Communication and relationships create vignettes of thankfulness

farm lane, farm field

Long lane.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I learned long ago if you want to celebrate you have to relate and communicate.

The designated time to do all three in the Unites States is upon us. Thanksgiving Day is a time to reflect on moments and people for which you are thankful, and to affectionately share that gratitude.

When a situation goes awry, or a snafu in a bond develops, it’s important that we communicate our feelings to maintain positive relationships. It just might help untangle the problem and any hurt feelings.

This Thanksgiving season I thought it appropriate to share some personal experiences I had this year that required communication to keep relationships strong. I call them vignettes of thankfulness.

“I’ll see you in six months,” the doctor told my friend Leroy. A few months earlier, Leroy had been diagnosed with a type of incurable cancer.

Amish farmstead

Amish homestead.

Leroy had decided to accept his fate, and forgo any treatments, which would only extend his life a couple of months. Instead, he relied on doctor approved vitamin supplements and his faith to carry him forward.

I could hear Leroy’s voice quiver when he called me with a medical update. He was ever so grateful for this good news of extended life. I teared up too. I was honored to have received Leroy’s good news call.

The call about a cement wall of all things had a similar ending. While I was away, a township resident had had a concrete wall poured for his new house. The problem was it was on the township right of way. As a township trustee, I was charged with getting the problem corrected.

I hated to tell Bert, a man I knew well, to move the wall. But move it he did, both efficiently and creatively.

crane, moving a cement wall

Relocating the wall.

My friend Bert used his foresight and imagination to recycle the wall. A craftsman sawed it into two pieces. A giant crane hoisted them into a new location, where they became a retaining wall. Bert seemed even more pleased than me.

“We don’t often get second chances in life,” he said. I heartily agreed. I expressed my thankfulness for Bert’s willingness to correct the mistake and giving the wall a new life. The error did not become a wall that would interfere with our good relationship.

My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed our extended time in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley helping out our daughter as she coached her university’s women’s volleyball team. To those who know my wife, it was no surprise Neva worked night and day completing every day, necessary chores in our daughter’s household.

granddaughter, homework

Homework help.

While I was available, I helped our kindergartener granddaughter with her homework by listening to her pronounce letters and count numbers in both English and Spanish. For me, those were precious moments.

With our travels, Neva and I made a hard decision. We needed to sell the cute cottage my folks had built 40 years ago on a fishing lake in southeast Ohio. We asked around, but no one in the family indicated an interest in taking over the cottage.

After showing the property to some prospective buyers, our son called to say he had changed his mind. He wanted to purchase the cabin.

Neva and I were thrilled. It was the first item on our downsizing list, and our son would be the new owner. I’m pretty certain I saw my folks smiling down from heaven the day the property transferred.

Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate, communicate and relate the moments and emotions for which we are grateful. These are a few of mine. What are yours?

cottage, family cottage

Our cottage.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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The Corner of the Barn

Amish barn

The Corner of the Barn.

I loved how the pine bows mimicked the curvature of the shed’s roof. But it was the old sandstones, now whitewashed, that really caught my eye. Those ancient stones of the 19th century barn have a lot of stories to tell about the farmers who have come and gone, and about the passersby who have driven or biked or walked past this beautiful old building. I sure hope they saw what I saw.

“The Corner of the Barn” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015


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

Reflections along a mountain stream

autumn leaves, back lighting

Backlit leaves.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Recent rains made the sparkling mountain stream joyfully sing its way through the sylvan hollow to the broad valley below. The late morning sun’s reflection shimmered as the cold water rushed over and around ancient boulders.

I had driven to this little paradise on the advice of my daughter. She recently had hiked with her family a trail that crossed the creek and scaled one of the precipices of the old, rounded Blue Ridge Mountains. I wasn’t that ambitious.

I was content to drive the 22 miles out of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley to the end of Port Republic Road to enjoy a morning stroll. I took the much easier firebreak road that shadows the meandering stream.

Stepping stones across the usually placid braided stream broke the trail my daughter took. Today the stream roared rather than lapped its way into the valley.

The native brown trout had to be happy to play in other pools for once. I was happy, too.

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The temperatures warmed as the sun rose higher above the foothills. The shedding oaks, maples, dogwoods, sycamores and quaking aspens filtered the sun’s splay. Sunrays backlit the remaining colorful leaves. They glowed against the drab earth tones of tree trunks, ferns, and long shadows.

The creek drew me down from the road to its shallow banks. Sapling undergrowth made the way tricky, but not hazardous. I was surprised by both the speed of the stream’s flow and the water’s clearness, especially after recent steady rains. Weeds and reeds normally rustled by the wind swayed submerged.

In the shade, the cooler creekside temperatures chilled me. I didn’t linger there for long.

I returned to the more inviting sunny, well-maintained service road. At times, the stream ran against the narrow berm. In other places, the road curved slightly north while the creek twisted south and out of sight, but never out of earshot.

No car horns, no train rumbles, no jake brakes, no jetliner noise overhead, no boom boxes interfered with the numerous natural sounds. A fox squirrel skittered from the road to the safety of a tree trunk as I approached. It barked at me, and I shot it with my camera.

Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Up ahead, birds flew across the firebreak. To keep my load light, I had left the binoculars in the vehicle. Fortunately, the birds sat still even as I quietly approached.

I smiled at sighting my first of the year Dark-eyed Juncos, freshly arrived from the Canadian tundra. The flash of their outer white tail feathers against their slate-colored revealed their identity.

The mountain’s granite core stood exposed from time to time. Whitish-gray outcroppings reflected the morning sun both at manmade cuts and in natural talus slopes. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near the latter if the massive rock pile decided to slide.

Soon hikers a decade older than me approached from the opposite direction. We bid each other adieu, and I asked them how far the road reached.

“Ten miles,” they said, “But it’s an easy walk to the top,” referencing the mountain. The road ended at the Skyline Drive. I took their word for it.

A few trails flared off in either direction. I was content to stay the course for a while before returning to the car for lunch under the noonday sun.

The earthy fragrances, the laughing stream, the vibrant colors pleasantly seasoned my simple fare, which was only right. It had been a sumptuous morning in every aspect.

mountain stream, Shenandoah NP

Sparkling stream.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015


Filed under birding, birds, column, family, human interest, photography, rural life, travel, writing

November Sunset

sunset, November, Holmes Co. OH

November Sunset.

With the stubby brush and the windmill, this sunset scene looks like it could be “out west.” Not really. I shot this photo a few days ago here in Ohio’s Amish country.

In fact, I merely had to step into the backyard for the shot. I used my telephoto lens. The setting is the top of a hillside pasture about a quarter of a mile behind our home. The “brush” is simply the top of a tree that protrudes from the other side of the hill.

“November Sunset” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015


Filed under Amish, Photo of the Week, photography

Painting stirs fond memories

autumn in Virginia, landscape

Virginia in the fall.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I haven’t been to my maternal grandmother’s family farm in southern Virginia for years and years. When I arrived in the state’s Shenandoah Valley recently to rejoin my wife, she had a pleasant surprise for me.

The watercolor landscape of Grandma’s family farm hung in the hallway of the apartment we had rented for the fall. We were in Virginia to help our daughter and her family on the home front during the fall. She had loaned the painting to decorate our temporary quarters.

My late mother had painted the landscape of the farm years ago. Dad framed it with well-weathered barn siding he scavenged and repurposed from the farm. There was nothing abstract about this rendering.

I can’t help but smile every time I pass by the farm scene. It brings back such pleasant memories for me.

Growing up in northeast Ohio, we seldom visited the Virginia homestead. It was just too far for a budding young family to travel. Back then it was a three-day drive without the expressways of today.

My grandmother’s two unmarried sisters, Evie and Gertrude, lived on the farm their entire lives. Like many in the south in the 1950s, they worked in a textile mill.

I keenly remember the one trip we did make to the farm when I was a youngster. With no air conditioning, the summer trip south was long and hot.

Signs I had never seen before confused me. As a youngster, I couldn’t fully comprehend “blacks only” notices pointing to the back entrances of businesses. Clearly and thankfully, those were different times.

The farm lane from the highway to the old homestead was little more than two tire tracks that twisted up and around the tree-lined hill to the house. We must have bounded out of the car like a bunch of freed puppies from a cardboard box.

As you can imagine, Grandma’s sisters were gracious hosts. But I could tell having children clamor about their house and property interrupted their normal life. I felt their constant gaze.

Family heirlooms filled the comely old home. Large photos of our great, great grandparents hung in antique oval frames on the living room wall.

The weathered tobacco barn stood behind the house. The two shed-like sides leaned away from the barn’s higher center where the tobacco was hung to dry.

Virginia family farm. watercolor

My mother’s watercolor of the Virginia family farm.

Mom made the barn the centerpiece in her watercolor. The white clapboard farmhouse peeked out from behind.

Mom painted from the perspective of the narrow path that ran down the hill to the spring that supplied the house with water. I had walked that very way with Dad to check the water level to assure our gracious hosts that we would not drain the cistern.

The highlight of the trip for me surely had to be the sumptuous Sunday dinner these two elderly ladies prepared for us. Of course, southern style fried chicken and mashed potatoes served as the main course.

Dessert is what I remember the most, however. It was the first time I had ever had German chocolate cake.

I can still taste that made from scratch layered masterpiece, slathered with yummy brown sugar frosting sprinkled with sweet coconut. I don’t know if it was the heat or by design, but that frosting just oozed down the cake’s sides.

My mother’s painting perfectly captured the Virginia farmstead. The watercolor is both a work of art and a precious timepiece of family history.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Milkweed Seeds

milkweed, blowing in the wind

Milkweed Seeds.

The late afternoon sun perfectly backlit the milkweed seeds and pods in our main flower garden. We let the milkweed grow to attract Monarch butterflies. They love the fragrant nectar and lay their eggs on the underside of the plant’s leaves. The resultant caterpillars thrive on the nutrients from tender, sticky, juicy leaves. The white specks are some of the seeds being propelled by the northwest wind.

The burnished leaves of the volunteer Shingle Oak sapling that sprang up this year nicely complimented the milkweed’s down. The sun also revealed how spider webs connected the milkweed and the oak.

“Milkweed Seeds” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015


Filed under Photo of the Week, photography

November’s arrival brings mixed emotions

autumn, Amish farm, Ohio's Amish country

October’s golden glow.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I always have mixed emotions whenever November rolls around. Like you, I know what it means.

After the excellent weather of October, I hate to think of what November might bring. I hope November doesn’t take offense.

I so enjoyed the string of amazing days we had during the height of the leaf looking season here in Ohio’s Amish country. Given the traffic jams I encountered, I wasn’t alone.

I cruised the back roads for calendar-worthy snapshots of the naturally painted landscapes. With the predominance of rolling hills and gentle dales, a Currier and Ives setting arose around nearly every corner. In some spots, I merely rotated to take multiple scenic photos.

The truth is I only had to step out my front door for a lovely sunrise photo. In the evening, it was the reverse. I have four seasons of brilliant sunset shots behind my Amish neighbor’s farmstead.

Once the leaves began to color this year, red, yellow, orange, gold and crimson rainbows basked in the sun for all to absorb. Stunning doesn’t begin to describe the landscapes.

Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Those inspiring scenes changed much too quickly for my liking, though. The colorful leaves have mostly fallen, and the dormant season is upon us. Welcome to November.

The Canada Geese fly from farm pond to harvested grain field where they glean to their gullets’ delight or some hungry hunter scares the flock to flying and honking with blasts of his 12-gauge. Given their numbers, I think the geese always win that war.

While the geese stick around, other waterfowl species wing it south. Pintails and Sandhill Cranes often lead the way. It’s a ritual that makes me smile and sad simultaneously. They’re a joy to watch, but it’s a sure sign of what weather is ahead.

I marvel at the majestic flights of all species avian. To have a Pine Siskin make a brief pit stop at your feeder brings momentary elation.

On the other hand, finding the first White-crowned Sparrow of the season checking the same feeder tells me I’d better get ready for another winter. Perhaps that is November’s ultimate purpose.

November’s fickle weather pattern is familiar by now. Its early days seem more like an October extension. A few deciduous holdouts flash the last of the lushest leaves before they drop overnight leaving only the burnished oaks to rustle in the wind.

By the month’s end, the world can suddenly change with the passing of one strong cold front. The silvery down of the milkweed seeds sail through graying skies only to be replaced the next day by the season’s first snowfall.

corn shocks, Amish farm

November’s look.

We’ve returned to standard time, accentuating November’s shorter days. It’s nature’s way of prepping us for colder, darker days to come.

In North America, we have concocted a dodgy purpose for the eleventh month. November ushers in the holiday season here in the United States. Commercially translated, it’s time to shop as if you needed a reminder.

Near month’s end, Thanksgiving rings in the festive mode and the glitzy commercials. Christmas then isn’t far behind.

October’s golden days are gone. The best we can hope for now is a late Indian summer. We’ll take it even if only lasts a day or two.

Ohio’s pleasant weather has melted away like a stick of butter on a hot griddle. It’s time to stack the firewood, put in the storm doors and enjoy a warm cup of mulled cider.

We have to face the truth. November is upon us.

November snows, Ohio

November snows in Ohio are not uncommon.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015


Filed under Amish, holidays, photography