Photo by Ella Arrow
Exploration, Photography, Tiny Stories

Schoolhouse of No Return

One of the things I’ve been promising to do once school was back in session is to go on a photography safari. Not to shoot wildlife, just take a drive for an hour or two and stop when I see something that strikes me in the right way. While I probably could have done this with kids in tow, I worried too much they would have gotten bored, making me feel rushed instead of meandering.

The first place I wanted to go had haunted me for a while. On the way out of Stoughton, almost to the highway, there’s an old one-room schoolhouse perched on a bit of lawn between the road and a golf course. I’d always found it charming and a bit mysterious. What was its history? Was it still in use for anything? Could I park and hop out and peek in its windows without annoying golfers or the owners of their club?

I parked across the highways to be a bit less obvious and used the golf-cart viaduct to cross under the road to the schoolhouse. The paint is peeling more than I expected, as if whoever owns it has forgotten about the little historical building. A few windows are broken. You can see right into the basement through a square hole in the stone porch, as if a hatch or bunch of bricks are missing. The cellar is piled with lumber; the main room houses old furniture and flags.

I tried to capture the melancholy of the broken windows and fallen slats. I tried to catch the charm of the past in the familiar shape of the building. Many photographers find the same bittersweet beauty in shabby vintage vistas these days, so I mimicked the close-ups for texture and the wide shots for structure. After years of passing it on the road out of town, I was not disappointed.

I wish I knew its name.

I wish I could take care of it. It could be an art gallery, a quiet retreat, or a tiny coffeehouse. There’s an ache about such decaying beauties, an unspoken desire to imagine the heyday, and a slippery slope of enjoying the varying grayscale of weathered boards while wishing you could polish life back into their bones.

Do not disturb the spiders.

I live in a house built in 1885. The dining room slopes decidedly toward the windows and none of the doors are straight. I know how to love time-worn buildings and their glorious wrinkles.

I had no destination after the schoolhouse. I drove through a few little towns I knew, and followed some country roads I didn’t. My other find of the day was a few barns on the verge of collapse, on the edge of otherwise healthy-looking farms. A few years ago my son dubbed these “Jenga barns”, as if the loss of one little piece of wood could cause the whole thing to tumble. I didn’t want to creep around someone else’s property, but I got a couple of shots I liked from the side of the road. I love that you can see the sky through the ribs.

There was a Jenga barn on the road to turn in to my last office job. I loved driving by it every day, thinking about not only what it must have been, grand and wide and sturdy and useful, but admiring the way it sloped and shrugged, losing its shape to the weight of time. Someday I’ll head back there and get more than a snapshot on my phone. Some future safari, maybe.

Anyway, I decided to anthropomorphize the nameless schoolhouse in the photos’ one-sentence story. Hope you like it.

School’s Out… forever.

The dilapidated one-room schoolhouse stands despite flaking paint and broken windows, wondering when summer will finally be over.

When will summer end?

As usual, prints and products of the images are up on my Society6 artist shop, and you can get digital versions on my Etsy store for less than five bucks.

All the best,

Ella Arrow Author
Fistful of Summer Flowers
Magic in Nature, Photography

Wildflower Vagabond

Most people don’t need to be told to Go Play Outside as much as they can in the height of summer. My pre-teen son, maybe, when he’s eyebrow-deep in videogames and YouTubes of other people playing videogames. But otherwise, we all know July is a playground, don’t we?

Example: When you find yourself free for half an hour while your kid is in drum lessons (in person again, thank God and Goddess), walk up the hill so steep you have to zig-zag in switchbacks to spare your ankles.

Find an intriguing path through unfamiliar woods.

Follow the path as it loops around a park, empty but for an ancient swing set, made of wood and rusty metal, replete with one broken swing.

Count four varieties of butterflies. Pause at mossy trees, like twisted skeleton hands, among the riot of green life. Get scolded by a blue jay. Startle from an animal crashing through the woods, across your path and into the bushes on the other side, so suddenly and loudly that for a moment you aren’t sure what it was. A dog, surely, as you are surrounded by neighborhood and farmland. But those woods, that whip of a tail, that speed….

It was a dog, chasing a rabbit. Must have been a dog.

Stumble across daisies. Dare to pick a few, hoping no one in the neighborhood that is not yours will notice, or mind.

Find a complicated purple flower bubbling up on fountains of green leaves. Learn by a Google Lens search that this has the romantic name of “crown vetch”.

Wonder what a vetch is, and whether it’s some sort of curse or blessing.

More daisies, glorious daisies, all the daisies you could dream of picking. No neighbor would scold you for collecting them, for no handful could be missed in this vast galaxy of white and yellow stars.

With your fist gripping your bounty, recall that summer, and wildflowers, are free.

All the best,

Ella Arrow Author
Photography

Schoolhouse Rocks

The rocks at Schoolhouse Beach on Washington Island, Wisconsin, are so smooth they feel almost soft. The unique silky texture makes the rocks precious; you’d get a $200 fine for removing one! On a chilly day, visitors built rock stacks with these smooth, flat stones well-loved by the waves, instead of swimming. This stack was ours.

I worked hard in post to get separation of color in the individual rocks. Plus doesn’t that swirl of cloud at the top look a bit like an eye? Look out for the VFD.

Visit my store at society6.com/ellaarrow to find art prints, canvases, and other cool stuff made from my art.

All the best,

Ella Arrow Author
Books, Fairy Tale

Beloit and Milwaukee: A Pixie and A Horse

I live in Wisconsin, in one of the many small towns that ring Madison by about ten miles. I figure it’s the distance a horse could ride in a day and that’s why all these towns sprung up, like a fairy ring of mushrooms. In my book, The Flight of The Starling, one of the two fairies is named Beloit. Beloit and his sister meet Princess Lily and convince her Prince Alexander is a horrible guy who likes to cut wings off fairies who annoy him, which makes the princess determined to rescue them.

Flag of Beloit

Beloit, Wisconsin, is about an hour away from my house. I drive past it to visit my friends in Chicago. I’ve never spent any time there. I’ve never had any reason to.

So why is an important character in my novel named Beloit?

Simple: Frank Zappa. And my mother.

Beloit on the cover. I picture him in lederhosen.

I grew up in the Midwest, and once on a road trip to Wisconsin, my mom recalled a funny quote when we passed Beloit. It wasn’t till years later that I learned it was something Zappa said in a concert in Wisconsin: “I can never hear the name ‘Beloit’ without thinking of the sound of a marble being dropped into a toilet bowl. Beloit!”

I’m probably butchering the quote, and I could not find an official reference to it. But my brother and I were in grade school at the time and we knew comedy gold when we heard it. A family running joke was born. We could never hear of Beloit without saying this, and sometimes we would just intone the word – low on the “bell” with a long L, a lilt and emphasis on the “oi” – and bust out laughing.

I don’t know why my brain picked Beloit as the name for a fairy. Marzipan’s name came first – a light and crunchy confection somewhere between candy and cookie. She’s Beloit’s sister, the other fairy in the fairy tale, and she is distinctly more salty than sweet. But she means well and would never try to hurt anyone with her mischief. Beloit is less practical than Marzipan, more silly, but together they make a perfect pair of pixies, finishing each other’s sentences and schemes.

Marzipan flies circles around your logic.

“Marzipan and Beloit” had a nice ring to it. I was definitely thinking of the marble in the toilet bowl when I named him. To me, Beloit will always be funny. The horse’s name, Milwaukee, was just a continuation of the joke. I don’t know why but I thought the random Wisconsin references got funnier the more I did it.

When I wrote The Flight of The Starling, I lived in Montana. I had no thought of moving closer to Beloit. Now that I am a Wisconsinite, I have to say, I think naming a fairy Beloit is even funnier than it was when I wrote it. I apologize to any Beloitites (Beloiters? Beloitians?) who don’t agree, or who think the splooshing onomatopoeia is an insult. What can I say, I was a child, and it stuck in my head. You’ll have to take it up with Frank Zappa.

What would you name a fairy and why? Leave me a comment.

All the best,

Ella Arrow Author

The Flight of The Starling, A Fairy Tale, is available for pre-order on Amazon and IngramSpark now, for release on November 1.