Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Way to go, Wisconsin DNR March 28, 2020

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources image

 

IF EVER WE NEED LAUGHTER, it’s now. And the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources delivered this week with A CHEESY GUIDE TO KEEPING YOUR SOCIAL DISTANCE OUTDOORS.

The second daughter, who lives in Wisconsin, where a “Safer at Home” order is now in place, texted the graphic to me this morning. While reading this message, I laughed out loud. Repeatedly.

This additional info accompanied the guide posted on the DNR Facebook page:

Hey Cheeseheads! Wisconsin’s state parks and trails are open for you to OutWiGo and enjoy some fresh air. If you head out, we encourage you to stay close to home and within your community.

Social distance is key to slowing COVID-19. Stay at least 6 feet away from others – but don’t forget about the air fives!

Kudos to the creative who came up with this idea. I always appreciate a savvy and fun media campaign. Humor resonates with people. They remember. They talk about it.

The Facebook posting certainly has people talking in the comments section. And it’s not good. Seems people are flocking to state parks and not a lot of social distancing is happening. Wisconsin isn’t the only place with this problem. I’ve heard from friends about overcrowding issues at North Carolina state parks (now closed) and even in Minnesota.

You can only do so much, I suppose. Thank you, Wisconsin DNR, for doing your best and for making me laugh today.

 

In need of laughter, a few sort of humorous stories March 24, 2020

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The grandkids play hide-and-seek behind curtains, while in Grandma and Grandpa’s care. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2020.

 

THESE DAYS I FEEL like I’m on information overload regarding COVID-19. That’s no surprise given my journalism background. I need to be informed. It’s just the way I am.

In addition to the extra media reports I’m consuming, I’ve also reached out to my family more. My eldest daughter and her family live in the Twin Cities metro. My other daughter and her husband and my son live in Madison, Wisconsin. All in major metro areas with many cases of the coronavirus. Wisconsin is now under a shelter-in-place order. I expect that in Minnesota soon.

I miss my family. My grandchildren, especially. But we are not seeing each other to protect one another. It’s the right thing to do. I expect many of you are in the same situation. I suggested to Randy that we drive to the metro and wave to the grandkids from outside their home. He thought I was joking. I was sort of serious.

For now I settle for updates from the daughter about Isabelle, almost four, and Isaac, just over a year old. Here’s a text she sent several days ago:

Yesterday the kids were pretending to go to the store to buy hand sanitizer. Izzy said, “Come on, Isaac, let’s go buy hand sanitizer.” And then they would carry their bottles around.

It’s funny. But yet it’s not.

From my Wisconsin daughter, I got this text the other evening:

John and I are going to get out of the house and go for our daily “apocalypse drive”…so strange to see barely any cars on a Friday night.

It’s funny. But yet it’s not. They are now without jobs.

Then there’s this idea from Brad, a native Minnesotan now living in the South, who suggested to me and some of his family members that we take up this activity to fill unexpected time at home:

Find your encyclopedia. Every day look up one of the Presidents, starting with George Washington. Was most interesting. Got through FDR.

One of his family members replied:

What’s an encyclopedia?

Now that’s funny.

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IF YOU HAVE a personal humorous story to share, please do so in the comments section. I’m looking for stories from your life, not from a media report or other source. I need to laugh today.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The latest observations & developments on COVID-19 from my area of Minnesota March 15, 2020

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Art from my files that seems to fit this story. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of random growth on a bridge.

 

IN A REVERSAL OF ROLES, the daughters are now concerned about their parents. Randy and me. Both daughters advised us not to attend services at our church this morning. They live in major metro areas of Minnesota and Wisconsin with confirmed cases of COVID-19. The second daughter even texted a link to a news story about a Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, church with three positive cases within the congregation.

“Is this an effort to convince the parents not to attend church?” I replied.

“Yes,” she answered. Services at our daughters’ churches have been canceled.

The Wisconsin daughter works as an independent healthcare contractor in close contact with patients. She views the current pandemic from an insider, as well as a personal, perspective. Her concern for her parents is certainly valid. But I worry about her, too, although plans are in place now to protect her and other professionals in her field.

It’s really difficult to know what to do, how much to limit your activities when you’re not in the highest risk population. But many in my Faribault congregation are and that is especially concerning as the coronavirus situation develops. Minnesota now has 35 confirmed cases, up from 14 on Saturday. Two of those newest cases are in rural areas—Renville County in southwestern Minnesota and Waseca County, right next to my county of Rice. And three have been linked to community transmission.

In a news conference today, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz announced that all K-12 schools in Minnesota will close by Wednesday while “transitioning to a different way of delivering education.” That new plan of extended distance learning is expected to be in operation by the end of March. He’s ordered schools to close from March 18-27. Faribault public schools are closing already starting Monday.

But the information that really jumped out at me today was delivered by Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm. She “strongly encouraged” those 70 and older and those at risk due to underlying health conditions to isolate themselves and to reduce interaction with the public. Perhaps I missed this in previous news conferences or statements. But this is the first time I’ve heard something this specific targeted to a specific age demographic.

Following the declaration of a peace-time state of emergency in Minnesota on Friday, state officials recommended no gatherings of more than 250 people and social distancing of six feet for groups under that. That’s resulted in thousands of cancellations, including at some houses of worship.

Malcolm also told Minnesotans to stay home from work if they’re sick rather than follow the strong Minnesota work ethic of toughing it out (and going to work sick). Randy received a text from his employer this afternoon telling all employees to stay home if they are ill. More discussion follows tomorrow at this small business.

 

Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Everywhere I see the ripples of this pandemic. Yesterday, when I stopped at the local public library to stock up on reading materials, I found the facility nearly empty. On a typical Saturday, all computer terminals would be in use, kids would be playing in the children’s area and the place would be filled with patrons.

The grocery store, however, was packed with people stocking up. In addition to our usual Saturday meat counter purchases, we picked up a few extras—canned fruit (which I never eat), Ibuprofen and Gatorade (just in case we get sick). I looked again, even at the hardware store, for hand sanitizer, to no avail.

But I picked up tidbits of information from random people I don’t know. One, from Shattuck-St. Mary’s, a private college prep school in Faribault with a sizable international population, shared how parents of students from China just want to get their kids home. As a mom whose adult son returned to Wisconsin last evening from an international conference in Florida with a layover in New York, I get it. I wanted him safely back in the Midwest.

An employee at the grocery store told me about his Waldorf College friend who is trying to get home to Barcelona, Spain. A friend worries about her pregnant daughter and family in Spain, now basically under lockdown. Many family and friends are canceling vacations and my church has canceled a March mission trip to Nicaragua.

Then there’s the dad I met at Walgreens who encouraged his daughter to go on a recent cruise and have fun. His attitude toward the whole pandemic seemed relaxed. Maybe too relaxed. But I recognize that everyone reacts differently.

None of us knows what will happen, how this pandemic will develop. I feel confident in our leadership here in Minnesota, that we are getting accurate information and good advice and that state officials are working hard to manage the growth of coronavirus. That eases my mind. Somewhat.

Today we attended services at our church, despite the daughters’ protests. We kept social distance during the service, didn’t touch the collection plate and used hand sanitizer. Maybe next week I will feel differently.

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JUST A NOTE: I feel it’s important to continue documenting what’s happening in my small corner of the world—what I am observing, what I am thinking, feeling and experiencing. It helps me to write about the situation. I want to hear from you, too, and deeply appreciate those of you who have already taken the time to add your thoughtful (and sometimes humorous) comments. We are experiencing something historic, something unprecedented and something that touches every single one of us. Be well, my friends.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Wisconsin: Quick, look before the snow melts March 5, 2020

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An iconic Wisconsin farm site photographed from Interstate 90 on February 15.

 

OH, WHAT A DIFFERENCE a few weeks make. I’m talking snow cover here. With temps rising into the 40s, even 50s in some places in Minnesota, and sun shining bright in the afternoons, the snow pack is diminishing.

 

Photographed on February 15 while traveling along Interstate 90 in Wisconsin, this tree stand appears like an island in an ocean of snow.

 

I can now see patches of grass in my lawn, curbing along streets and indications that we are getting closer to spring. As a life-long Minnesotan, though, I recognize the potential for lots more snowfall, even into May.

But for now, we’re delighting in days that lean toward spring. Sixty degrees is forecast for this weekend. Imagine how that will facilitate snow melt. And lift spirits.

 

This hillside barn is located near Madison, in an area more urban than rural.

 

That all said, I’m finally getting around to sharing snowscape photos I took in mid-February while traveling along Interstate 90 in Wisconsin, eastbound toward Madison. Scenes along that route are becoming familiar to me now given the frequency of trips to visit our second daughter, her husband and our son in the capital city.

 

A pastoral scene along I-90 in southern Wisconsin.

 

Wisconsin, for all the jokes about beer, brats and cheese, and fan fanaticism for the Packers and Badgers, is a lot like Minnesota. Friendly folks. Diverse landscape. Mostly rural with just enough urban. Interesting. I’ve enjoyed exploring Madison from botanical gardens to art museums to a repurposed mill next to my son’s apartment building.

 

In the valley east of La Crosse, the length of this barn along I-90 impresses me.

 

A picturesque farm site sits in the valley.

 

Another long barn.

 

 

With the exception of Rochester, Minnesota, and La Crosse, Wisconsin, the four-hour drive to Madison from Faribault takes us primarily through rural regions. I especially like the area east of La Crosse where high rolling hills border farm fields and farm sites in the valley. Hills and wide sky dwarf the farms, a strong visual that always impresses upon me our smallness in this vast universe.

 

This scene, especially, emphasizes our smallness.

 

Such are my thoughts as we travel. I never tire of looking at these rural scenes, often wishing we had time to follow backroads deep into the hills. We did once, years ago while vacationing, and nearly lost our way such are the twisting paths within those hills.

 

Nearing Madison, a traditional farmhouse and barn define this farm.

 

I digress. I expect if I was to photograph these sames scenes today, they would appear much different with snow no longer defining the landscape. What a difference only a few weeks make…

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Pass the salt, please, or not February 20, 2020

Interstate 90 in Wisconsin is noticeably white from road salt. It was like this all the way from La Crosse to Madison last weekend.

 

WHEN YOU’RE ON THE INTERSTATE for nearly four hours, you start to notice things. Like the semi drivers seemingly nodding behind the wheel as their rigs hit the rumble strip or drift toward your lane. Or the guy driving with his window open on a cold February afternoon because maybe, just maybe, he’s trying to stay awake. Or the driver who can’t wait even a second as he tailgates, then swoops around on the right before cutting in front of you.

All of this happened on a recent trip to and from Madison, Wisconsin, along Interstate 90. In addition to the questionable, and often frightening behavior (especially by four professional truck drivers), I noticed something else—a heavily-salted interstate. I-90 in Wisconsin stretched before Randy and me like ribbons of white.

 

There was much less salt, if any, on I-90 in southeastern Minnesota.

 

By contrast, I-90 in Minnesota appeared mostly clear of road salt. Why the difference in bordering states? I don’t know the stance Wisconsin takes on salting to cut snow and ice. But I do know that the Minnesota Department of Transportation is shifting toward a more conservative use of salt due to concerns about salt entering our waterways. We are, after all, The Land of 10,000 Lakes.

 

This sign along I-90 welcomes travelers to Minnesota along the Mississippi River by La Crosse, Wisconsin.

 

In media reports I’ve heard and read, MnDOT is taking a technological and scientific approach to treating roads in an effort to reduce salt usage. That includes pre-treating roads before storms (which uses less salt), relying on calibrations, factoring in temperature and other data to determine how roadways should be treated. It’s no longer simply a load up the trucks with salt and sand and chemicals and get out there mindset.

I appreciate this respect for our natural resources, this shift in thinking. Just remind me of that the next time I complain of icy roads or sidewalks. Or the next time Randy and I throw salt down on our icy driveway or sidewalk.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Sample billboards along Interstate 90 in Wisconsin February 19, 2020

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Drive Interstate 90 between La Crosse and Madison, Wisconsin, and you’ll see lots of billboards around the larger cities and in the area by the Dells. Edited Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

BILLBOARDS CAN CLUTTER the landscape. Too many words. Too many materialistic messages. Too much visual imprint when I’d rather see the natural surroundings.

 

As you would expect in Wisconsin, there are lots of signs for cheese places along I-90. Edited photo by Minnesota Prairie Roots.

 

But I understand the value of signs, large or small, in drawing people into businesses, to destinations, to detour off the interstate. That said, I noticed a lot of vacant billboard real estate while traveling Interstate 90 from La Crosse to Madison, Wisconsin, this past weekend. I can only speculate that in a tech driven world, this form of marketing to the masses is declining.

 

Edited photo by Minnesota Prairie Roots. Anyone know the story behind this billboard?

 

Still, I pay attention to roadside signage and noticed a billboard with a simple and profound message: FORGIVE and BE KIND. I photographed the sign within 10 minutes of Exit 69, the road to Mauston and Oxford. A LAMAR Advertising credit runs along the bottom.

FORGIVE and BE KIND. The words are simple enough. But forgiveness and the added directive to “be kind” can prove a struggle when the pain and hurt run deep. Yet, both can be achieved. It takes work. Time. Healing.

 

Another cheese sign along I-90 in south central Wisconsin. Edited photo by Minnesota Prairie Roots.

 

I’d like to hear your thoughts on the FORGIVE and BE KIND billboard and/or on billboards in general.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Welcome to Wisconsin February 18, 2020

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An ice fisherman photographed at the La Crosse, Wisconsin, rest stop.

 

I OFTEN WONDER, what do outsiders think? And, by outsiders, I mean those of you unfamiliar with a Midwest winter, specifically with the sport of ice fishing.

I mean, let’s say you’re from Miami or LA or Dallas and you’ve never seen a village of fish houses atop a frozen lake let alone vehicles driving onto and across the ice. For Minnesotans and Wisconsinites, scenes like this are simply part of our winters.

Or let’s say you pull off the interstate, like we did on Saturday along I-90 in La Crosse, Wisconsin, and you spot two guys loading fishing equipment onto a sled in a rest area parking lot. Randy and I saw exactly that.

The scene seemed so Midwest Norman Rockwell-like. Bucket and fishing gear atop a simple pull-behind sled. Fisherman layered in warm outdoor outerwear topping a red-and-black buffalo plaid flannel shirt. Paul Bunyan fashion at its finest.

As we exited the parking lot, I managed a photo. Iconic. A guy on his way to ice fish in the backwaters of the Mississippi River on a Saturday morning in mid-February. Love it.

TELL ME: Have you ever been ice fishing, or even observed an angler ice fishing? And, yes, I’ve fished through a hole in the ice on a frozen lake. Just not in recent years.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A snapshot of Madison, Wisconsin’s capital city January 27, 2020

Wisconsin’s capitol sits atop a hill in the heart of downtown Madison. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2019.

 

MADISON, WISCONSIN, is, if anything, a capital city of vast green spaces. At least that’s my observation after visiting several times. Two of my three adult children now live there. So I’m exploring, getting to know this place that doesn’t feel all that much like a large metro area.

 

Downtown Madison, around the capitol, is one busy place on a Saturday morning during the Farmers’ Market. The way some of the streets come together reminds me of the squares in greater Boston. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2019.

 

I’m comfortable here without skyscrapers defining the cityscape. The lovely domed capitol, set atop a hill, centers the walkable downtown. I’ve been to the Dane County Farmers’ Market there, albeit on a rainy Saturday that didn’t lend itself to lingering. We ducked inside the capitol to avoid the rain.

 

Randy stops to check a photo he took inside the Olbrich Botanical Gardens conservatory. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2019.

 

Madison edges two lakes. Parks along the lakes and elsewhere make this city feel welcoming to someone like me who prefers open spaces. I’ve already visited Olbrich Botanical Gardens three times.

 

Me, thrilled to see my first Andy Warhol original. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo by Miranda, December 2019.

 

And last trip here, I toured the massive Chazen Museum of Art where I delighted in Andy Warhol’s depiction of Marilyn Monroe. The museum, on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, has no admission fee but a donation box.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2019.

 

But something else grabbed my eye while out and about—a pedestrian with a bicycle wheel strapped to his back. Madison is a bike-friendly place with trails throughout the city. So seeing this should not have surprised me. But, still, it did and caused me to laugh. As a back seat passenger in my daughter’s car, I didn’t have the best spot to get a good photo. But you get the idea.

 

During an October visit, I walked along this recreational/bike trail near my daughter’s home. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2019.

 

I love this aspect of Madison, this embracing of bicyclists on a great trail system.

TELL ME: Have you been to Madison? What would you recommend I see next visit? I’ve been to the capitol, dined at several restaurants, patronized a cheese shop, but have yet to visit a brewery.

© 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

 

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