Camouflaged

Camouflaged. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Camouflaged. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015.

I recently went in search of migrating warblers and other bird species at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area near Oak Harbor, OH. It was the peak of the Biggest Week in American Birding, sponsored by the Black Swamp Birding Observatory. Thousands of folks from around the world came to the annual event.

Magee Marsh has a well-maintained boardwalk for birders to observe up close the many beautiful birds that flit around. The boardwalk meanders through the various favorable habitats, woods, marsh, water. At times, the walkway is packed. People clump up to get a view of a showy or rare species, with birders helping birders to find the bird. That’s just how birders are. Well, most of them at least.

When I came upon this photographer aiming his huge camera at something, I had to take his photo. He was the only person I saw all day that totally blocked the boardwalk. This individual wore all the right clothes and used the best photography equipment.

He clearly only had one thing in mind, and courtesy wasn’t one of them. His camouflage outfit and camera said it all. He was there to shoot photos of birds. He seemed totally oblivious to the fact that thousands of others wanted to do the same and were unable to pass the way he was set up. Also, the boardwalk rules, both written and understood, clearly state, “No tripods.”

I’m glad this photographer was the exception, not the rule at Magee Marsh. “Camouflaged” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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A recipe that ensures lasting memories: good food, gracious friends

birthday meal, birthday celebration

Birthday celebration. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

Friends. Food. Memories. That’s a recipe to remember.

Some of my favorite memories come from sitting around a dinner table and sharing a meal with friends. With the passage of time, more often than not these are folks we seldom see on a regular basis for a multitude of reasons.

The excuses responsible for the separation are many and varied. A change of jobs, retirement, relocating, even a misunderstanding are just some of the possibilities.

Funny, isn’t it, how food enables meaningful conversation, neutralizes differences and bonds folks together. That’s true, of course, as long as I’m not cooking.

food and friends

Brunch with friends © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Food flavors the conversational flow. Perhaps it’s the other way around. The intentionality of reconnecting is easier if food is the centerpiece.

The type of meal is insignificant. It could be at a fancy restaurant, or someone’s home or a relaxing picnic. The setting and type don’t necessarily dictate the buoyant demeanor that prevails. The results are the same.

My late father was notorious for instigating such gatherings. He called it the “annual Frith picnic.” Frith was my mother’s maiden name, and anyone directly and remotely connected to the Frith family of my mother and her two sisters was invited.

Grandma Frith, the mother of the three daughters, was always the queen of the feast. Us grandkids revered her. Her homemade pies had nothing to do with that of course.

Dad kept the reunion going as long as he could. We usually met at his company-owned park, along with hundreds of other employees and their families.

We played card games, softball, volleyball and miniature golf. Mostly though, we grouped in semi-circles or sat at picnic tables quizzing one another. As the grandkids grew, they began to have children of their own.

old friends

Marvin and Mary. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Attendance and menu offerings expanded, and then lessened as family cells grew and spread across the country like the measles. I miss those get-togethers. I remember the intensity of the conversations though not the specifics. Shoot, I can’t remember what I had for lunch, and lunch was an hour ago.

I recall other smorgasbords as well.

I find sitting at the same table with people you once hired, shared offices, played on the same softball team or attended church with priceless. Between bites of seasoned casseroles and homemade desserts, we sit around like old grandparents and compare notes about our greatest blessings, our grandchildren. We do so because we are old grandparents, well most of us.

Stories long forgotten are retold as if they happened yesterday. We laugh to the point of tears. Quiet reflections often follow the expressive outpourings, sure signs that those times will never return nor be repeated. That may be for the best.

family and food

Family. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

If heads turn our way in public settings, they are accompanied by understanding smiles without knowing the context or details. The other patrons acknowledge the genuine fellowship with polite nods.

I especially love extended opportunities where the conversing spontaneously spills out long past the clearing of the supper table. Raucous rounds of dominoes or card games ensue. They are new memories freshly made.

I find it even more delicious if newcomers slide into the circle of friends. They ask clarifying questions that generate new information, more laughter, a rainbow of language, and new friends.

In such situations, I have learned another necessary ingredient that spices the relational recipe. Silent listening is the honey that sweetens the relationships and keeps me asking for seconds.

relaxing before the meal

Relaxing. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Lighted Lighthouse

Marblehead Lighthouse, lighthouses

The Marblehead Lighthouse, Marblehead, OH. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

The Marblehead Lighthouse, Marblehead, OH is one of my favorite places to linger. Winter, summer, spring or fall, it doesn’t matter. I love to linger on the lighthouse grounds, enjoying the view, the passing boats, the birds, and the folks I meet there. Most of all, however, I just like to sit on the hard limestone outcroppings and look at the lighthouse. Last evening, I visited my old friend after a day of birding along the Lake Erie shore in northwest OH.

I arrived at the lighthouse near sunset. As soon as I drove into the nearly empty parking lot, my face lit up. As the sun neared the western horizon, it broke through a layer of clouds. A soothing golden light magnificently illuminated the top of the lighthouse. I thought it rather poetic that the natural light bathed the source of the artificial beacon that the historic lighthouse would soon produce.

“Lighted Lighthouse” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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For birders, migration is like Christmas in springtime

Bay-breasted Warbler, migratiing birds, locating birds

Migrating warblers, like this Bay-breasted Warbler, are often easy to hear but hard to locate since they usually stay high in trees and are constantly on the move feeding. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

Like children dreaming of Old St. Nick on Christmas Eve, this is the time of year birders have yearned for, longed for, relished.

For hardcore birders, spring migration is a Christmas morning that spans several weeks from mid-March to mid-May. Avid birders are especially on the alert now to find the many species they seek, and some they couldn’t even imagine.

Rock Wren, rare birds, spring migration

Rock Wren. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

When a rarity shows up like the Rock Wren did last spring, it’s a birding bonanza. The Rock Wren became a rock star. For several days, the bird from America’s southwest was a magnet, attracting folks from far and wide to Holmes County.

Such birds are the exception. The spring migratory norm is to view birds that either return here to nest or to catch a glimpse of those that are just passing through. Depending on the weather, the transients might stay a day or two, or just make a short pit stop to rest and refuel.

The challenge is to be at the right place at the right time to see and hear the birds.

For me, I’m just as happy to note the return of my backyard birds. The Chimney Swifts rattled the fireplace doors as they swooped into our chimney the evening of April 18, the same date as last year.

How do I know? Like most birders, I keep a list of when I see a species for the first time each year. In the birding world, that’s known as the FOY, first of year. For instance, the Red-headed Woodpecker was a day later than last year, arriving April 21.

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Today’s birders use social networking sources to track the movement and appearance of the various species. That gives the flocks of birders a heads up on finding and photographing particular birds.

We are fortunate in Ohio to have one of the best locations in the country to observe and hear a wide variety of transitory and returning birds, especially warblers. This time of year both birds and birders pack Magee Marsh Wildlife Area.

A conservation group, the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, located at the entrance to Magee Marsh in northwest Ohio, sponsors “America’s Biggest Week in Birding.” In fact, it’s going on right now.

These folks welcome thousands of birders, amateur to professional, in hosting this attractive annual festival. Magee Marsh, a state park, is billed as “the warbler capital of the world.” Having been there on many occasions, I can attest to that.

Birders from around the world converge on Magee Marsh just to watch the warblers and shorebirds come and go. It’s not unusual to observe 20 or more kinds of warblers in just a few hours. Magee Marsh and the surrounding acreage are protected habitat that ensures safe harbor for migrating and nesting birds of all sizes, colors and species.

My first visit to Magee Marsh years ago was indeed like Christmas. A few steps onto the wooden boardwalk and I spotted a variety of colorful warblers decked out in their impressive breeding plumage. The brightly colored little birds looked like Christmas tree ornaments perched on low-hanging tree branches.

Where I live here in Ohio’s Amish country, we don’t necessarily have to drive that far to enjoy the migrating birds. The Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area, the Holmes County Trail, The Wilderness Center, and the many ponds and lakes in our area provide excellent habitat for a variety of birds.

Or you can just step outside and watch and listen. You just might think it’s Christmas in springtime.

overlapping birds in spring migration

Winter and summer residents, like this White-crowned Sparrow, and male Rose-breasted Grosbeack, oftern overlap during spring migration. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Doubletree Rainbow

trees over river, rainbow

Doubletree Rainbow. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

I came upon this amazing natural phenomenon yesterday while birding with a friend in Goshen, IN. Both trees bent across the Elkhart River mimicked a double rainbow.

This photo titled itself. Doubletree Rainbow” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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A beautiful mother in every way

Miller farm by Bruce Stambaugh

One of my mother’s many watercolors. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

My late mother was a beautiful woman in so many ways.

Her physical features spoke for themselves at every stage of her long life. Reviewing old black and white photos, it was clear Mom was a looker in her early youth, as a young wife and beyond.

Dad used to tell a story about the time his co-workers first saw Mom at a company picnic. They asked Dad, who was lanky with big ears and a protruding nose, if Mom was mad at herself on the day she married him. Dad took that as a compliment.

wedding photo

Mom and Dad on their wedding day, August 15, 1942. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Mom looked especially stunning in the many hats she wore throughout her life. Folks in the retirement community where she and Dad spent their final years always commented favorably on how grand Mom looked in her matching outfits.

Mom’s real beauty was in her heart and soul. Though never an openly affectionate woman, Mom expressed her splendor in the way she lived her life.

Mom generously shared her gifts of kindness, patience, and creativity whenever and wherever she could. If a neighbor was sick, she was at their door with food for the family.

If one of us kids needed something, Mom would often stop what she was doing and helped us. Once I admired a glossy red tulip growing in our flower garden. Mom left the kitchen and carefully dug and potted the flower for me to take to school for my teacher.

When Mom was hospitalized for a few days, the house seemed dark and still. Though we were well cared for, we missed her light and life.

Mom at the retirement home. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Mom at the retirement home. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

I’m sure my four siblings each have their own stories to share as well. It took a talented woman to balance her skills of parenting, cleaning, cooking, patching scrapes and dabbing tears.

Mom wasn’t a staid woman either. She couldn’t be with five ornery cherubs tearing around the house.

Believe me, we knew when one of us had crossed the line. The stress we caused her likely contributed to her wavy dark hair prematurely turning snow white. That made her all the more attractive.

Mom helped us with schoolwork, gave us blankets to make tents over the clothesline, and provided cool drinks on hot summer days. She laughed even if our jokes were lame, and cried when things seemed to just unravel.

Her devotion to Dad further evidenced her inner beauty. As controlling and contrary as Dad could be, Mom stood her ground in expressing her opinions. Her love for him, however, never wavered.

Dick Stambaugh, Marian Stambaugh, Bruce Stambaugh, parents

My late parents, Dick and Marian Stambaugh. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

I don’t recall him ever saying it, but I think Dad clearly understood that he was one fortunate man in marrying this lovely woman. He always gave her cards, flowers, candy and other gifts on holidays and her birthday.

With Dad’s encouragement, Mom got her driver’s license at age 40. He also coaxed her into taking art lessons, knowing her natural ability to draw and paint.

Mom’s beauty radiated from her mind’s eye into her vibrant watercolor paintings. She won many awards for her still life and landscape representations.

Mom was as humble and classy as Dad was brash and bold. She never boasted about her awards nor charged enough for the paintings she sold. She was happy just to have others enjoy her artwork.

If that isn’t beauty personified, I don’t know what is.

This will be the fourth Mother’s Day without Mom. I can still see her gorgeous smile, and sense her generous love. I hope your mother was just as beautiful as mine.

landscape painting, rural road

Rural road. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Angry sunset

sunset in Ohio's Amish country

April sunset. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Each evening around sunset, I usually look out the kitchen window to the west to gauge whether the sunset will be colorful or not. After yet another of our cloudy, wet and chilly days here in Ohio’s Amish country, I wasn’t expecting much of a sunset. That was until I took a peek out the window. I grabbed my camera and captured this fast-moving cloud blocking the setting sun.

The deflected rays shooting up, the light and dark contrasts in the cloud made it almost appear to have an angry look about it. Throw in the hill, the windmill, and treeline, all nearly in silhouette, and the cloud seemed to radiate its own personality.

“Angry Sunset” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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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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