Saturday, April 24, 2010

Dances in the Barn and Kittens in the Cornfield

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

Last September, on one of our dusty trips to Iowa, Ruth and I had the privilege of visiting a farm with a large red barn and an interesting history. When we pulled into the driveway, the owner, Robert, came out to greet us and offered to give us a personalized tour of his barn.

As we stood by the car talking, I noticed a small kitten on the steps of an old shed that was near the house. She was totally white except for a faint gray on her face, gray ears, and a black tail. I grabbed my camera and zoomed in on the kitten, but before I could get her in focus, she jumped from the steps to the lawn. I quickly changed positions and managed to capture one shot of this active kitten. And then she was gone.

Robert took us inside the barn, which had a drive-through center. Years ago, Robert’s ancestors used horses to pull wagonloads of hay into the barn for unloading. Over the years, as with many barns, time had taken its toll and the barn had deteriorated badly. Robert had put much time and money into restoring the barn and it was now in pretty good shape.

He asked me if I wanted to see the upper part of the barn, which is called the mow. Robert had built a nice wooden staircase connecting the lower and upper floors, so we ascended to the mow. He told me on the way up there that the most interesting thing about the barn was in the mow. As we came to the top of the stairs, he pointed to the opposite end of the barn. There on the wall, in very large letters, it said, “NO SMOKING.”

I had never seen anything like that before, so I asked him why it was there. He told me that, in the early 1900’s, barn dances were held in the mow. Then he told me that he thought his great aunt had attended barn dances there when she was young. He said he wished he had asked her more questions before she passed on. One thing he wished he would have asked her is how people got from the ground floor to the mow. The steps that we had taken were put in by Robert and the barn wasn’t a bank barn, so there was no way to get to the upper floor from the outside. Barns always had ladders attached to the walls so that farmers could climb up into the mow area, but this would have been a tough way for a woman to get to the upper floor.

As Robert pondered this, he noticed something that was sitting on a horizontal board on the barn wall. It was a wooden toy sword that he had made for himself around 1950. He spoke fondly of how he had cut the narrow boards to the proper length, nailed them together, and then whittled the end to a point.

As we exited the barn, I noticed some beautiful red canna lilies that were still in bloom next to the old shed. I thought they looked great against the weathered wood of the shed. Robert kindly told me that I could walk around the shed and photograph them.

As I started to size up the flower scene, I heard something behind me. When I turned around, I saw several kittens playing in the cornfield.

They were pouncing on each other, rolling around in the dirt, biting each other, and running off into the cornfield. I immediately grabbed my camera off the tripod and lay down on the ground to get at eye level with the kittens. At first, it seemed impossible to capture them because they were much too quick.

After much patience and slowly moving in closer, the kittens decided that I might be okay and they occasionally sat for a few seconds so that I could photograph them. The white kitten with the bright blue eyes was my favorite.

If you ever want to capture some great animal shots, get up close and personal (on your stomach if you have to), and practice patience.

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

You Buy the Popcorn, I’ll Buy the Milk Duds

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

When we were young, we lived on a small farm near Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. We don’t remember going to the movies then. The closest thing we had to the movies was having popcorn and “pop” on Sunday nights while we watched Bonanza on television.

When we were in middle school, we moved to Lake Mills, and we were excited to learn that our new hometown had a movie theater. Sometimes on Saturday night after church, we were allowed to go to a show. I remember slipping out of church right after communion to go see Gone with the Wind, which was replaying at that theater.

Orris Theater, Ste. Genevieve, Missouri

Unfortunately, the Lake Mills Theater closed a couple years later and we had to wait until Joann had her driver’s license so we could go to the theater in Watertown. We often reminisce about the fact that we could go to movies there for 50 cents. Our local paper always had a coupon and, if you took the coupon to the ticket window, you could get in to the movie for 50 cents. One coupon got everyone in your party in to the theater for 50 cents each. And sometimes that 50 cents got you a double feature!

State Theater, circa 1935, Holstein, Ida County, Iowa

Last September, on a trip to photograph barns in the Northeast section of Iowa, Joann and I passed through a small town that had an old theater called the Sunset Theatre. Later, while looking for information about the history of this theater, we found out that it is known as “The 99 Cent Theatre” and is still showing movies for 99 cents. That’s quite a bargain in this day and age and it reminds us of our 50-cent movie days.

Sunset Theatre, (The 99 Cent Theatre), circa 1940, with Red Firebird Convertible, Sumner, Bremer County, Iowa

One night Joann and I took my best friend with us to see a movie. It was one of the special double-feature nights and the movies were both very long. It was a long time ago, so we’re not quite sure which movies were playing, but we think we saw Lady Sings the Blues and The Godfather. The first movie didn’t start until 7:00 pm and there was an intermission between the two features. We didn’t get home until after 1:00 am, and the next morning, Mom and Dad told us that my friend’s mother had called them and woke them up after midnight because her daughter still hadn’t come home. Mom told her that we had probably stopped somewhere after the show and that she wasn’t worried about us.

Colony Theater, Highland County, Ohio

The next morning, Mom was surprised when we told her how long each movie was and that we had no idea we would be in the theater that long. Fortunately, she believed us. Dad, however, thought there was no way we were in the theater that long and that we were out getting in trouble somewhere.

On another double feature night, we decided to go see Man of La Mancha. The movie playing before it was called Brother Sun, Sister Moon. We hadn’t heard of that movie, but we decided to go anyway. It was a surprisingly good movie.

Blaine Theater, Grant County, Wisconsin

Then came Man of La Mancha. It started badly, and we looked at each other, wondering when it was going to get better. We decided that it couldn’t stay as bad as it started, so we continued to watch, but we were rolling our eyes and whispering to each other about how bad it was. Finally our whispering turned to whether or not we should get up and walk out. Since we paid for our movies with our own hard-earned money, we hated to waste even part of that 50 cents, but we just couldn’t believe how bad the movie was. So finally, after the first 30 or 40 minutes of the movie, we did get up and walk out. I think it is the only movie I’ve ever walked out on.

Murphy Theatre, 1918, Wilmington, Clinton County, Ohio

Neither of us really goes to the movies anymore. The prices are too high and we have better things to do than sit in a theater for hours. We watch our movies on the small screen and are usually multi-tasking as the movie plays, but we do think fondly of the old theaters when we pass by them in our travels.

Driving down the main highway through a small town in Sauk County one day, we passed an old theater, and I read aloud the words on the marquee. As I finished, we both started laughing and Joann pulled into the right lane, taking the first available turn so we could circle around and get a photo.

The Badger Theater, 1924, Sauk County, Wisconsin

According to an article we read later about that theater, the son of the people who owned it for many years recalled an incident with another funny (and rather embarrassing) marquee. In the early 1950’s, the theater ran a John Wayne movie entitled “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.” That title was placed on the marquee, and below it were the words “And Also Selected Shorts.” A local clergyman saw the sign and complained about the implication of those words. The owners immediately changed the marquee prior to the opening of the movie the next day.

Marquee at Goetz Theatre, Monroe, Green County, Wisconsin

These days, when we’re out on the backroads and we have to go into a town for whatever reason, we often drive through the old downtown to check out the buildings. And sometimes we’re lucky and we stumble on an old theater. And when it has an old-fashioned ticket booth, that makes the find even better.

Ticket Booth at Goetz Theatre, Monroe, Green County, Wisconsin

So when you’re out shunpiking and you stop for lunch in a small town, check out the downtown for interesting architecture and maybe an old theater!

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Counting Sheep

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

One of my favorite things about backroads travel is that we encounter all kinds of animals along the way. These animals provide us with some great entertainment as we watch them….or rather, they watch us. Cows are always curious, dogs are often playful, llamas are just plain silly, and sheep….well, sheep are interesting for a number of reasons. Let me explain.

Black-faced Sheep with Lambs, Dane County, Wisconsin

A number of years ago, Ruth and I had our first “interesting” encounter with a flock of sheep. As we were driving down the road, we saw a pastoral sheep scene that I wanted to capture. The sheep were lying in a pasture that went up a steep hill, so there was an intense green background with dozens of light-colored sheep set against it.

Sheep in the Foggy Meadow, Richland County, Wisconsin

When you try to photograph cows lying in a pasture, you have to be really quick because they almost always get up immediately and come toward you. Hoping to prevent this with the sheep, we drove beyond the pasture until the car was not visible to the sheep. I parked the car, grabbed my gear, and walked the short distance back to the pasture. As the pasture came into view, I stopped short. There was the pasture, all right, but there were no sheep in it. Not a one.

Sheep in the Barnyard, Monroe County, Wisconsin

I looked around and discovered that the sheep were all lying underneath a shade tree at the end of the pasture that was farthest away from me. I couldn’t believe it. The pasture had been dotted with sheep everywhere and, in roughly two minutes, every one of them had run from where they were to the shade tree. And now they were all lying there like they had been there for hours. My pastoral scene had disappeared in the blink of an eye and all I could do was laugh. Ruth was sitting in the car wondering why I was just standing there laughing instead of taking photographs.

Sheep in the Shed, Columbia County, Wisconsin

Sometimes we see sheep in the pasture and they seem totally relaxed and unafraid. As we watch them and enjoy the peaceful scene, some act as if we aren’t there and others casually watch us. Other times, the entire flock is totally wary of our presence and I have to remain further away than I would like for fear they will run.

Sheep in the Pasture, Wood County, Wisconsin

Last fall, Ruth and I ventured out an hour and a half before dawn and headed to Richland County, which is one of our favorite places. It was foggy and, as the dawn began to break, we stumbled upon a pasture full of the most interesting-looking sheep we had ever seen.

Scottish Blackfaced Sheep in the Foggy Meadow, Richland County, Wisconsin

Luckily, there was a sign that told us they were Scottish Blackfaced Sheep. Their black faces and large curving horns, which were shrouded in fog, made for a wonderfully mysterious scene.

Scottish Blackfaced Sheep in the Foggy Meadow, Richland County, Wisconsin

One of my favorite times to observe animals on the backroads is in the spring. This is often when the babies are born. Last spring, as we traveled the backroads of Sauk County early one Sunday morning, we came upon a pasture with several new-born lambs. Our favorites were a pair of twins who were brave enough to stray quite a distance from their mother.

Twin Lambs in a Spring Pasture, Sauk County, Wisconsin

Now that Spring is here, why not take a leisurely drive along the backroads and see what you can find in the fresh, green pastures.

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A Case of Mistaken Identity

Ruth A. Ringelstetter

In the spring of 2006, we took a photography trip to Kentucky. I had seen pictures from Spring Mill State Park in Southern Indiana, and had always wanted to go there. So, when Joann said that she didn’t want to take the tollway (boring), we decided to go south on I-39, and then cross over into Indiana via Moonshine, Illinois. Granted, this was not the most direct route, but we’re shunpikers after all. And we decided to make Spring Mill State Park our stop for the first night.

Many states have some state parks with lodges and this park was one of them. We decided to stay at the lodge so we were in the park. That way, if the lighting was good in the evening, we could take our pictures of the mill and historic village and leave early the next morning. But if the lighting might be better in the morning, it would be just a short distance to the mill and historic village for first light.

We arrived at the park and checked in, and then headed off to the historic village to see the grist mill. It was the perfect time of year to be there with the redbud trees in bloom and the early greens of spring, but the lighting wasn’t quite right. We couldn’t help but take pictures that night anyway, but we decided to return the next morning to see if the lighting would be any better.

The grounds around the village are filled with redbud trees and white dogwood trees. There are also stone walls and arches surrounding the garden.

As we packed up the car the next morning, a large van towing a trailer full of lawn care equipment pulled up and a lot of men dressed in khaki jumped out of the van and started quickly mowing and weed-whacking all around the lodge. It was all Joann could do to get a couple of pictures of the lodge before we headed off to the mill. I couldn’t believe how little socializing was going on with the men, but I didn’t really think much more about it.

We headed down the road into the park toward the historic village to check the lighting and get some more pictures. Since we can’t seem to get anywhere without stopping, we were waylaid by a stone arch bridge, a pair of blue-gray gnatcatchers building a nest, and wildflowers along the roadside. After too much time had passed along the roadside we decided we had better hightail it to the mill before the lawn care people made it down there.

We hurried to the mill and started taking photos. The village is in a valley with a stream running through the middle of it. As we walked around the mill, the sky became more and more ominous and we knew it was just a matter of time before the rain came. I was carrying the umbrella and trailing along behind Joann trying to stay out of the way so she could get as many photographs as possible before the rain.

And then the van pulled up and the lawn care men were again swarming all over the place. Joann would line up a shot and just as she was about to snap the picture, one of them would come out from behind the building or a fence with their mower or weed-whacker.

As we stood waiting to take some pictures along the sidewalk, one of the men came walking hurriedly toward us. Joann was lining up her shot, and he got a worried look on his face.

She took her eye from the viewfinder and the conversation went like this:

Joann: “Want your picture taken?”

Lawn care guy: “You don’t want to take my picture.”

Joann (jokingly): “Why? Don’t you want to see yourself displayed in the post office?” (referring to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives, which used to be displayed prominently in post offices across the country).

Lawn care guy (sheepishly): “Well, we’re all prisoners.”

Duh! These weren’t lawn care people, they were state prisoners and the state of Indiana was smart enough to make them work for a good cause. No wonder no one was socializing!

Shortly after that encounter, it did begin to rain and we ran into the mill to take cover. As we were waiting for the rain to stop or at least ease up, Joann noticed the views out the doors and decided to take some more pictures.

We left as soon as the rain let up enough for us to get back to the car, but we want to return there someday to explore the areas of the park that we didn’t get to. It seems that even though we think we know a lot when we leave on a trip, we always find more information about things we missed after we get home. Oh well, another excuse to go back through Southern Indiana on our way to somewhere!

Happy Shunpiking!

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