Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Kodak Moment

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

In early 2008, I was putting the finishing touches on plans for our trip to the Ozarks. I had read about the Elk reintroduction project in the Ponca Wilderness Area in Arkansas. As I talked with a friend at work and told him I planned to visit the area to see the elk, he laughed at me and told me there was no way we would see the elk.

We’re not easily deterred, so Joann and I put it on our wish list for the trip anyway. If you remember our blog “I Think We're Being Followed", where we stopped to check out armadillo roadkill, this was that same trip.

Early spring is a beautiful time to take a trip. It’s nice to see those bright green colors after our long Wisconsin winters. And even though it’s only the end of February, I am already looking forward to seeing the green of spring. I don’t want to rush the seasons, since time passes quickly enough, but usually by this time I’ve had enough of snow and can’t wait for signs of spring.

Near Ponca in the Buffalo National River area is Beaver Jim Villines’ boyhood home. William Villines built this log home in 1850 for his new bride Rebecca. Four years later, their son James was born. He became known as Beaver Jim for his trapping ability. After his marriage in 1880, he moved from this home to his own farmstead across the Buffalo River.

The native elk in this area were Eastern elk. In 1981, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Elk Restoration Project introduced Rocky Mountain elk to the area. The project was an overwhelming success. Everything I had read said that the elk were most frequently seen in late winter and early spring in the meadows of Boxley Valley.

After pulling into a parking area by the meadow, Joann mounted her wildlife lens on her camera, grabbed her tripod, and slowly made her way close to the fence. There she set up and began photographing the elk who were grazing and resting in the field. After 15 minutes or so of us being the only ones in the small parking lot, two cars pulled in and six or seven people got out of the cars.

I watched in amazement as they all reached into pockets and pulled out their small cell phones, and then each raised the phone and began to take photos. This was back in 2008 when cell phones had very small megapixels, and all I could do was smile at what their photos would show. They were all standing far back from the fence and the elk were quite a ways out in the field from the fence line. I wished that Joann would turn around and notice them, as they would have made a humorous photo. I didn’t want to call out to her since that would have ruined the photo op anyway.

After several minutes of their photo taking, they jumped back into their cars and sped off. I assume they had their tourist agenda, and that was all the time they had to devote to the elk. See the elk – take a photo - check!

We, on the other hand, were in no hurry and stayed a while longer enjoying the elk with our binoculars. Of course, we also have a big agenda when we go on our trips, but the agenda always takes us away from the areas with tourists and along the quiet backroads and natural areas of the country. After all, that’s what shunpiking is all about.

Happy Shunpiking!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Snakes in the Willow Tree

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

In the summer of 2009, my friend, Desiree, asked me if I had any photos of weeping willow trees. Now, if someone would ask me if I had any photos of barns or mills or even old GEM water pumps, I wouldn’t have to even think about it. I just know that I do. But weeping willow trees? Hmmm, after 30 years of photographing, I couldn’t think of one time that I had taken just a weeping willow tree.

I’ve singled out maple trees in the fall (my favorite), oak trees and pine trees in the winter, crab apple, red bud, and dogwood trees in the spring. But weeping willow trees? Why had I never taken a photo of a weeping willow tree? Is it because they are best in the summer and summer is my least favorite time to photograph due to the heat and humidity? It seemed like maybe we just hadn’t had that many opportunities over the years to photograph a good weeping willow tree.

Desiree had told me that weeping willow trees reminded her of her mom. Well, Ruth and I are suckers for stuff that reminds us of our mother, so we decided to make it our mission to find some good weeping willow shots for Desiree. And lo and behold, when we put our focus on them, they started appearing out of nowhere, as if the universe had heard our request. Ruth said, “Who put that there? I don’t recall seeing so many weeping willow trees before!” I guess we just never paid any attention to them.

Often when we’re on the backroads looking at a particular subject, we are reminded of something from our childhood. In this case, we remembered visits to our cousins’ farm where they had a huge weeping willow tree next to the driveway and it was beckoning to be climbed. But one of our cousins (I won’t name names, but you know who you are, David) told us that we’d better stay out of the weeping willow because there were snakes up in the branches.

We don’t see our cousins all that often, but last weekend, we had the pleasure of spending an evening with our aunts and uncles, and our cousin David was there, too. We reminded him of the episode with the snakes in the weeping willow. He said, “I told you that?” as he laughed heartily. We then reminded him that we were also told that we couldn’t go in the basement with them because they were doing science experiments down there and it might be dangerous. At this point, he mumbled something about ruining his mother's coffee grinder. Anyway, while our older brother and sister went down in the basement to see the science experiments, we stayed in the living room playing with the Lincoln Logs.

When David asked us if we were going photographing the next day, we told him that we had plans to hunt up an old school near Witwen, Wisconsin that we had somehow driven past without seeing at least once. We did go out the next day and we did find the old school, which we had originally thought might have been a church.

When I got home and checked my email, there was an email from David. The subject was “snakes and basements.” The message was simply, “WITWEN out for the ‘HOOP SNAKES’.......................” I had never heard of a hoop snake, but I figured David was up to his old tricks. So, naturally, I Googled hoop snakes and found out that the hoop snake is a legendary creature referred to in the Pecos Bill stories. A hoop snake can supposedly grasp its tail in its mouth and roll after its prey. These mythical snakes have allegedly been seen in the St. Croix River Valley of Wisconsin.

Sorry, David, we didn’t see any hoop snakes near Witwen that day, but we did have a nice time capturing some winter scenes on the last day before all the snow melted in a February thaw. It just goes to show you, you can’t believe everything you hear.

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Pulled Pork and Fried Bologna at the Old Hampton Store

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

As Joann and I have mentioned, we love to picnic on our photography trips. We have several reasons for doing this. The first is that we never want to go to a restaurant and waste precious time waiting for our food. The other is that we can enjoy excellent homemade food out in nature and be back to photographing quickly. We usually have our binoculars at the picnic table in case we see some sort of bird, or I happen to spot something off in the distance that might have photographic possibilities.

On our trip to North Carolina in April of 2010, it was close to lunch time when we came to the town of Linville. I had marked the Old Hampton Store and Grist Mill as something we needed to check out. The store dates back to 1882 when it was a connection on the old Eastern Tennessee & Western North Carolina railroad, known as the Tweetsie. In 1921 the store became a general mercantile store and they have been smoking meat ever since. The grist mill is one of the only remaining grist mills still grinding in the state.

There were quite a few cars already at the store and several people eating at tables on the porch. We decided, as we usually do, to take our photos first. Joann took some photos of the store, and then we walked behind the store to check out the grist mill. While we were back there, a man in a white apron stepped out the door and told us about the smoker and how it was the original smoker, still going strong.

Since we arrived at the store close to lunchtime, and it was a sunny day, we decided that we should enjoy some local food. (The noon hour on sunny days is not good for photography.) Once inside, we spent a little time talking with the owner, Abigail, about our travels. She told us they hadn’t owned the store for long, but they were really enjoying it. We told her how happy we were to see people like them taking care of this cool old history.

She moved on to talk with other people, and we went to the back of the store to look at the menu board. Joann asked if I knew what I wanted, and I said I wanted the pulled pork. I couldn’t go out for food in Western North Carolina and not have BBQ! Joann decided to try the fried bologna sandwich on sourdough bread.

We took a seat at one of the tables covered with red and white checkered tablecloths to wait for our meal. We read a lot of the humorous signs posted around the store. It wasn’t very long before our food arrived and we dug in to our meals. The sourdough bread and buns were excellent, and we each enjoyed our food.

If you travel to North Carolina and visit Grandfather Mountain, you’re very close to some good BBQ and a piece of North Carolina history. Find your way to Linville and the Old Hampton Store and BBQ. You won’t regret it.

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Knowing Where We Come From

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

They say time goes by more quickly as we get older. Lately, I’ve been feeling this more and more. Sometimes I’m startled when I realize that an event that seems to have happened only a couple of years ago actually happened 10 or more years earlier.

What really amazes me, though, is when I’m standing in front of some beautiful rural architecture that was built in the 1800’s when there was only the strength of horses and men to get the job done. And then I realize that this time period was only 120 to 150 years ago.

Fifteen years ago, Ruth and I, along with our sister Phyllis, took our dad and stepmom on a day trip to the Spring Green, Wisconsin area, where our ancestors settled when they came here from Germany. We visited the farm that our grandfather bought in 1919 and where our dad grew up. While Dad talked with the people who then lived there, Ruth and I explored the farm, photographing all the buildings.

We also visited an old log cabin built by our great-grandfather in 1887 for his bride. Our grandfather was born in this cabin and it was showing its age. The front side was a bit overtaken by vines and shrubs. The back side was falling in. That same year, there was a nice snowfall towards the end of November and Ruth and I decided to capture some photos of the log cabin in the snow. But when we arrived there, we were shocked and saddened to find out that it was gone.

The good news is that a few months later, we found out that the log cabin was purchased and carefully taken down by someone who planned to someday rebuild and restore it to its original condition. That hasn’t happened yet, but they told us that they still have it stored for possible rebuilding someday.

I’ve recently begun to create digital scans of the photos from that trip to Spring Green with our dad. I had taken some rather cryptic notes that day, so last weekend my sister, Phyllis, and I paid Dad a visit to ask him questions about those photos along with other family photos. He gave us a lot of details about his younger days and I’m afraid we wore him out with all of our questions.

As we get older, the photos from our past and those of our ancestors become more important to us. Luckily for us, our Dad’s sisters, Beatrice and Bernice, have spent thousands of hours tracing our family’s history and recording it for future generations. And they have often answered our questions about our ancestors. But we have a job of our own to do. We have boxes of photographs from our immediate family that are begging to be cataloged. That is why we are beginning to organize, label, and scan these treasures.

Old family photographs can provide a window to our past and a legacy for the future. If you have old unlabeled photographs in boxes or envelopes, I encourage you to spend some time organizing and cataloging them. Ask questions while those who have answers are still around to give them.

Happy Shunpiking!