by Joann M. Ringelstetter
The unseasonably cool weather of the past few days reminds me that my favorite time of year, autumn, is just around the corner. Last year, on the last Sunday of September, Ruth and I spent the day photographing in Vernon County, Wisconsin. Our favorite part of Vernon County is the Amish area, which we love to visit every year, especially in the fall.
As I stood on the gravel road in the waning daylight photographing an old red school house, I heard the clip-clop of horses’ hooves in the distance. As the Amish horse and buggy approached, it slowed to a stop and the young Amish man said, “Good evening.” The two young girls, one on each side of him, nodded and smiled. I have always found the Amish to be very polite, and often a bit shy, but very enjoyable to talk with. We conversed for a few minutes and then with a “Giddy up!” they continued down the road.
There are lots of “signs” to tell you when you’ve entered an Amish area. The easiest ones are the yellow signs displaying a silhouette of an Amish horse and buggy, the buggy tracks on the road (both gravel and pavement), and, of course, the tell-tale horse apples along the road.
Also look for hand-painted signs offering things like quilts, furniture, harnesses, baked goods, candy, honey, vegetables, and night crawlers. The give-away on these signs is “No Sunday Sales,” because the Amish are firm in their opposition to doing business on the Lord’s Day.
Finally look for farms with old fashioned windmills and no electric wires, pastures filled with draft horses, and horse-drawn farm machinery, like the red corn binder in this photo.
The corn binder is used to cut corn stalks near the ground, which are then hand-gathered by the hundreds, stacked vertically into a tepee-shaped structure, and bound into shocks that are maybe five or six feet in diameter at the base. This allows the corn to dry in the fields while the farm family tends to more pressing needs, such as cutting wood for the long winter or planting winter wheat. It also allows the shucking to be postponed until the less busy winter days.
When you decide to go shunpiking on the backroads of Amish country, remember these things: Drive slowly and watch for buggies on the road, be mindful of “No Sunday Sales,” and respect the fact that the Amish do not want their picture taken if their face is visible.