Clouded Blue Moon

August full moon, high clouds

Clouded Blue Moon. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

I hoped to get a shot of August’s blue moon rising on the horizon. That didn’t happen. I have Ohio’s fickle weather to thank for that. A thick blanket of clouds filled the evening sky making such a shot impossible.

Determined to get a photo, I kept checking the sky. A little after 9 p.m., I was surprised to see the moon shining behind broken clouds, which were quickly closing. I was able to capture this shot before the clouds closed in on my window of opportunity.

“Clouded Blue Moon” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Filed under Ohio, Photo of the Week, photography, weather

August’s end means new beginnings

walk to school, Amish boys

Back to school. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

A Belted Kingfisher flew furiously over the fresh mown hay towards a neighbor’s pond. Breakfast was likely on its mind.

My farmer neighbor hitched his workhorses and teddered the hay to help it dry. The Barn Swallows, Tree Swallows, and Cliff Swallows circled the productive locomotion and devoured every insect the man, the machine and his faithful team dispersed.

A refreshing north wind eased the day’s early humidity. No need for a calendar. All signs pointed to August’s end.

A few trees had already begun to transition from their chlorophyll green to their disguised shades. Even before the berries on the dogwoods blushed bright red, the trees’ leaves curled and revealed hints of crimson and lavender.

blooming hydrangea

The hydrangea. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

My energetic wife had already deadheaded the once lovely hosta blooms that adorned the leafy plants in her luscious flower gardens. The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, hummingbird moths, and various butterflies, bees, and other pollinating insects had completed their instinctive work.

The hydrangea bush bloomed full and pure against the garden shed. It demanded daily watering in August’s heat and dryness.

Juvenile birds, Red-headed Woodpeckers, Song Sparrows and Blue Jays among them, found the feeders and the birdbaths on their own. Another aviary generation will forge into fall and winter without knowing what lies ahead as if any of us do.

American Goldfinch on sunflower

Eating fresh. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

The acrobatics of the American Goldfinches provided free entertainment as they worked over the volunteer sunflowers that sprouted from bird feeder droppings. Fresh food is not just a human preference.

The big yellow school buses began carting anxious and enthusiastic children alike to and from school. I waved to the drivers as they passed me on my walk.

People often ask me if I miss those days; if I don’t have some innate longing to return to my first career. The short answer is, “No, I don’t.”

I loved the children, whether teaching or being their principal. I greatly enjoyed the interactions of parents and staff members, even when we disagreed. I have no resentments or regrets. Neither do I have any wish to reenlist.

oat shocks

Straw soldiers. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

My life has moved on. I am the same person, just at a different place in my turn at life’s cycle. I have fond, fond memories of my teaching days and principal days. But now I have neither the desire nor energy to compete in today’s educational whirlwind too often driven by politics instead of common sense.

I would rather sit on my back porch, as I am now, taking in the world as each moment flashes by. I don’t want to miss anything. I want to rise each day to enjoy the sunrise and bid farewell to the evening light that dims all too soon.

fluffing hay, teddering hay

Teddering the hay. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Each day is an opportunity to live, to be alive, to help others, to listen, to look, to breath, to pray silently, to work diligently for peace in a troubled world. That is my challenge now.

August has come and gone, always too fast, always too hot and dry. August melds into September.

We can only embrace it, for there are marvelous days ahead. I’ll watch for them whether from my back porch or wherever I might be, knowing that too many in the world will not have the pastoral view or luxuriousness of trusting neighbors that like mine.

It’s my duty to share goodness and joy with others as my life, too, passes from August into September. Isn’t that the real responsibility of all of us at any age?

August, sunset, Holmes Co. OH

August sunset. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Filed under Amish, birding, column, nature photography, Ohio's Amish country, photography, Uncategorized, weather, writing

August in Amish country

oat shocks, Holmes Co. OH,

Oat shocks. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Scenes such as these make iconic Amish country photographs. However, fields of shocked grain like this are less and less frequent. Rules for the Amish farmers are changing, allowing them to make use of equipment like combines to harvest oats and wheat.

Only the lower order Amish still shock wheat and oats. This method permits the grain to dry in the warm, often hot, August sun. Once the moisture content is low enough, the shocks are pitchforked onto a wagon and hauled to the barn. There a thrasher separates the grain from the chaff.

I hope this process remains, if only for its marvelous beauty.

“August in Amish country” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Filed under Amish, Ohio, Ohio's Amish country, Photo of the Week, photography

A simple but sacred sound

canning, strainer

The strainer. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

It’s a simple sound, one that would go nearly unnoticed if it weren’t for all the work involved, and the anticipated joy on a cold winter day.

This time of year, the sudden, short, pleasing pop of canning lids sealing brings smiles to the faces and hearts of many folks young and old. It’s as sweet and lovely as the produce stored inside the glistening glass containers.

When I shared these thoughts on a Facebook post, I was pleasantly surprised at the immediate response from friends. Folks across several generations testified to the pleasure and joy this momentary, miniscule explosion instills.

Kelsie, said, “Just a tiny noise, but it implies so much.” Indeed, it does.

“It is the sound of successful accomplishment,” wrote Alexander from Russia. Exactly! That pop is the universal sound of delicious meals ahead. It is the announcement of another happy harvest.

“Love it!” Patty implored. “The sound of a job well done.” Knowing her family, Patty spoke from personal experience.

“Love that sound,” Vernon mused. His family history knows that blessed soothing sound, too.

“It’s always exciting and may be why I put up with the canning mess,” wrote Joanne. Professional, honest person that she is, Joanne pretty well nailed the harvest time celebration.

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Canning does have its stresses, though. Just ask Cathy.

“Boy do I worry when I don’t hear one of them,” she commented. “It’s exciting times around here to hear those pops!”

Those weren’t frivolous exclamation points either. A canner experiences great relief upon hearing that barely audible sound above rushing traffic, ornery children, and televisions blaring. Though this tinny ping of a noise lasts but a millisecond, it represents the efforts of months of intensive work and hopeful patience. Ask any gardener.

A lot of planning goes into ensuring a productive, successful vegetable garden. From the time the first seed catalog arrives in the mail mid-winter, gardeners envision what, when and where they’ll plant their seeds and seedlings.

Those who follow the almanac or family tradition have their peas planted by the Ides of March. Given Ohio’s extended winters lately, I doubt those plans played out.

Nevertheless, those who love getting their hands dirty can’t wait to plant those first seeds or set the initial tomato and pepper plants. First, though, comes fertilizing and tilling the soil.

A lot more active verbs follow planning and planting. Collectively, buying, watering, weeding, pruning, husking, peeling, cleaning, cooking, pouring outline the ground to jar process.

For those with truck patches, it’s fun to spot the first ripening tomato. It’s horrid to discover a tomato worm, however. Like it or not, that’s all part of the natural growing process.

The hope for the cunning canner is that the sweet corn, tomatoes and apples won’t all come ripe in the same week. If they do, everything else gets set aside. When it’s time to preserve the canning and freezing commence.

With burners blazing, kitchens quickly heat up often in the warmest weather of the year. It’s a sweaty but necessary price to pay for such sweet rewards.

Jeanne summed up the preserving procedure with these questions and a one-word answer. “Tomatoes? Juice? Pickles? Yum,” she said.

Come January, I just hope I remember all that went into creating a healthy meal of tasty tomato soup, pickled beets, frozen Incredible sweet corn, spicy salsa, and homemade jam. Most of all, I don’t want to forget that satisfying sound that seals the deal.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Filed under column, food photography, photography, writing

Western Sky

sunset, Holmes Co. OH

Western Sky. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

I never tire of taking shots of sunsets from my backyard. At first glance, one might think this photo was taken out west someplace, as in the western United States. It wasn’t. I shot this sunset recently in my backyard in Ohio’s Amish country. Windmills for pumping water on Amish farms are commonplace in Holmes Co., Ohio.

I realize that I am fortunate to live where I do. I never tire of the incredible sunsets that occur so frequently. Most of all, I enjoy sharing them with you.

“Western Sky” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Filed under Ohio's Amish country, Photo of the Week, photography, Uncategorized

Rejoicing with others along life’s variable journey

Seneca Rocks

Seneca Rocks, WV. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

I sat on the picnic table for nearly two hours admiring the scenery and serenity all around me. I hadn’t planned on staying that long. Life’s events have a way of altering your plans.

The previous day I had safely delivered our granddaughter back to her parents in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. On the way home, I wanted to hike up the enchanting Seneca Rocks, one of the best-known landmarks in West Virginia.

I had previously taken several photos of this fascinating rock formation that juts straight into the sky. But I never had time to climb it. I did this trip.

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The switchback trail to the viewing platform at the north end of the ancient rock outcropping extends a mile and a half. In that short distance, the trail climbs 1,000 ft.

The cool morning was perfect for my adventure. An overnight cold front had cleared out the heat and humidity.

The trailhead began at the restored home of an early pioneer settler. A tour of the Sites homestead is informative and interesting. I could have been satisfied to watch the dozens of butterflies that flitted around the bee balm. But I had come to hike.

I only walked a few yards when I came to a pedestrian bridge that crossed a delightful river, the South Fork of the North Branch of the Potomac River to be exact. The stream’s lengthy name didn’t do justice to its placid beauty.

Once across the rock-laden river, the switchbacks began. I was more surprised about the excellent condition of the trail than its sudden steepness. A light breeze kept the insects away as I forged ahead beneath the leafy canopy high overhead.

It was comfortable walking in the shade of both the forest and the quartzite cliff, thrust upright from its original horizontal position millennia ago. I had the trail to myself until some early morning hikers passed me on their way down.

I made it to the viewing platform in 40 minutes. The sun’s strengthening light bathed the valley below and the mountains beyond. The businesses, houses and vehicles all looked like toys.

Just as I stepped onto the viewing area that protrudes away from the rock face, a southwest breeze picked up. Soon Turkey Vultures began to soar on the developing vortexes. I glanced back down to the river to discover an adult Bald Eagle had also started to circle in the quickly warming air. In just a few elongated loops, the magnificent bird was high above my head.

I think I smiled all the way back down to the car. I moved to a shaded picnic table to rest and eat the light lunch I had packed. As I ate, I scanned the still shaded western face of the Seneca Rocks with my binoculars.

Instead of birds, I found first one, then three, then 10 rock climbers scaling the huge, craggy outcropping. I was entranced.

I sat beneath a shade tree observing these men and women pick their way up this sacred place. One brave guy didn’t even use ropes.

I waited to leave until all had made it safely to the summit. I admired their courage, their determination, and their adept skills.

I was pleased to have walked to the top and back. It was even more satisfying seeing these remarkable folks reach their destination. They celebrated their perilous journey with fist pumps and shouts of joy that echoed far across the valley into my soul.

reaching the summit

Celebration time. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Details in Patterns

Amish farm, details

Details in Patterns. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

I love to look for patterns in photos. There are plenty on display here, even if you only look at the various textures of the roofs on the congregated buildings. Also note the details that enhance the plain red and white buildings. Did you see the brown horse against the barn wall? How about the Rock Doves, aka pigeons, on the roof of the outbuilding in the foreground? Or the smoke coming out of the chimney?

See how many other details you can find as you explore this photo.

“Details in Patterns” is my photo of the week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Filed under Photo of the Week, photography