Walking home

Amish couple, Holmes County Ohio, autumn leaves, country scene

Walking home. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

This time of year, the mixed deciduous leaves in Ohio’s Amish country are at their peak. You might expect me to choose a photo of a pastoral scene of a stand of golden sugar maples, or a treeline of reds, yellows and oranges as my Photo of the Week. Instead, I have selected this simple shot of an older Amish couple slowly walking home on a mid-October Sunday evening.

I was taking landscape photos of the lovely leaves. Near home, I stopped to take a photo of the golden sugar maples at my neighbor’s colonial style farmhouse. As I exited my vehicle, I noticed another neighbor, Christ, walking down the small knoll in front of the home. I respect the Amish desire to not be photographed. So I waited until he would pass. When he reached where I was standing, we began talking as neighbors will do. Soon his wife joined us. He had come to meet her on her usual evening stroll. Christ’s knees no longer allow him to accompany her on the steeper hills his wife walks.

I told them that I wanted to take a picture of the Kaufman house with the trees so nicely brightened by the evening sun, but that I had waited until he was no longer in the frame. Christ, who is 82, just smiled and said, “I don’t mind if you take my picture.” So I did, making sure to honor their beliefs by not getting a face shot.

Having this congenial elderly Amish couple in the foreground of the photo opposite the tans of the unharvested soybean field added a touching human element to an already pretty picture. “Walking home” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

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Cold weather can’t cool the warmth of a birthday party

Lego Dolphin cruise boat, grandkids

Ready to launch. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

We wouldn’t have missed this birthday bash for the world. As Maren’s grandparents, we were among the chosen few to attend her fifth birthday party.

Like we needed an excuse to visit. Nana and I would gladly traverse the 350 miles across eight mountain passes between our home and our daughter’s in Virginia’s always-lovely Shenandoah Valley to attend this special event.

Unfortunately, a dubious hitchhiker volunteered to accompany us on our trip. The nice Virginia weather changed to the stuff we had left in Ohio not long after our arrival in the valley.

We weren’t going to let a little discomforting inclemency spoil our celebrative spirits, however. The blue-eyed towhead Maren would turn five regardless of the climatological elements.

The party was just what Maren ordered. You would think a five-year-old girl who loves pink would go glitzy when given the chance to help plan her own party. But no, Maren only wanted family, plus a few close neighbors.

That is exactly what she got. She was the youngest in the cozy crowd.

Surrounded by her parents, her two ornery older brothers, and her MawMaw and Nana and Poppy, a festive evening of fun began with the opening of gifts and cards. What does a preschool girl get for her birthday? Why, jewelry of course, and books, and the one gift Maren hoped to receive, a Lego Dolphin Cruise liner.

The wet weather did postpone the only outside activity planned. The breaking of the piñata had to wait until the next morning.

While the kids went to a room to assemble the multitude of plastic pieces to create the boat, the table was set, and dinner prepared. Dessert was a delicious and preciously decorated cake done by a family friend. Of course, multicolored sprinkles, including pink, speckled the creamy white icing.

A candle in the shape of the number five topped the tiered, sparkly cake. A lone, perfect flame danced atop the crooked candle until one strong puff from the five-year-old snuffed it out.

Maren and her parents posed for a photo, and then it was back to the dry dock for the kids to complete the boat building. With three young engineers, the cruise ship was assembled in record time, encouraged on by teenage neighbors. The youngsters were all smiles when the last piece snapped into place.

birthday party, birthday cake, girl and parents

The Birthday Girl and her parents. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

However, there was one remaining meaningful gift for the birthday girl. The graduate school tenant who occupies the apartment in the basement of our daughter’s home brought a rather special surprise. It seems earlier in the year Miss Maren had secretly negotiated a contract with the tenant, who wanted to raise a garden, including watermelons.

Since Maren loves watermelon, she took it upon herself to wrangle a deal that had her receiving a portion of the ripe melons. Being a good sport, the tenant, majoring in peace studies, put her lessons into practice.

As the crops grew, however, nothing more was said about sharing the watermelons. Apparently, Maren was more satisfied with sealing the deal than cashing in on it.

Maren may have forgotten about the compact, but the tenant hadn’t. The last gift presented to Maren was a miniature watermelon saved just for her.

The watermelon gift was a cool idea that warmed the congenial birthday gathering all the more. Unless it was a stowaway, I don’t think the fruity cargo made the maiden voyage of the Dolphin, however.

birthday party, watermelon, gift

Watermelon surprise. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

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Tunnel silhouettes

railroad tunnel, silhouettes, photographer, subjects, Bruce Stambaugh

Tunnel silhouettes. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

My wife and another couple came upon this trio in an old train tunnel in Barnesville, Ohio. Our friends have been life-long train enthusiasts. We were exploring the old downtown in southeastern Ohio when we found this tunnel. As we approached one end of the tunnel, we noticed a young couple posing for a photographer at the other. I couldn’t resist photographing the crisp silhouettes of the three as the photo shoot concluded. I especially liked that the couple held hands.

The changing fall leaves and the afternoon’s diffused light that reflected off of the wetted tunnel wall helped accentuate the three subjects, who were holding a brief conversation as I took their photo. “Tunnel silhouettes” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

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The good and the bad of being noted

Colorful leaves Holmes County Ohio by Bruce Stambaugh

The red barn. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014

By Bruce Stambaugh

When I learned that Holmes County, Ohio ranked third in the world on National Geographic’s list of best places to view fall leaves, I smiled broader than a white oak leaf. I was overjoyed for the national notoriety of our picturesque county.

I’m not sure what criteria they used to rank the global locales to gain such stature. I’d like to think that there was more to it than seasonally colorful leafage.

Amish buggy fall leaves by Bruce Stambaugh

Pretty ride. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

I hoped our fertile fields and comely homesteads, our quaintness and inherent hospitality helped. It’s hard to resist chestnut horses and black buggies driven by friendly, plainly dressed passengers passing sun-drenched woodlots flashing all of autumn’s bright, warm colors.

The area’s fall beauty is ubiquitous. From Glenmont to Winesburg, from Walnut Creek to Lakeville, from Limpytown to Lake Buckhorn, the autumn vistas are amazing.

Then my grateful grin narrowed to a willow leaf’s width. I winced just thinking about our already clogged roads during the fall.

I was glad our bucolic area had received such a high recommendation from such a reputable source. But I found the potential consequences of that distinction a bit intimidating. How in the world would our infrastructure handle the onslaught of additional leaf lookers that were sure to appear?

Though pretty year-round, there’s no arguing that fall is prime time when it comes to the natural beauty here. A bonus is that the scenery is always changing given our varying topography and variable weather. It can be sunny in the highlands, and socked in with soupy fog in the lowlands.

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In minutes that scenario most likely will change with the wind or the warming of the atmosphere or both. One minute you can barely see your hand in front of your face, and the next the sun is illuminating superb settings.

There’s beauty around every turn no matter where you are exploring, and in Holmes County curves and hills abound. You can circumnavigate the area every day and watch the scenes transform.

Having lived here all of my adult life, I’m likely prejudiced about the splendor of the local landscapes. Given this recognition, forget about the four corners of the world. The four corners of Holmes County are all you need to satisfy your desire for leafy vistas.

There are just too many good spots to view leaves to even think about making a personal list to share. Instead, just grab a map, drive in any direction and look. You’ll see what I mean. You can’t get lost either. All roads lead to somewhere.

A word of caution is in order, however. Our narrow, curvy roads are heavily traveled, with few places to safely pull off for photos. You may have to just take it all in as you go, and only stop where it is safe to do so.

There is an exception to that rule, however. The Holmes County Trail runs diagonally through the heart of the county for 15 miles from Killbuck to Fredericksburg. The photogenic panoramas and outdoor exercise will equally invigorate you.

The trail is for bicyclists, pedestrians, joggers, and horse and buggies only. No motorized vehicles are permitted, which makes for a safer, quieter trek to observe fall’s colors. The trail can be accessed in several locations, too, with vehicle parking provided.

I don’t recall what the first two locations were on National Geographic’s list. I just know that in the fall Holmes County is a giant, multihued maple leaf for all to admire.

Amish farm by Bruce Stambaugh

Long lane. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

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Plumbago

ground cover by Bruce Stambaugh

Plumbago. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

In the fall, we are often mesmerised by the colorful leaves of the changing deciduous trees all around us. In our observations, we sometimes forget to look down. I recently spied this lovely groundcover, Plumbago, on the campus of Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, VA. In the spring and summer, the dainty emerald leaves highlight the petite indigo flowers.

As you can see, as I did, the leaves have turned russet, red and burgundy, while the little flowers continue to bloom. Wouldn’t this make a great jigsaw puzzle?

“Plumbago” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

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Breathe in breathe out, a routine too easily forgotten

autumnafternoonbybrucestambaugh

Autumn afternoon. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I sat in the warm sunshine on the back porch steps, eating my simple lunch, taking in all that transpired around me. I basked in the awesome day itself, one of several that we had as summer morphed into autumn.

Typical of fall days in northern Ohio, the day started cool, and took its time warming up. But thanks to skies bluer than my grandchildren’s eyes, the sunshine strengthened to enhance the day to beyond beautiful.

The air warmed, and the wind gently swirled in all directions. Compared to the quiet dawning of the day, everything seemed alive, moving, and vibrant. It was a glorious day, Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, the Day of Awe.

Sunrays streaming by Bruce Stambaugh

Day of Awe. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

I’m not Jewish, but I certainly was in awe. I had just returned from my weekly yoga lesson, where the students were again reminded to breathe in, and breathe out. It’s a way to encourage each of us to be conscious of just how important breathing can be.

Given our hustle, bustle lifestyles fueled by instantaneous updates from the outside world through our addiction to our electronic gadgets, we sometimes forget life’s simplest lessons. Breathing is one of them.

So there I was, enjoying my wife’s homemade hummus with crunchy gluten free crackers, a homegrown tomato, homemade refrigerator pickles, some fresh turkey breast and locally made cheese, washed down with homemade mint tea, breathing in, breathing out the beauty of the day. I felt ecstatic, really.

Dogwood berries by Bruce Stambaugh

Dogwood arsenal. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

My presence had chased away the Starlings and the American Robins, who were at war over the bright red, ripe dogwood berries. Like most conflicts, it seemed neither side won. In the fracas, most of the berries dotted the ground beneath the trees, their leaves growing more and more crimson.

I breathed in, and saw a family of Chimney Swifts skimming the fields behind our home, and circling over and through our stand of trees. I exhaled with a smile, overjoyed to see the friendly birds again. The ones that occupied our chimney had gone missing a few days prior, likely on their way south, like these chattering brothers and sisters were as they devoured every airborne insect they could.

My solitary picnic didn’t bother the ever-present American Goldfinches, now in their duller decor. They ate right along with me as long as I didn’t breathe too hard.

Clouded Sulphur butterfly by Bruce Stambaugh

Clouded Sulpher. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

At the front of the house, I breathed in another pastoral scene. Clouded Sulphur butterflies and bumblebees flitted about the fall blossoms, especially enjoying the blue salvia and bubblegum petunias my good wife had planted in early June. I breathed out a hearty thanks to them and to her for these special, significant insignificancies.

That’s just one of the tenants that I have learned from six months of yoga. Yoga is much more than physical exercise. Your movements, your thoughts, and especially your breathing need to be congruent. I think the pros call it mindfulness.

I don’t know if it was my breathing, the gorgeous day, my tasty lunch, or that combination that put me in such a peaceful mood. I just know that I want to keep breathing in and breathing out as long as I can.

With that, my mind wandered to too many friends I know locally and globally who would love to love this day, yet who have little opportunity to do so. Illnesses and real wars prevent their abilities to breathe in and breathe out the way I was.

I’ll just have to do it for them.

Changing leaves by Bruce Stambaugh

Turning red. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

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Morning reflections

morningreflectionsbybrucestambaugh

Morning reflections. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

I usually carry my camera with me wherever I go. Yesterday was no exception. I was on my way to a meeting when I passed through Walnut Creek, one of the oldest settlements in Holmes County, Ohio. The morning sun was straining to filter through on-rushing clouds, part of a cold front bringing in some welcomed rain.

When I stopped to take a photo of one scene, I saw this one, the mirror reflection of this nicely kept farm, known as the Jonas Stutzman farm. An official historical marker notes that Stutzman was the first white settler in the eastern section of the county, arriving from Somerset County, Pennsylvania in 1809.

The details in this photo, coupled with the farmstead’s history, made “Morning reflections” my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh

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