The Horse Knows the Way

The beautiful rolling hills and bluffs that overlook the Wisconsin River Valley are breath-taking.  Dan and I started and ended a weekend photographing Southeastern MN and Southwestern WI and experiencing the artist community in and around Spring Green, WI. This land is part of the Driftless area, which was left untouched by the glaciers of the Ice Age millions of years ago.

Driftless area

Driving the backroads and taking in the country air will forever be a favorite of mine.  With every turn of the road, you may find an old barn, an abandoned farmstead, the Amish towns, interesting livestock, wildlife galore, or River valleys with breath-taking views…  Wonders for a photographer’s eye.

Some of the main attractions of this area today include Taliesin, which after 1937, was the estate of architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, and House on the Rock.  We did not make it to Taliesin but we did visit House of the Rock.  As a child, I remember walking these halls and seeing the many collections that reside here.  As an adult, I was astonished and amazed that one man had this eccentric vision to create what we see today… The world’s most bizarre and immense collection of stuff.

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Winter Bliss

With our chilly winters and unreliable weather here in Southeastern MN and Southwestern WI, I still am proud to call this place my home.  I have been known to call my mother as the burning, frigid air passes through my nostrils while I am cleaning off my car after a fresh snow and ask, “Why would you raise a family in this state with this kind of weather?”   Truth be told, I love the four seasons.  I love the angle of the light in Winter, the green tip of the Tulip as at it pushes through the winter residue in Spring, the green, green, greenness of this land in Summer, and the beautiful array of color that Autumn can bring.  All seasons inspire me and continue to keep me here.

Sometimes the cold can force the body indoors and push you towards hibernation, just ask any Grizzly bear in the Northern Hemisphere.  However, Dan and I will still venture out and capture what we see in this amazing state.  Winter can add a spotlight to an item that is otherwise obscured in the thickness of the forest.  Please enjoy the images from this unseasonably warm Winter day as we traveled through rolling hills and farmland into the area of Augusta, WI.

Golden Sand

Wisconsin frac sand mine facilitiesWithin the past 8-10 years Hydraulic Fracturing has become more prevalent in the United States as we try to keep up with our countries energy demands.  Dan and I did not completely realize or appreciate the indirect impact that Hydraulic Fracturing is having on our countryside, our health, our communities and even our pocketbooks.  

Even though Hydraulic Fracturing in not being done here in Minnesota and Wisconsin, the driftless area in these states is sitting on a gold mine of sorts…Golden Silica Sand.  The sand used in the process of Hydraulic Fracturing is sitting below the bluffs and rolling hills in this region.  Dan and I have known about the discrete underground sand mine located in Maiden Rock, Wisconsin for sometime now.   Frac Sand mining became more of an issue last year as the demand for this “Golden” sand has increased.  The residents of the small town of Diamond Bluff, Wisconsin, lost the battle with a large corporation and the underground mine in Maiden Rock, Wisconsin wants to expand its territory substantially.  There is also a proposed mining site just outside of Red Wing.  All of this activity spurred us to start educating ourselves more on the sand boom. One side saying “Sand = Jobs”, the other “Save our Bluffs;” there is certainly a very easily discernible differences in each camp’s way of thinking.  I am not here to say what is right or wrong or force anyone to have the same beliefs as I do.  I will, however, encourage people to become informed on the practice of Hydraulic Fracturing.  Please take the time to increase your awareness as to what these communities are facing and more importantly, how our environment and wildlife is currently being effected.  What is our future going to look like after the sand is gone?

Maiden Rock, WI Projected underground expansion projectMAIDEN ROCK, WI proposed underground Frac Sand Mining expansion

Last year, Dan and I started hearing about the battle that concerned citizens and business owners were facing  just across the river from our home in beautiful Red Wing, MN.  We started to educate ourselves on how the whole Hydraulic Fracturing process worked, what the majority of this “Golden Sand” is being used for, what the effect of Frac Sand mining has on our environment, our health and wildlife, and watching the documentary “Gasland” & “The Price of Sand.” Knowing that these mines provide employment for local families certainly complicates, as well as ignites, the passion surround the arguments on both sides.    Many states are being affected by this procedure whether it be the Frac Sand mining (both underground and strip mining), or the Hydraulic Fracturing itself.  Again I encourage you to become more aware, educate yourself and others you care about and most importantly, get involved.  The real issue here isn’t necessarily Frac Sand mining or hydraulic fracturing itself, it is our country’s insatiable thirst for fossil fuels.  But until that very issue can be addressed, we need to find a better way – a more responsible way – to extract these energy sources.

Please take a trip with us to the beautiful land of surround Augusta, Wisconsin in Eau Claire County.  We had originally set out to photograph farm animals, abandoned farmsteads, wildlife, barns and the surrounding community.  What we actually saw troubled us and sparked the need to know more about this sand boom.  Driving along the rolling hills near Augusta, we were shocked at what we saw in the middle of this picturesque farmland.  Turning a corner, we noticed a towering object that extended as far as our eyes could see.  We had never ran into anything of this sort in our travels;  our curiosity and wonder drew us closer.  We passed by an Amish family in a horse drawn buggy as we came closer to a section of the contraption.  In one picture, please notice how close the settling ponds and plant is to the Amish farm.  How will the Amish community in that area be affected?  How will this affect all of us?

Only time will tell; and tell it is indeed.  Story after story is surfacing in local news outlets and social media.  Economic and environmental harm is never too far from one of these mining operations.  What is the magic equation here?  How many jobs is worth what amount of harm to our economy and/or environment?  This is quite a predicament we find ourselves in.

Sneak a peak at Dan’s post on this subject: The cost of an unsightly landscape companion.

The Amish of Augusta, Wisconsin

A world without automobiles, telephones, and computers?  I could not imagine life without all the accommodations.  However, Amish communities thrive without today’s technology and the headaches that come along with it.  From sunrise to sunset, they are a hard working group.  They use the land and all it has to offer without the machinery that we see today.

According to Wikipedia:

“Amish lifestyle is dictated by the Ordnung (German, meaning: order), which differs slightly from community to community, and, within a community, from district to district. What is acceptable in one community may not be acceptable in another. No summary of Amish lifestyle and culture can be totally adequate, because there are few generalities that are true for all Amish. Groups may separate over matters such as the width of a hat-brim, the color of buggies, or other issues

Bearing children, raising them, and socializing with neighbors and relatives are the greatest functions of the Amish family.  All Amish believe large families are a blessing from God.”

This particular Amish settlement in Augusta, Wisconsin was founded over 30 years ago and is 6 church districts in size.  Roughly ¾ of Wisconsin’s forty or so Amish settlements consist of just 1-2 church districts. Wisconsin has been experiencing high levels of in-migration as nearly 30 Amish settlements have been founded over the past two decades.

The Amish are known for their beautiful handmade quilts, baskets, furniture, and many other items. In their communities you will often find bakeries, furniture or cabinet making shops, quilt shops, as well as general stores with unique items.

If you are ever in the area, the Woodshed, in Augusta, Wisconsin specializes in Amish antiques and woodworks and offers tours through a nearby Amish settlement. Visitors can savor mouthwatering homemade candy and baked goods, watch furniture makers and visit the Amish sawmills in this area. This tour also offers the chance to visit horse breeders and harness makers.

A restored 1800’s village, tubers, and a Amish Community.

While some of the group from the Red Wing Photography Club was well underground touring Mystery Cave, Jeff, Dan and I were traipsing through the back roads of Southeastern MN.  After the groups photography tour of Mystery Cave, we met up above ground and proceeded to our next stop… Historic Forestville.  This restored 1800’s village is operated by the Minnesota Historical Society and has some great photo opportunities.

Lunch time 🙂 A stop in Lanesboro, MN was needed to fuel our bodies and of course to photograph the surroundings…  A hidden treasure, this small town is nestled in the Bluffs of the Root River Valley and offers that hometown appeal with spectacular views.  A must stop if ever in the area.

As Dan and I broke away from the group and made our way back home, we ran into many interesting sites and an Amish community.  I still remember us driving down a dirt road when, off in the distance,  we noticed two horses and their riders headed our way.  The car slowed and eventually came to a rolling stop as the riders approached.   The riders, probably brothers, one on a horse and the other on a pony, were Amish boys.  Both boys were waving “hello” and had a grin on their face from ear to ear as they came barreling past our stopped vehicle.  A site not captured on film but saved in the memory banks of our mind forever.   The friendliness and hard work of an Amish community will forever amaze me.

All and all, the day was filled with many surprises, laughter, and learning.   Thanks to Dan, Amy, Jeff, Kendall, Ken, and Linnae (friends and fellow members of the Red Wing Photography Club) for the great adventure!!  I hope to take part in many more group trips this year!

Back home again- Birthday weekend comes to an end

A genial greeting as we make our way back home; I cannot say enough of the friendliness of this Amish community.

amish

On the road again, just can’t wait to get on the road again- that song might have entered my mind (yes, I am a geek at times).  There is endless amusement around every corner of a paved, dirt, gravel, or brick road.  I have been, at times, accused of “rubbernecking” sometimes even not saying a word until we are well past what I have seen.  “Turn around”, I say.   The sight of an old building as we are traveling past a town is always worth a closer look and it paid off…  An old Feed Store and a tobacco plant? Very cool, very cool indeed!  My love for old buildings and the stories that they hold will never cease to exist.  Ahhh, the beauty that decay and abandonment can hold.

Through hills and valleys, forests and farmlands we traveled, making our way back to our little furry ones.

This particular trip was overall one of my favorites to date… although, there are many more to come.  Dan’s birthday has past and mine is around the corner.  What will this year of birthday excursions bring?

I thank you for eye-opening trip we had last year honey and look forward to many more.

Over the river and through the woods- Birthday Weekend- Day #2

After our “clean up” from the stuck in the muck episode, Dan and I enjoyed our delicious breakfast and a morning hike around the property of Justin Trails Resort.  We were then off into the surrounding communities of Vernon and Monroe counties for a day of photographic amusement.

Have you ever experienced that sinking feeling in the bottom of you gut when on a roller coaster ride? I do every time we travel over a hill at a certain speed with a certain drop off gradient.  Dan thinks this is funny and will hit every hill that has that right drop-off and at the right speed. This trip was full of those sinking feelings in my stomach, as the landscape in this area was pretty steep at times.

Over the river and through the woods in search of round barns and covered bridges we go.  Included in with the enchanted beauty of Wisconsin’s hidden valleys are large congregations of German-speaking Amish farm families.  They continue to worship, live, and farm today as their pioneering ancestors did 150 years ago.  A friendly, quiet community who welcome anyone with a wave of their hand or a nod of their head. Their farms are immaculate and well kept; it was a treat to see how they live and work off the land.