By Joann M. Ringelstetter
Last weekend was the beginning of fall photographing for us. We wait all year for the crisp autumn air and the changing of the leaves to brilliant shades of yellow, orange, and red. Before we leave on a trip to capture fall colors, we usually put in our request to the Universe to provide us with the perfect weather.
Overcast days bring out vivid colors, which is great for close-ups, but then we also want some character in the sky for shooting landscapes. Sunny days don’t work well at all, unless they’re accompanied by blue skies with puffy white clouds. And if it rains, we're OK with that, unless it rains hard or it’s mixed with wind. (We don’t want much, do we!?)
Fog makes for some great photographs, too, unless it’s so thick that you can barely see anything. Last Saturday, we left my house an hour or so before first light and the fog was fairly thick most of the way. Our first stop was a country church that was engulfed in the fog. Just down the road a bit was the cemetery, which is always a great subject in the fog. As I got out of the car to photograph the cemetery, I noticed a horse quietly grazing in the pasture across the road.
We had hoped that the fog would stay around for a while, but the sunrise came quickly, prompting us to start wishing for blue skies with puffy white clouds. Fairly quickly, the blue skies showed up, and we stopped at an old depot in Oxford, Wisconsin. Ruth got our breakfast ready as I captured a few shots of the depot.
Around 9:30 a.m., there were a few wispy white clouds close to the horizon and Ruth said, “Look, some baby clouds. It won’t be long.” At 10:00, the sky was beginning to fill with big white clouds and we stopped to capture a small arched roof fieldstone barn.
By 11:00 a.m., however, the sky was entirely filled with clouds and they were gray rather than white. We continued working our way toward Tomahawk, Wisconsin, as the skies became more ominous. Around 1:30 p.m., it began to rain lightly, so I got out my umbrella. About an hour later, a steady rain began and Ruth was kind enough to leave the car and hold the umbrella for me so that I could work more easily. As the afternoon wore on, the rain became heavier and heavier, and I was getting disappointed over not being able to find a good fall color scene.
As we drove in the rain down a gravel road, I saw a colorful scene off in the distance, but there were some shrubs near the road that prevented me from getting the photo I wanted. So I told Ruth I was going to hike in past the shrubs to get my shot. She said, “You’re kidding, right?”
The ditch was washed out, deep, and muddy, but I was not to be deterred. So I took my equipment and umbrella and hiked down the road past the washed out section. Then I crossed over to the prairie and hiked back. As I hiked, the grasses became thicker and taller, but I continued my quest. Needless to say, it took me quite a while to get back far enough to get my shot, and the lower half of my body was absolutely soaked by the time I returned to the car. The good news is that it was well past the time we should have been at our motel, so we headed straight there and I got out of my wet clothes.
We both went to bed that night praying for better weather on Sunday, but it was not to be. It turned out to be a very gloomy day and it rained for most of the day. The only really eventful thing that happened that day was a bad choice we made to take a gravel road that looked like it might have some good fall color. It was a residential area at the start, but quickly turned into a narrow, rocky road that went for miles. Had we known what we were in for, we would have turned around. As they say, hindsight is 20/20.
Again that night, we went to bed thinking it just had to be better weather the next day, but Monday turned out to be the worst weather of the trip. The minute we left our motel that morning, it began to rain and the wind began to blow. We tried to make the best of it, but it got worse as the morning progressed. We don’t often visit this area and we had never seen the Dells of the Eau Claire River, so we headed to the park. And when we arrived there, a driving rain began.
I didn’t want to leave without getting at least a few shots, so we waited until it let up a bit. The parking lot is a long hike from the dells, so Ruth dropped me off as close to the dells as we could get. I told her to come back in 20 minutes to see if I was ready to be picked up. It continued to rain and the rocks were slippery. Maneuvering them without carrying anything would be hard enough in the rain, but I was carrying a tripod, camera, backpack, and umbrella. I decided not to take too many chances, but it was still very dangerous and I was worried about losing my camera to the rocks below me. I worked as quickly as I could and was just finishing when Ruth drove up to check on me. Whew!
A short time later, we passed a “haunted” house and we couldn’t resist trying to capture it, but it was still raining hard and the wind was now gusting with a vengeance. As I attempted to capture the scene, my umbrella turned inside out and I wasn’t sure I even managed to get a useable shot. We’ve told you before that we always eat lunch out of our cooler, but we had to make an exception on this particular day. So we stopped at an old fashioned A&W restaurant in the charming town of Wittenberg, Wisconsin, where we had a good meal with old fashioned customer service.
We continued to photograph in the rain and the wind that afternoon and, when it was time to make a beeline for home, the rain finally stopped for a while. Wouldn’t you know it! But Ruth always has plenty for us to see and she told me she had a surprise for me before we headed to the highway. So she directed me down a quiet country road that was canopied with trees.
We drove quite a ways and she said, “I don’t understand, I thought it would be here.” I finally asked her what we were looking for and she told me it was an old school. We continued to drive for a long ways and soon we noticed that we were coming to the end of the road. But suddenly our disappointment turned to satisfaction as we found the Rhinehardt School.
As we left the school, Ruth mentioned that there was also an old church in the area, but she wasn’t sure exactly where it was and we probably didn’t have time to look for it. As we approached the stop sign at the end of the road, we discovered that the old church was right in front of us. Indeed, we are truly blessed.
The beauty of autumn comes and goes in three or four weeks here in Wisconsin and the colors peak in many areas the first week in October. So, grab your camera and hit the backroads!