Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

In Minnesota: Neither rain nor snow or… March 12, 2017

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…shall stop my husband from grilling in our Faribault backyard.

Grilling conditions: 19 degrees Fahrenheit and heavy snow falling around 6 p.m. Sunday

On the menu: Chicken breasts, baby red potatoes and asparagus.

Bonus for the husband’s work lunches: brats

TELL ME: Would you grill in these conditions or worse? Let’s hear.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Ice cream season, or not March 8, 2017

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SPRING HAS UNOFFICIALLY arrived in Faribault. The walk-up/drive-through Dairy Queen along Lyndale Avenue is open.

Sunday afternoon I clipped a $1.99 Peanut Buster Parfait coupon from the Faribault Daily News to celebrate. DQ is a rare treat for Randy and me, afforded only when money-saving coupons are available. Opening weekend at the DQ always brings deals. Perfect.

I envisioned sitting on the DQ patio under sunny blue skies in predicted 60-degree temps. Perfect.

But forecasts do not always equal reality. I suggested Plan B—going to a park. In hindsight, I wonder what I was thinking. After an attempt to eat our parfaits on a park bench, I caved and headed back to the warmth of the van. There we sat, savoring ice cream, peanuts and fudge while grey skies hung and the temp locked at 48 degrees in a still slightly snowy landscape.

Monday brought much warmer temps, like those promised on Sunday, along with intense wind followed by storms. Remaining snow melted.  And two tornadoes touched down, causing damage near Zimmerman and Clarks Grove. These are the earliest tornadoes of the season ever in Minnesota, breaking a record set in 1968. Here in Faribault, we experienced heavy rain and even small hail for a brief time Monday evening. A light dusting of snow fell overnight. The Dairy Queen may be hinting at spring. But winter seems determined to cling to March in Minnesota.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Back to winter in Faribault February 25, 2017

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WHAT A DIFFERENCE a week makes.

Last Saturday, temps reached nearly 60 degrees here in southern Minnesota in a landscape bare of snow. Today, as I glance out my office window, snow covers the ground and the temp hovers around 30 degrees.

My neighborhood on Friday morning.

My neighborhood on Friday morning. With schools and some businesses closed due to the winter storm, traffic was lighter than usual along this arterial road through Faribault.

Faribault was among cities in the path of a Thursday into Friday storm that dumped a lot of snow. I estimate a foot here. After a string of exceptionally warm spring-like days, the snow is a bit of a shock. It shouldn’t be. Afterall, this is February, not May, in Minnesota.

Randy blows a path around the car so I can sweep the snow from it without walking knee-deep in snow.

Randy blows a path around the car so I can sweep the snow from it without walking knee-deep in snow.

Friday evening my husband and I tag teamed–him with the snowblower and me with the scoop shovel–to clear snow from our property and that of a neighbor. The task took 90 minutes, a lot longer than usual due to ice under the snow. The snowblower couldn’t gain traction and moisture-heavy snow clung to blower blades. I moved slowly, too, nearly slipping twice on the ice.

In the fading light of day, Randy works to blow snow from the driveway.

In the fading light of day, Randy works to blow snow from the driveway.

Add to that, a city snowplow dug into our street, depositing clumps of asphalt at the end of the driveway. Randy figured that out when he hit the hidden chunks with the blower. Not exactly safe to have pavement missiles shooting from the snowblower. So more shoveling ensued.

Snow from the Walmart and mall parking lot if pushed into mini mountains.

Snow from the Walmart and mall parking lot is pushed into mini mountains.

Today compacted snow on city streets is melting. Snow is shoved from parking lots into mini man-made mountains, which, if I was still a kid, I would find ideal for King on the Mountain. The sun shone bright on a Winter Wonderland which just days ago looked nothing like winter.

I grew up playing on snow mountains like this on the farm in southwestern Minnesota.

I grew up playing on snow mountains like this on the farm in southwestern Minnesota.

TELL ME: What’s the weather like in your area? Is your landscape snow-covered? Or is your environment one of warmth and greenery?

Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 

Reclaiming an appreciation for winter through photography February 2, 2017

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IN THE DAYS OF MY YOUTH, I embraced winter. I saw potential in every snowfall. Snow caves and tunnels. Snow forts. Sledding.

 

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Snow pushed to the edge of the farmyard and rock-hard snowdrifts formed a mountain range, a seasonal anomaly on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. It was the ideal setting to role-play the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or to challenge siblings in King of the Mountain.

 

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I can’t reclaim those carefree days lingering now only in memories. But I can still appreciate winter, an attitude I’m relearning. That is easiest accomplished through the lens of my camera.

 

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Heading out of Faribault last Sunday afternoon for Owatonna along Interstate 35, I felt the sun radiating warmth through the van windows. And I noticed, too, the blueness of the sky scuttled by white clouds. I welcomed the blue after too many grey January days.

 

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Aiming my camera to the west toward farm fields layered in a thin coating of snow, I was nearly fooled into thinking I was back on my native prairie. The land appeared familiar in the winter commonality of bare trees and open fields. And I found comfort in that—in the uncluttered landscape, in the simplicity of lines, in the visual vulnerability the earth shows in winter.

 

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TELL ME: What do you most appreciate about winter, if you appreciate it? If you don’t, why not?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A determination to rediscover the joys of winter in Minnesota January 20, 2017

This huge, hard-as-rock snowdrift blocked our farm driveway in this March 1965 photo. I think my uncle drove over from a neighboring farm to help open the drive so the milk truck to reach the milkhouse.

I pose with my mom and four siblings atop a hard-as-rock snowdrift blocking our farm driveway in this March 1965 photo. Location: rural Vesta, Redwood County, Minnesota.

BACK IN MY LIFE-ON-THE-FARM days, I loved winter. Every bucket of snow pushed from the farmyard with the loader of the John Deere tractor created a mountain. Soon a whole range rimmed the yard. There my siblings and I roamed, our imaginations taking us to the wilds of Alaska.

I am trying to reclaim that enthusiasm for winter—for carving caves into snowbanks, for sledding down hills, for building snow forts, for tossing snowballs. Not that I plan to engage in any of those activities. But I need to rediscover that winter can be fun. And my go-to place for that now is Faribault’s River Bend Nature Center.

 

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From 1 p.m. – 4 p.m. this Saturday, January 21, River Bend celebrates its annual WinterFest with kicksledding, snowshoeing, games, nature crafts, animal shows and more.

 

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I’m uncertain whether I will make that event. But I embraced the winter season by hiking the trails of River Bend in the balmy 30-degree warmth of a recent January afternoon. You can read about that by visiting the Faribault Tourism website “Stories” section. Click here. Enjoy.

TELL ME: How do you embrace winter? For those of you living in warm weather climates, go ahead, laugh, or share a story.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Mobile in a Minnesota winter, from metro to rural January 17, 2017

The outline of the Minneapolis skyline appears in the hazy distance while traveling along Minnesota State Highway 252.

The outline of the Minneapolis skyline appears in the hazy distance while traveling along Minnesota State Highway 252.

EVEN IN THE DEPTHS of winter, we Minnesotans are a mobile bunch. Snow, ice and cold may slow our pace. But, unless we hibernate, and we don’t, we remain fairly active.

Passing through the Lowry Tunnels always seems visually surreal to me, like driving through a video game.

Passing through the Lowry Tunnel in downtown Minneapolis always seems visually surreal to me, like driving through a video game.

This past weekend, snow-free and warm weather conditions proved ideal to be out and about. I was in “the Cities,” as those of us living outside the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro call that area. Family draws me there—this trip to spend time with the granddaughter and the in-laws.

Driving toward downtown Minneapolis on Interstate 94.

Driving toward downtown Minneapolis on Interstate 94.

The metro always teems with movement. Vehicles zoom along interstates and other roadways.

 

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Airliners crisscross the sky. Buses carry passengers along city streets. People walk and bike and run. I am always thankful when the busyness of the Cities fades in the rearview mirror. Thankful except for the leaving behind of family.

A man walks his bike along Minnesota State Highway 21 in Faribault on Sunday afternoon.

A man walks his bike along Minnesota State Highway 21 in Faribault on Sunday afternoon.

I prefer the quiet of less urban areas. Peaceful places certainly exist within the metro. But it’s not the same. I am more content in the quiet spaces of my community or small towns or the countryside. Within the familiar. Where fewer people live.

 

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And so, after returning from the metro, I slipped on my Northwest Territory boots for a walk at River Bend Nature Center. While I hiked along snow-packed trails, others skied. Powered by our own feet, movement shifted from fast to slow. And that suited me after a weekend in the busy metro.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Picnic perfect January 16, 2017

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WINTERS TEND TO GROW long here in Minnesota. Double-digit below zero temps, windchills, snow, ice and too much darkness wear on even the heartiest of native Minnesotans. Like me.

So I force myself sometimes to embrace this season. This weekend, which yielded balmy temps in the 30s and sunny skies, brought a smile and lifted my spirits. As did this photo, shot Sunday afternoon while hiking snow-packed paths at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault:

 

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I am struck by this scene—by the contrast of seasons (thoughts of summer in the reality of winter), by the lone picnic table set upon snow on the prairie’s edge. I expect the table placement was intentional, for a purpose. But the creative side of me likes to imagine otherwise—that perhaps an artist or a comedian staged the table here to make a point/prompt conversation/elicit laughter.

I am applauding. Because I am laughing. And in a Minnesota winter, laughter is good.

TELL ME: What’s your response to this “picnic perfect” scene?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling