Sunday, November 27, 2011

“Don’t Go Anywhere!”

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

Having recently completed our fall photography for the year, I am reminded of a number of “situations” that occurred over the past couple of years during fall photographing. As we’ve explained before, we are always drawn to the counties that are west of us due to the hills and valleys which offer the best photo opportunities.

Often, when we are traveling up a ridge, we will see something down in the valley that would make a good photograph, so I stop the car on the hill. Sometimes the hills are very steep, so I engage the parking brake. As I do this, I often say to Ruth, “Don’t go anywhere!”

This is usually a source of laughter or at least a smile from Ruth, but this was not the case one time when I stopped the car on a steep incline to capture a barn down in the valley. I engaged the parking brake, said, “Don’t go anywhere,” grabbed my camera equipment, and hiked up the hill a bit further to compose my shot. As I was focusing on my subject far below in the valley, I saw Ruth coming towards me.

And then the conversation went like this:

Joann (smirking): “I thought I told you not to go anywhere.”

Ruth (looking sternly): “If you think I’m going to be sitting in the car when it rolls over the edge, you’ve got another think coming.”

Usually, I stop the car on the up side of the hill. In this case, I had stopped the car on the down side of the hill and it was apparently a little too scary-looking from that vantage point. The following photograph will give you some idea of what I’m talking about, but imagine it about twice as steep.

Speaking of scary, I am now going to share something that happened during a fall drive several years ago. We were out enjoying the fall colors in western Wisconsin and we decided to stop at a cheese factory to buy some cheese. This cheese factory had a very small parking area beside it and it was situated in a small town up on a ridge. I didn’t take a photo of this particular cheese factory, but here’s a photo of an old cheese factory in another area of Wisconsin.

As we pulled up in front of the cheese factory, a couple in a maroon car pulled into the last remaining parking spot, so we parked the car out along the street. Before we entered the cheese factory, we noticed that there was a pasture at the edge of the parking lot and there were horses in the pasture. The barbed wire fence ran right along the edge of the blacktop and the pasture dropped steeply into the valley below.

After watching the horses for a bit, we went into the cheese factory and started looking at the different types of cheese that were for sale. Suddenly, a woman came running into the store shouting, “Who owns the maroon Buick?” It was one of those moments that seemed frozen in time. Everyone looked up, but no one answered for what seemed like a minute. This was probably due to the fact that people are usually calmly asking who owns a car so they can tell you that you left your lights on, but in this case, the woman seemed panicked.

Finally, a woman spoke up and said, “That’s our car,” to which the first woman replied, “Well, it just rolled over the edge and went down the hill.” Again, there was a frozen moment, and then the second woman said, “Oh, my god, my mother's in the back seat.” At this point, everything speeded up as someone called 911 and some of the men working in the cheese factory rushed outside to see what they could do. We immediately went to our car and drove away so that we wouldn’t be in the way when the ambulance arrived. As we drove to our favorite apple orchard, it was very quiet because we were basically in shock over what had just happened at the cheese factory.

When we returned to the parking lot after purchasing our apples, we ran into someone who had stayed at the cheese factory to see how things turned out. He explained to us that the woman in the back seat was a little banged up, but she was okay. We thanked him for the update, which made us feel a whole lot better, and then we headed on down the road.

As we drove along admiring the beautiful autumn day and feeling relief that the woman in the back seat had survived the ordeal with the runaway car, my sense of humor took over. I said, rather sheepishly, “You know that couple in the maroon car? Well, the man was the one who parked the car and the woman was the one who said, 'My mother’s in the back seat,' so it would have been the man’s mother-in law…” And that’s all I’m going to say.

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Giving Thanks

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

At many Thanksgiving tables this year, people will share those things that they are most thankful for. I’m thankful for my family and friends. And again this year, I’m grateful that my youngest sister Peggy and her family invite Joann and me to share their Thanksgiving table.

But I am also thankful for our photography trips. Sometimes as Joann and I drive out into the early morning darkness, we talk about what we loved and appreciated about prior trips, and what we hope for the day or the trip ahead. Often we have only stars and the moon overhead, but we ask for blue skies and puffy white clouds later in the day. And as the day dawns, we look for any sign of clouds, and then ask for more clouds to join in our party.

When we’re staying overnight in a strange town, I’m grateful for Irwin (the most wonderful GPS in the world) who helps us to find our motel at night. Sometimes he’s not quite sure where the motel is, but he usually gets us close enough that we can find it ourselves. And I’m always reminded of trying to find our motel in Michigan in the dark before we had Irwin on our side. It was late and we were very confused about where we were, not to mention where the motel was.

I appreciate all of the squiggly road signs that are indications of our favorite kind of road. The roads usually wander through hills and valleys, and we have to wonder what we might find around the next bend. This is what we love about the western part of Wisconsin, and we’ve been lucky enough to find these types of roads in many areas of the country that we have visited so far. And we look forward to all of the squiggly roads in our future.

I appreciate the small country roads that are not shortcuts to anywhere. These kinds of roads allow us to find scenes to photograph, and spend an hour or more at a location without seeing another car. Often it is just us and nature. We’re thankful for all of the birds and wildlife that we see along these roads.

I’m grateful to live in a state that has all four seasons of the year. In Wisconsin, we’re coming into the long cold winter, but that will give us opportunities to drive out into the white landscape and find photo opportunities. And I’m very thankful for Good Car’s heater, since I am not as eager as Joann to trudge out into the snow to get a picture of a creek or canyon, and I often wait in the car, marking more spots to check out, until she returns.

And I’m always grateful for spring. It’s hard to watch the trees lose their gorgeous leaves in the fall, but the knowledge that spring will come, along with all the gorgeous colors and smells of spring blossoms, makes the long wait through winter worth it.

As you enjoy Thanksgiving with your family or friends, I hope you have as many blessings to be thankful for as we have. And if your Thanksgiving takes you over the roads to someone’s house, enjoy and appreciate the scenery along the way.

Happy Thanksgiving and, until next time, Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

First Estonian Church in America

By Joann M. Ringelstettter

On September 1 of this year, I received a typical email from Ruth with a subject line that read, “How can we get this before it’s gone?” Inside the email was simply a link to an article entitled, “Hidden Places: Estonian Church Slowly Returns to Dust.”

I looked at the photo that was included with the article and I knew we had to make plans to go in the near future. The church is located several hours from us, so I emailed back and suggested we take an extended weekend and make an early fall trip up north.

On the last Saturday of September, we left home in the pre-dawn hours and began our journey north. As is usually the case, we had much we wanted to photograph on the way there and again on the way back. We feel this makes the best use of the miles we put on the car and the gallons of fuel we put in the tank. And, thanks to Ruth’s dedication to her research, there seems to be no end to the opportunities we are afforded.

By the time we reached the area where we thought the church was located, it was well after dark, so we proceeded to our lodging about ten miles north of there. After unloading and backing up the photos from the day, we hit the sack in anticipation of our visit to the church at dawn. On Sunday morning, we arose in darkness, loaded the car, and drove the ten miles back to where Ruth thought the church was.

As the first hint of light descended from the heavens, we turned down a dead-end road and drove a short distance. When we reached the end of the pavement, there was just a driveway going into a residence. “This can’t be the road,” I said. “Keep driving,” Ruth responded. There was a dirt road continuing on from the pavement and running along two farm fields. I drove slowly to the end of this dirt road and stopped the car. What lay in front of us were more farm fields. As my heart sank and we started looking around, we suddenly spotted the abandoned church tucked way back into the woods.

The good news is that someone still cares about this lonely old structure and had mowed the weeds around it. The bad news is that the church is in a sad state of disrepair. The entryway was just a gaping hole in the front of the gray weathered building and the windows, long devoid of glass, had boards nailed across them in a horizontal pattern.

Ruth and I stood for a long while at the edge of the woods in reverent silence as if we were standing in the back of church just before Sunday morning service. It was raining a bit and the wind was rustling the leaves that were just beginning to show a hint of fall color. The church was beautiful, even in this state of deterioration.

According to our research, there was a small presence of Estonian immigrants in America around the turn of the twentieth century. The first Estonian Lutheran Church congregation in America was founded in 1897 in Ft. Pierre, South Dakota. And this humble structure that now stood before us was built in 1914 and was the first Estonian church building erected in America.

In a series of local articles published in 1978, reporter Sharon Thatcher documented the history of this church and its congregation. According to Ms. Thatcher, worship services were first held in someone’s home. By 1903, according to Rev. Hans Rebane, a traveling minister serving this Estonian community, there were 29 members in the congregation.

In 1907, three of its members each put up $25 to purchase four acres of land, on which the church would eventually be built. First, however, they would honor their dead by establishing a cemetery in 1909. Only 14 people were buried in this little cemetery and some of these graves have since been relocated. Ruth tried to find the cemetery on the grounds behind the church, but the understory was thick and she couldn’t find it.

While Ruth was busy looking for the cemetery, I respectfully peered into this historical church. Where once there were rows of backless wooden benches, with the men sitting on one side of the church and the women and children on the other, there was now an empty floor strewn with debris. Where once there were flowers from worshipers’ gardens adorning the sanctuary, there was rubble from plaster that had fallen from the ceiling. Where once there was an altar consisting of a simple wooden table covered with a crocheted altar cloth, there stood a beautiful wooden lectern, as if waiting for the traveling minister to one day return.

The membership in this congregation peaked around 1930 with about 135 members. Following 1930, membership declined as members of this Estonian community moved to larger cities. As membership continued to decline, the little Estonian church was only used occasionally into the late 1950s.

In 1964, the last reunion of Estonians took place on the 50th anniversary of the church. Sometime after this event, vandals attacked the church, smashing the door and windows, and stealing or destroying the altar and benches. They even went so far as to steal the bell from the steeple. It was only a small bell that had been donated to the church by the Sears Roebuck Company when the church was built. Now it would summon a congregation no more.

While searching the internet for information on this church, I stumbled on a bit of information about the current owner. His name is Bill Rebane and I believe he is the great nephew of the Rev. Hans Rebane, who helped build the Estonian Evengelical Martin Luther Church and who served there as a minister. In January of this year, Mr. Rebane said, “As dilapidated as it is today, it has a congregation of some 20 plus people” and periodic services are held when weather permits.

We thank Bill Rebane for allowing us to fill our hearts with the humble history of this wonderful church and we hope his wish to save the church for future generations somehow comes true.

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Looking Ahead with 2012 Calendars

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

Thirty days hath September,

April, June and November;

February has twenty-eight alone,
All the rest have thirty-one

Except in Leap Year, that’s the time
When February’s days are twenty-nine.

Every year Joann and I say that we won’t wait until the last minute to pick images from our collection to create our calendars for the next year. And yet, every year it seems that in in the midst of our busiest photographing time of the year, we’re scrambling to pick the images.

We create two calendars each year since we understand that some people are not as enthusiastic about rural backroads scenes as we are. For those people we offer a scenic calendar.

You might think that, with all of the photos we have available, choosing images for the calendars would be easy. That never seems to be the case. We’re easily distracted, and picking photos often ends up with us reminiscing about our photo trips.

One of this year’s photos was taken on a Christmas Bird Count trip as the moon was setting over a row of pine trees. Luckily, it was still pretty dark for birding, but as I was watching for birds, Joann was listening for them while she set up and photographed the moon. Sometimes we just can’t let the moment pass even if we’re not really on a photography mission.

Another photo was from a beautiful spring day when we came upon a pasture filled with sheep and one donkey. The donkey was herding the sheep away from us. Every time the sheep approached the fence and Joann tried to take a picture, the donkey would become very nervous and herd them away from the fence.

Later the farmer stopped to tell us that was her job. She was supposed to protect the sheep from danger, and she saw us as a threat to the sheep.

Several years ago in Michigan we were lucky enough to stumble into an area that had a lot of cobblestone buildings. We found a farm and this beautiful church.

As another calendar year draws to a close and we begin preparations for the holidays and the long winter to come, we look forward to photographing scenes we can use for next year’s calendars. Maybe we’ll even get them ready early next year.

Please visit our Calendar galleries around October each year and consider one for your wall, or for any of your family or friends who enjoy rural scenes or scenic beauty. You can also see the photos featured on past calendars there.

Happy Shunpiking!

Photos in this blog post can be purchased as wall art, paper prints, downloads, phone cases, and keepsakes by clicking on the photo. You will be taken to the gallery website where you will see a big blue "BUY" button. Or to see all photos available, click on the "Browse Galleries" button on the menu at the top of this page. Thank you for your interest!