Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

No day of rest on a snowy Sunday in Minnesota February 9, 2020

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A bank sign in Faribault flashes the weather late Saturday afternoon.

 

SATURDAY BROUGHT SUNSHINE and cold temps to Minnesota. Below zero in the morning, up to 20 in the afternoon. But that is manageable when the sun shines. Everything’s better under sunny skies in the depth of winter.

 

The grandkids, ages one and three, play hide-and-seek behind curtains for a short while until Grandma decided that probably wasn’t the best idea. (The parents were gone.)

 

We headed to the north metro to spend time with our eldest and her family, which includes our two darling grandchildren. I think everyone had the same idea to be out and about before the winter storm hit Saturday night. Roads were congested in areas and too many drivers wove in and out of traffic, not bothering to use their signals and cutting in too close. I always wonder, what’s the hurry that you must drive like this?

 

More snow to add to the piles. I took this shot from our driveway.

 

All of that aside, the promised snow arrived and we awoke to about eight inches on the ground Sunday morning. I was tempted to roll over, pull the covers tighter and snuggle in for more sleep when the alarm sounded at 6:45 a.m. But I didn’t.

 

A city of Faribault snowplow clears the street in front of my home.

 

I wondered if we would get out the driveway to make it to the 8 a.m. church service. But the arterial street past our house was already plowed so Randy needed only to gun it out our drive and then plow through the unplowed side street a short distance and we were on our way.

 

The beautiful snowy wooded hillside in our backyard.

 

Church was so empty that we all clumped together in front pews rather than sit in our regular spots. That is so un-Lutheran.

 

Randy starts down the driveway with the snowblower.

 

As any Minnesotan knows, the worst thing is to have the driveway all cleared and then the snowplow plows the end shut with a ridge of snow.

 

Making progress on clearing the driveway of snow.

 

Post worship service found Randy and me back home tackling snow removal—ours and that of a neighbor in her eighties. Randy maneuvers our Noah’s ark vintage snowblower while I shovel.

 

Our assorted shovels stacked in the garage.

 

Today I used all three shovels—the scoop shovel, plastic shovel and metal shovel. All serve a different purpose. Best for throwing. Best for pushing. Best for scraping. I’ve shoveled snow for enough decades to understand the importance of assorted tools.

 

Our driveway, clear of snow. Yeah!

 

Now I’m inside, feeling the ache of shoveling in my back, even if the snow was feather-light. But, hey, the sun is shining again and the snow has moved east into Wisconsin.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Oh, glorious Sunday sunshine in southern Minnesota February 3, 2020

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A view of the Cannon River dam, river and surrounding area around Father Slevin and North Alexander Parks in Faribault, on Sunday afternoon. Portions of the river are open and sections iced-over.

 

BLUE STRETCHED WIDE AND FILTERED across the sky accompanied by bright sunshine melting snow and ice, warming backs, dancing across open water.

 

Looking the other direction down the Cannon River from the dam walkway toward the Second Avenue bridge.

 

This weekend brought a welcome end to a nearly 10-day streak of grey skies here in southern Minnesota. And it was glorious.

 

Trees reflect in an open section of the Cannon River next to a frozen section.

 

In multiple conversations, I listened to Minnesotans praise the change in weather, thankful for a respite from winter. I added my own words of gratitude. And, like most everyone, I felt the urgent need to get outdoors, to take in the sunshine we’ve craved. Missed.

 

A lone fisherman angles along the banks of the Cannon River Sunday afternoon.

 

Sunday afternoon, with the temp at 40 degrees, Randy and I followed the recreational trail along the banks of the Cannon River in North Alexander Park. It’s a favorite scenic walking spot in Faribault with no worry of packed ice or snow.

 

Just across the street, the Faribault Public Schools’ football stadium.

 

Occasionally I paused to take photos, my fingers quickly chilling in temps that felt more like 30 degrees given the 15 mph wind. Only when we curved into the shelter of evergreen trees did the cutting wind cease.

 

Photographed in the Ace Hardware parking lot, on our way to North Alexander Park, a woman pushing a stroller.

 

Fishing in the Cannon River on February 2, 2020.

 

From a distance, I observed this jogger attired in shorts as he ran along Second Avenue.

 

Everywhere, people were out and about—fishing from the shore of the Cannon, walking the trail, pushing babies in strollers, jogging (in shorts), pedaling on a fat tire bike, chipping ice from driveways, walking dogs…

 

Looking toward the dam, the shelter in Father Slevin Park and the Faribault Woolen Mill in the distance.

 

Water rushes over the dam.

 

Geese walk across the ice near the Woolen Mill dam.

 

And on the river, water churned over the dam, geese walked on ice and ducks swam in open water.

 

Suspended from a light post along Second Avenue, a relatively new banner defines this as Faribault’s Mill District as part of a branding campaign by the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism.

 

Photographed from the riverside trail, the Second Avenue bridge and Mill District banner.

 

The historic Faribault Woolen Mill (right), with its signature smokestack, located along the banks of the Cannon River.

 

Nearby, vehicles dodged ponding water on busy Second Avenue in this area now bannered as the Mill District. The historic Faribault Woolen Mill sits here along the Cannon.

I love this spot, especially on a lovely sunshine-filled Sunday afternoon in February.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Documentation of why you should stay off rural roads during a winter storm January 19, 2020

Just outside of Faribault Saturday afternoon along Rice County Road 25, this old farmhouse was easily visible during the storm.

 

THE WEATHER IN MINNESOTA has calmed considerably since Saturday when high winds created blizzard and near-blizzard conditions throughout much of the state.

Now we’re dealing with frigid temps, just two degrees above zero mid-morning here in Faribault with an expected high of maybe 10 degrees. Yes, that’s cold, even for those of us who are life-long residents. But we’ve seen much colder, in the double digits sub-zero.

Weather often dominates conversation in Minnesota because it so dramatically affects our lives. Our plans. Our off-work time, especially in the winter when snow removal can seem like a part-time job. But, hey, we choose to live here, right?

 

Visibility was good as we started out on CR 25 Saturday afternoon.

 

And sometimes we make choices that aren’t too smart. Like mine yesterday to venture with Randy into the countryside to check out conditions. Per my post late Saturday afternoon, here are more photos from that short drive east of Faribault and back.

 

Lots of farm sites and rural homes hug the roadway, breaking the wind.

 

The American flag flying straight out shows the strength of Saturday’s wind on a rural site just east of Faribault along CR 25.

 

After we passed this barn on our friends’ farm site, conditions deteriorated.

 

Heading east out of town along Rice County Road 25/197th Street East, conditions were good. Blowing snow was minimal and we could easily see farm sites along the route. But then, as we edged into more open land, with no treelines or farm sites breaking the wind, visibility quickly lessened.

 

We drove into near white-out conditions along CR 25 near the intersection with CR 23.

 

Blowing snow diminished visibility.

 

We found ourselves enveloped in white, white-out conditions is the proper term.

 

Snow blows around low-slung buildings along CR 23.

 

Snowdrifts partially edged and crept onto sections of CR 23.

 

As we continued to drive south on CR 23, blowing snow reduced visibility even more.

 

Yes, I was scared and even asked Randy to turn around and retrace our route. Easier said than done. Instead, he eased onto County Road 23. Blowing snow still limited visibility although I could see near-the-road farm sites in the haze of white. Considerable drifting of snow near and onto the road now concerned me.

 

Snow pushed back from the roadway at the intersection of CR 23 and Minnesota State Highway 60 and photographed from the front passenger side window.

 

By the time we reached Minnesota State Highway 60, I was so ready to be done with this little adventure. Plowed snow banked the intersection. Randy rolled down his window to check for oncoming traffic.

 

Once on Minnesota State Highway 60 heading west, travel improved. More farm sites border this highway than along the county roads.

 

Then, thankfully, as we drove west toward Faribault, with less open space and farm sites breaking the wind, visibility improved.

 

Conditions as we approached Faribault were good, considering what we’d just driven through.

 

Lesson learned: Stay home during a winter storm, especially when you advise others to do so.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

About the current winter storm in Minnesota…a little advice January 18, 2020

Blowing snow reduces visibility along Rice County Road 25/197th Street East near its intersection with CR 23/Gates Avenue mid-afternoon on Saturday, January 18, 2020.

 

IF ANYONE IN MINNESOTA doubts the danger and fierceness of the current winter storm, just look at this photo.

Taken mid-afternoon, this shows white-out conditions along Rice County Road 25 near Faribault.

In a moment of stupidity, I agreed to go for a little drive in the country. Randy said we’d just head east of town past the rural homes of several friends, then follow another county road for a few miles to Minnesota State Highway 60 that would take us back to town.

Bad idea. The nearer we got to the T intersection of CR 25 and CR 23, the worse the conditions. I admit to a moment or ten of panic when I felt lost in a sea of white. Randy maintained his usual calm demeanor as he turned onto County Road 23 and visibility did not improve. He skirted the edges of drifts, kept the car on the roadway and got us safely to highway 60.

And, no, I did not exit the car to take photos. That would have been a really bad idea given the brutal whipping wind gusting between 30 – 50 mph. People die in weather like this if stranded outdoors. Not that I expected to be stranded. But who does?

If you yell at me in the comments section, your criticism is deserved. Maybe consider this a public service announcement or a first-hand field account from a former journalist.

Stay safe. And don’t be tempted (like me) to venture outside of town during a winter storm/blizzard. Not a good idea.

Watch for more photos in a future post.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Waiting for the winter storm January 17, 2020

I expect the view from my front window to look like this by this afternoon. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

 

WE ARE ONLY HOURS AWAY here in southeastern Minnesota from a major winter storm expected to drop up to a foot of snow on some parts of our state. In my city of Faribault in Rice County, predictions range from five to nine inches.

No matter how you measure it, it’s still snow that will cause travel problems and which needs to be removed. Oh, joy.

 

This photograph, taken along Minnesota Highway 30 in southwestern Minnesota, shows how the wind drives snow across and onto roadways. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo January 2010.

 

But it’s not just the snow that will create issues. It’s the strong wind accompanying the snow. Winds tomorrow in the southwestern part of the state, my home area, could reach 50 mph. Thus the blizzard warning starting at midnight in that region.

 

While in southwestern Minnesota last weekend, I noticed snow already banking in drifts along drainage ditches, here east of Morgan.

 

I’ve experienced enough winter storms on the prairie to appreciate the seriousness of a blizzard. Reduced visibility creates white-out conditions. Snowdrifts block roads. And those powerful winds plunge the “feels like” temperature into the deadly range when exposed to the elements.

 

Along Minnesota State Highway 19 on the west edge of Redwood Falls, a sign advises motorists to check travel information.

 

Still, winter storm after winter storm, people fail to heed the dangers. In and post storm, the media reports vehicles stranded along roadways (mostly interstates) and motorists rescued. I’ve heard of drivers taking back county roads after GPS directed them there because the interstate was closed. Interstate closure is a pretty clear indication that no one should be on the road.

 

I expect lights on this sign to flash today and tomorrow, closing Minnesota State Highway 19 west of Redwood Falls.

 

Along certain sections of interstate and highways, snow gates are closed to block the roadway when travel becomes difficult, if not impossible. Just last week when traveling through Redwood Falls, I noticed signage indicating Minnesota State Highway 19 is closed when the yellow light on the sign flashes. A second sign advised motorists to check state travel conditions on MN511.org. While I appreciate that Minnesota Department of Transportation tool, I’ve often found it’s not updated enough.

The bottom line is this, though: Common sense should tell us to stay off the roads during a winter storm like the one barreling into Minnesota and elsewhere today. That said, I’ve advised the husband to leave work early for his commute home from Northfield, a 22-minute drive on a typical, non-storm day.

For those of you in the path of the winter storm, stay safe.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Spring scenes in Faribault April 24, 2019

A scene Sunday afternoon in Faribault. The building in the background is the historic home of our town founder, Alexander Faribault.

 

EASTER WEEKEND BROUGHT sunshine and warmth. Temps pushing near or past 80 degrees. Lovely weather after an especially long Minnesota winter of too much cold and snow.

 

Ducks enjoyed the day too along the banks of the Cannon River in North Alexander Park.

 

After the daughter and her husband left for their Wisconsin home on Sunday afternoon and Randy and I completed clean-up tasks and I hung laundered linens on the clothesline, we drove across town to walk along recreational trails. We needed to stretch our legs, to work off some calories, to delight in the stunning spring day.

 

 

With the exception of grass brightening to green, the landscape appears mostly still drab. Yet, the feel, the look, the presence of spring exists.

 

A Canada goose sits atop a mound in the middle of the river near Two Rivers Park.

 

Nesting waterfowl.

 

Biking along a trail in North Alexander Park, Faribault.

 

People biking and walking and shooting hoops.

 

Playing basketball in North Alexander Park.

 

We’ve emerged from our homes to embrace the season—to breathe in the warm air, to feel sunshine upon our backs, to take in a landscape transforming daily.

 

A patch of snow next to the Faribault Foods building.

 

But, when I looked closely, I noted remnants of winter—a snow pile in the shadow of a building.

 

Sandbags protect a portion of the Faribault Foods building along Second Avenue.

 

And I noticed, too, the worry of spring flooding in sandbags circling a section of that same building, protecting it from the nearby swollen river. Just last week Faribault was in a flood warning following torrential rains.

 

Ducks in the Cannon River as seen from the recreational trail in North Alexander Park.

 

For now the sun shines spring into April days here in southern Minnesota. A welcome change from winter.

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Minnesota: So this is spring? April 10, 2019

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My neighborhood Wednesday evening.

 

CLOSED SCHOOLS. Closed Interstate. Crashes and back-ups. All were the result of a winter storm that socked parts of Minnesota today, my community included.

Officials shut down Interstate 35 between Faribault and Medford for hours on Tuesday afternoon into evening following multiple vehicle crashes. Thirty-five, I heard. True? I don’t know. Then the detour route onto a county road was closed after a semi hit a railroad bridge, according to one report I read.

 

My snowy backyard photographed early Wednesday afternoon as the snow fell.

 

What a day. Ambulances and police cars screaming by my house along with all that detoured traffic. Snowplows scraping snow that fell at a rapid pace. Snow layering to six inches.

 

I photographed these crocuses in my front yard flowerbed just days ago. Now they are buried under six inches of snow.

 

Randy and I just got back inside after clearing heavy wet snow from our driveway and sidewalk and that of a neighbor. This is heart attack snow, thus I paced myself. I’ve had it with winter. Only days ago spring seemed here. Temps in the sixties. Sunny. Lawns hinting at green.

 

My backyard shortly after the snow began falling Wednesday morning.

 

And now this, this storm set to linger into Friday. Already winds are picking up. Cold. Biting. Nothing like spring.

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Defining spring in Minnesota March 27, 2019

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Looking skyward in my Faribault, Minnesota, backyard Monday morning.

 

HOW DO YOU define spring?

By the calendar? By tulips, daffodils, crocuses popping color into the landscape? By warmth?

 

A sure sign of spring in Minnesota: More motorcyclists on the roads, as reflected in this photo taken late Saturday afternoon.

 

Whatever your measurement of spring, it’s likely as personal as you are and reflects wherever you live.

I’ve lived all of my life in Minnesota, a state associated with cold and snow. Long winters. And this winter, especially, has been long with way above average snowfall in February. Finally, in recent weeks, temps warmed and snow melted with amazing speed. It’s beginning to feel and look more spring-like. Temps today are predicted to reach into the 60s.

 

Emerging in a south-facing flowerbed in my backyard Monday morning. Every year my tulips start to grow and then snow falls in April and, well, that’s not good. I expect no different this year.

 

First signs of spring for me may seem atypical. I look beyond flower bulb leaves emerging from the cover of leaf mulch.

 

A cloud of dust envelopes the street sweeper cleaning Willow Street Monday morning.

 

I see spring in the street sweeper roaring past my house, sucking up sand, dirt and other winter debris from roadways.

 

 

I see spring in our Christmas tree now uncovered, dried and dead, from a snowbank.

 

Aiming my camera lens directly upward to the sky from my backyard Monday morning.

 

I see spring in puffs of clouds against a sky morphed from the grey of winter to a sharp blue.

 

Flooded fields photographed Saturday morning in southern Minnesota.

 

I see spring in intense blue pools of water forming lakes in farm fields as the snow melts.

 

Typically, I would already have hung out laundry in 2019. But this year a snow-covered patio and too much snowfall and cold temps delayed that. Randy shoveled snow from the patio several days ago so I could hang out laundry Monday morning. That’s our Weber grill on the other side of the snowbank next to the clothesline.

 

I see spring in the laundry I now hang on the line, for the first time Monday morning. After the husband shoveled snow from the patio.

 

One of my favorite prints, picked up at a garage sale a number of years back.

 

I see spring, too, in the artwork I pull from my personal collection. Pastoral scenes that offer no hint of winter.

 

I appreciate that I can now find asparagus, one of my favorite vegetables, in local grocery stores.

 

I see spring in the bundle of asparagus I picked up at the grocery store. I can’t wait until locally-grown asparagus is available.

These things, for me, signal spring. How about you? Tell me what hearkens spring’s arrival for you.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

On the road: A look at Redwood County flooding & snow pack March 24, 2019

Westbound just outside of Redwood Falls along Minnesota State Highway 19 late Saturday morning.

 

SNOW LAYERS farm fields.

 

Along Minnesota State Highway 19 between Redwood Falls and the Belview corner.

 

Massive snow piles still mark farm sites, this one along Minnesota State Highway 19 near the Belview corner.

 

A scene along Minnesota State Highway 19 near the Belview corner appears more winter-like than spring.

 

In the shade of yards and groves and northern hillsides, snow banks remain, reminders of a long Minnesota winter not yet over.

 

In many spots along Minnesota State Highway 19 between Redwood Falls and the Belview corner, snow pushed off the highway (some up to 100 feet from the roadway) remains.

 

Snow shoved from a once-drifted Minnesota State Highway 19 appears like wind-sculpted waves frozen in place just west of Redwood Falls.

 

A sign on the west edge of Redwood Falls along Minnesota State Highway 19 advises motorists to check the Minnesota Department of Transportation website for road closures.

 

In Redwood, the Redwood River appears mostly iced-over.

 

Flooding along Minnesota State Highway 19 between Redwood Falls and the Delhi corner.

 

But outside of town, snow melt floods fields, settles in low-lying areas. Frozen tile and frozen ground allow no outlet for all that water. Farm sites seem temporary lakeside properties.

 

A drainage ditch near the intersection of Brown County Road 29 and Minnesota State Highway 67 southeast of Morgan.

 

Ditches brim with water.

 

East of Courtland along U.S. Highway 14, fields are mostly bare of snow.

 

Between Morgan and Gilfillan, snow cover and flooding increase.

 

Southeast of Redwood Falls.

 

A survey of the countryside while driving from Faribault to Belview and back Saturday presents a perspective on the flooding and potential flooding in southern Minnesota. Not until Randy and I drove northwest out of Morgan did we begin to really notice the difference. Our observations of significant remaining snow pack and already ponding water visually confirms the reason for a flood warning in my native Redwood County.

 

Flooded farm field near Delhi.

 

Just east of Belview.

 

East of Delhi, a closure on the Scenic Byway road.

 

There’s a lot of snow yet to melt, especially west of Redwood Falls. That water must go somewhere since it can’t soak into the frozen soil. And that somewhere is likely into the Redwood River, which feeds into the Minnesota River, which feeds into the Mississippi River. What happens in rural southwestern Minnesota will eventually affect the Twin Cities metro.

 

Near Delhi.

 

Temps and precipitation will factor into the flooding equation, too, as winter transitions into spring. I will tell you that Redwood County, on Saturday, seemed still stuck in the final days of winter.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Flood aware: Keeping a watchful eye on rising rivers in Minnesota March 20, 2019

I shot this scene of the rising Cannon River near the iconic Faribault Woolen Mill shortly before sunset Monday.

 

WITH TWO RIVERS RUNNING through Faribault, a flooding concern always exists. We’ve had property-damaging floods here in the past. And now, with spring snow melt well underway, we’re all on alert.

 

The Faribault Woolen Mill dam is barely visible in this photo.

 

A close-up of the dam.

 

Likewise, a second dam by the entrance to North Alexander Park and the Rice County Fairgounds is also almost invisible.

 

Although the Cannon and Straight Rivers are high and have spilled from their banks in some areas, they aren’t threatening. Yet. Who knows what this week’s expected 50 to near 60-degree temps will bring?

 

The overflowing Cannon River edges Minnesota State Highway 3 at its intersection with Rice County Road 29 just north of Faribault.

 

Trees felled by a September 2018 tornado clog the rising Cannon River as seen in this view from the Rice County Road 29 bridge.

 

The Cannon River spills out of its banks at the intersection of Minnesota State Highway 3 and Rice County Road 29 on Monday evening. This is the main connecting highway between Faribault and Northfield.

 

I feel for the folks in Nebraska with the devastating floods there. I feel for the folks in the Fargo-Moorhead area now preparing for likely flooding. I feel for the folks in Jordan, Minnesota, some of whom already had to evacuate homes. I feel for the river communities of Northfield, Hastings, Stillwater, Red Wing, New Ulm… The list is lengthy of Minnesota cities that could face serious flooding. Some, including Northfield along the Cannon River and just to the north of Faribault, are in a flood warning issued by the National Weather Service. My home county of Redwood, through which the Redwood River runs, is also included in this warning for specific rivers (the Redwood, Cottonwood, Minnesota and Cannon rivers) in Minnesota.

 

While the snow pack has diminished significantly, snow remains to melt. I shot this photo west of Dundas around sunset Monday along Rice County Road 1.

 

For now, in Faribault, the issue is primarily flooded basements. I’ve talked to friends who’ve never had water in their basements. Until this year. We’re not talking just water seepage either. We’re also talking backed up septic systems. We’ve had minor issues in our house, too.

 

Water floods a low lying area along Interstate 35 somewhere between the south metro and Faribault. Photo taken late Saturday afternoon.

 

But we’ll get through this. We always do.

TELL ME: Have you experienced any flooding or water-related issues in your community or home? Or are you prepping for such a possibility?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling