Monday, February 21, 2011

Snakes in the Willow Tree

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

In the summer of 2009, my friend, Desiree, asked me if I had any photos of weeping willow trees. Now, if someone would ask me if I had any photos of barns or mills or even old GEM water pumps, I wouldn’t have to even think about it. I just know that I do. But weeping willow trees? Hmmm, after 30 years of photographing, I couldn’t think of one time that I had taken just a weeping willow tree.

I’ve singled out maple trees in the fall (my favorite), oak trees and pine trees in the winter, crab apple, red bud, and dogwood trees in the spring. But weeping willow trees? Why had I never taken a photo of a weeping willow tree? Is it because they are best in the summer and summer is my least favorite time to photograph due to the heat and humidity? It seemed like maybe we just hadn’t had that many opportunities over the years to photograph a good weeping willow tree.

Desiree had told me that weeping willow trees reminded her of her mom. Well, Ruth and I are suckers for stuff that reminds us of our mother, so we decided to make it our mission to find some good weeping willow shots for Desiree. And lo and behold, when we put our focus on them, they started appearing out of nowhere, as if the universe had heard our request. Ruth said, “Who put that there? I don’t recall seeing so many weeping willow trees before!” I guess we just never paid any attention to them.

Often when we’re on the backroads looking at a particular subject, we are reminded of something from our childhood. In this case, we remembered visits to our cousins’ farm where they had a huge weeping willow tree next to the driveway and it was beckoning to be climbed. But one of our cousins (I won’t name names, but you know who you are, David) told us that we’d better stay out of the weeping willow because there were snakes up in the branches.

We don’t see our cousins all that often, but last weekend, we had the pleasure of spending an evening with our aunts and uncles, and our cousin David was there, too. We reminded him of the episode with the snakes in the weeping willow. He said, “I told you that?” as he laughed heartily. We then reminded him that we were also told that we couldn’t go in the basement with them because they were doing science experiments down there and it might be dangerous. At this point, he mumbled something about ruining his mother's coffee grinder. Anyway, while our older brother and sister went down in the basement to see the science experiments, we stayed in the living room playing with the Lincoln Logs.

When David asked us if we were going photographing the next day, we told him that we had plans to hunt up an old school near Witwen, Wisconsin that we had somehow driven past without seeing at least once. We did go out the next day and we did find the old school, which we had originally thought might have been a church.

When I got home and checked my email, there was an email from David. The subject was “snakes and basements.” The message was simply, “WITWEN out for the ‘HOOP SNAKES’.......................” I had never heard of a hoop snake, but I figured David was up to his old tricks. So, naturally, I Googled hoop snakes and found out that the hoop snake is a legendary creature referred to in the Pecos Bill stories. A hoop snake can supposedly grasp its tail in its mouth and roll after its prey. These mythical snakes have allegedly been seen in the St. Croix River Valley of Wisconsin.

Sorry, David, we didn’t see any hoop snakes near Witwen that day, but we did have a nice time capturing some winter scenes on the last day before all the snow melted in a February thaw. It just goes to show you, you can’t believe everything you hear.

Happy Shunpiking!


  1. THANK YOU!! Awww I love the willows... We know which one I'm getting. :)

  2. Uncle Paul knows all about hoop snakes! :)

  3. Do you happen to remember what road the school is on? I'd love to photograph it myself. Thanks!

    1. Scott, due to consideration for the property owners and to ensure respect for historic structures, we do not share specific location information.