Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Madison Holiday Tradition

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

For the past 17 years, I have had the privilege of driving past and enjoying the festive row of lighted holiday trees along the 2700 and 2800 blocks of University Avenue in Madison, Wisconsin. And every year, I’ve told myself that I should take the time to photograph this beautiful scene, but never got around to it. This year, I finally took the time.

For those of you who live elsewhere, this is no ordinary display of holiday lights. There is a row of 228 arborvitae trees between the railroad tracks and Doctor’s Park, each one trimmed to about six feet tall. The entire row stretches 1,000 feet, which is the length of three and one-third football fields.

Each tree is decorated in one specific color, but there are many different colors along the row – red, green, blue, yellow, purple, white, and several other colors. This holiday rainbow contains roughly 135,000 lights, most of them being energy-efficient LED lights. These lights stay on from dusk until dawn for everyone’s enjoyment.

This wonderful holiday display, which has become a Madison tradition, began with a lot of hard work and expense in the planting of the trees in 1983 by Dr. Jack Kammer. Ten years later, he began lighting the trees from Thanksgiving through the end of January. And for the next 16 years, he spent more than $10,000 annually to support this holiday tradition. He also recruited and directed many volunteers each year who would help to put up and take down all the lights.

Last year, at age 82, Jack Kammer talked about leaving a legacy, saying, “I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to do it, but I hope I will have some people who will take over when I can’t do it anymore.” Sadly, Dr. Jack Kammer passed away on May 13, 2010. His son, Dr. Chris Kammer, plans to continue the tradition in his father’s memory. He said that the University Avenue holiday lights “warmed so many hearts beyond my dad’s wildest dreams, and that made him extremely happy.”

In 2008, Jack Kammer published a book entitled, “The Story of the University Avenue Holiday Lights.” All the proceeds from the book are used to help fund this magnificent annual display. You can also help by donating funds to Shorewood Hills Trust – Tree Fund, c/o M&I Bank – Private Banking, 401 N. Segoe Rd, Madison, Wi 53705. If you would like to volunteer to help put up or take down lights, you can contact Chris Kammer through his Holiday Lights Facebook page.

Merry Christmas, everyone. And, as always, Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Another White Christmas

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the treetops glisten,
and children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow

The famous Christmas carol, White Christmas, was written by Irving Berlin in 1942. We’ve enjoyed the song and the Christmas movie of the same name every Christmas season for years.

In the 1990’s as Joann and I began photographing more and more, we lamented the fact that we just didn’t seem to get as much snow as we did when we were growing up on the farm. Some years we were out photographing winter when there was only an inch or two of snow to be found. Winter in Wisconsin just didn’t seem right without a larger amount of snow like we had years ago.

The last few years, there has been no such problem. In other words, no dreaming required for a white Christmas. We’ve been blessed the last few years with early December snows that have lasted well past Christmas.

As soon as the roads are clear after a big snow, and we have a day off from work, we head out. Sometimes our mission is small towns, and sometimes it’s rural farm scenes. We love to find red barns against the background of all that white snow. In fact, any color of barn except white is enhanced by a blanket of snow.

In the winter, navigating changes a little bit. I can still pick a road to turn on, but we never know until we get right up to it whether or not we’ll really turn. That decision is made based on how well plowed the road looks. In all our winter travels, we’ve only gotten a little stuck and that was just last winter. A couple of minutes later we were back on the road.

Everything looks different in the snow, so we often travel roads we’ve been on before. Usually the scene looks better, since the blanket of white is covering what we often wish we couldn’t see in other seasons of the year.

As you travel down the roads this holiday season, look around at the blanket of snow and notice how different the world looks. And if you dare, when you feel a little cabin fever setting in, go out and explore some backroads. Maybe we’ll see you there!

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Nature’s Camouflage

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

During the winter of 2006-2007, Ruth heard about a pair of screech owls that someone had discovered in the opening of a tree in the city of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. The interesting thing about this pair was that one was a gray phase (gray-colored) and one was a rufous phase (red-brown colored).

We never know if we should “chase” this type of photo because we don’t know if the subject will still be there when we get there. In this case, however, they had been there for several days and we couldn’t resist the chance to see them and maybe photograph them.

As soon as the weekend arrived, we headed out in the pre-dawn hours so that we would arrive in Oshkosh at dawn. On our way through the older part of the city, we stopped to photograph an old grist mill and then a historic fire station.

Then we headed over to the place where the little screech owls had been seen. There were two or three very large oak trees and we had no idea which tree they might be in. So we grabbed our binoculars and started to search. We looked and looked but couldn’t see them. Ruth had seen a photo that someone else had taken a few days earlier, so she was looking for the notch in the tree like she had seen in the photo. She did find the notch, but there were no owls (that she could see, anyway).

We were really disappointed that we had struck out. Our plan, however, had been to spend a good part of the day photographing on the backroads of Winnebago County. So that’s what we did. Then we returned in the late afternoon to try one more time to find the owls.

I started scanning the tree near the road and Ruth went back to the tree that had the notch she thought matched the photo she had seen. After some intense searching, she suddenly said, “Well, I’ll be! There he is!” There was only one screech owl and it was the gray phase one, so he blended right into the gray oak tree. I went running over and looked up into the notch, but I couldn’t see the owl. Ruth kept saying, “He’s right there,” as she pointed to the notch in the tree. After much straining to find him, my eyes finally broke through his clever camouflage, and I was able to see him peacefully sleeping in the tree.

There are so many things camouflaged in nature that we unsuspectingly walk or drive past every day. In October, 2006, Ruth and I were out looking for fall color in Richland County, Wisconsin, and we drove past a rock formation that had a small cave-like opening. On the “roof” of this opening, there were some very interesting fungi intertwined with wispy, cotton-like webs. It looked kind of like the pattern you see on traditional camouflage clothing.

We left there and headed over to Steamboat Rock, a huge rock formation that looks like a petrified ship. As we were standing in front of this looming rock structure, I started to study the various patterns in the rock. As my eyes scanned from one end of the rock to the other, I noticed a hornet’s nest that was camouflaged on the rock. The swirls and pitting on the hornet’s nest were almost an exact match to the swirls and pitting on the rock to which it was attached.

The next time you’re out on the back roads or in nature, stop and look closely. You’ll surely see something you didn’t know was there.

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

3 Miles Ahead, 50 Years Behind!

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

You might remember our previous blog entitled “I Think We’re Being Followed” about being followed in Arkansas. Part of our reason for visiting Mountain View, Arkansas, was to visit Mellon’s Country store.

We love the old fashioned country stores. This one was built in 1991 by Don and Suzie Mellon in the style of a 1940’s general store. The slogan of the store is “3 miles ahead, 50 years behind!” And as you pull into the parking lot surrounded by an old split rail fence, you can feel it.

As we walked from the car across the gravel of the parking lot, we glanced down and saw many, many bottle caps worked into the gravel. And on a small walkway up to the store, Joann noticed a heart-shaped stone.

We walked around outside the building taking photos of all of the old memorabilia. There are many old signs on the sides of the building. We love all of the old drink and gas signs and always stop to take photos when we find them, so when we find a place like this with an abundance of signs, we have to take a lot of photos.

When Joann finished taking photos of the outside of the building, we went inside to investigate. It was a quiet evening at the store, and soon we were the only customers. We walked around looking at all of the old time items.

When Joann found the display of old time candy, and it contained candy we had as children, she was very happy about it. As usually happens, I started to pick on her about something, and soon we were laughing over in the corner. Since it was just us in the store, the clerk picked up on what I was doing, and soon she was teasing Joann as badly as I was. It was like she had known us for years.

Joann picked out some old time toys and our new friend demonstrated them for us. We bought some old fashioned hard candy for the road and then we decided that we had to get some of the fresh roasted peanuts from the small roaster in the store.

The front porch of the store had several benches for relaxing and an old barrel topped with a checkerboard. There was a game laid out just waiting for someone to sit down and play. Of course, the checkers were bottle caps as well.

Also on the front porch next to the door was an old wringer washing machine. It was slightly older than the one our mother had and it brought back some not so fond memories of taking our baths in the old washtub out in the porch.

When we finally left, we had some great nostalgic items, and some fond memories of another old general store. We hope to stop back some day when our travels take us back to Arkansas.

On your next vacation or shunpiking adventure, see if you can find an old country store. We think you’ll enjoy it as much as we do.

Happy shunpiking!