Saturday, April 28, 2012

Tobacco Planting in North Carolina

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

In Wisconsin, Joann and I have spent many days photographing in tobacco country, but it has always been during the harvest. We have never managed to be in the area during planting time.

In 2010, as I was researching our trip to North Carolina, I stumbled across some photos taken of tobacco planting in the south. The machines were much bigger than the couple we had seen in Wisconsin. I sent a photo to Joann and told her she had to look at it to see if she could see the people sitting behind the flats of tobacco. At first, she couldn’t see them. I told her to look for the legs and feet between the flats of tobacco and then she could finally pick them out.

Since spring seemed to be arriving several weeks early, we added planting tobacco to our wish list of things to capture on our trip. (Do you have a wish list when you travel? You should!) We already had southern tobacco barns on our list since they are so different from the barns we are used to in Wisconsin.

Tobacco has been grown in North Carolina for almost three centuries. In the 1880’s mass production techniques were introduced by Washington Duke, and from then until 2001, tobacco production was the largest source of income for North Carolina.

We knew we would be in tobacco country once we left the mountains, and as we drove a country road one morning, we came across a tractor and tobacco setter sitting in a prepared tobacco field.

The flats of tobacco plants were sitting next to the planter but no one was around. We could study the setter as long as we wanted. Without the tobacco flats loaded, it was easy to see the seats that would soon be occupied by workers to feed the tobacco into the cylinders for planting.

Joann was able to photograph the tobacco setter and the cylinders that would drop the tobacco plants into the ground. We spent quite a bit of time looking at the setter since it was a great opportunity.

Later on the same day, we came across a field being planted with a small two row setter. We watched as they moved across the field and small tobacco plants appeared in the soil behind them.

We considered ourselves blessed and thought that was probably all that we would see. We had wanted to see the planting of tobacco, and we did. As we continued our travels, we found some fields ready for planting, and a couple of fields already planted with new tobacco plants. We also found a lot of picturesque tobacco barns, and stopped to take photos of many of them.

So, imagine our surprise when we came across another farmer planting a large field. His setter was an eight row planter, and we were amazed by the size and how fast they could plant the field. This field was much larger than any we have ever seen in Wisconsin.

We watched as they crossed the field planting eight rows at a time. It seemed that those small plants couldn’t possibly fill the rows in maturity, but having seen the mature tobacco fields in Wisconsin, we knew they would. At the end of the field, the tractor driver would raise the setter along with the workers in their seats to make the turn, and as they approached the next rows to be planted, he would lower the setter again.

We watched them for quite a while, and Joann walked along the road taking pictures as they moved around the field.

This was our last encounter with tobacco planting, but we were happy with all of the opportunities that had presented themselves to us.

We don’t in any way condone the use of tobacco products, but it is a part of our agricultural history and that’s what interests us.

With all of the recent focus on the harmful effects of smoking and tobacco, the southern tobacco barns are fast disappearing. Hopefully some of these will be saved for other purposes or another part of our American history will be lost forever.

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Mabry Mill, Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

Two years ago, on the last day of April, Ruth and I wrapped up our photographing in North Carolina in the early dawn. Then we crossed into Virginia and enjoyed our breakfast around 6:45 a.m. while sitting in front of Sheppard’s Mill. From there, we spent an hour with Clayton and the Moonshine Girl and then headed towards Mabry Mill.

I’m sure you’ve seen some wonderful photos taken along the Blue Ridge Parkway, which runs more than 450 miles between Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. On this trip, however, we were only on the Blue Ridge Parkway long enough to get ourselves to Mabry Mill, which is one of the most photographed subjects on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

I know Ruth was trying to get us to Mabry Mill in the early morning before the sun was too high in the sky but I delayed us with the time we spent with Clayton and Pauline. It was about 10:30 a.m. by the time we reached the mill, so the lighting was far from ideal.

Edwin Boston Mabry was born in Patrick County, Virginia in 1867. In 1891, he married Mintoria Lizzie Dehart (who was known as Lizzie) in Floyd County, Virginia. For a few years, Ed worked as a blacksmith in the coal fields of West Virginia. Around 1903, he and Lizzie returned to Floyd County and bought some land with Ed’s earnings from the coal fields. There he built a blacksmith and wheelwright shop. It later became a sawmill and, finally, a gristmill.

With the help of his friend, Newton Hylton, who was also a blacksmith, he built and balanced the wooden overshot waterwheel. Then he bought some millstones from a rock quarry on Brush Mountain, cutting furrows in the surface of each stone for grinding. Because the land surrounding the mill was fairly level, Ed dammed the creek above the mill, bought more acreage, and built a series of connected races to bring enough water power to the mill.

If you search for information about Mabry Mill, you will find that most sources only mention Ed Mabry. However, his wife Lizzie was his partner in the operation of the mill and she worked long, hard hours, too. They started their day at 4 a.m. with a hearty breakfast, skipped lunch, and worked until 4:00 – 5:30 p.m. when they had their dinner. When Ed did his blacksmith work, Lizzie pumped the bellows. When he was sawing timber for the neighbors, she removed the boards from the saw blade. And if Ed was busy shoeing a horse or fixing someone’s tools, Lizzie ground the corn into cornmeal.

In addition to working alongside her husband, Lizzie tended to a garden, picked and dried berries and beans, canned sausage, made butter, and took care of chickens, two cows, and a hog. Around 1930, for reasons unknown, Ed lost the use of his legs. In the years that followed, the mill, waterwheel, and wooden flumes fell into disrepair. In the mid-1930s, the park service acquired the mill and Lizzie was thrilled that the park service intended to restore it to be enjoyed by future generations.

Edwin Boston Mabry passed away in 1936 and Mintoria Lizzie DeHart Mabry followed him in 1940. They are both buried within a few miles of their now famous mill in DeHart-Mabry-Richardson Cemetery (officially called the Caney-Richardson Cemetery).

Before we left on this trip, my friend Erin told me to find a beautiful mountain stream and to take off my shoes and socks and put my feet in the ice cold water. Throughout our travels in North Carolina the previous week, the opportunity had never presented itself. As I walked around the grounds of Mabry Mill, there were many places where you could access the mill races.

Not wanting to admit that I never got around to doing what Erin had told me to do, I returned to the car, put most of my equipment away, and told Ruth I had one more thing I needed to do. I then grabbed my camera, headed back to the mill race, sat on the footbridge, took off my shoes and socks, and plunged my feet into the icy water as it rushed toward the mill.

As Jacobean playwright John Fletcher advised in the early 1600s in his play entitled Faithful Shepherdess:

Do not fear to put thy feet
Naked in the river sweet.

Happy Shunpiking!

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Sunday, April 15, 2012

An Amish School Bus

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

In the fall of 2010, Mother Nature was less than cooperative. The autumn leaves came and went far too quickly in our part of the country and the days were far too sunny. When more days of sun were predicted, Joann asked what we should do. We hate to pass up fall photographing, but too much sun is bad for photography.

I checked the weather forecast around our area. The best chances for clouds were to the west. Hmmm, maybe a Minnesota trip was in order. We quickly planned, packed, and took off.

The first day was too sunny, but we made the best of it. We still managed to get photos of some locations we had not stumbled on before.

On the afternoon of day two, we were rewarded for our patience. We often spend time in Amish areas of Wisconsin, and we occasionally catch some children outside the schools during recess. On this day, though, our timing was excellent, and we were near an Amish school as it let out for the day. We didn’t want to bother them, so we parked the car about a quarter mile down the road and began watching. There were several horses and buggies parked near the school.

First we noticed that the horses were waiting patiently. Then one of the buggies was moved up to the door and we could tell that kids were leaving the school and climbing in. The first horse and buggy came out of the school driveway and turned in the opposite direction from where we were parked. The next horse moved near the door and a new group of kids climbed onto the cart it was pulling. As it left the schoolyard, this horse and cart turned in our direction.

The horse was moving rapidly and the small cart careened from side to side behind it. As it neared us, we could see that it was being driven by a small boy. The others were in the cart behind him, hanging on to whatever they could.

Of course we were smiling as they went flying past us, and they grinned in return. We were mesmerized and watched until they were out of sight. Then we turned our attention back to the school. There was a lone horse and buggy remaining.

Then a woman (the schoolteacher, we presumed) came out of the school and walked across the lawn. At first we assumed she was going to the outhouse before she got in her buggy and headed for home, but she passed the outhouse and ducked into the harvested field. She started to walk across the field, and we watched her become a smaller and smaller figure as she walked away from the school.

As we drove past the school, one lone horse and buggy remained and we could only speculate why this horse was still there after the rest of the students and even the teacher had gone for the day.

This was one of our most memorable Amish encounters and took away some of our disappointment in the unusual fall we had experienced up to that point.

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Easter, Happy Spring!

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

Today is Easter and this year it falls roughly half-way between the earliest and latest possible dates.

As I mentioned in my blog post two weeks ago, we experienced the warmest March on record here in Wisconsin. The Pasque Flowers (also known as the Easter Flowers) were blooming already on March 24. The average date for these flowers to bloom is around the middle of April.

Two weeks ago, there were daffodils and tulips in bloom. Ruth and I went photographing this morning and we saw more daffodils and tulips. I guess the return to more normal temperatures has helped these flowers to last for our viewing pleasure.

Still, it’s unusual to see the lilacs in full bloom and blossoms on the apple trees about a month earlier than normal.

As Ruth and I drove along a quiet country road this morning, a little white animal came out of the ditch and onto the road. At first, we thought it was a dog. Then it turned and we realized that it was a little lamb that had somehow escaped the fenced-in pasture where all the other sheep were.

We thought this was an appropriate sign of Easter, but we were worried for the lamb’s safety. As we watched, it went back into the ditch and tried to find a place in the fence where it could crawl back into the pasture. But it wasn’t having any luck. What to do, what to do. It’s 7:00 am on Easter Sunday. Well, we can’t just drive away and let the little one fend for itself!

So I turned the car around and we drove into the driveway nearest the pasture. I went up to the porch and bravely rang the doorbell. A minute later, a man came to the door in his pajamas. Thankfully, he was the owner of the sheep and we were once again on our way down the backroads.

And then I thought I saw the Easter Bunny, but it turned out to be an ordinary wild rabbit. Just kidding, of course.

There are many symbols and miracles surrounding Easter. One of those symbols is a simple cross…three of them, actually. On our trip to North Carolina in 2010, we visited a church that had three crosses on the lawn next to the church.

Speaking of crosses, twice now, Ruth and I have seen a cross in the sky and we take pause when we see something like this. The first time, it was more like a miracle. In 2007, on a January photography trip to Crawford County, Wisconsin, we were starting to head home and we stopped to photograph huge icicles that were hanging from a shed roof. As I got out of the car, I noticed a very unusual X-shaped cloud in the sky. I pointed it out to Ruth and, right before our eyes, the cloud shifted forming a cross. We were dumbfounded.

Three years later, just after dawn, we saw another cross in the sky.

Easter is an important religious holiday, but it is also a time for kids. On Friday, Ruth and I visited our sister, Peggy, and colored Easter eggs with our nephews, Sam and Toby. As always, they gave us lots of reasons to laugh.

I hope everyone who reads this blog post had a joyous Easter Sunday.

Happy Easter and Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

If It Weren’t for Bad Luck

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

Our trip to the Ozarks in the spring of 2008 was one for the record books, especially one particular day driving through the mountains.

We always have to plan stops for gas carefully when we’re in rural country, and that day we didn’t. The Ozarks have a lot of very rural country and towns that looked big enough on the map to host at least one gas station often did not. As we bumped along the remote mountain roads that day, the next town on the map was the town of Oark and we were counting on a gas station there.

The car had long ago dinged its warning that the gas was almost gone, and we were holding our breath and coasting when we could. As you can probably guess, we didn’t make it. As the car sputtered to a stop, we wondered what to do. We were so far out in the country there was no cell phone coverage. We have AAA, but without a way to call, what chance is there that they will deliver gas? After sitting for a few minutes, Joann decided that I should stay with the car and she would hike to town and hopefully buy a gas can and some gas.

I watched as she walked down the road, and as she got father away, I continued to watch with my binoculars. When she was just about to turn a corner and be out of sight, an old pickup truck went past. As they passed, I looked inside and all I could think of was “hatchet murderers.” As they neared Joann, I saw them pull over, and then I watched in my binoculars as they slid over and she climbed in.

Now what? I was worried, but luckily the pickup truck soon returned with Joann and some gas. The guys were friendly, and they had a gas can with them, which is a good choice for anyone who drives in the mountains. Joann didn’t have to buy a gas can and we didn’t have to find a way to carry one in our always overloaded car. Thankfully, we now had enough gas to make it to Oark.

The “town” of Oark is an old general store. No houses, no other buildings, just an old general store and two gas pumps, which were so dated that they couldn’t support the current prices. A big sign on the pumps warned that you owed twice what was displayed on the pump. Obviously you couldn’t “pay at the pump” so, after filling the tank as full as we could get it, we went inside to check out the store and to pay for our gas.

We chatted with the two women working at the store, and when they asked where we were headed, I told them we were going to visit an old mill. The older of the two told us that she doesn’t drive the dirt roads and she wouldn’t suggest it to anyone. She only took the “blacktop” road to wherever she was going. There was no blacktop road that would take us to the mill I was trying to get to, so we debated if we should take their suggestion and drive the better of the dirt roads, or chance it and take the road we had originally planned to take.

We decided that, since they both suggested we not take the road I was planning, we wouldn’t chance it, and turned onto the dirt road that they said was better. Driving down the road, we crossed over a small river. As we always do when crossing a bridge, we both glanced down the river. Hmmm, there might be photo opportunities here.

Joann pulled over and soon there were butterflies all around the low water bridge. Joann got out her equipment and started to photograph. I watched her and the butterflies for some time, and then, seeing that we were going to be there for a while, I headed back to the car to check the butterfly book. I also needed to figure out where this unplanned road would take us and what we might see along the way.

Occasionally I glanced in the mirror to see Joann moving around, still photographing butterflies. And then I looked up and she was gone.

NOW WHAT? I got out of the car and went back to the bridge. The butterflies were gone, and there was no sign of Joann or her camera. I called her name – no answer. I looked both ways down the river and didn’t see her. I walked up and down the road looking for a trail into the woods and didn’t see anything. Where was she? Then I spotted her camera lying at the edge of the road inches from the water. I picked it up and continued to look around. I couldn’t see any sign of her.

There was no cell phone coverage since we were now well off the blacktop road and in even more rural country. We hadn’t seen a car the whole time we were on this road. I wondered what to do. Should I leave and go back to the general store for help? I got in the car and checked the map. I could follow the road along the river and see if I could find her.

I opened the windows on the driver’s side of the car and started slowly driving along the river, calling as I drove. About half a mile down the road, there she was, clinging to a small tree on the side of the river. She looked like a drowned rat, but she was laughing and seemed unhurt.

I was relieved and I couldn’t wait to hear what had happened. She told me that she had followed a beautiful Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly down along the river hoping it would land. When it landed on a rock in the river, she thought that would make a really cool picture. So she stepped on one rock and leaned over the rock with the butterfly on it. But the rock was slippery and she fell into the river. Fortunately, her camera landed on the bank. Unfortunately, though, the river was moving swiftly and she was carried down the river until she could get herself to the bank.

After I gave her the “what for,” we got a garbage bag out of the back of the car so she could sit on it, and we headed back to the general store so she could change into dry clothes. And that’s how our whole day went. As they used to sing on the old Hee Haw show “If it weren’t for bad luck, we’d have no luck at all!”

Speaking of days, did you remember what today is?

April Fools! Most of this story is sheer poppycock.

We did visit the “town” of Oark and the pumps really are old enough that they can’t support recent gas prices, but we didn’t really run out of gas. We have definitely gotten a little too close for comfort several times in different states, but not that day.

And Joann did photograph butterflies that day, but she hasn’t floated downstream… not yet anyway. However, I’m always telling her, “If you fall in, I’m not coming in after you.”

Happy April Fools’ Day and Happy Shunpiking!