Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Visit from Jack Frost and the Iceman

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

Gray Tobacco Barn on Frosty Winter Morning, Dane County, Wisconsin

There’s no doubt about it, Wisconsin winters are long and, after the rush of the holidays, January can seem like a long month. It’s usually a very cold month, too.

Ice on Pine Boughs, Dane County, Wisconsin

Sometimes, in the depths of winter’s bitter cold grip, we wonder why we live in a state like Wisconsin. And other times, we find ourselves in awe of the magical winter scenes that unfold before us.

Frosty Winter Morning, Dane County, Wisconsin

In February, 2008, the Madison, Wisconsin area was “treated” to a thick coating of ice that covered every surface, including the roads. And, amazingly, the icy coatings stayed strong for four days in a row.

Ice on Tree Silhouettes, Dane County, Wisconsin

After the roads had been salted, it was fun to drive around and see everything sparkling like diamonds. Even with the sun shining, the ice stayed on the tree branches, and when the sun set in the evening, the icy branches glowed with an orange hue.

Sunset on Icy Tree Silhouettes, Dane County, Wisconsin

In the middle of January this year, we were treated to some rather unusual weather – freezing fog and a combination of hoar frost and soft rime, which I’ll explain in a minute.

Hoar Frost on the Shores of Rock Lake, Jefferson County, Wisconsin

And, again, this unusual condition happened three days in a row. It was unusual to begin with because January is usually bitter cold. But to have everything frosted from the huge pine trees to the smallest blades of grass was a treat for the eyes.

Frosty Winter Morning, Dane County, Wisconsin

The frost appeared to be hoar frost in some spots and soft rime in others. Hoar frost consists of soft ice crystals that usually form during a clear winter night. And these crystals are deposited on tree branches, bushes, grasses, weeds, and all kinds of other surfaces.

Frosty Winter Morning, Dane County, Wisconsin

Sometimes the hoar frost is so thick that it appears to be snow. Soft rime looks a lot like hoar frost. The difference is actually in how the frost is formed. Soft rime often forms when there is freezing fog (which we had during this weather pattern) and in slightly windy conditions.

Frosty Winter Morning, Dane County, Wisconsin

Soft rime can be fairly compact or it can have fairly long “feathers” and “tails” which might point in the direction from which the wind is coming. The frosted spruce trees below line the road near my home and the trees on the other side of the road were not very frosted on the side toward the road.

Frosty Winter Morning, Dane County, Wisconsin

Whether the frost we experienced was hoar frost or rime doesn’t really matter. It was such a beautiful “winter wonderland” and we were blessed to enjoy its beauty for three straight days. This is why we live in Wisconsin and these are the times for which we are truly grateful.

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

I Think We're Being Followed

Ruth A. Ringelstetter

In April of 2008, Joann and I took a photography trip to the Ozarks of Missouri and Arkansas. In the mountains of Arkansas, we made our way to an historic mountain town known for its mountain music. I just knew Joann would enjoy this town since I had read about how the local musicians sat around town playing music every night. We arrived during a cold wave, and all we found was one lone person playing their guitar outside. The mountains were beautiful, but the weather was not cooperating for people to be picking outside.

I had also read about a swinging bridge near town. The only thing I knew about it was that it was on Swinging Bridge Road, but my map didn’t show any road named Swinging Bridge Road. (Irwin, our trusty GPS companion, might have come in handy here, but this was before his time.) So we spent some time driving up and down the roads looking for the swinging bridge, but we finally decided to give up, at least for the time being. We spent the afternoon exploring the town and we managed to find an old mill that I had read about before the trip.

Then we stopped to check what time the music store opened in the morning. As we made note of the hours, we saw two women sitting at a table outside an ice cream shop. Joann jumped out of the car and went over to ask them if they knew of the swinging bridge. They did know where it was and gave Joann directions. They also told her that the bridge was damaged in recent floods and was not open to traffic, but that we could get close enough to look at it and probably take some pictures. They also told Joann that they had spent the day at a conference and were still an hour from home, so they had to get going.

As Joann repeated the directions to me, we realized that we had driven right past the road earlier (twice!) and had not noticed the sign either time. We decided to check in at our motel before heading to the bridge and, while we relaxed for a few minutes, we made a short grocery list of things we should pick up on our way back from the bridge.

Leaving the motel, we followed the directions and figured out why we had missed the road. It was a small side road that angled back kitty corner to the highway about halfway down a steep hill. We finally saw the road sign as we passed it yet again. So we had to go a ways down the road to find somewhere to turn around so we could return to the elusive Swinging Bridge Road.

We followed the road to the bridge, noting the devastation left by the flood. As Joann got out of the car, another car pulled up behind us. Joann looked back, and then leaned into the car.

Joann: “I think we’re being followed.”

Ruth: “What?”

Joann: “It’s those two ladies from the ice cream shop.”

Ruth: “You’re kidding, right?”

Joann: “No, I’m not kidding, it’s those two ladies from town, only now there are four of them.”

Ruth (laughing): “You didn’t tell them where we’re staying, did you?”

Joann (grimacing): “Actually, I did because they asked me where we were staying. I just thought they were being nice.”

They came over to our car and said they just wanted to make sure we found the bridge. Again, they said they had to get going because it was getting late and they had to work the next day. So they turned their car around and drove away. After they left, we talked about how funny it was that they had come to check on us, and how they must have waited for us while we checked into our motel. After photographing the bridge, we headed back toward town. Along the way, we stopped to capture an old gas sign.

After that we passed some fresh road kill and Joann asked me if I wanted her to turn around. Bear with me here; it’s a little hard to explain why we would stop for road kill.

Before we left on this trip, I told Joann that I wanted to see an armadillo in Arkansas because I had never seen one before. Shortly after entering Arkansas, we saw lots of them along the roadsides. The only problem was that they were all dead. At this point in our trip, I thought we were about out of armadillo country, so my chances to see a live one were nearly gone.

So as we passed the armadillo on the side of the road, Joann laughed and asked me if I wanted to stop and take a look at it up close. I’m usually game for a little craziness, so she turned the car around, found a safe place to park, and we walked back up the hill to the armadillo. Locals probably got a kick out of seeing two people from Wisconsin on the side of the road, bent over a dead armadillo, but it was interesting to see. We walked back to the car and turned around again to head for town.

On the way back to our motel, we stopped at a large grocery store and bought groceries and a few other supplies, spending about a half hour in the store. Then, as we came to the corner by our motel, we noticed an oversized rocking chair in front of a store that we had driven past, not once but three times, without noticing. (Doesn’t it make you wonder just how much stuff we miss in our backroads travel?)

Those of you who are familiar with the Laugh-in show from the late 60’s and early 70’s might remember an oversized rocking chair that Lily Tomlin sat in as she played little Edith Ann. She always “told it like it was” and ended each skit by saying, “And that’s the truth! P-l-b-b-b-t!” Joann was eager to have her picture taken in that huge chair, so she climbed up into it and I snapped her picture.

As she was sitting there clowning around like Edith Ann, a car pulled out from behind the store and stopped next to the chair. We looked over and our jaws dropped as we realized it was the same car with the same ice cream shop ladies. They sat there for a minute waving enthusiastically and then drove away.

That night at the motel, we talked about how odd this whole episode was. Were we being stalked? Those ladies had supposedly been on their way home a couple hours earlier. Instead, they must have been waiting somewhere while we checked into our motel. Then they had followed us to the bridge, and they must have waited around somewhere while we checked out the armadillo road kill and went grocery shopping. We joked about being stalked and laughed about how those ladies must have been watching us as we moved around the town. And we wondered where they waited each time we detoured to look at something and while we went shopping. And then we double-checked our deadbolt!

The next morning, we spent some time at the music store and then stopped at an old-fashioned drugstore for chocolate malts before we left town. (Look closely; don’t those malts on the end of the counter look good? They were awesome!) As we drove out of town, I checked the mirror. I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure we weren’t being followed.

Happy Shunpiking, and be mindful of who’s watching you!


Photos in this blog post can be purchased as wall art, paper prints, downloads, phone cases, and keepsakes by clicking on the photo. You will be taken to the gallery website where you will see a big blue "BUY" button. Or to see all photos available, click on the "Browse Galleries" button on the menu at the top of this page. Thank you for your interest!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Drive-Through Stone Barn (Minnesota Blessing Number 3)

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

Over twelve years ago, on a three-day photography adventure to Minnesota, we stopped on a country backroad in the middle of the afternoon to photograph an abandoned farmhouse.

As we were enjoying the craftsmanship of the house (and the silly horses that were in the pasture surrounding the house), the owner came by and we had a nice conversation. And, as is often the case on these backroad adventures, one thing led to another. She suggested we follow her back to the farm so that her husband could give us directions to a couple of other things we might enjoy photographing. (There is a story to this stop in itself, but we will save that for another day).

He asked us if we had ever seen a drive-through barn. We didn’t know what that meant exactly, but we figured we’d better check it out. When we located the barn, we saw that the driveway went through the middle of the barn. And there was no other way to reach the house, but to drive through the barn. How cool is that?! Unfortunately, by the time we reached the barn, the sun was setting and the lighting wasn’t good, so I snapped a couple of pictures and we headed on our way.

In October 2009, we returned to Minnesota and hunted up this barn again. This time, we were there early in the morning and the lighting was better. Having known about this barn only through the kindness of that farm couple in 1997, we didn’t have any information about it. I walked up the hill to the end of the driveway to write down the owners' names and address, which was on the mailbox, so that we could contact them. Along with their names is a sign that says, “Visitors welcome.” That’s the good news. The bad news is that it was 7:45 on a Sunday morning.

So I walked back down the hill to the car and, as I was putting my camera equipment into the car, I noticed that a little dog had just come running through the center of the barn. And then the owners got in their pickup and drove out of their driveway. I flagged them down and asked them if they had a minute to tell me about their barn. They said they were on their way to a reunion breakfast, but they had a couple of minutes. And they wanted us to “experience” the barn. They told us to drive through the center and up to the house. We did just that and it was an experience to remember, especially what happened next.

They told us about the barn, gave us a type-written history complete with old-time photographs, and then gave us a quick tour. Gary said, “We need to get going, but I want to show you something before we go.” Then he took me inside the north half of the barn. On the north wall was a large wooden door. Knowing that this barn was set into the hillside, I was trying to figure out where that door would go. When he opened it, I was delighted to see a beautifully crafted stone root cellar that had been built under the hay ramp to the upper floor.

I asked if I could take a picture of it before they left and he said, “Stay as long as you like and take as many pictures as you want.” Then Deb said, “Just make sure Ralph is in the driveway when you leave. If you’re not careful, he’ll end up in the back of your car.”

We stood there in awe as they drove away. What a blessing to have someone place total trust in you after talking with you for only a few minutes. We stayed for an hour and a half, soaking in the grandeur of this magnificent stone barn and playing with Ralph, who kept jumping into Ruth’s arms. He had a mischievous spirit and ran like the devil when we tossed some fallen apples for him to chase. And, yes, he did slip into the back seat of the car when we attempted to leave.

Only a few days ago, I took the time to read through the historical information Gary and Deb shared with us. The barn was built by stone mason Thomas Ferguson, who came to America from Scotland in 1869. He and his wife, Jeannie, had seven children, and the family worked on the stone barn and house when Tom wasn’t busy putting his talents to work on other projects. Tom built numerous other buildings in the area, including four homes, a church, a town hall, a school, and many barn first floors.

The barn and outbuildings were built from stone that was quarried on the farm. The north half of the barn has two stories and was built in the 1880’s. The second story was used for storing grain and hay from the nearly 500-acre farm. The south half of the barn was completed in 1912. It is three stories and is connected to the north half by an archway, which is driven through to reach the house. Near the archway inside this section of the barn stands a stone silo.

We are grateful to Gary and Deb for their generosity and trust in letting us experience this historical structure and their dog, Ralph. And we are grateful to be able to share this experience with all of our readers.

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Adventures with Irwin – a Trip to Motor Mill

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

We never thought we needed a GPS since we travel with the DeLorme Atlas and Gazetteer for each state we’re traveling in. But one night, I was flipping past one of the shopping networks and they were advertising a GPS unit for a good price. We’ve had problems with directions sometimes, especially when the road names don’t match what’s in our gazetteer, so I thought I would order one and see if it would help.

We were so excited to take it out for a test the first weekend after it arrived. The unit came with the voice set to a woman, but she sounded sort of bossy and not all that nice, so we tried out various other voices and settled on a nice-sounding voice with an Australian accent. And we named him Irwin since the only Australians we could think of were Crocodile Dundee and Steve Irwin.

All summer long, Irwin was reminding us that his maps weren’t up-to-date, so, before we took our fall trip to Iowa, Joann plugged him in and updated the maps. We planned our sunrise stop to be the Motor Mill Historic site. Since we would be arriving in the dark, we pulled over after we entered Iowa and I programmed him to take us to the town of Motor, which hasn’t actually been a town since at least 1903. But Irwin listed Motor as a city in Iowa, so I asked him to take us there. As we followed his instructions, Joann kept saying, “This doesn’t look familiar.” And I kept thinking. “How could anything look familiar? We haven’t been to Motor Mill in almost 10 years”.

As we approached the town of Motor, Irwin directed us to follow Galaxy Road, so we did, right up until it dead-ended at the river. You could vaguely see the mill across the river in the dark, but the bridge has been out since a flood in 1991, so we certainly couldn’t go that way! We had planned to catch first light at the mill, so we quickly back-tracked in the fading darkness to the highway and watched for the sign we had missed pointing us to Motor Mill on the other side of the river.

When we were ready to leave the Motor Mill Historic Site, Joann asked me if I wanted to program in the next town, so I did. Again, Irwin pointed us to drive into the river, over the non-existent bridge, to head for the next town. We began driving in the only direction we could go, and he said, in an annoyed voice, “Recalculating.” Irwin has to recalculate a lot when we travel since we get easily side-tracked and his “up-to-date” maps leave a little to be desired. Usually when we’re shunpiking, I program in a town to get us headed in the right direction, but as soon as we’re clear of the city, I turn off the directions and we wander.

Irwin still comes in handy, though, because he shows the roads that are coming up. So when I tell Joann to “take the next left,” she can see when we are approaching it. And most times, if we miss that left, we just take the one after that . . . unless it happens to be going in the wrong direction, in which case we do some sort of U-turn, Y-turn, or “Asterisk-turn” -- whatever is required for the width of the road we happen to be on.

I know of lot of you have a GPS unit for your vehicle. What kind of adventures have you had with your “Irwin”?

Happy Shunpiking!

Photos in this blog post can be purchased as wall art, paper prints, downloads, phone cases, and keepsakes by clicking on the photo. You will be taken to the gallery website where you will see a big blue "BUY" button. Or to see all photos available, click on the "Browse Galleries" button on the menu at the top of this page. Thank you for your interest!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Winter Shenanigans

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

From 1957 to 1967, we lived on a farm northeast of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin where the land was mostly open and flat. We loved winter and we would spend hours playing in the snow – building forts, making snowmen, playing “fox and geese,” ice skating on the creek, and sledding on the small inclines on our farm.

In the summer of 1968, we moved to a farm east of Lake Mills, Wisconsin. The land on this farm was even more open and flat, except for a rather steep driveway into the farm and one massive hill at the corner of the farmland.

As winter approached that year, we came to the realization that we no longer had a creek on our farm for easy ice skating. We did, however, have something we didn’t have before…a huge hill, perfect for tobogganing. The only problem was that we didn’t own a toboggan. So we started begging. But it was no use. Mom wouldn’t even consider it. “You can’t steer a toboggan,” she said, “Use your sleds. You can steer those.”

So we continued to use our sleds that winter, but we couldn’t use them on the big hill because the snow was too soft and the runners cut in too deep. We needed something with a smooth bottom that would glide on top of the snow. So, just like George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” we rounded up the scoop shovels from the granary and slid down the big hill on those – with our butts on the scoop and the handle in front.

As the winter of 1969 approached, we stepped up our begging. I’m not sure what changed our mother’s mind about getting us a toboggan, but I have a couple of theories. Theory One: It was the only way to shut us up about the stupid toboggan.

Theory Two: The previous winter, we had decided that the best sledding could be found by going down the steep driveway. The only problem with this was that it didn’t even start to level off until you were out in the middle of the road. So this is the more likely reason she decided to give in and get us a toboggan. If we were going to be hell-bent on killing ourselves anyway, then the fact that you can’t steer a toboggan is a moot point.

A couple days before Christmas, we discovered the newly purchased toboggan hidden in the garage and we were just dying to try it out. But it wasn’t Christmas yet and it hadn’t even snowed yet. And then it happened – the first snowfall of the season. It was only an inch or two, but it appeared to be enough for an inaugural run. So that evening after our chores were done, we got permission to go “sledding.”

We snuck the toboggan out of the garage, pulled it down the lane to the far corner of the farm and up to the top of the big hill. Then all four of us got on and had a wild ride down the hill. It was wonderful! Absolutely exhilarating!....that is, until we reached the bottom and bounced across the recently plowed and frozen field. And as we bounced, we heard a distinct “CRACK!” that came from somewhere beneath us. Uh-oh!

So we hurried back to the garage to get the toboggan into the light and see what kind of damage we had done to it. Yup, we had cracked it all right. Oh, boy, what to do now? Obviously, more sneaking was in order. So we snuck it into the basement, got some plastic wood and some sandpaper and went to work. It certainly didn’t look brand new anymore, but we hoped we had hidden the crack enough so that it wouldn’t be noticed.

On Christmas morning, the toboggan was leaning against the wall by the Christmas tree. Mom was happy to see the smiles on our faces (which were mainly there because she hadn’t noticed the crack in the toboggan). We did get a ton of use out of that toboggan and Christmas 2009 marked 40 years since its inaugural run. It was patched a few more times over the years and is now retired in a place of honor in our sister Linda’s garage. Below are her children, John and Emily sitting on our old toboggan.

If you have any winter stories you’d like to share, please leave us a comment or send us a note via the Contact form.

Happy Tobogganing and Sledding!