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!

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