Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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

 

More than a snowman, Faribo Frosty brings smiles, joy January 15, 2020

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Randy blowing snow from our driveway during a previous winter. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

AS I LOOK OUTSIDE my office window, I see snow and grey skies. And front steps which await shoveling by me, because I’m the clean-up half of Team Helbling Snow Removal. Randy operates the aged, mammoth snowblower. I use an assortment of shovels depending on moisture content and snow depth.

 

Grandpa and Izzy build their own Frosty in our backyard in December 2018. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

A time existed when I loved snow, when I built snow forts and snowmen, packed snowballs, raced across snow mountains, went sliding, made snow angels. Those are but memories although, with grandchildren, I am regaining an appreciation for the fun aspect of snow. On occasion, a snow person now pops up in our yard.

 

Faribo Frosty photographed in the Hoisington family’s front yard in December. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2019.

 

Up close with Faribo Frosty in December 2019. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Gracing the Hoisingtons’ yard at the corner of Third Avenue Northwest and First Street Northwest in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2019.

 

But in one Faribault yard, a snowman has established permanent winter residency. He is Faribo Frosty, a towering—as in more than 20-feet tall—and rotund snowman standing at 18 Third Avenue Northwest. This is home to Andy and Debbie Hoisington who, for the past 10-plus years, have gifted my community with this now local icon of winter.

 

Andy and his son Jake work on Faribo Frosty. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.

 

I’ve observed Andy and his son working on Frosty, climbing a ladder, packing snow. Andy sources ice from the local ice arena to keep Frosty at a healthy, tip top lovable shape.

 

My granddaughter hugging Faribo Frosty. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2018.

 

And folks of all ages love Frosty. There’s simply something about an over-sized grinning snowman with a bright red scarf and mittens that makes me happy. Numerous times in recent years when I’ve stopped to see Frosty, I’ve observed the joy Faribo Frosty brings. My own granddaughter last winter stretched her arms wide to hug Frosty. Moments like that make me forget about the cold and shoveling snow.

 

Faribo Frosty draws lots of appreciative fans. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2018.

 

And moments like this remind me of the simple joys in life, if we but pause to embrace them.

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Thank you, Hoisington family, for creating Frosty, for your winter gift to this community and beyond.

FYI: Click here to learn more about Faribo Frosty from a metro media source. His fame is spreading. Also click here to read my past posts about Faribo Frosty.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Color my winter world January 8, 2020

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The nearly colorless landscape of southwestern Minnesota in late December.

 

MY EYES, MY SPIRIT, my very being craves color this time of year.

I need pops of color to break the white monotony of a Minnesota winter landscape. Without color, the bleakness of setting presses down the spirit. Not that winter can’t be beautiful. It’s just that I prefer a world beyond black and white.

So when I’m out and about, I find myself drawn to hues that flash. Like red, especially red. Set against a backdrop of white, red appears even bolder, stronger.

 

Parked in a Morristown, Minnesota, driveway.

 

A red pick-up truck.

 

Red barns, like this one in southwestern Minnesota, really stand out in a winterscape.

 

A red barn, tractor, outbuildings.

 

Right next to the I-90 in the Wisconsin Dells, a colorful waterslide breaks the grey of a foggy late December morning.

 

Even, while driving through the Wisconsin Dells recently, red spiraling on an outdoor waterslide.

 

Taillights are welcome along a foggy I-90 in Wisconsin.

 

And, on that same trip, the welcome red of taillights beaconing through thick fog pressed upon Interstate 90.

During a Midwest winter, red equals the visual equivalent of happiness.

TELL ME: Do you involuntarily gravitate toward color this time of year? If yes, I’d like to hear more.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating winter, Minnesota style with vintage snowmobiles December 10, 2019

Snowmobiles parked along Central Avenue during the Faribo Sno-Go Club Vintage Snowmobile Show.

 

DECADES AGO, MY COUSIN Kevin roared across the field on his snowmobile with me seated behind, the cold rush of wind stinging my cheeks. About the same time period, my oldest brother also offered me a snowmobile ride, then abandoned me in the gravel pit on our farm. Not the nicest thing to do. But brothers, when they are teens, aren’t always kind to sisters.

 

Mrs. Minnesota United States Courtney Maxwell-Shey of St. Peter (and originally from Faribault, she said) poses next to a trail groomer.

 

Those are my limited snowmobile memories. I’ve never felt the urge since to ask for a snowmobile ride, not that I know anyone with a snow-traversing machine. But plenty of Minnesotans still snowmobile, often in groups, traveling along groomed trails and road ditches and across frozen lakes.

 

Chatting and checking out the snowmobiles.

 

I expect there’s a certain exhilaration in defying winter weather by embracing it. There’s a certain exhilaration, too, in racing across the snow, the power of a machine roaring beneath you. With the high-tech clothing on the market today, the experience is certainly much warmer than 40-plus years ago.

 

Warming up around the fire in low 30-degree temps and a brisk wind, next to the food and beverage tent.

 

This past Saturday, the Faribo Sno-Go Club, established in 1967, hosted a Vintage Snowmobile Show as part of Faribault’s Winterfest. Randy and I arrived well into the event to find only a minimal number of machines displayed, a bit of a disappointment. Still, we appreciated the effort. And I appreciated the trip back down memory lane.

 

Christmas ornaments add a dash of holiday flair to a snowmobile trail groomer.

 

TELL ME: Have you ever ridden on a snowmobile? If yes, I’d like to hear your memorable story.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Shifting seasons November 6, 2019

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The snowy rural landscape in south central Wisconsin last Friday.

 

LAST WEEK I SMUGLY smiled as my daughter shared that 5.5 inches of snow fell in Madison, Wisconsin, where she lives. We’d had none yet here in Faribault.

 

The snowy landscape en route to Madison. The southern Minnesota landscape now looks similar after a Tuesday night snowfall.

 

That changed last night. I awoke this morning to a landscape layered in several inches of snow. So much for my attitude of better you, Wisconsin, than us in Minnesota.

 

Sections of the interstate still showed residual salt brine, or whatever is used to treat icy/snowy roadways in Wisconsin.

 

That all said, Randy and I traveled to Madison the day after their snowfall. Only residuals remained like snow flying off semis, dried salt brine on the interstate, snow in shadowed woods and upon fields, and, in the capitol city, snow atop parked vehicles.

 

The bluffs along the Mississippi River near La Crosse are still autumn beautiful, albeit muted under cloudy skies. I photographed this last Friday.

 

Built into the Mississippi River-side bluff along I-90, Minnesota side, near La Crosse, Wisconsin.

 

The beautiful and diverse landscape of southern Wisconsin as photographed from the interstate.

 

Despite Winter’s presence, we saw Autumn in seemingly no hurry to exit the Midwest. Stubborn leaves still clung to hillsides of trees. Rusty remnants of a season that, for me, was way too short this year.

 

From Minnesota to Wisconsin, so many cornfields remain unharvested. This one is in southeastern Minnesota.

 

For farmers also. I observed endless acres of unharvested cornfields during our four-hour drive to and from Madison. Way too much rain has muddied fields and delayed harvest. I feel for the farmers. They’ve experienced a difficult year with excessive rainfall. And now this snow…

© 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