Sunday, November 7, 2010

Lost in Iowa

By Ruth A Ringelstetter

I hate to admit it, but sometimes Irwin is right. In September of 2009, Joann and I took our semi-annual trip to Iowa. We used Irwin to find the addresses of some farms we were trying to find, but for the most part, I left him turned off and just used the map.

Early on the second morning of our trip, we left our motel intending to find a round barn for first light. I set Irwin for a town to the north, along the route to the barn. Once we cleared town, I turned him off as I usually do. Joann and I must have miscalculated our drive time, since it was still pitch dark when I stopped Irwin from giving us directions. Studying the map under the small overhead light, I thought I understood where we needed to turn, but when we found the same corner twice, I should have known we had a problem. (Do you hear Irwin laughing?)

The corner we kept coming back to was supposed to have an old log cabin, but all we saw was a gas station and another newer building. Joann pulled into the parking lot, so I could study the map. If we had an address for the round barn, I would have plugged it into Irwin to let him give it a try. As it was, I studied the map until I could figure out where I had gone wrong, and we tried again.

When we finally found the round barn, there was plenty of light to photograph the barn, and we thought maybe the best of the morning light had passed.

Leaving the round barn, I picked a direction to travel that would take us towards some barns we planned to photograph that day. As we headed down the road, we came upon this windmill scene.

We wondered how it could have seemed so light at the round barn and yet, we had this beautiful orange sunrise color with these windmills. This was especially nice since I had made us miss most of the morning light.

As Joann was putting her camera away after the windmills, I asked if she wanted to check out something I had marked as “stone man” on the map. I couldn’t remember where I had read something about him and gotten directions, but since it was close, we decided to investigate.

Following the directions I had, we drove to where the stone man should be – and right by. After going about half a mile more than my directions indicated, we figured we had missed him, so we turned around and went back, driving slowly and watching the side of the road he should be on.

And when we found him, all we could say was, “That’s it?”. We decided to take his picture anyway, just to show that we had seen him.

Preparing to write this story, I searched the internet for some history on this strange character and found a book containing a little information. Not much is known about the stone man. Local historians have done extensive research and have only come up with theories. The most interesting theory is that the stone man served as a boundary marker between early settlers and Indian lands. They did find some historical accounts of him being used as a meeting spot and guidepost for travelers as far back as the 1880s. Families would meet at the stone man before heading into town for church or shopping. If one family decided not to wait for the others, they’d tie a necktie around his neck or put a bonnet on his head as a sign that they had gone ahead.

Too bad we didn’t know this about him at the time, or we might have borrowed something from Joann’s bag of extra clothing to decorate him with before we took his picture.

It just goes to show, you never know who or what you’ll find along the backroads.

Happy Shunpiking!

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