By Joann M. Ringelstetter
When we are out shunpiking on the back roads and through the small rural towns, we do a lot of looking at maps and research materials, craning our necks, straining our eyes, and turning the car around in hopes of finding whatever it is we’re looking for at the moment. Sometimes we find what we’re looking for and sometimes we don’t.
Sometimes we look for the same thing on more than one trip because we’re so determined to find it. And sometimes, that thing we’re looking for is right in front of our noses and we still can’t find it. In February, 2000, we took a winter trip to Sauk County and had plans to find an old mill in LaValle. Ruth didn’t have any directions other than that it was in LaValle, so we drove down E. Main Street looking left and right and up and down the side streets (of which there were few).
As we approached the end of W. Main Street, the conversation went like this:
Ruth: “Huh, it’s supposed to be here in town. I wonder where it is.”
Joann: “Why don’t I pull over and we’ll have another look at the map.”
Ruth: “Well there’s not much to this town. Maybe it’s around the corner on Highway 58.”
Joann (looking in the rearview mirror): “Um, you’re not going to believe this, but we’re sitting right in front of it.”
Joann: “Turn around and look behind us.”
In looking for a place to pull over on the right, we had failed to look on the left at the end of W. Main Street. There it was as big as ever, mocking us in the rearview mirror. We had a good laugh over that and then went around the corner to see what the mill looked like from the back. It was beautiful with the dam and the ice on the Baraboo River.
In October, 2009, on a rainy Saturday morning in southeastern Minnesota, we passed an old cemetery. I didn’t see any old gravestones that would make a good photograph, but there was an old outhouse up the hill at the back edge of the cemetery.
The gate to the cemetery was open and there was the beginning of a gravel driveway there, but it quickly turned to grass just beyond the gate. Since it had been raining hard all morning, I pulled in just past the gate and put the car in park, which led to this conversation:
Ruth: “Why are you stopping here?”
Joann: “Well, I’m not sure how solid the ground is after all that rain. And anyway, the driveway doesn’t circle around. I’ll have to turn around on the grass.
Ruth: “Why don’t you just pull up near the outhouse and then back the car down to the gate when you’re done photographing.”
Joann: “Well, because I’m not that good….looking in the mirror.” (I didn’t inherit my Dad’s talent for easily backing up using the side mirrors).
Ruth (with a big smirk on her face): Did you say you’re not that good-looking in the mirror?”
At this point, the conversation turned into hysterical laughter as I turned the car off and hiked up to the outhouse, laughing all the way.
In June, 2010, Ruth and I returned to Minnesota, only this time we visited the northeast corner. On the way up there, we spent some time in Douglas County, Wisconsin. In the early evening, we went in search of a round barn, but after driving further than we thought it should have been, Ruth pulled into a farm lane so we could decide what to do next. As we were sitting there, another silly conversation took place:
Ruth: “Holy cow, get out of the car!”
Joann: “What?... Why?”
Ruth: “You have to get out of the car and look at what’s across the road.” She had seen something in the rearview mirror, but she wouldn’t tell me what.
Of course, at this point, my sense of humor took over as I thought about the old 60’s cartoon, “Underdog.” A group of people would look up in the sky and say, “It’s a bird, it’s a plane.” And then an old woman would exclaim, “It’s a frog,” to which everyone would respond, “A frog?!?” And then Underdog would swoop in and say, “Not bird, nor plane, nor even frog. It’s just little old me… Underdog.”
Well, as it turned out, it actually WAS a bird… a HUGE bird, standing on the lawn over a large egg, with a baby bird at her side. The early evening sun bathed the sculptures in a golden light. We stayed there for a while, enjoying these amusing creatures and then we headed on down the road.
Even though we didn’t find the round barn, we did find an old red gambrel roof barn reflecting in a stream. It was lit beautifully by the setting sun. After that, we hurried to Superior, Wisconsin, and managed to capture some lighthouse images before darkness set in.
When you’re out on the back roads in search of some interesting scenes, don’t forget to check the rearview mirror!