Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

River Bend in March, before the latest winter storm March 16, 2021

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Ice edges a pond Sunday afternoon at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault.

AS I WRITE MONDAY AFTERNOON, snow continues to fall. Steady, for hours and hours. Layering the landscape that, only the day prior, was devoid of snow.

After an especially lovely Saturday of sunshine and 50 some degrees, this return of winter seems like a mean trick of Mother Nature. I rather enjoyed pre-spring. But as a life-long Minnesotan, I expected snow and cold to return. Yet, maybe not with such force, as if the weather has something to prove.

That all said, let’s forget the winter storm and backtrack to Sunday afternoon, when Randy and I hiked the trails at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault. It’s one of our favorite places to escape into nature.

I always carry my camera. And here’s what I found: Natural beauty even in a drab landscape transitioning between seasons.

Signs of spring in maple sap collection bags and buckets.

And sap dripping slowly into the containers.

Signs of winter in ice edging the Turtle Pond.

A lone child’s snow boot, which left me wondering how that got lost without anyone noticing.

And the photo I didn’t take of young people clustered along a limestone ledge with their remote control vehicles climbing the layered rock. Limestone was once quarried from this area.

And then the bark-less fallen tree Randy pointed to with shades of brown sweeping like waves lapping at the lakeshore. Artistically beautiful. Poetic.

Just like words imprinted upon plaques adhered to memorial benches honoring those who loved this place, this River Bend.

Moss carpeting the ground in a line across a ridge of land in the woods. The only green in a landscape of brown tones.

Dried grasses and dried weeds on the prairie. The muted remnants of autumn.

Tracks muddied into the earth.

And birch

and fungi and all those things you notice if you only take the time to pause. To appreciate the natural world. To step into the woods. To walk the asphalt trails heaved by frost and tree roots. Or to follow the dirt trails that connect soles to ground. Soul to nature.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Spring fling in Minnesota March 11, 2021

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My two-year-old grandson splashes in melted snow while on a walk Sunday afternoon in Faribault.

MARCH BRINGS TO MINNESOTA the teasing of spring.

Recent sun-filled days of unseasonable temps soaring into the sixties proved a respite. And this winter, especially, I needed a break from cold and snow, from the sheltering in.

Tuesday afternoon I threw open the windows. Fresh air breezed through the house. I kept the kitchen screen door open long after dinner, the scent of sautéing onions carried outdoors.

Outside, two fleece throws flapped on the clothesline. Dancing in the wind, occasionally twisting.

Faribo Frosty still stands tall in the Hoisington family’s front yard Sunday afternoon when Randy and I stopped to show our grandkids, Isabelle and Isaac.

As the wind blew and the sun shone, the snow pack continued to melt. Only remnants of snow remain in shadowed spots next to the fence, along the north side of the house, next to the driveway.

Dormant brown grass defines the landscape now.

Crocus emerging.

In my front yard, tender crocus shoots poke through the mulch leaves of autumn. Too early. As always. But the crocus react to sunshine and temps, not to the calendar.

A single maple leaf lies atop the snow along the fenceline in my backyard Tuesday afternoon.

March in Minnesota tempts us with spring. Melting snow and puddles. And, as I write this Wednesday morning, grey skies drizzle rain. Snow is back in the forecast. As are possible thunderstorms. Even tornadoes. A mixed bag of March weather. Typical Minnesota.

A weather graphic from KSTP posted Wednesday afternoon.

Now as I update this Wednesday evening, southern Minnesota has experienced its first severe weather scare of the season. Tornado warnings were issued late this afternoon in multiple counties, including my county of Rice. When warning sirens blew in Faribault, I headed to the basement while Randy kept me updated on weather in Northfield (where he works) and our eldest texted from her south metro basement.

I stepped into my backyard shortly after the sirens blared to snap this image of a towering cloud late Wednesday afternoon.

While clouds appeared sometimes overpowering and ominous, no tornadoes developed. To the north, in the central and northern parts of Minnesota, snow fell. Up to six inches in some locales. It’s almost as if two seasons collided with spring bumping against winter.

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FYI: I invite you to read another blogger’s take on March in Minnesota by clicking here. Kathleen Mickelson is an incredibly gifted writer with a strong poetic voice. Yes, she’s a published poet. She loves the craft of writing and is a pretty darned good photographer, too. And an all-around lovely individual.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

More than simply an ice cream treat March 2, 2021

A Peanut Buster Parfait from The Little DQ of Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

SPRING UNOFFICIALLY ARRIVED in Faribault this past weekend. You’d never guess that from viewing the snow cover, freshened by two inches of new snow overnight Sunday. But The Little DQ opened on February 27, signaling the shift toward spring. At least for Randy and me.

Every year about this time, the walk-up/drive-up Dairy Queen along Lyndale Avenue reopens after a three-month seasonal closure. And we find ourselves there picking up bargain Peanut Buster Parfaits. Seldom do we treat ourselves to DQ. But this opening special has become a tradition in recent years.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of the Little DQ of Faribault.

So Monday evening, when I’m certain Randy would rather have settled onto the sofa than leave the cozy warm house after a long day of work, we headed across town to the DQ. Past the fire station and the courthouse, turning onto Fourth Street. The suspension in our 2003 Chevy Impala, closing on 270,000 miles, creaked with each switch in direction. Past the pizza place and our church and the recently-closed Family Video and the abandoned Farmers Seed and Nursery building. Across the train tracks and, shortly thereafter, a left turn onto the frontage road. Past Kwik Trip and then onto the pothole pocked street by the DQ.

I noted the electronic sign welcoming back “your smiling faces.” And I noted, too, the posted temp of 21 degrees.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

We arrived at a good time, on a cold evening past the dinner hour, to find only one vehicle ahead of us. A red pick-up truck. I counted out dollar bills and change, $4.28, to cover the $1.99 plus tax parfaits. Once cash was exchanged for treats, I clutched the two plastic encased parfaits and Randy aimed the Chevy back home.

We passed homes still aglow in holiday lights while a country tune played on KCHK 95.5 FM out of New Prague. I’m not a country music fan and Randy listens only occasionally for the weird stories. But something about the gentleness of the song and heart-breaking lyrics appealed to me. I got the music, he got you… He got the sunshine, I got the rain…

As Ronnie Milsap crooned, I took in our surroundings. Colored lights framing a solo second-story window in an aged wood-frame house. And, a block away, an American flag hung vertically as a window covering. Along Division Street, I spotted a snow fort in a front yard, mentally marking that I need to revisit this in daylight.

At a four-way stop, I saw a screen in the maroon vehicle ahead playing some show to entertain the kids. And I wished the family would turn off the device for a moment or ten and take in their surroundings. Neon blue lights outlining a front porch. Slant of light upon snow. Snow mounding along roadways.

In my hands, the Peanut Buster Parfaits transferred cold into my fingers. And shortly thereafter, when I spooned into the ice cream and fudge traced with peanuts while snuggled under a fleece throw in the recliner, I grew colder. And, for the longest time, I couldn’t get warm on this first day of March in Minnesota.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts of spring in February February 19, 2021

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Leaves unfurling in southern Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2018.

THIS FEBRUARY MORNING, with spring still months away in Minnesota, I crave a landscape flush with color. Snow gone. Spring flowers popping. Grass greening. Trees budding.

Daffodils bloom in my front yard. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I think we all need a glimpse of warmer, sunnier days after a wicked weather week across much of our country. I feel, especially, for the people of Texas. The unseasonably cold weather of ice and snow wrought incredible challenges with no power, broken water lines, even death. I feel for anyone living in Texas.

Crocuses blooming in my yard. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Even though we’ve endured a lengthy stretch of subzero temps here in Minnesota, it’s just cold. Not destruction. Not heartache. We can manage and function and mentally remind ourselves that this won’t last forever. Temps are already rising.

Beautiful bleeding hearts bloom on two bushes in my backyard each spring. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

With those thoughts, I searched my files for photos of spring flowers. To brighten your day. To bring you joy. To remind you that in every season of life, we face challenges which stretch and test and grow us. But we can, and often do, come out on the other side as better people. More empathetic. More understanding. More grateful than ever for life, even if it’s sometimes hard.

These tulips were sent to me, as bulbs, from Paula in the Netherlands last spring. I later planted the bulbs in my yard and hope they erupt this spring. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2020.

We push through the difficulties, often with the support of loving family and friends, to bloom color into the world. Or at least that is my hope.

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BE ASSURED THAT MINNESOTA looks nothing like the photos above right now. Snow layers the land in a landscape devoid of color. Under the snow and decaying leaves, spring flowers await warmer days when the frozen earth opens to the sun and sky.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Dreaming of warmer days in Minnesota February 16, 2021

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Contrast of seasons photographed northbound along Interstate 35 near Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo January 2021.

AFTER AN ENDLESS STRETCH of subzero cold, relief is in sight. By Friday, we could see temps reaching the 20s here in southern Minnesota. Finally. That will feel downright warm after recent daytime highs not even reaching zero, temps plunging into the minus 20 degrees range and windchills as low as 50 degrees below zero.

During Arctic snaps like this, we complain a lot, warm up the car, crank up the furnace, bundle up and venture out when necessary, and even when not. After all, we have an image to maintain of hardy Minnesotans.

Secretly, and not so secretly, we dream of warmer days. Days at the lake for some. Fishing from a boat rather than an ice shack on a frozen lake. Camping. Walking outside without concern for frostbite.

As sure as the sun rises and sets, we realize that this cold spell won’t last forever. That winter will end…come April.

TELL ME: What’s the weather like in your parts?

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Valentine’s Day in brutally cold southern Minnesota February 14, 2021

Valentine’s Day weekend weather warnings for southern Minnesota.

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY from southern Minnesota, where my thoughts today focus more on the brutally cold weather than on this day of love. The weather monitor atop the fridge early this morning showed minus 18 degrees outside our Faribault home. That’s air temp. Factor in windchill, and it feels even colder.

The windchill warning on my phone yesterday.

Minnesota remains in a windchill warning with windchills of 35-50 degrees below zero. That’s biting cold. Dangerous cold. Exposed skin can freeze in a matter of minutes cold. Nothing to mess with cold.

Friends mailed this handcrafted valentine from northwestern Minnesota, where the temps and windchills are even colder than here in Faribault. I love this valentine. So thoughtful. So lovely.

If you’ve never experienced cold like this, trust me when I say I can feel the cold filtering from outdoors through the walls and windows after endless days of this frigid weather. Ice films the upstairs windows. If I pull away the rag rug positioned at the bottom of the front door to block air leaks, I’ll find a line of frost. The furnace is working overtime. Water from the kitchen faucet gushes ice cold. I’ve partially opened the cupboard door so heat can flow toward the vulnerable water pipes. No one wants pipes freezing, furnaces stopping or vehicles breaking down.

A valentine’s heart crafted decades ago by my kindergarten son from fabric and paint and, oh, so dear to me.

We postponed a weekend trip to visit our son, daughter and son-in-law in Madison, Wisconsin, because of the weather. We didn’t want to risk our van breaking down during that four-hour drive. Not that it would, but things happen.

Art from the grandchildren, given to us last weekend as an early Valentine’s Day gift. Their art adorns our fridge.

Saturday in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness east of Ely, the temp plummeted to 50 degrees below zero, according to a story on Minnesota Public Radio. If that weather station reading is confirmed, it will break a new record low for February 13 in Minnesota. The record for that date was minus 46 degrees set in 1916 in Detroit Lakes.

A weather alert banners the front page of Saturday’s Faribault Daily News.

Today’s high temp here in southern Minnesota is expected to reach only minus eight degrees. Tomorrow? Minus three.

Vintage valentines from my mom’s collection and displayed on a dining room shelf in my home.

I have no intention of going outside. Instead, I’ll write, read, enjoy a delicious valentine’s meal of tuna steak and veggies, and a glass of wine, with Randy. And I’ll think of those I love—the family I miss, friends who are dear—and summer days of green grass and flowers and the wind blowing warm breezes.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Joy on a Friday in February February 5, 2021

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2014.

HOW ARE YOU, dear friends? I don’t ask that question without expecting an honest answer.

Perhaps you’ve had a really difficult week. Like me. One filled with concern for those you love. One of endless texts and emails among family. Worry. Awake too early. Feeling stressed.

Or maybe everything is going great. And that’s good. Life is a mix of rainy days and sunny days. Or if I put that in the context of winter in Minnesota, days with snow and days without snow. Days when temps are well above zero and days when they are unbelievably cold. Like the weather predicted for the next week.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2014.

But let’s put all that aside right now and focus on flowers. Yes, flowers. When I awakened too early the other morning and couldn’t fall asleep again with pain pressing upon my head, neck and shoulders, I prayed. And then I pictured flowers. These flowers. Aren’t they lovely?

While scrolling through blog posts earlier this week, I found these images of a floral bouquet Randy gave me in February 2014, six days before Valentine’s Day. The photos brought back sweet memories and made me happy.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2014.

And happy is good. Even in difficult days that challenge us, there are ways to find joy. And today my joy comes in remembering the gift of these flowers, how they popped color into a February day and lifted my spirits seven years ago. And now again, today.

TELL ME: What brings you joy today?

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

For the love of ice skating in Minnesota February 1, 2021

This mural of “Ice Skating on the Straight River” graces the side of 10,000 Drops in downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

WAY BACK IN THE DAY, in the exuberant days of my youth, when I truly enjoyed winter, I loved to ice skate. I wore my Aunt Dorothy’s white figure skates, passed along to me. I was happy to have them.

And I was happy to find a patch of ice upon which to skate in my hometown of Vesta. Near the grain elevator. Nothing fancy. Just an open space flooded in the winter for skating.

Now my hometown is looking to offer youth more than simply a patch of ice. Local resident Jacob Kolander has started a gofundme page to raise $6,000 for a Community Outdoor Hockey Skating Rink. His goal is to erect boards and an entry gate around a rink to provide a safe place for kids to skate. So far, he’s raised $950. If you’re interested in contributing to the cause, click here.

Up in Warroad, in the northwest section of Minnesota right next to Canada, locals have created a 2.5-mile Riverbend Skate Path which has grabbed lots of media attention. It started with two families wanting to connect their ice rinks. Yes, hockey/skating is big in this part of Minnesota. Well, that initial connection expanded to include five more rinks linked via the Warroad River. And now locals are clearing and grooming the ice and looking to buy a Zamboni. Various fundraisers, like concession stands along the skating path, are aiming to generate the needed funds.

Much farther to the south in the small town of Pierz, the local library also embraces skating via lending out ice skates for a week at a time. Varied sizes, from kids to adult, are available for check out. I love this idea—just in case there are kids without an Aunt Dorothy.

TELL ME: Have you ice skated? Let’s hear your skating experiences.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The poetry of Minnesota rivers January 15, 2021

An overview of the Cannon River and the dam photographed from the river walk by the Rice County Fairgrounds/North Alexander Park.

RIVERS, STRONG AND MIGHTY, flow through our state. The Mississippi. The Minnesota. And here in my county of Rice, the Cannon and Straight Rivers.

Up close to the Cannon River on a January afternoon. Initially, I thought this pair was fishing. They were, instead, playing beside the river.

Here, on these waters, early inhabitants traveled via canoe, traded along river banks, built flour and woolen mills. And formed communities like Faribault, Northfield, Dundas and Morristown, all with waterways that run through.

Randy walks on the river walk under the bridge spanning the Cannon River along Second Avenue in Faribault. The river is to his right.

Rivers are as much about nature as they are about our history. Like railroads, they helped to shape our towns and cities. And today, while no longer of the same utilitarian use, they remain valuable assets.

Many picnic shelters grace Faribault’s riverside parks.

In my community of Faribault, the Cannon and Straight Rivers, which converge at Two Rivers Park, enhance our local outdoor spaces. The Straight winds through River Bend Nature Center and near city recreational trails. The Cannon spills over three separate dams and flows alongside North and South Alexander Parks and Father Slevin Park. The historic, and still operating, Faribault Woolen Mill sits next to the river, too, by the appropriately named Woolen Mill Dam.

Water rushes over rocks and through ice at the dam by Father Slevin Park.

I am naturally drawn to water, as I expect many of you are. There’s something about water—its power, its motion, its almost hypnotic quality, its soothing sound when rushing over rocks. It’s like poetry flowing into the land.

I stood on the narrow dam walkway to photograph water rushing over the dam on the Cannon River.

Even in the depth of winter, a river—whether iced over or still running—draws me near. To listen, like poetry read aloud. To view, like words of verse written upon paper. To photograph, like an artist and poet and writer who cares. And I do.

Water rushes over the dam along the Cannon River in Faribault.

To walk or pause beside a river is to appreciate art and history and nature. I feel connected to the rivers that trace like poetry through the landscape of southern Minnesota. My home. My place of peace and contentment when I walk beside the waters therein.

TELL ME: Do you have a favorite river? If so, please share why you appreciate this waterway.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Beauty in the greying of Minnesota January 13, 2021

Rime ice coats an evergreen tree at the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf in Faribault.

FOG TRANSFORMS THE LANDSCAPE, sometimes in to an unfamiliar place that leaves us feeling disoriented, lost. But other times, like last week here in Minnesota, fog layered trees with rime ice, creating an enchanting, almost magical world. Despite the grey that pressed heavy upon the land day after day.

Set along Minnesota State Highway 3 between Faribault and Northfield, this barn looks lovely any time of year, even in winter. Love love love this weathered building.

Photographing a world covered in frozen fog droplets proved difficult for me. My camera cannot convey the beauty the human eye sees. Yet, I managed a few images that attempt to show the other worldly qualities of a rime ice shrouded landscape.

Even the ice edging water falling over the Cannon River dam by Father Slevin Park in Faribault possesses a distinct artistry.

I find that in winter here in southern Minnesota, I must look harder to notice nature’s beauty. It’s there, but toned down, converted to black-and-white. Grey. Colorless. Yet present.

A broader view of those iced evergreen trees.

Still, I take fewer photos. Not only because I see less to document, but because the very act of exposing my fingers to the cold is uncomfortable. (I’m thankful for mittens that open to fingerless gloves, a thoughtful gift from Randy many years ago.)

I’m also cautious about icy surfaces, lest I fall and break another bone. A broken shoulder and wrist in recent years, one of which resulted in surgery, fuel that cautiousness.

The snow and ice-shrouded Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf campus is a beautiful and quiet place to walk. I love the many aged buildings including Noyes Hall, pictured here. Some day, post COVID, I need an indoor tour.

And then there’s COVID, which has certainly affected my photographic opportunities. Still, if I determine to look closely at the world around me, decide that my fingers can handle brief cold exposure, I can continue to document, to create, to pursue my passion for photography.

This week brought sunshine to Minnesota, a welcome break from all that dreary grey. We, or at least I, needed it, if anything, as a symbol of hope during these truly difficult times in our country.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling