By Joann M. Ringelstetter
Autumn of 2011 was a disappointment to us because there seemed to be eternal sunshine, which makes for difficult photography due to harsh shadows and washed out colors. So Ruth watched nearby weather reports and it looked like we might find some overcast conditions in Minnesota. We then quickly planned a three-day trip to the Southwest corner of our neighboring state.
Unfortunately, it was very sunny there, too, but we made the best of it and we always took advantage of first light, which is soft and even. On the third day, we arose early and, after photographing a few lighted subjects in the town of Spring Grove, we headed for our beloved backroads. As we drove slowly along a gravel road that was high on a ridge, I told Ruth that we probably should have been there a week earlier. It was still a beautiful view, but many of the leaves had already fallen or been blown off by the wind and the colors were rather muted. Sitting along the side of the road, however, was an old green Oliver tractor that beckoned to be photographed.
I parked the car on the side of the road and started to take my camera equipment out of the back seat. And then I heard a loud voice coming from a man who was descending from the house up the hill from the tractor.
“You’re a week late!” he said with a grin.
“Yeah, we were just saying that a minute ago,” I responded.
“It was beautiful here about a week ago, before the wind and the rain came through,” he said.
As we talked, I noticed a set of steps that would allow someone to climb over the fence into the field, which would eventually lead to the valley below. There was also a sign that said, “HARTland (Hunting, Access, Recreation, and Trespassing). At the bottom, it said, “Tom and Betty Sawle.” So I asked him what the sign meant. He explained that he was more than happy to let people hunt or hike his beautiful land, as long as they asked permission first. What he didn’t appreciate was trespassing.
Then Tom asked me where we were from. I told him we were both from the Madison, Wisconsin area.
“I’m from there, too,” he said. “Well, actually, I’m from Hyde. Do you know where that is?”
“You’re from Hyde?” I asked, as it suddenly dawned on me that his last name was Sawle. “We go to Hyde all the time to photograph Hyde’s Mill. Are you related to Ted Sawle?”
“Yup, he’s my dad,” Tom replied proudly.
“Wow, it’s a small world,” I said. “I met your dad back in 1996. He was very kind to me and my family and he took the time to tell us about the mill and to show us his antique Oil Pull tractor and all of his antique tools.”
After I finished talking to Tom, I photographed his antique Oliver 70 Rowcrop Tractor and another view or two of his land. Then we headed on down the road.
A couple weeks later, there was a craft fair where I work and I had signed up to show some of my photography. As people mulled around looking at my photographs, a woman named Chris, with whom I had recently begun working, pointed to a photo of the Glade Creek Grist Mill in West Virginia and said, “That’s not MY mill.”
“Your mill?” I questioned.
Chris then told me that Ted Sawle was her grandfather and that she and her cousin had dug stones out of the mill pond to give the waterwheel enough clearance when her grandfather installed it on the mill at Hyde.
I told Chris about meeting her grandfather back in 1996 and then about meeting Tom Sawle recently in Minnesota and she informed me that Tom was her uncle.
Whenever we’re out on the back roads, no matter which state we travel through, we never know whom we might meet. And, often, it truly is a small world.