Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Moonlight, Starlight, I Hope to See a Ghost Tonight!

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

When witches go riding,
and black cats are seen,
the moon laughs and whispers,
‘tis near Halloween.
~Author Unknown

Halloween is upon us and houses and yards are decorated with witches, ghosts, and other ghoulish things. I can’t help but be reminded of a game we played on the farm when we were kids. We would wait until it was very dark outside and then we would begin our game of Moonlight, Starlight.

One person was designated as the ghost and they would run off and hide as the rest of the kids sat on the steps, covered their eyes, and counted very slowly and loudly.

“One O’clock…..Two O’clock…..Three O’clock…..Four O’clock…..Five O’clock…..Six O’clock…..Seven O’clock…..Eight O’clock…..Nine O’clock…..Ten O’clock…..Eleven O’clock…..Twelve O’clock….MIDNIGHT!”

“Moonlight, Starlight, I hope to see a ghost tonight!”

Then we would all spread out in search of the ghost. The goal was to catch a glimpse of the ghost, but not get caught by him or her. If any of us got close to where the ghost was hiding, he or she would jump out of the shadows and chase us. Once we saw the ghost, we had to get back to the steps before being touched by the ghost.

Anyone who wasn’t fast enough to reach the steps before being touched by the ghost would be turned into the ghost for the next round. The game continued like this, with pounding hearts and screams, until Mom came out and dragged us off to bed.

Halloween originated thousands of years ago at an ancient Celtic festival. Various Halloween customs were brought to America by the first European immigrants. As millions of immigrants poured into America in the second half of the nineteenth century, they contributed to popularizing Halloween as a national celebration.

I’ll end this post with a few words from Jeff Foxworthy – You might be a redneck if the Halloween pumpkin on your front porch has more teeth than your spouse.

Happy Haunting!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Amish Corn Harvest (Minnesota Blessing Number 1)

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

On the first weekend in October of this year, Ruth and I spent three days photographing on the backroads of Minnesota. Throughout that weekend, we were blessed with numerous unexpected opportunities to meet some very friendly folks and to have them share information with us and allow us to photograph them and their special properties.

On Saturday morning, we left home at 3:00 am in order to be in Pickwick, Minnesota at first light. Our intention was to photograph a six-story stone mill, but when we arrived there in the dark, we knew there would be no opportunity to photograph this historic mill. The town was still recovering from a flood and things were in total disarray around the mill. As I assessed the situation, it began to rain, and this rain continued throughout the entire day.

Rainy weather presents some very interesting challenges when you’re trying to photograph, but it also bears the gifts of saturated colors and even lighting. The challenges I faced that Saturday were small compared to the challenges of a group of Amish men who were attempting to harvest the corn they had cut before the rain began.

We knew that we were in an Amish area, but since it was raining, we didn’t expect to find anyone working in the fields. As we came down a gravel road, we were surprised to have stumbled upon a corn harvest in progress, in the driving rain.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m very respectful of the Amish not wanting to have their picture taken. As I got out of the car with the intention of asking permission to photograph the teams of horses, a good-looking Amish gentleman who was loading a wagon near the road shouted, “You got your camera?” I said, “I sure do.” “Well, then,” he replied, “why don’t you take some pictures of us and put them in the paper. You can tell everyone about these crazy Amish guys who were so desperate to get their corn in that they were harvesting in the rain!” And then he told me that I could take as many pictures as I wanted.

So I grabbed my tripod, camera, and umbrella and began to photograph this amazing event. There were a total of six teams of work horses, each pulling a large wagon. Most of the time, there were three wagons in the field being loaded with cut corn stalks, one on the way to the silo, one at the silo where the corn was being chopped and put into the silo, and one on the way back to the field for another load.

In addition to the six teams of horses and wagons, there was a young boy waiting with a team of horses at the corner of the field. As soon as a wagon was fully loaded with corn, it would be pulled to the corner of the field where the young boy’s team would be hooked to the front of the team with the loaded wagon. Both teams of horses would then pull with all their might to get the heavy wagonload of corn up the embankment and onto the gravel road.

Ruth was in the car watching and I was standing in the rain capturing as much of the action as I could without getting in the way of their work. At one point, Ruth (bless her heart) stood in the rain holding the umbrella over me so that I had two hands free to work my camera controls and zoom lens as the teams came up out of the field onto the road in front of us. The action was fast and furious and it was accentuated by the steam coming off the horses, the sounds of horse hooves and harnesses, men talking to each other and to their horse teams, and smiles as they drove their teams past us.

We are grateful for the generosity of these men in allowing us into their world. This was an event that we never expected to see and certainly didn’t expect to be given permission to photograph. And it is something we will remember forever.

Happy Shunpiking!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Why Did the Woolly Bear Cross the Road?

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

This time of year, Ruth and I spend a lot of hours traveling the backroads in search of fall color scenes to photograph. And as our tires roll down the road, we see one woolly bear caterpillar after another making its way across the road.

There are numerous species of woolly bear caterpillars. One of them is called the Yellow Woolly Bear or Yellow Bear Caterpillar. Two years ago at the end of September, we had gotten out of the car to get a close-up look at a shagbark hickory tree that was loaded with nuts. Soon I noticed a yellow bear caterpillar clinging to a thin stem that was blowing in the wind.

As I concentrated on getting the yellow bear in focus in spite of the wind, Ruth started laughing and said, “Don’t look now, but there’s a woolly bear on your butt.” I thought she was kidding, but she wasn’t. Woolly bears supposedly cross the road in the fall in search of a place to spend the winter. I guess I should have had a “No Vacancy” sign on my butt!”

The banded woolly bear is the species with which you are probably most familiar. Some say the woolly bear can forecast the severity of the winter by the width of its reddish brown band – if it’s wide, the coming winter will be mild; if it’s narrow, the winter will be severe. In reality, the reddish brown band gets wider as the caterpillar matures. It could also have something to do with the moisture in the woolly bear's environment.

Fall signals the woolly bear to seek shelter, such as underneath plant debris or in an old log or a woodpile. It survives the winter by producing its own anti-freeze. In spring, it begins to move and feed again, and then spins a cocoon, eventually turning into an Isabella Tiger Moth.

When you’re out in autumn, either walking or driving, look down and you’ll probably see a woolly bear crossing the road.

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Grass is Always Greener

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

If it’s true that we attract those things that happen in our life, then Joann and I attract cows. More specifically we attract cows on the wrong side of the fence.

Sometimes it’s one cow outside the fence, pretending to be a part of the group grazing inside the fence. Often it’s a few cows, running along in the ditch or standing in the road.

When we were kids, we were often awakened by Dad in the middle of the night because the cows had made a break for it and he needed our help to get them back in the pasture. This often happened when they were scared by a thunderstorm. One night when everyone was asleep, Mom heard what she thought were horses being ridden down the road. She wondered what they were doing out at that time of the night.

Then she discovered that it wasn’t horses, it was cows….our cows, tearing around the house in a mad circle. And because they were stampeding so close to the house, it was almost impossible to get out the door to try to get them back inside the pasture fence.

Now when we’re out shunpiking and we see a cow or cows where they shouldn’t be, we try to stop and let people know. If there is a reasonable choice for who might own the cows, or if there is a driveway nearby, we will stop to see if we can locate the owner or someone who might know the owner. These days that’s not so easy because so much land is rented out and cattle are grazed for meat rather than for dairy, often far from any farm buildings.

Sometimes we can’t see a farm or house, and don’t have time to try to locate the owner, like this September in Iowa. We were driving down a busy county road when suddenly I said, “What is that….a moose?” Up ahead, something was standing in the road and it had big horns. Then as we got closer I said “Oh, it’s a longhorn cow”.

We slowed down as the cow wandered back and forth on the other side of the road. While we were debating what to do, a man in a truck pulled up and started calling someone on his cell phone. Since we were pressed for time and he seemed to be staying with the cow, we drove on to our destination.

When you’re out on the backroads, watch out for cows in the road and Happy Shunpiking!


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Road Not Taken

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood….and I --
I took the one less traveled by.
(from “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost)

As we travel along the backroads in search of rural scenes to photograph, we are presented with one opportunity after another to choose between one road or another. Ruth is always looking ahead on the map and figuring out which way we will turn when we come to a crossroads. Sometimes, though, she will say, “You can either take the next left or the one after that -- we haven’t driven either of them before,” or “You can go left or right, your choice.”

When I’m given the choice, I look as far down the road as I can, thinking about the possibilities. I might see a silo with a wooden roof in the distance, an interesting roof line, an old bridge, or a “squiggly road” sign. All of these things beckon me down the road, but as I choose, I still wonder about what might be down the road not taken.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence;
two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
(from “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost)

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The House With Nobody In It

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

“Whenever I walk to Suffern along the Erie track
I go by a poor old farmhouse with its shingles broken and black.
I suppose I’ve passed it a hundred times, but I always stop for a minute
And look at the house, the tragic house, the house with nobody in it.”

When I was young, I came across this poem by Joyce Kilmer and it touched my heart in a way I couldn’t explain at the time. A couple years later, our family moved to a small crossroads town and when we had a couple of hours between farm chores, we would walk to the river with our cane poles to fish.

On the way to the river, just past the crossroads, was an old ramshackle house that was the home of the village hermit. And there was no question about it, at least in our minds – the house was haunted – by the living AND the dead! We would always hurry past the house, as if the hermit would put a curse on us if we looked. And yet, we couldn’t help but look, if only for a second.

In our travels along the backroads in every state we wander, we come across abandoned houses, farms, businesses, schools, and churches. And we wonder what they were like when they were still lived in and used on a regular basis. We often get excited when we stumble upon a “haunted house”. We mean no disrespect by calling them haunted. It’s just that we’re sure the spirits of the folks who once inhabited them are still there – in the creaky wooden floors, the sagging doors and broken windows, and the architectural features and craftsmanship.

“So whenever I go to Suffern along the Erie track
I never go by the empty house without stopping and looking back,
Yet it hurts me to look at the crumbling roof and the shutters fallen apart,
For I can’t help thinking the poor old house is a house with a broken heart.”

(“The House With Nobody In It” by Joyce Kilmer)

Happy Shunpiking!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Hills and Hollows, Ridges and Coulees

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

Southwest Wisconsin is part of the Driftless Region. When the glaciers retreated, what they left behind was silt, clay, sand, gravel, and boulders. This was called drift. This area of Wisconsin is unglaciated, so it is referred to as driftless.

That’s about enough geology for me. What I do know is that Joann and I love this area of Wisconsin. It is probably why we also love southeast Minnesota, Northeast Iowa, and Northwest Illinois as they are all part of this unglaciated region. From I-94 in the north, down past the southern border of Wisconsin, you will find a lot of roads with names like Dodson Hollow, Salem Ridge, Kammell Coulee, and Kill Hill Road.

If you drive some of the Hollow and Coulee roads, you will find yourself down in the valleys of the region. Most of these valleys will have a stream running through them and you may find some springhouses. You will also see small farm fields carved out of this rough terrain. We always marvel at the fortitude of these farmers to have carved a life out of this land. But it is beautiful and peaceful, so we do understand their desire to live in this area. It is a place of many streams and wooded ridges where wildlife abounds.

When you drive the Hill and Ridge roads, you will climb to the top of the ridges and look down into the hollows and coulees below. You will see many small farms nestled in the valleys. You can visit Wildcat Mountain State Park and drive along the Ocooch Mountain range. Neither of these “mountains” is a mountain by dictionary standards, but they are some of the highest in Wisconsin, and they help to make this such a special place.

Many of the roads in the coulees travel far back into the valley and then dead-end. Don’t be afraid to drive some of the longer ones. If anyone asks, say you’re looking for your cousin Bill. That’s what we do!

Fall color seems more dramatic in the area, and perhaps it’s because you’re either high on a ridge looking down into the color spreading across the valley, or you’re driving down in the valley with the ridges of color spread out before you. Whatever the reason, it’s worth the trip to view the brilliant colors of autumn.

If you haven’t experienced this area of Wisconsin for yourself, you should take a day or two and enjoy the fall weather. You won’t regret it.

Happy Shunpiking!