Sunday, March 25, 2012

Spring is Sprung

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

When we were kids, we used to recite a short poem that went like this:

Spring is sprung,
The grass is riz,
I wonder where
The flowers is!


I searched the Internet to find the author of this little poem, but it appears that no one is sure. And, regardless of the author, the last two lines don't really apply this spring, at least here in Wisconsin. Despite the fact that we’re usually still experiencing cold weather and sometimes snow at this time of year, spring is in full bloom.


Ruth and I decided we’d better hit the road and try to capture some spring scenes this weekend. So we headed out at the crack of dawn on Saturday. It’s rather odd to see some trees, like the oaks and maples, still bare, and the daffodils, tulips, forsythia, and even some crabapples in full bloom. What is also very unusual is how green the grass is. Some people are even breaking out their lawnmowers.


Last year in May, Ruth and I stumbled on a sheep farm and had a great time watching all the lambs and the donkey that was in charge of protecting them. This year, we didn’t expect to see lambs this early, but we discovered a pasture full of sheep and lambs. It seemed that every single ewe in the pasture had two lambs.


Some were sleeping. Udders…I mean, others were drinking from their mothers and we couldn’t help but cringe as we watched them slam their heads against the mothers’ udders. Still others were frolicking around the pasture. Ruth said that was her favorite find of the day.


The next thing we stumbled on was a true blessing. We have been wishing for the past couple of years that we would find the time to hunt up some pasque flowers. But we never seem to take the time to visit any prairies in early spring. On Saturday, they magically and unexpectedly appeared before us.


The Pasque Flower is one of the earliest flowers to bloom in prairies. Its name refers to the religious holiday of Easter when the flowers are often in bloom. It is also known as the Easter Flower and is the state flower of South Dakota.


After enjoying the pasque flowers, which were covered with raindrops from the early morning rain we experienced, we headed to the small town of Postville, where there is an old blacksmith shop that was built in 1856.


For some reason, even though we have visited this town on several occasions, Ruth noticed a totally different location from which to photograph the blacksmith shop. Because it was a main road with no shoulder, I drove the car to a location where it would be safe to park and I walked back. After photographing the blacksmith shop, with Dougherty Creek making a nice pattern in the image, I began to walk back to the car.

As I passed a farm, I heard a cow bellowing. At first I couldn’t see any cows, but then I realized there was a Jersey cow sticking its nose out of a broken pane in the barn window. It was as if she was mooing, “Hey, can you get me out of here so I can enjoy the nice spring day?”


Next, we drove over near the blacksmith shop and I took a few more photos from close up. As I turned around, I saw a cat who was sitting on the lawn watching me and enjoying the weather.


By this time, it was way past lunch time and we were starving, not to mention the fact that we desperately needed to find a restroom. So we headed toward New Glarus. If you know anything about us, though, you know that we never make a “bee line” anywhere. In this case, we passed several bee hives and they were rather colorful, so I just had to take a few shots. The bees were busy buzzing around the hives, which is amazing for late March.


In today’s newspaper, there was an article about the disadvantages of such warm weather so early. Everything is blooming, so if we get freezing weather in April, it could spell disaster for businesses such as the apple orchards. We’re hoping that doesn’t happen, along with hoping for a return to a bit cooler weather rather than the July-like temperatures we’ve been experiencing lately.

Happy Shunpiking!
Joann

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Forest Grove School, Scott County, Iowa

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

Along a well-traveled stretch of road, north of Bettendorf, Iowa, sits the old Forest Grove one-room school. The school was built circa 1873 and the doors closed on the last class in 1957. The school then became the property of the Blunk family, who farmed the land surrounding it.

From the first time I saw a picture of it and shared it with Joann, we knew we had to find a way to visit it before it was too late.


In June of 2011, I tried to make it part of a trip that included visiting our niece in Bettendorf. We left home in the early afternoon with a long list of locations to visit along the route to our motel. As usual, we were running late as we neared the area, so we had to pass it by.


Then as we planned our October trip to Iowa, Joann asked if we could be sure to include this school. We never have a definite location in mind for our fall trip, so I said yes, and then set about planning a route that would include this school. My plan was to visit the school on our way home.


We arrived at the school in the late afternoon on Sunday and, luckily, the lighting was cooperative. The school has a very ornate name plate on the front, and pieces of the lettering are beginning to fall away. The foundation on both sides has mostly crumbled away and the building is beginning to bow in the middle.


The floor inside is unsafe and the original bell tower is long gone. The empty frames of old swing sets sit on both sides of the school.


We always wish that someone would save these old architectural treasures. In this case, that might actually happen. The school has stood silent and waiting for 55 years. Now the wait might be coming to a close.


Delbert Blunk, who owned the school until his death in 2011, attended the school in the 1930s, as did his two older sons. In the 1970s, long after the school was closed, his daughter and her friends played in the school. At that time, the school still had windows, desks, and a chalkboard. Delbert always thought that he would like to restore the school, but he was a farmer, and tending to the land always came first.


As I started my research for this post, I found that there has been a flurry of activity in the last month to save the school. A Forest Grove Preservation web page has been put together with history of the school and an option to make a donation to save the school.


The school has appeared multiple times in the Quad-city Times with stories about the school and the efforts to save it. All of this is good news. An architect has examined the school and will be submitting a report, but his indications are that the school is unique and can be saved.


The most immediate need is to stabilize the school before it falls in on itself. Even if grants are available, they might not be available in time.


The school has long been a destination for photographers, and we would be so happy if it was saved. We’re glad that we went to visit it, and that we have it recorded in photos, but we would be thrilled to visit it again after it is restored.

As you travel the backroads, and the not so back roads, enjoy the history around you. You never know how long it will be there.

Happy Shunpiking!
Ruth

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Goodbye Winter, Hello Spring!

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

In early January of this year, Ruth wrote about how we had been waiting all winter for some snow. On Friday, January 20, we received about three inches of snow. We usually wait a day for the back roads to be cleared, so we didn’t go out to photograph until Sunday. Unfortunately, it began to mist, then sleet shortly after we began to photograph. So we ended up heading home sooner than we would have liked.


Following that snowfall, we went into a warmer than normal February, with only occasional light dustings of snow. Then on Friday, March 2, we received five inches of snow. However, the snow depth on the farm fields wasn’t all that good and what I really needed were more winter images for next year’s scenic calendar. So I decided to go out at dawn on Sunday morning to hike through some of the local nature preserves, leaving Ruth at home to continue her research for our spring photography trip.


Around 6:15 a.m., I looked outside and realized that we had gotten another dusting of snow overnight.

Great! That will only help with the nature scenes I’m hoping to capture!

As I headed down the road, it started to snow again. When I arrived at Pheasant Branch Conservancy, which is only about five miles from my home, it was snowing more heavily. I grabbed my gear and began walking down the trail along Pheasant Branch Creek.


The trails through this conservancy used to be more like deer trails with stepping stones that were used to cross the creek (three different times if you took the entire trail from Century Avenue to Park Street). As I walked along the now wider asphalt trails looking toward the new footbridge that crosses the creek, I couldn’t help but reminisce about “the old days” when fewer people used the trails and skipping across the stones was a test of skill and balance. When I got to the bridge, I realized that the stepping stones were still in place, even though the trail now leads you across the bridge.


When I left the conservancy, it was snowing huge flakes and it was getting difficult to keep my camera lens dry. I next headed down by Lake Mendota, but didn’t see any photo opportunities there. It was snowing so hard that I decided I should probably just head home. But then the snow let up, so I continued over to Lakeview Park. By the time I got there, it was again snowing very hard, so I again started to head home. And then it let up again and it seemed like it might be done snowing. So I decided to go to the UW Arboretum.


By the time I arrived at the Arboretum, it was snowing to beat the band, so I decided to call Ruth and ask her to look up some information about my next planned stop, which I’ll tell you about in a minute. Ruth lives about 30 miles from the Arboretum and she told me that it wasn’t snowing a bit at her house. She had watched the news and they said that the snow had totally moved away from Madison towards Milwaukee.

Hmmm, not from where I’m sitting.


So she looked on the radar and there was a tiny “bubble” sitting right over Madison. Then she suggested that I just take an umbrella to protect my camera.

Now, why didn’t I think of that?!

I grabbed the umbrella out of the back and headed over to capture the stone arch bridge leading into the Arboretum.


Then I drove down Arboretum Drive, parked my car, grabbed my gear (and my umbrella since it was still snowing), and hiked into the Wingra Woods area. The sign at the start of the trail said something about icy trails, but they beckoned me anyway.


It was incredibly peaceful and quiet in the woods as the snow fell softly and the sun tried to come out in spite of the snow. After a long, meditative stroll, I returned to the car and headed over to Tenney Park on Madison’s near east side. My mission was to capture an old bridge that was built over the lagoon in 1929.


Ruth and I have fond memories of Tenney Park, both in summer and in winter, but we had never photographed there. In the ‘60s, we lived on a farm north of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. There were just over 100 acres and we milked about 30 cows. During the summer, in between harvesting crops of hay, Mom and Dad would take us to Tenney Park to swim in Lake Mendota.


Tenney Park is well-known for the ducks that frequent the lagoon. The lagoon is also famous for ice skating in the winter. This is the other fond memory we have of Tenney Park. After I graduated from high school and moved into Madison, Ruth would join me for some winter skating on the Tenney Park lagoon.


As I was leaving Tenney Park that day, I noticed rows of colorful canoes stacked on the other side of the Yahara River Parkway that runs between Lakes Mendota and Monona. It reminded me that spring is close at hand and people will soon be canoeing once again.


Next week’s weather forecast calls for most days to be in the upper 60s and low 70s. I took a walk in my woods today and didn’t see any flowers popping up yet, but the snow just melted two or three days ago. With next week’s warm weather, I expect to see some crocuses bursting forth any day now.


Happy Shunpiking!
Joann

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A Roadside Philosopher

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

In early September of 2011, Joann and I took a rambling photography trip that had us heading east in the morning, and returning from the west in late afternoon. The last thing I had on my list for the day was an old cemetery on a backroad close to the highway home. All I knew was the name of the cemetery, so I took us down the road that I thought it was on.


We didn’t find the cemetery I was looking for, but we did find a small pioneer cemetery with just a couple of gravestones. Even though it wasn’t the one on my list, we stopped to check it out.

After a few photographs in the cemetery, we started to head for home. As we drove toward the highway, we saw something on the side of the road that made both of us start laughing, so Joann turned the car around.


Sitting a little ways off the road was a large blackboard with a saying on it. Joann couldn’t resist taking a few photos. We wondered about the person writing the sayings on the board.

Driving home we decided that we should try to pass by whenever we ventured west to see how often the messages changed.

In early fall we headed west in the pre-dawn hours. It was too dark to stop at the blackboard, but we thought about it as we passed by on the highway, and we decided that we would try to get back from our two-day trip with enough light to photograph the sign on the way home.


After a productive two days photographing near the Mississippi, we headed home, and we managed to make it to the sign before dark. A new message was waiting to greet us.


This fall was an unusual one, and after we thought the fall color was over, we noticed that there was a second wave of color on the hillsides. We decided another trip to the west was in order.

This time we didn’t go too far from home, but we did find some color. It’s always nice to find corn shocks in the fields around Amish farms. As we stopped to take photos, a dog came running over to say hello and to get a pet or two.


On the way home we visited the blackboard again to get a chuckle and a few photos. Since it was early enough, we tried to stop at the closest house to see if they could tell us the story of the blackboard and the sayings. No one answered the door. And no one answered at the house across the street either.


Then shortly before Thanksgiving, we wanted to pick up some extra winter squash and to take some to our youngest sister. Another trip near the sign was in order. This wasn’t much of a photography trip, but there are always things we can photograph even when we say that’s not our mission.


Plus, it was an excuse to visit the sign again to check for a new message. After all, we were close, and we aren’t ones to pass up an opportunity.


On our one winter trip this year, we stopped to photograph an old school not too far from Joann’s house. Somehow we had managed to drive by the school for years, but had never stopped for a winter picture. This time we finally stopped.


And we also planned our route to take us past the blackboard. We had wondered if the blackboard would be empty for the winter, but it had a new (to us anyway) message on it.


These blackboard messages brought back memories for me of writing a daily saying on the small blackboard that hung on the milk house door. Every morning before milking started, I would write a funny saying on the blackboard. I had to see if I could get a chuckle out of the hired men to start their day.

For now this philosopher is a mystery to us. We were lucky to stumble on the blackboard, and luckier still that it is along the way for many of our photography expeditions. Maybe in the future we’ll find someone home who knows the rest of the story.

Happy Shunpiking!
Ruth