Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Morning Glory

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

It’s hard sometimes to drag myself out of bed in what most people would call the middle of the night so that Ruth and I can head out to photograph. But once we’re out there on a quiet country road and the darkness begins to change to a magical early morning light, I know that it’s all worthwhile.

In that half hour or so before the sun peeks over the horizon, the light is nothing short of glorious. There are usually no traffic noises, but rather the sounds of the natural world waking up. The insects are quietly buzzing, the birds are beginning to sing, and a tremendous feeling of peace comes over me as I set up my tripod to capture the moment.

Often in these early morning minutes, the grass is glistening with dew and I am working quickly in order to add a few precious scenes to our collection. These are usually the best photos of the day because the light is soft, the colors are vibrant, and the atmosphere is often a bit foggy.

Last Saturday, we were rewarded with these beautiful morning glory scenes at the break of day. By the end of September, it's not unusual for the morning glories to have faded away. But this year, due to the lateness of the first frost, they were still as beautiful as ever. Morning glories on a glorious morning -- what could be better than that!

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Waiting for the Dust to Settle

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

In mid-September, Ruth and I headed to the northeast section of Iowa to photograph our usual favorite subjects. We captured barns, mills, springhouses, schools, log cabins, general stores, advertising signs, windmills, farm equipment, and farm animals to name a few.

The most prevalent “subject,” though, was dust…incessant, overwhelming dust. Nearly all of the backroads in Iowa are gravel roads (or rock roads as they are sometimes called) made out of crushed limestone, making them much dustier than the gravel roads in Wisconsin. This makes for interesting challenges, not only in driving, but in protecting your camera equipment. And the fact that they hadn’t had rain for several weeks made the conditions the dustiest we’ve ever experienced in our many trips to Iowa.

It also makes for some humorous situations. For example, one barn owner who was giving us directions to another barn said, “I’ll tell you about a shortcut if you don’t mind the dust. Go down to the end of this road and take a left. There’s a stop sign there, but no one stops. Just glance both ways and go.” As we headed down the dusty road from his place, Ruth said, “Take a left up here and you don’t need to stop at the stop sign. Just look for a cloud of dust coming down the road. If there isn’t one, it’s safe to turn.”

And then there were the times when a vehicle would “blow” past us creating a huge cloud of dust, sometimes so bad that I had to slow down until I could see where I was driving. At the same time, Ruth was coughing, sputtering, and carrying on in a dramatic way to let the world know that she didn’t approve of the dust.

Years ago, on our trips to Iowa, it seemed like there was nothing but cornfields for miles on end. But the landscape is a bit different now, at least in the northeast corner. On this trip we often saw fields of yellow soybeans as far as the eye could see. And we were rewarded with beautiful early morning light on both days.

The good news about getting out there at first light is that there’s very little traffic to stir up the dust. The bad news is that you can’t help but stir it up yourself. But it all goes with the territory. Iowa is a beautiful state and there are plenty of old-fashioned rural scenes to experience…as long as you can accept the dust!

Happy Shunpiking!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Howdy Autumn!

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

Sing it with me…“It’s the most wonderful time of the year”. No, not Christmas, autumn! Fall is finally here and it’s our favorite time of the year. In northern Wisconsin, the color is reported to be 25-50% to peak. In southwest Wisconsin, where we like to spend a lot of our time, only a few trees have changed color -- the ones that just couldn’t wait to get fall underway.

In truth, the trees that are turning early are stressed for some reason; probably from several months without significant rainfall. Some maple trees always turn to their brilliant shades early to announce the arrival of fall.

A few years ago, Joann and I were out photographing on July 4th and we came across a road in Crawford County Wisconsin that was lined with brightly colored sumac. We could hardly believe our eyes. For a minute there, we thought we had entered into a parallel universe or something. In reality, there had been road construction there for months, so we think the sumac was stressed from the construction causing it to don its autumn finery much too early.

Once the season starts, it progresses much too quickly. There is never enough time to take it all in. Watch the fall color report here and go out somewhere you’ve been longing to go. Remember, though, that peak means different things to different people. So, if the fall color report tells you when an area will peak, go a couple days earlier so you don’t miss it. And if any of you are reading this and thinking, “Oh, no, if autumn is here, that means winter is just around the corner,” put that thought out of your minds. Instead, hit the backroads and enjoy the crisp fall weather and the beautiful fall colors. You won’t regret it.

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

"Are you crazy?!"

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

Even people who know about our intense passion for hitting the backroads in search of a good photograph still think we’re nuts. “Are you crazy?!” they say in disbelief. While everyone else is turning off their alarm clocks to catch a few more hours of sleep on the weekend, we are turning our alarms to an even earlier time based on the sunrise. We want to be at our first photo stop at the butt-crack of dawn. We start by looking up what time sunrise will be and then we start to count backwards.

“Let’s see”, Joann will say, “if sunrise is at 6:30, and we’re going to Richland County, that’s about an hour and 15 minutes, and we want to be there 45 minutes before sunrise, then we’ll have to leave my house at 4:30.” I say “ok”, and then calculate again – Let’s see, if we have to leave by 4:30, I’ll need to arrive at her house by 4:15 so we can load the car (food, camera equipment, GPS, maps, logs, binoculars, jackets, etc.), then 30 minutes to Joann’s house, plus 30 minutes to get ready. I need to set my alarm for 3:15.

I see a lot of stars and the moon and very little else as I drive between my house and Joann’s. If there are enough stars in the sky, I can tell if the sky has any character. Most days I’m ok with being up that early. Some days, though, one or both of us are dragging, but that doesn’t stop us from going. Last weekend for instance, we were both yawning before we reached Richland County, so we started with Mountain Dew before we hit our first backroad and long before breakfast (since we’re not coffee drinkers). But once we get on the backroads, the excitement of what’s around the next corner keeps us going.

Sometimes we get to the area early, and the first road we drive finds us in front of something to photograph, but there is not enough light in the sky to get a picture. Joann will get out and set up her camera and give it her best try, but sometimes, there she stands in the middle of the road, waiting for a little more light before she can snap the picture. Talk about being eager to photograph!

Sometimes in the 45 minutes before sunrise, we can tell the color will be good. The sky starts with a slight pink glow and the question becomes, “Where can we find a good sunrise silhouette?” That is something that is easier said than done. If we were normal landscape photographers, the answer would be to know of a spot, be there before sunrise, get the camera all set up, and wait.

But since we never know what we’re looking for, finding something at sunrise isn’t easy. Occasionally, we luck out and find a spot that would make a good silhouette, so we park and wait. Other times, Joann drives chasing the sunrise and I just follow along on the map. After the color fades or the sun becomes too high in the sky, we return to our normal method, where I watch the map and select roads to drive based on road names, direction, a half-baked plan, and sometimes, just dumb luck.

If you can’t get back to sleep some morning, go out and catch the sunrise. I hope it’s a good one.

Happy shunpiking!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

For Teddy

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

Whenever we head out for a day of photographing, we always have an area and an agenda of sorts in mind. And in most cases, we end up capturing at least some of the things we had intended to photograph. But more often than not, we are rewarded with something that we never expected, something that touches our hearts, something simple, but profound.

On August 29, 2009, we began our day before dawn, exploring the Stoughton, Wisconsin area. At one point, we stopped at the Cooksville Store and I captured this patriotic flag scene. Around 4:00 pm, we started heading for home. Although I was getting very tired, we decided to go on a mission to photograph some weeping willows that someone had asked for. After completing our mission, it was close to 6:00 pm and I said, “I can’t wait to get home. I’m really beat.” But the universe had one more opportunity in store for us.

The quickest route home took us past a historical farmhouse that I had photographed before in the winter. This time, it had an American flag flying out front at the edge of the porch. I had wanted to find an old-fashioned porch scene with an American flag flying and here it was. I pulled over in a nearby parking lot and called the owner to ask if it was okay to photograph the scene. She graciously gave me permission and then explained that she had spent the day watching the funeral of Senator Ted Kennedy on TV. And when it was over, she knew she needed to display the flag in his honor.

As she explained this to me, I could feel how much Teddy’s death had touched her heart. I could feel the mourning of the end of an era and I was grateful that I was allowed to capture it with my camera.

Happy Shunpiking!

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

“The Fog Comes On Little Cat Feet”

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

Over the past few weeks, there have been many foggy mornings that made driving to work difficult. But when fog comes on the weekend, it provides great photographic opportunities for us. The past two weekends, Ruth and I have ventured out way before first light in order to capture some early morning foggy scenes.

Several years ago, around 4:30 am on a workday, I was jolted awake by a phone call from a friend of mine who lived high on a hill. “Wake up! There’s fog in the valley!” she said. She worked the early shift and had driven down the hill into the fog at ground level. She urged me to grab my camera and head to the edge of the hill so that I could photograph the fog in the valley at the break of day. I did just as she suggested and I was rewarded with some great photos that I recorded on film and will hopefully find time to scan to digital some day. Here is a similar scene I captured this past weekend.

Fog is a funny thing. Sometimes it’s so thick that it’s hard to see anything. And other times, it makes us see things that aren’t there. I remember a foggy December day when we were participating in the annual Christmas Bird Count. The fog was very thick the entire morning and, at one point, someone in our group said she was sure there was a Canada Goose on the creek. The rest of us thought it wasn’t moving, but she insisted. So we set up the spotting scope to verify her sighting. It was a Canada Goose, all right. Unfortunately, it was also a decoy.

Fog can hang thick and appear unmoving. It can also move very quickly. Two weeks ago, while photographing in the fog in Sauk County, Wisconsin, I set up my camera to capture a foggy windmill scene. I lined up the shot and just as I reached for my remote to trip the shutter, the windmill disappeared into the fog. So we ended up moving on down the road to capture this beautiful church scene.

Here is a poem by Carl Sandburg that captures the magic of fog:


The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

Happy Shunpiking!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Beautiful Fruits of Nature

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

Our photographing journeys always present us with an opportunity to learn something new. Often when I leave the car and head down the road with my gear in tow, Ruth looks closely at whatever is growing in the ditches beside the car. And when I return to the car, she says, “What do you suppose that is?” as she points at something in the ditch. After we figure out what it is and then see it a couple more times, we can identify it immediately. For instance, we’re now quite familiar with Highbush Cranberries, which turn from orange to red as summer turns to fall.

Last weekend, on an early morning shunpiking adventure, Ruth discovered bunches of blazing blue “berries” amidst yellowish green leaves. We always carry numerous nature field guides in the car (and often joke about how we could use a sidecar for our library), but many times, after a long time of searching through the books, we come up empty-handed. In this case, we needed the help of the Internet when we got home, and still couldn’t figure it out. After some serious detective work, we finally determined that what we had photographed was the fruit (or seeds) of the Blue Cohosh herb.

Blue Cohosh is a medicinal herb that was popular with Native American tribes and was used mainly as a “woman’s herb.” It is also called Blue Ginseng, Papoose Root, or Squaw Root.

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Five Ways to Celebrate Autumn

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

Fall is an excellent time to experience shunpiking. If you plan to take any of the backroads that you are not familiar with, be sure to have a good backroads map. We like the DeLorme Atlas and Gazetteer series. Pick a nice day when the weather suits your desire. You might enjoy a nice sunny warm day, or you might prefer a cool day with the feeling of fall in the air. Regardless of the day you pick, everywhere you turn, there is something to enjoy about the season.

Here are some things you can try on your journeys. Please note that the web site links may not include all orchards, pumpkin patches, etc. They are merely a starting point for your planning.

Shunpike your way to an apple orchard. You might already have a favorite local orchard, or you might want to try a new one. Buy some fresh apples to snack on. Buy extra to bake an apple pie, make some apple fritters, or cook up some homemade applesauce. If you don’t bake, many of the orchards have a bakery where you can buy a premade pie. Don’t forget to treat yourself to an apple cider doughnut or a caramel apple.

Take a drive to a pumpkin farm and pick out some pumpkins. Some farms give you a horse-drawn or tractor wagon ride out to the pumpkin patch to pick the biggest pumpkin you can carry. Maybe you’ll find a farm with a pumpkin catapult or corn cannon. Farms usually have other items for sale including winter squash, mums, straw bales, corn shocks for decorating, and other fall gift items. Pumpkin Patches and More

Locate a corn maze and see if you can find your way through it. Don’t worry that you’ll be lost until the corn is harvested. You’ll be given a tall flag so that spotters know your whereabouts. They also offer you clues to assist you in finding your way through and some mazes offer prizes for solving puzzles while you navigate the maze. Many are open evening hours for moonlight or haunted maze experiences. Corn Maze Directory

Enjoy the colors of fall foliage. Notice the different colors in the farm fields. In early autumn, the corn starts turning from green to gold, and the soybeans turn a bright yellow before they fade to gold and finally a deep brown at harvest time. Stop at a park or a trail and take a hike in the woods. Listen to the fallen leaves as they rustle beneath your feet. (Don’t forget to stop at the park office and get a trail guide. Some of the trails are long and strenuous and the park staff will help you pick an appropriate trail for your hike.) Many states have fall color updates. Here is the Wisconsin Fall Color Update site. Wisconsin Fall Color Update

As you drive, watch the harvested farm fields for groups of Sandhill Cranes. The cranes begin to gather together in late summer in preparation for fall migration. In Wisconsin, it’s possible to find groups of several hundred cranes foraging in a field. The best times to see the cranes are early morning or late afternoon. If you find a flock of cranes, pause and watch the group to see if the cranes will dance for you.

Whatever you decide to do this year to celebrate Autumn, be safe and Happy Shunpiking!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Colorful Summer's End

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

On one of our recent shunpiking journeys, at the break of day, we came upon what we think is a seed farm for prairie flowers. First we saw a field of black-eyed susan, and then further down the road a field of rough blazing star. The sun was just making its way above the horizon and these flowers were glowing bright purple in the early morning light.

Around mid-morning as we came through the town of Edgerton, Ruth spotted an old-fashioned picket fence that totally surrounded a home. Running all along this beautiful picket fence were thousands of black-eyed susans, waving in the cool morning breeze. As I knelt down to photograph this lovely scene, I noticed the bustle of a smaller world. There were bees, beetles, and many other insects busily making their way from one flower to the next.

One of the benefits of driving along the roads less traveled is the chance to drive slowly and take a closer look at the wonders of nature. It’s easy to see the glorious colors of fall when it is in full swing, but there are amazing colors at the end of summer when you stop and move in close. The fruit of the Virginia Creeper vine has some of the most vibrant blues and reds.

Many years ago, in the final year of our mother’s young life, I went for a late summer drive to the Spring Green area with her and Dad. I think that somehow, deep inside, she knew this would be her last chance to experience the seasons in all their glory. As we traveled down the road, she observed the waning of summer with childlike wonder, asking, “Why does everything look so different?”

The trees had not yet begun to transform themselves into the blazing colors of fall. And yet, something was different. The vegetation along the roadside was beginning to dry out and its golden hues were glimmering in the late afternoon sun. I sat in the back seat humbled by the experience of watching her storing snapshots in her mind and heart as I now capture the same with my camera.

Happy Shunpiking!