Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Escape to the tropics in Minnesota at Como November 15, 2018

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The Sunken Garden at the Como Park Conservatory.

 

WHETHER HE SOUGHT A RESPITE from single digit temps or whether he wanted to see the bonsai trees, I’m not sure. But the son wanted to visit Como Park Conservatory before his return flight from Minnesota to Boston on Monday.

 

A section of the conservatory features bonsai trees.

 

So after an early lunch, we loaded his luggage and that of his girlfriend into our van and headed north an hour to the Twin Cities metro. Our oldest daughter and granddaughter joined us at this St. Paul site they frequent. Izzy’s comfortable familiarity showed as her two year old legs ran more than walked. On a slow day at Como, no danger existed of separation from the five adults.

 

 

I could take photos at my leisure without worry of stalling foot traffic winding through lush greenery inside the balmy conservatory. It was a luxury not to feel hurried or pressed by crowds at Como, which ranked as the third top tourist attraction in Minnesota in 2017 with 5.3 million visitors.

 

Heading to the animal exhibits.

 

And it was a luxury to escape temporarily from the cold and snow of Minnesota. With temps dipping to six degrees overnight, winter has arrived way too early. We have a brief respite this week with the temp pushing back up to 40 degrees during the day.

 

A close-up of a mum inside the Sunken Garden where flowers are changed out seasonally.

 

Yes, we dwell on the weather here in Minnesota. My son claims everywhere. He’s probably right. Conversations too often begin with weather. If they stick on that topic, then I’m concerned.

 

 

 

While inside the conservatory, I pulled off my winter garb and focused instead on the florals,

 

 

the greenery,

 

 

the art, the water.

 

 

Anything but the weather.

 

Lovely orchids.

 

These tropics offer an ideal escape if you can’t afford a real escape to warmth or the tropics.

 

As I photographed this bird, I was cognizant of the possibility of mice.

 

When the daughter warned me about mice inside one section of the conservatory, I hurried. I wish she hadn’t told me about the varmints I detest. “I didn’t want you to scream if you saw a mouse,” she explained. Alright then, that makes sense.

 

Art outside the primates building set against a backdrop of snow.

 

And later, when I commented on the stench of manure in the Como Zoo primate and giraffe buildings, she said, “You grew up on a farm.” Yes, I did. A dairy farm. But, in my memory, cows don’t stink.

 

 

Cold temps and construction shortened our time at the zoo. And that was OK by me. I could see the son wasn’t thrilled with viewing caged critters. I, too, felt a certain sadness for these animals. Izzy kept telling us she didn’t like the monkeys, then stood watching them. Next week she might love monkeys. I admired the mama gorilla who turned her back on me when I stepped up to the viewing window.

 

 

Soon enough, we exited the zoo and conservatory complex, bending into the frigid wind on our way to the parking lot. For a short time we’d escaped winter. And now, as warmer temps ease into Minnesota for several days, the cold air moves east, toward Boston.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Rice County still needs volunteers to help with storm clean-up October 17, 2018

Several days ago I photographed this home destroyed September 20 by an EF-2 tornado in Morristown. This small town was the hardest hit in a massive storm system that spawned 16 tornadoes and straight line winds in southern Minnesota. An EF-2 has wind speeds of 120 – 130 mph.

 

FOUR WEEKS AFTER MULTIPLE TORNADOES and severe storms ravaged Rice County, folks in my area still need assistance.

 

In the same Morristown neighborhood.

 

So, for the third time, Rice County Emergency Management is coordinating volunteer clean-up efforts. We need your help. This Saturday, October 20, exactly a month after those storms.

 

More damage in the same block in Morristown.

 

Although I’ve not joined these organized efforts, I assisted a friend after three trees fell in her yard, one landing on her house. Randy and I also checked on and helped an elderly neighbor. And then we got around to removing two limbs from our yard, with the help of a friend and his chainsaw.

 

More tornado damage in Morristown.

 

Do you see a word repeating in this post? That would be help. After a devastating storm like this, help is essential.

 

In a nearby neighborhood in Morristown, roof damage.

 

If you can help, register beginning at 7:30 a.m. Saturday for a two or four-hour shift at volunteer headquarters, the 4-H building at the Rice County Fairgrounds on the north side of Faribault. It seems fitting that the 4-H building serves as the coordination center. Part of the 4-H motto includes pledging hands to larger service.

 

Twisted trees, the telltale signs of a tornado, these near the water tower in Morristown.

 

Lots of hands are needed to remove trees and brush, pick up debris from farm fields and more.

 

This damaged Camaro is parked in the Morristown neighborhood hard hit by a September 20 tornado.

 

We’re only an hour from Minneapolis along Interstate 35. We’d welcome you from the metro to help us, your neighbors to the south. We’d welcome you from Iowa to help your neighbors to the north. We’d welcome anyone with the ability to help.

 

In the countryside near Morristown.

 

As I’ve been out and about the county during the weeks since the storms, I’ve noted the destruction and all of the work yet to be done. It’s heartbreaking really to see homes destroyed, farm buildings demolished, chunks of metal strewn across fields, and endless uprooted and damaged trees (including in my neighborhood).

Help is definitely needed. But so is the hope that help brings.

I have friends waiting for claims adjusters, contractor estimates and insurance payments. They’re waiting for contractors to replace roofs, siding, rafters, a garage door, fences… It’s stressful and, sometimes, overwhelming. They, and so many others, need to know someone, anyone, cares. And care comes in two ways, via help and hope.

FYI: Click here to read more detailed information about this Saturday’s volunteer clean-up efforts.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

When the snow falls too early in southern Minnesota October 14, 2018

Snow whitens the landscape at 7:30 a.m. Sunday at the intersection of Minnesota State Highway 60/Fourth Street and Second Avenue in Faribault.

 

THERE’S A CERTAIN DISBELIEF, even among life-long Minnesotans, when you awaken on a mid-October morning to snow. Snow layering the grass. Snow layering leaves still clinging to trees. Snow still falling.

 

Heavy snow fell late Sunday morning as we drove along Minnesota State Highway 60 west out of Faribault. That’s the Interstate 35 overpass in this photo.

 

That was our Sunday morning here in southeastern Minnesota. I knew snow was in the forecast, but for parts farther south, like the next county south and to the Iowa border along Interstate 90. Not here. Not in Faribault.

 

Snow accumulates on my backyard maple tree.

 

But when I awakened around 6:30 a.m. Sunday, snow was falling and continued into early afternoon. And while I wasn’t exactly happy about a snowfall this early, I admit to retaining a certain excitement about that first snow of the winter. Except it’s not officially winter yet. Or is it?

 

The flowerpots I emptied on Saturday with snow falling and accumulating around them on Sunday.

 

Just yesterday Randy and I were looking for elusive fall colors, driving along back country roads in Rice County, no thought of snow on our minds. Afterward, we did yard work, emptied flowerpots of frozen flowers. No thought of snow on our minds.

 

 

Then today…we’re heading to and from the Fall Harvest Dinner at Trinity Lutheran Church, North Morristown, in a snow globe world.

 

My favorite shot of the day is this rural scene near North Morristown.

 

 

 

 

I needed that drive into the country to view this early snowfall from an artistic perspective and not a gosh darn, it’s way too early for snow mentality. I needed this drive to see a landscape lightened by white, not dimmed by grey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I needed the visual reminder that, even in snow, beauty exists. Snow smudges softness into the landscape. I saw that painterly quality in fields and on barn roofs. In treelines. On a single leaf. And that was all it took for me to appreciate this first snowfall of the season here in Rice County in southeastern Minnesota.

 

 

Remind me of that appreciative attitude come January, February, March and April.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Here comes the sun, if but for a moment October 11, 2018

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That’s the sun, photographed through my office window, there between the utility lines.

 

WEDNESDAY MORNING AT 9:30 I’m in my office writing. And then I notice it, the sun blazing a spotlight through the grey sky.

I rise to pull down the pleated shade. And then I stop, realizing the stupidity of my automatic reaction to keep the sun out of my eyes.

We have not seen the sun here in southeastern Minnesota in days. Like eight straight. Or maybe it’s ten. Too many, anyway. Rather, our world rains grey, literally, autumn leaves spiraling, their beauty mostly lost in the gloom.

This is not the autumn I covet, I love, I desire in my favorite of seasons. When, I wonder, will the weather shift? When will the cobalt blue skies of October replace the steel grey? When will the rain stop?

But sometimes you need to grab those moments of light, as I did Wednesday morning. I paused in my writing to watch the orb of light that shown brilliant—if only for 15 minutes—between layers of grey clouds to the east.

 

Blue sky. Finally. And briefly.

 

Then I stepped outside and looked the other direction, toward treetops of autumn showcased against blue sky. Blue. Not grey.

And I thought of all those people in Florida and other parts of the South enduring the weather wrath of Hurricane Michael. And the people in the Dakotas and northern Minnesota already dealing with snow. And I thought, really, I may not like the grey and wet and cold. But, in true Minnesota lingo, I thought, “It could be worse.” Much worse.

TELL ME: What’s the weather like in your part of the country/world?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

After the storm: help still needed & positive words October 5, 2018

A tree fell onto these vehicles in my neighborhood during a September 20 storm. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2018.

 

WHEN STRONG WINDS roiled layers of ominous clouds here in southeastern Minnesota on Wednesday, I experienced angst while watching the shifting grey sky. Only two weeks earlier multiple tornadoes and strong straight line winds caused extensive damage in my county. Wednesday’s high winds shook loose limbs, including at my neighbor’s house, and felled trees weakened by that September 20 storm. I worry about the many dangling limbs and weakened trees still looming over properties and roadways.

 

If you are experienced with a chainsaw, your help is especially needed on Saturday. This photo was taken in my neighborhood after the September 20 storm. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2018.

 

We’re still recovering from the earlier storm. And we need your help. For the second consecutive weekend, Rice County Emergency Management is seeking volunteers to help with county-wide storm debris clean-up from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Saturday. Registration begins at 7:30 a.m. at the county fairgrounds, 1814 Second Avenue Northwest, in Faribault. Click here to read all the details about what to bring, expectations, transportation to clean-up sites and more. Or call the toll-free storm hotline at 833-643-7423.

If you’re free and able, consider joining other volunteers in this effort. What a great opportunity for church youth groups, sports teams, families, anyone really, to help others in a tangible way. We welcome your assistance.

 

Cedar Lake Electric crews did electrical work at my house and a neighbor’s place the day after the storm. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2018.

 

FOLLOWING THE STORM, Randy and I needed an electrician to replace the electrical line, mast and meter ripped from our house. We expected the wait to be long. But it wasn’t. Cedar Lake Electric of rural Faribault had the repair work done by noon the day after the storm. I’m thankful for that prompt service before the company was swamped by other requests.

Yesterday I got our $850 bill from Cedar Lake, which was much less than I expected. (We have a $1,000 deductible on our property insurance.)

But I also got more—a note tucked inside the envelope with a message of pride and gratitude worth sharing.

Here’s the first paragraph of that note, titled AFTER THE STORM:

Cedar Lake Electric is extremely proud of our employees for coming together and working many long hours to help our customers after the recent tornadoes/storms. While the weather raised havoc on our beautiful community, the positive spirit felt within our Cedar Lake Electric family was very apparent as crews were dispatched from one tragedy to another. The many powerful stories we heard from our customers and the tremendous damage our electricians saw was profound. Several of our own employees had storm damage that waited for days while they serviced our customers. Cedar Lake Electric could not have done it without our incredible crew!

Reread that paragraph. I read so many positive words: extremely proud, coming together, beautiful community, positive spirit, incredible crew.

And selflessness. It’s there, too, in that statement about Cedar Lake employees waiting for days to deal with storm damage at their homes.

This brief note enclosed with my invoice exemplifies goodness, neighbor helping neighbor. It was refreshing to read in the storminess of today’s world.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Tornado count rises in southern Minnesota October 1, 2018

Ten days after an EF2 tornado hit the Faribault Airport, a man surveys the damage just before sunset.

 

MAKE THAT SIXTEEN. The National Weather Service updated from 10 to 16 the number of tornadoes which touched down in southern Minnesota and western Wisconsin on September 20.

 

A half block from my home trees fell onto two vehicles. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

The unprecedented massive storm system hit my area hardest with five confirmed tornadoes in Rice County, the strongest an EF2 with wind speeds of 120 – 130 mph, according to the NWS report. That tornado damaged homes in Morristown and along Roberds Lake and destroyed the Faribault airport. Within the city of Faribault, apparent straight line winds felled hundreds of trees, including in my neighborhood, and also damaged houses and other structures. The tornadoes continued north and east of Faribault into Wisconsin causing additional damage.

 

The tornado at the Faribault Municipal Airport, Liz Wall Strohfus Field flipped airplanes and destroyed buildings.

 

The Weather Service states in its report that assessments continue and the final tornado count could change.

 

The single photo I shot along Roberds Lake Boulevard on Sunday evening, 10 days after the tornado. Damage to homes and loss of trees along this section of Roberds Lake is extensive.

 

Sunday evening, 10 days after the storm, Randy and I drove through the countryside, past the airport and along a short section of Roberds Lake Boulevard. Up until then, we chose to stay away as advised by local authorities. Gawkers early on hampered the work of emergency personnel, utility workers and clean-up crews. After seeing too many gawkers in our neighborhood (including the evening of the storm), I decided to wait until things calmed to view the destruction. No need to get in the way.

 

Debris landed on and along Minnesota State Highway 21 by the Faribault Airport. This is right off Interstate 35. I expect the scene was much worse right after the tornado. I shot this 10 days after the storm and shortly before sunset.

 

Ten days out, plenty of people are still working hard to remove trees, clear properties and repair storm-damaged buildings. Many roofs remain partially covered with tarps. I didn’t take many photos, except of the airport damage, and that as we drove past the airport. Mostly metal debris still lines road ditches and the median along Minnesota State Highway 21. I can only imagine how bad this area looked right after the tornado because it still looks bad.

 

Look closely and you will see aircraft under the debris.

 

Yet, in all of this we find reason to remain thankful. Not a single person was killed, which is remarkable given the 16 tornadoes and straight line winds. The NWS credits a Wireless Emergency Alert notification of the approaching tornadoes for saving lives. I agree. I got that alert on my cell phone. But I’d also seen an alert on TV and heard an alert on the local radio station to seek immediate shelter. I take these warnings seriously. There was a reason alerts sounded and emergency sirens blared, here in Faribault off and on for 40 minutes. They save lives. To ignore those warnings is a risk I will never take. Ever.

FYI: Click here to read the updated National Weather Service report released on Friday.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Another look at storm damage in Faribault, in & near my neighborhood September 25, 2018

Trees felled by the Thursday evening storm block the entrance to Wapacuta Park up the hill and within a block of my home.

 

AS CLEAN-UP CONTINUES in southern Minnesota, the National Weather Service has now identified 10 tornado tracks, five of those in my county of Rice. The strongest, an EF2 tornado with winds of 111- 135 mph, occurred in Morristown some 10 miles to the west of Faribault. Folks in that small town lost homes. The remaining nine were identified as EF1 tornadoes with winds of 86 – 110 mph. The nearest tornado occurred northwest of Faribault in the Roberds Lake area up to Interstate 35 by the Faribault airport, which was destroyed.

 

One of many fallen trees along about a two-block section of Fourth Avenue Southwest.

 

The damage in Faribault neighborhoods, including mine, was apparently caused by straight-line winds/downbursts. Sunday afternoon Randy and I drove along Fourth Avenue Southwest, a few blocks up the hill from our home. It is one of my favorite neighborhoods with a tree-lined street fronting many stately old houses. The area has always reminded me of the beautiful homes along Lake Harriet in south Minneapolis.

 

Fallen trees, limbs and branches edge Fourth Avenue Southwest.

 

A tree yanked from the ground along Fourth Avenue Southwest.

 

More fallen trees along the avenue…

 

Now the landscape of perhaps two blocks of Fourth Avenue looks much different with so many trees fallen or damaged. In many parts of Faribault, there is no evidence that a storm ever hit. I’ve seen only widespread pockets of damage that affect a block or two or three, no more.

 

Taking a pause from tree removal Sunday afternoon near the Wapacuta Park playground.

 

Evidence of energy crews working in my neighborhood for 1 1/2 days to restore power.

 

A look at damage to a neighbor’s property where a tree landed on his garage.

 

Chainsaws buzz as folks and tree removal services continue with clean-up.

 

We piled branches from a large fallen limb onto the boulevard for city pick-up next week. Our friend is keeping large hunks of wood (stacked on our driveway) for firewood.

 

Sunday afternoon Randy and I focused on our own backyard, where a large branch broke off a neighbor’s tree and fell into in a small wooded section of our property. It didn’t hit our garage. But limbs loom above a neighbor’s house. Randy cut branches while I hauled them curbside before our friend Steve arrived with a chainsaw. Steve is Paul Bunyan strong with a heart of gold, always willing to help anyone. Anytime. Saturday he led a crew (including Randy and me) removing a fallen tree from our friend Lisa’s house where three trees uprooted, one landing on her house. Even with 16 people, the job of removing a single tree and branches took several hours.

 

Along Third Avenue Southwest by Wapacuta Park.

 

Sunday Randy and I worked several hours on the fallen limb in our yard. After we were well into the project, I learned that the city of Faribault is doing a curbside tree branch pick-up beginning October 1. But they won’t take anything longer than four feet. Alright then. I may be sorting through the pile…

As I write on Sunday evening, Randy is back at our friend’s house helping Steve load chunks of tree trunk and limbs…

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling