Farewell to the backyard garden pond

backyard garden pond

In its prime. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

Our backyard looks and sounds a little different than it has in a long time.

We recently bid a fond farewell to our little backyard garden pond. She served us well all these years. It was time to let her go, and allow others to embrace her captivating charm.

I didn’t relish removing the little pond and all its accessories. The artificial pond brought us many genuine joys, far beyond any expectations we could have imagined.

When I retired as elementary principal in 1999, my faithful staff, amiable students and supportive parents presented me with a very special gift. They gave me a hand-hewn birdbath and a gift certificate for a garden pond, something I had wanted for a long time.

I brought the weighty birdbath home and plopped it where the sidewalk curves to the front porch. Surrounded by luscious bubblegum petunias, it enticed many a bird to sip and bathe in the summer sunshine.

I located the pond just steps away from our back porch. It was also easily visible from the windows at the rear of our home.

I’ve had two different ponds over the years. The first was a rubber lining placed in a shallow hole that I had dug out. I added a miniature waterfall constructed out of an assortment of rocks I collected from farm fields and local creeks.

I added goldfish, oxygenating plants, water lilies, snails and non-toxic chemicals to kill the algae and keep the water as clean as possible. Of course, I had to feed the fish and regularly clean the pond pump filters.

Unfortunately, destructive varmints also were drawn to the water feature. Several years ago, I awoke to find that the pond had been nearly drained.

I discovered that some ground moles had created shortcuts to quench their thirst. To prevent a reoccurrence, I switched to a hard plastic pond. In the end, it turned out to be a better option for everybody, pond critters included.

The waterfalls provided practical and esthetic pleasures. The birds loved it, bathing and drinking the refreshing water. The sound of water falling mesmerized anyone who graced our porch.

I enjoyed watching American Goldfinches bringing young to the pond for the first time. I added a heater to keep the falls going in the wintertime. A variety of birds took advantage of the much-needed water when their normal sources froze.

Birds weren’t the only animals attracted to the little pond. Over the years, raccoons, garter snakes, groundhogs, squirrels and even deer came to the pond.

The grandchildren loved the pond, too. They couldn’t wait to feed the fish and count the frogs hiding among the lily pads and their pure white blossoms each time the grandkids visited. My wife and I will always cherish those fine memories.

As much as we loved the pond and its amenities, we needed to give it up. Given our situation, we simply couldn’t maintain the pond properly. A friend’s family is already enjoying its alluring magical sounds. It’s nice to know that another generation will continue the gratification that we received from the little water feature.

To keep a water source for the animals and birds, I relocated the sandstone birdbath from the front to the back and added a couple of others to keep it company. We transplanted hostas and placed several of the rocks leftover from the falls for some natural texture.

The birds have already discovered the water. I only hope the snakes and groundhogs don’t find it as desirable.

garden pond, birth baths

The new “pond.” © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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The Grass is Greener

Amish country, horses,

The Grass is Greener. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

I am fortunate to live among the largest Amish population in the world. A photo opportunity is seemingly around every curve. On a recent nice day, I was out and about taking some photos of spring emerging. As I topped a small hill, I saw this pastoral scene and just happened to catch this horse reaching across the fence to munch the same lush grass it was standing on.

Apparently, the grass really is greener on the other side of the fence. “The Grass is Greener” is my photo of the week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Writing is as hard as it is easy

colorful sunset, Ohio's Amish country

Inspiring sunset. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

I attended a writing conference recently, an opportunity I always enjoy. Mingling with a group of fellow writers has its definite rewards.

The assembled participants and workshop presenters represented a typical cross section of the global populous. That’s as it should be.

The attendees ranged from teens to octogenarians. Men and women, short and tall, round and thin, assertive and shy, professional and novice, poets and novelists, suits and dresses, jeans and leggings, dreads and bald like me gathered for one purpose. They wanted to learn about writing.

Writers attend conferences to grasp new ideas, to share their stories, to gain confidence, courage, and knowledge about the craft. Presenters enable that to happen.

Rushing water. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Rushing water. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Often at conferences like this one, papers are presented, and awards proclaimed for various categories. There appeared to be no sore losers, only happy winners, and supportive family, friends and audience.

I marvel at how many people both write and want to write. I feel honored to be among them.

Now and then when I am out and about, someone thanks me for a piece I have written. They mention how much the column or article meant to them. I kindly thank them and walk away fulfilled. It doesn’t take much to make a writer’s day.

It happened at this conference, too. Two different ladies thanked me for my writing. One even said she cuts out each column and saves them. I smiled as humbly as I could.

I am also often asked how I come up with something to write about week in and week out. I always answer, “It’s easy really. Every day is a new day full of astonishing moments and opportunities.” It’s my charge to note and share in words what I uncover.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

As a writer, I look for things, for activities and experiences that interest me, that I think might interest my readers. The truth is, though, that the process is much, much harder than that.

It’s difficult because I can be selfish, stubborn, silly, serious, prone to mistakes, omissions, too attuned to other sensory activities as I interact with others, with nature, and with myself. I am human. Just ask my loving wife and family.

However, I sometimes miss the obvious. Then I obsess.

I strive to write what is on my heart or what I have observed or experienced, hoping that at least some of my readers might identify with my subject. I do so because I know not everyone can or cares to write.

I am not the best writer in the world. I just want to write the best I can. I know I am not always successful in that endeavor.

A writer friend of mine, a nationally syndicated columnist, once gave me some excellent advice when I struggled to find my written voice. She said, “Write what finds you.” And so I try.

I wait and watch and pray for what finds me. When the words do come, I write for me. I write for you.

Writing is both easy and hard. I hope you find both joy and hope in the words you read. Nothing satisfies a writer more than knowing their written words have touched someone in a personal way.

I am grateful to be published. I am grateful for faithful readers, too. That’s the deep, dark secret in making a hard task easy.

inspiring scene, Amish children

Scenes like this one inspire me to write.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Springtime fun

Amish children, fishing, pond

Springtime fun. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

In photography, sometimes you get more than you realize when you snap the shutter. The afternoon sun playing on a charming farmstead caught my eye. When I exited the car to take the photo, I took that picture, and a few others. It wasn’t until I looked below me that I spied these Amish youngsters fishing. They were enjoying a rare, sunny and warm afternoon in Ohio’s Amish country. I marveled at the symmetry of the shot. The ruby-colored dresses of the girls mirrored that of the faded barn. Both girls were standing, fixing their poles. The two boys sat cross-legged, lines in the pond’s calm water, patiently waiting for a bite.

“Springtime fun” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Waiting on spring requires patience

spring sunrise, April sunrise

Spring sunrise. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

The first flowers of the year bloomed in our yard on April 1. No fooling.

My wife found them while picking up sticks after several additional days of steady, biting winds that brought down more tree debris. I had done the same chore a week previous.

Golds, lavenders and purples of spring, assisted by the blossoms’ compatriot green leafy shafts, poked through the tree trash. That’s the one nice thing about crocuses. They replenish themselves without any effort on our part, as long as furry varmints don’t devour them.

The royal purple, lovely lavender, and buttery yellow crocuses were welcomed splashes of joyous color amid the decaying aftermath of winter’s harshness. Even the honeybees thought so.

Dead limbs and burnished leaves littered the yard thanks to continuous cold winds. It was mostly the shingle oaks and red oaks that finally released last year’s growth.

It could be easy to be remorseful given the depth of winter’s persistent, piercing punches. To be blunt, the last two winters in Ohio have been brutal. The current condition of any highway, rural, suburban, urban or interstate, is proof enough of that.

The fact is that when you live in northern Ohio, awaiting spring requires patience. We shouldn’t allow either the sullenness of winter’s negative effect nor the cloudy, cool spring days to dull our senses to the numerous subtle changes that are occurring beyond the short-lived flowerings.

Those hints are our daily hope. We only need to watch and listen to realize spring’s emergence.

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Here’s what I’ve witnessed so far. The glint of another promising sunrise flashed off the harness hardware of the draft horses pulling one bottom plows turning topsoil. Chilly mid-morning April showers sent them all to the barn.

A Chipping Sparrow trilled its repetitious song from the safety of the blue spruce at the corner of our home. It was nice to hear its monotonous melody again.

A Red-winged Blackbird sang its luxurious chorus from the top of the tallest pine on our property. It had been doing so for a month already. When our son was a youngster, he always noted when this common bird with its flashy red wing patches first sang its welcoming song atop that tree.

Cardinals and American Robins joined in the musical mayhem, staking out their territories, and trying to attract a mate. The robins regularly asserted themselves, especially against their diminutive but beautiful cousins, the Eastern Bluebirds.

Molting American Goldfinches squabbled at the bird feeder by the kitchen window as if their changing colors irritated their familial demeanor. An Eastern Phoebe popped onto the same limb it claimed last year and naturally bobbed its lobed tail.

An awakened fox squirrel was a sight to see as well. Pelting rains had disheveled its scrubby fur as it munched and munched on sunflower seeds.

Buds on trees like the flowering dogwood and shrubs like the lilac swell slowly, stealthily. Eventually,

yellow crocuses, crocuses

Yellow crocuses. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

they will burst into full blossom, spreading both their beauty and fragrances for all to enjoy.

Long, hard winters followed by chilly, wet starts to spring can get us behaving badly if we’re not careful. We get antsy for the weather we so desire. Tending to both flower and vegetable gardens beats shoveling snow any day.

With the recent rains and warmer temperatures, it looks as though our steadfast but frayed patience has finally paid off. Let’s hope both fairer weather and pleasant attitudes prevail right on into summer.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Warm Whispers

spring sunset, orange sunset

Warm Whispers. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

At first glance, this photo appears to be a sunset somewhere in the western United States. In fact, I shot this sunset from my backyard in Holmes County, Ohio. From there, I have a clear view of the pastured hillside on our Amish neighbor’s farm. The windmill, bare trees and fencerow created a wonderful silhouette against the warm, whispery clouds of the multi-hued sunset.

“Warm Whispers” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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A stranger who quickly became a friend

Anna Ruby Falls, mountain man, hiker, friend

Our new friend, Gary. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

My wife and I had already taken several photos of the beautiful double waterfalls in remote northeastern Georgia. We had no idea the Anna Ruby Falls were even there until a resident of nearby Helen, Georgia encouraged us to go see them.

Little did we know that we would discover more than gorgeous cascading mountain streams on our brief side trip into the highlands of the Chattahoochee National Forest. We encountered much more than natural beauty.

It was an easy but exhilarating walk on the paved path from the parking lot to the base of the roaring waterfalls. A pair of convergent streams formed Anna Ruby. Together Curtis and York Creeks thundered with the melt from a recent heavy snowfall.

As we turned to retreat down the half-mile path, a mountain man appeared on the eastern hillside. Amid the mature hardwoods, dormant laurels, and granite outcroppings, he gingerly descended the slippery path with his walking stick to the base of the falls.

The man had a long, full flowing beard, a partially buzzed head, tattoos, wore a hiker’s kilt, and lugged a loaded backpack. He also had a smile that wouldn’t quit. It was clear this man was serious about his hiking.

Though the day was cool, this middle-aged man was sweated from his strenuous trek across the countryside. He had found the falls more by accident than a destination. He had incorrect directions.

We introduced ourselves, and the friendship was on. Gary shook hands with us. I took his photo with his phone camera. Gary said I was the first person ever to offer to take his photo. I liked the guy already. When I heard the rest of the story, I liked him even more.

Gary had been in the military, was from northern Michigan, had a wife and four children, and served as a minister. He was on a personal quest to hike the Appalachian Trail, or AT as the pros refer to it.

And just like that, Gary was off to find the closest AT trailhead. On our way out to the main road, we spotted our new friend walking. We offered him a ride, and Gary gladly jumped in.

We were glad he had, too. It was six miles, mostly uphill, to where he needed to go. That gave us just enough time to get further acquainted. He lived in Michigan’s cherry country. We lived in Ohio’s Amish country.

As he exited our van, he pulled out a postcard addressed to his family back home and asked us if we would mail it. Why, of course, we would do that. We deposited it at the next post office we came to miles down the mountain.

Imagine our surprise when a few days later Gary’s lovely wife, Nicole, called to thank us for helping her wonderful husband, and for mailing the card. I had given Gary my business card, which is how Nicole got my number.

Nicole asked for our address. Gary wanted to send us something for helping him. I told her that wasn’t necessary, but I complied with her request nonetheless.

A few days later a weighty little box arrived in the mail. I couldn’t wait to open it. Chocolate covered cherries, cherry jam and other cherry goodies filled the gift box. It was quite the surprise.

I’m glad we didn’t hesitate to give Gary a ride that day. I think the friendship will last longer than the chocolate covered cherries did.

Anna Ruby Falls

Gary viewing the falls. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Morning sunshine

male eastern bluebird

Male Eastern Bluebird. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Though the air was still cold, the morning sun was shining brightly. This male Eastern Bluebird took full advantage of it, too. As it waited on a chance at the peanut butter suet feeder in our backyard, the beautiful bird soaked in the sunshine’s warmth.

The sun and the bird together brought morning sunshine to me. “Morning sunshine” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Pippi Longstocking comes to life on Amelia Island, Florida

Villa Vilekulla, Pippi Longstocking

The real Villa Villekulla. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

Art often imitates life. It’s more unusual to have it happen the other way around.

On Amelia Island, Florida, art and life have harmonized, especially for one particular children’s fictional character, Pippi Longstocking.

Pippi Longstocking was the brainchild of Swedish children’s author, Astrid Lindgren. She wrote a series of adventures about Pippi that have been read and reread by adoring youngsters around the world. The books have been translated into 64 languages.

Pippi books have been so popular that Hollywood had to join in the fun, too. Several versions of Pippi Longstocking movies have been made.

In 1988, an Americanized version of the original Swedish story was made into a movie, which was filmed entirely on Amelia Island. Island tour guides like to point out various locales where scenes from “The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking” were shot.

Lighthouse cottage, Pippi Longstocking, Fernandina Beach FL

The lighthouse cottage where Pippi threw the bottle into the ocean.

Most of the scenes were filmed in or near Historic Downtown Fernandina Beach, Amelia Island’s only city. The only seashore scene, which was very brief, was filmed just down the beach from where we have stayed on vacation.

When our three grandchildren visited us in Florida near the end of January, they wanted to see some of the locations as depicted in the movie. They had seen the movie, thanks to Nana, who had it on videotape from her teaching days.

Nana packed the tape so the kids could review the various locations in the movie. They watched the light-hearted film, and we were off on our Pippi tour.

Since the setting of much of the book and movie was in Pippi’s dilapidated house, the Villa Villekulla, we headed there first. In previous years, the house looked much the way it appeared in the movie, unkempt, disheveled, and badly in need of a fresh coat of white paint.

Imagine our surprise, and the grandkids’ disappointment, when we found the house being remodeled. A distasteful olive green siding replaced the weathered white clapboards so prominently featured in the film.

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It was evident that the remodeling project was a work in process. The owner had replaced some of the windows of the Victorian-style home. Others were boarded up.

We later learned that the beloved house had been vandalized, purchased, and was being restored with the purpose of giving tours. In the movie, the villain tried repeatedly to obtain the home by deceit so the old house could be demolished and replaced with a moneymaking scheme.

The grandkids were disappointed to learn that the big tree in the side yard where Pippi and her neighbor friends so often played was the convenience of the producer’s imagination. They discovered how movies are produced.

We visited Centre St. in the quaint downtown area, where most of the movie was filmed. The ice cream shop was actually the oldest saloon in Florida. The building Pippi flew her bicycle by just happens to house a toy store named “Villa Villekulla.”

One puzzle remained, however. Where were the orphanage scenes shot? I found the answer after the kids left. Those scenes were filmed at a private school just north of Centre St. Ironically the old brick building originally had been a home for orphans.

When the sun broke through, and the temperatures warmed, our grandchildren’s attention turned from fantasy to reality. They played on the seashore in front of the lighthouse-shaped home where Pippi threw the bottle with a message in it for her father.

Imagination and reality met on the beach. Our grandkids couldn’t have been happier.

Pippi Longstocking, pink sunset

A sunset just the way Pippi would have liked it. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Tall ship angles

tall ship, peacemaker, abstract photography

Tall ship angles. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

I had a chance to board and tour a tall ship docked at St. Marys, GA earlier this year. I enjoyed the tour and took several photos of interesting subjects and objects onboard the ship. However, I thought this photo, with its many shapes and angles, was the most interesting. The patterned sky of white and blue provided a distinctive background for the ship’s main mast.

“Tall ship angles” is my photo of the week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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