Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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

 

Memories of a long ago challenging Minnesota winter & more March 15, 2019

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I took this photo several years ago on the Minnesota Highway 19 curve just north of Vesta, my southwestern Minnesota hometown. White-out conditions can happen quickly in that wind-swept part of the state. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

SOME 50 YEARS AGO, getting to school each day during the winter months proved difficult. It was a particularly snowy winter with strong prairie winds drifting snow across and blocking many roadways. I lived a mile from Vesta on a crop and dairy farm. But I lived some 20 miles from the junior high school I attended in Redwood Falls.

In that late 1960s winter to remember, buses stopped driving into the country to pick up students. That pretty much covered everyone from the Vesta area. Nearly all of us lived on farms.

 

A bus I photographed near Morgan, Minnesota, in May 2018. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.

 

If we could get into the cafe in Vesta, we could board a bus that would then travel Minnesota State Highway 19 to our school in Redwood. But getting there took effort and determination. My oldest brother and I climbed onto the John Deere tractor driven by Dad for the ride into town. And just to clarify, that tractor did not have a cab, only a canvas shield of sorts around the seat. And even though girls were banned from wearing pants at school, I slipped a pair of pants on underneath my dress.

I don’t recall additional details of those tractor rides. But I do recall the bus ride to Redwood along a state highway with snowbanks towering well above the bus. Single lanes cut into rock-hard drifts.

And then I recall the reactions of some teachers when all of us Vesta kids arrived two hours late. They were angry and told us so. Really? You try hopping on a tractor in the cold of winter to get to town to catch a bus and then ride another half hour to school. Be thankful we made it to class.

Kids now days certainly don’t face those challenges. And, if they did, they’d be tucked inside a heated tractor cab. More likely a pick-up truck. But Minnesota prairie kids still face canceled rural routes. “Buses on plowed roads only” is not uncommon during the winter in parts of Minnesota. And just yesterday, I read on the KLGR radio website out of Redwood Falls that buses in at least three schools—Lakeview, Echo Charter and, surprisingly, Redwood—would travel on paved roads only.

Muddy gravel roads and flooding can also become a problem as winter transitions toward spring. And right now Minnesota is experiencing plenty of flooding of roadways and streets.

 

The Faribault American Legion and Heritage Place businesses, a block from downtown, are surrounded by flood waters in September 2010. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

 

And more. In Faribault, the city issued this statement on its Facebook page:

SANDBAGS: The City of Faribault will be providing to city residents sand and bags if, and when, flooding occurs. If sandbags are needed now because of a localized flooding event (like backyard flooding into a door in a walkout basement, for example) contact the Faribault Fire Department at 507-334-8773.

 

A broad view of Wabasso’s Main Street. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

In the small town of Wabasso (where I attended high school) in my home county of Redwood, the city issued this statement on its Facebook page:

The city of Wabasso recommends turning your sump pump discharge outside. This means either into your yard, the street, or on top of the snow.
The water flowing through the sanitary sewer has been elevated since this afternoon.
When the sewer is overloaded, there is a risk that residents will have sewage back up into their homes.
Please turn your sump pumps to the surface as soon as you are able.

This winter of too much snow and now a too quick snow melt with too much rain is challenging all of us. But eventually conditions will improve. And we can look back and remember the difficult winter of 2019. Like I remember that late 1960s winter of riding the John Deere tractor to catch the school bus.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

First the massive snow, now flooding potential in Minnesota March 13, 2019

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A snow-socked neighborhood in Faribault, photographed on Sunday.

 

AS IF THIS WINTER of excessive snow hasn’t taxed us enough, now Minnesota is dealing with potential flooding. A flood warning is in effect until 8 a.m. Wednesday for my county of Rice, Goodhue County and several counties in Wisconsin. The National Weather Service has also issued a flood watch in other parts of Minnesota.

Expected temps in the 40s, even 50s, coupled with rainfall of several inches and a resulting fast snow melt, set us up for flooding. All of that water must go somewhere.

With the ground still frozen, that water won’t soak into the earth. Where will it go? In cities and small towns, the water should typically run into storm drains. But many are clogged by snow and ice, meaning the water will end up ponding on and flooding streets. And, yes, city crews have been working to open storm drains. But it’s a time-consuming and difficult task.

Many Minnesota riverside communities (like Stillwater and Hastings) have plans in place to sandbag. The Cannon and Straight Rivers run through Faribault. We’ve experienced flooding in the past. Will those rivers flood again? I don’t know.

 

Randy shovels snow from a portion of our house roof during a particularly past snowy winter. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Homeowners dealing with massive amounts of snow on their roofs and ice dams (and that includes us) face water leakage issues. Randy has been on our roof thrice this winter to remove snow, including Tuesday afternoon. He worked for hours in the rain to shovel snow, chip at ice dams and run hot water over snowy and icy areas on the roof. The ladder slipped once, with him on it. He rode it down to a lower roof level without falling. Yes, I cajoled/pleaded/begged him not to attempt another climb onto the steep, icy roof. Once he melted the icy section with hot water, he was back up a more stabilized ladder.

 

Ice dams on our house. This is a common problem, especially on older homes like ours. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2019.

Water is leaking under shingles and inside homes. Water is seeping into basements. That likely will get worse. I hope the water prevention system we installed in our basement several years ago continues to work.

This winter is truly challenging all of us. Mentally. Physically. And now in our pocketbooks. I know we’re not alone. Other areas of the country are experiencing similar catastrophic weather. If it wasn’t for the flooding and other water-related issues, I’d embrace the current warm temps.

We are in this together. We’ll get through this. We always do. We just need to get safely through these next several days.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling