in Minneapolis. We got off at the 46th Street exit.

Approaching downtown Minneapolis. Growing up on a southwestern Minnesota dairy and crop farm, I would travel with my parents and siblings once a year to visit relatives in Minneapolis. We got off at the 46th Street exit. Thankfully lanes have been added since then. But I don’t understand that sign on the left: “RATE TO DOWNTOWN $ AT 42ND.” Whenever I see these signs entering the Cities, I wonder.

I CAN’T RECALL THE LAST TIME I’ve been in downtown Minneapolis. But it’s been more than 30 years since I’ve walked in the heart of the city and I have no intention of visiting anytime soon.

Almost to the I94/35W split near downtown Minneapolis.

The I94/35W split near downtown Minneapolis.

The big city is not for me. Give me wide open space and sky and fields and farms and small towns.

Give me horizontal, not vertical.

Minneapolis presents a photogenic skyline from afar.

Minneapolis presents a photogenic skyline as my husband and I bypass the downtown on our way to visit family in the metro.

Give me alfalfa or soybeans or a cornfield, not concrete and asphalt parking lots and buildings so tall I need to visually strain my eyes to see their tops.

I need to breathe, to see the horizon, to touch the earth.

Oh, you might advise me that I am missing out on cultural and unique dining experiences and whatever else the big city offers. Maybe. But I’ve found my own happiness in “outstate Minnesota,” as the geographical region outside the metro is termed. That moniker, even though I sometimes use it, seems to diminish the importance of anything outside the Twin Cities area.

I am thankful, however, that we don’t all like living in the same place. If that was the situation, there would be no rural, only metro. Or only rural and no cities. That, of course, is oversimplifying, but you get my point. We all crave different environments. That is a good thing.

The curving interstate and speeds of some vehicles can give the illusion of being on a racetrack.

The curving interstate and speeds of some vehicles can give the illusion of being on a racetrack.

I will always prefer a country gravel road over the racetrack craziness, or gridlock, depending, of a Twin Cities area interstate.

A gravel road just north of Lamberton in southwestern Minnesota.

A gravel road just north of Lamberton in southwestern Minnesota. File photo.

But that’s me, deeply rooted in rural Minnesota.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Why I hate traveling around the Twin Cities on a summer weekend August 12, 2013

“OH, THE PLACES you’ll go…you can steer yourself any direction you choose…”

Apparently Dr. Seuss has never driven through the Twin Cities metro on a weekend, especially this last one.

You could not go any direction you chose due to road construction. Everywhere.

On Saturday morning, heading north from Faribault on Interstate 35 and then eventually northwest on Interstates 494 and 94, my husband, son and I encountered gridlock, as in stopped traffic or traffic moving at a 20 mph maximum for mile beyond endless mile. I have never seen the traffic situation this bad in 30 years of occasionally traveling these three interstates.

It all started near Lakeville, where we crept along to the I-35 Burnsville split.

But pity the poor motorists backed up even further as the sound bound lanes of 35 were shut down completely for the entire weekend. After viewing the miles and miles of stopped traffic there, we opted for an alternative route home on Sunday (more on that in a minute).

Back to Saturday morning. Before the river bridge in Burnsville, north bound traffic finally opened up. Yeah. Little did we know…the worst was yet to come.

Not long after exiting 35 onto 494 west bound, which for once was not a harrowing experience of trying to shoehorn our van into traffic, we encountered more delays. Again, road construction is to blame along with the usual heavy weekend traffic. All told, travel time from Faribault to Monticello totaled nearly two hours. Usual drive time is maybe an hour and 20 minutes.

The only two positives in all of this: At least everyone was creeping along, meaning no crazy motorists driving like maniacs and/or weaving in and out of traffic. And roads are being improved.

Four hours later, following a brief stop at a rest stop, we reached our destination, a family reunion in Morris.

The reunion was great (photos of that forthcoming tomorrow). But the thought of returning home through the metro on Sunday afternoon, not so much. We knew the traffic then would be even worse with motorists heading back into the Cities from a weekend up north.

My husband’s oldest sister, after sharing a story of how she and her husband once sat for 40 minutes on a metro interstate on a Sunday afternoon without moving, proved the deciding factor in taking the long back way home. At least we would be moving.

So near St. Cloud, we exited 94 on Sunday and followed Minnesota Highway 15 all the way to Winthrop. Seems other motorists had the same idea. Yeah. But at least we were moving.

Road construction on Minnesota Highway 21 in Faribault.

Road construction on Minnesota Highway 21 in Faribault. Nothing compared to metro road construction and the major traffic snarl-ups there. Sorry, but I failed to photograph the interstate gridlock.

Five hours later, following a lunch break and a stop to purchase fresh veggies at a roadside stand, we drove into Faribault and, ta da, more road construction. In the nearly 30 years I’ve lived here, I’ve never seen this much road work on major roadways (Minnesota Highways 60 and 21) in my community. Not quite metro area gridlock, but…

DO YOU HAVE ANY stories to share about traffic in the Twin Cities metro this past weekend?

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling