I was able to work in a leisurely drive through the Amish communities near Cashton (Monroe County) and Pardeeville (Columbia County) during my weekend road trip. With the fall colors around 75%, the views were quite different than my previous drives through these areas.
Monroe County has beautiful rolling hills and valleys, with lots of hardwood forests throughout which is a contrast to the farmland of Columbia County and other nearby Amish communities where there are more like flat prairie.
On this trip, the Amish shopping village "Down a Country Road" was open. I stopped to check out a couple of the small shops that feature genuine handcrafted items made by the local Amish. Quilts, rugs, furniture, baskets and other gift items are all available here. Additionally, there is "Emma's Kitchen" featuring homemade food items including maple syrup, jellies & jams, candies and honey. More information on this lovely little shopping area may be found at: http://www.downacountryroad.com/ .
The weather was perfect during my Friday roll through Monroe County. I was able to observe and respectfully photograph several Amish as they were out and about for their day. One of the more interesting things I got to witness was the building of a log cabin. In many Amish communities, the men work together building a variety of wood items including furniture and cabinets. Here in Cashton, they are also known for their quality Amish cabins. The craftsmanship is known to be exceptional. Many years ago, I was fortunate to stay in one near Viroqua, WI overlooking the Mississippi River.
A couple of days later on my return home to Milwaukee, I took a detour back through the Amish communities in Columbia and other nearby counties (including Green Lake and Marquette). When I woke up that morning in Portage, it was cold and dark, with dense fog throughout the area. I did not let that deter me from my plan to get up and out early in hopes of seeing some wildlife. Unfortunately, the fog in many areas was too thick to really get any decent photos of the few wild animals that I did see. Later in the morning, however, I was able to photograph some wild turkeys and a bird or two feasting on bugs on a pond.
Because it was Sunday, all Amish families attend church service which is typically held in one of their neighbor's homes. By the time I got to their community along Barry Road it was after 9:00am and I thought for sure I was too late to see any of their horse & buggies on the roads. I was wrong! I did see one family in a large carriage heading down Hwy 22 and about 30 minutes later in the same general area, I passed another smaller family buggy heading in the same direction.
The fog was still dense, but the photos I got of the horse & buggies were very nice. I think the fog added to the imagery. I took one of the photos and used Photoshop to create a black and white photo which I think looks really cool. (It is attached to this story.)
Again with it being Sunday, everyone was away from their homes attending church service. That allowed me the opportunity to take many photos of their farms and schoolhouses without feeling like I was getting too close or appearing to stalk them. You see, the Amish do not allow to have their photos taken. They believe that photographs are "graven images" and as such should be avoided. They are simple people, living a simple life. Often taking pictures of them going about their daily lives is a challenge if you are going to respect their beliefs and not take photos where their faces are visible. On this day, I was able to take many photos without any people in the area.
Fall harvest had clearly begun in both areas, as rows and rows of bundled corn stalks could be seen. Called "corn shocks" the hand bailed cones of dried corn may be the first indication you have that you are viewing an Amish farm. Several farms also offer farm grown produce and flowers for sale. Pumpkins and fall mums were seen at several farm stands.
I spent quite a bit of time taking photos of one Amish farm, where they had a lot of baby piglets and small chicks running throughout the barnyard. When I first got out of my car, the smell of the their wood burning stoves permeated the air. The smell was strong and stayed with me for nearly an hour after leaving that area.
About the schoolhouses, this was my first trip through an Amish area when I actually knew what to look for in terms of locating and photographing their schools. Once recognized, I seemed to find many, especially in Columbia and Green Lake Counties. Each schoolhouse is a single room white building. They all had outhouses on the property as well as a large woodshed, as they have no indoor plumbing or electricity for heat. Their playgrounds often had teeter-totters, swings and a ball field (with backstop) . . . all handmade.
One of the more interesting things I saw on their school yards was the ladder-like steps built over the barbed wire fence around the perimeter of the school's property. Often these wooden steps were built facing the adjacent farm fields, indicating that the children came to school by walking across their family's farm and not via the roads.
As I continue my educational journey to learn more about the Amish, I am glad to have such an opportunity so close to home.