Embracing times of stillness helps combat a noisy world

foggy morning, Ohio's Amish country

Morning stillness.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I couldn’t help but notice the timing. In less than 24 hours, I received two separate emails about creating a time of stillness.

The first was a daily devotional that I receive from a noted seminary. The title was “A Call to Stillness.” The second notice came from my church’s worship coordinating group announcing the inclusion of a time of silence and reflection in our weekly church service.

I was glad for both. Over the years, I have learned to embrace stillness as a welcomed respite from the world’s noisiness.

autumn sunset

Quiet beauty.

Even in my semi-retirement, I find extended times of personal quiet elusive. Living in a house built on an Amish farm is no guarantee of escaping worldly sounds.

I especially need a basic semblance of silence when I write. Extraneous, everyday sounds distract me. Take a log truck rumbling down Number 10 Hill, the colloquial name of the flattop knoll south of our house, jake brake baffling its hideous reverberation that echoes across the countryside and rattles the dishes in our china cabinet.

Even the tick, tick, tick of a clock can break my concentration. And yet, my wife can’t seem to get my attention if I’m watching a baseball game on TV.

That said a time of silence, in general, is a good idea for everyone no matter the situation. Taking a periodic quiet break has its just rewards.

fox squirrel

Fox squirrel.

In fact, I’ve tried to use those raucous interruptions as a reminder to sit back, relax, take a deep breath, and just listen. Or I reposition myself to the shade of my back porch where I can see five miles to the north.

If I sit still and quiet, I’m often amazed at what transpires all around me. A white-breasted nuthatch and a Carolina chickadee will chase each other around a bird feeder a few feet away. A fox squirrel, its bushy tail as long as its body, sits on its haunches munching on sunflower seeds unaware of my presence.

At the summit of the hilltop pasture behind our home, buggy horses and workhorses gather around the neighbor’s windmill. The horses’ tales swish in a natural, spontaneous syncopation. The early fall clouds drift by in the azure sky as silently as this precious moment.

For a man who over the years has been accused of liking to hear himself talk, I have learned not to be afraid of silence. In fact, I embrace it.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I enjoy a leisurely walk in the woods, alone, binoculars and camera in tow, alert for whatever finds me next. If I’m noisy, I’ll likely miss a lot. Being quiet and reverent allows all of my senses to spark my imagination, fill my heart, stir my soul, warm my spirit, ignite my creativity, announce my gratitude for this incredible life and opportunities presented.

In this busy, busy world of ours, I need a time of stillness now and then. Such a time awakens me, invigorates me, enthralls me, heals me. Quietness opens me to new possibilities, new ideas, new knowledge, renewed life.

I read again that inspiring devotion written about Psalm 46, verse 10, “Be still and know that I am God.” With a blessed assurance, that reminder helps me to keep my focus on the essential tasks at hand.

I was glad for those back-to-back email reminders of the importance of stillness. Here’s hoping we all find the silence that we need in our all too busy and noisy lives.

countryside, Amish buggy

Peaceful surroundings.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Leave a comment

Filed under human interest, nature photography, photography, rural life, writing

Welcome to Fall!

Amish boys, foggy walk

Welcome to fall.

Autumn officially arrived at 10:21 EDT this morning. Scenes like these Amish boys walking to school in the morning mist are common in the fall. Cool, moist air condenses on the earth’s warmer surface. Most likely, however, these youngsters were conversing about who will get to bat first at the morning recess.

“Welcome to Fall!” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

2 Comments

Filed under Amish, human interest, Ohio's Amish country, Photo of the Week, photography, rural life, weather

Reflections on life and death

braided stream

Capon Run.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I have a lot of time to think as I drive between our Ohio home and Harrisonburg, Virginia where our daughter and her family live. This trip was no different.

Thanks to superhighways, the folded, old age mountain ridges and their accompanying deep gorges and valleys flipped by like shuffled decks of cards. The leaves of their mixed hardwoods already blushed tinges of autumn’s arrival.

I thought about the lone, purple cottonwood leaf our six-year-old granddaughter plucked from a quiet mountain brook just a couple of days previous. She and I had spent an hour or more exploring, talking, questioning, and enjoying each other’s company in the shallow of a peaceful braided stream.

girl in stream

Pointing the way.

I found Maren’s inquisitiveness as inspiring as our rural, mystical surroundings. Our interactive discussion included but was not limited to geology, theology, erosion, evolution, earthquakes, gravity, rock formations, and bird migration.

I don’t know who was more perplexed, me with Maren’s significant, thoughtful questions or Maren with my confounding answers. Trooper that she is, Maren didn’t seem deterred. In fact, one response only led to another question, and another and another.

I had the time of my life, sitting on these ancient limestone outcroppings, their striations complementing their angular positioning. Maren graciously accepted my academic explanation of how they came to be standing on edge after having once been the bottom of oceans eons ago.

She’d continue her inquiry while simultaneously balancing along the exposed rock layers like a ballerina on a precipice. Patches of the early evening sky filtered through the broken canopy of the maples, oaks, sycamores, and cottonwoods that lined the rocky banks of Capon Run. Despite the string of scorching days, the stream’s clear, quiet waters were cold.

We watched water striders break the stillness of the mirrored surface as the spider-like insects foraged. Then came the leaf, a rich, royal burgundy that caught the quick girl’s eye.

Maren snatched it from its slow journey downstream, held it up, and asked what kind of leaf it was. I found its parent tree upstream and pointed it out to her. She nodded and released the leaf back to the placid water.

braided stream, West Virigina

Where we sat.

I remember remarking to Maren how different that lone leaf was in color compared to the thousands of green ones that still quaked on the massive branches in the afternoon’s warm breeze.

Maren liked that leaf, and so did I. I thought she’d keep it for its rarity. Instead, she let it go, enchanted with its slow twirling atop the crystal water, its impressive ability to avoid the creek bed’s rocks and sticks.

I thought about that leaf, those moments with Maren again as I joined a congregate of others to celebrate and mourn the death of my wife’s cousin. As loving words poured out for Pam, it hit me that she had a lot in common with that glorious leaf.

She, too, had lived a royal, purposeful life for her family, friends, and those whom she served as teacher, principal, and play director. For all who knew and loved her, Pam had fallen much too soon from the tree of life.

My wife and I are grateful for the creativity and joy our grandchildren bring to life. We are equally appreciative, like so many others, of Pam’s leadership and devotion to family, faith, and community.

Just like Maren’s mauve leaf, we had to let Pam go, too. Joyfully her journey ended more blissfully than that serene mountain stream setting.

potted flowers

For Pam.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

4 Comments

Filed under family, friends, human interest, nature photography, photography, rural life, travel, writing

Christmas in the Mountains

Christmas tree farm, West Virginia

Christmas in the mountains.

I pass by this scene on every trip between Holmes Co., Ohio and Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Due to schedules or weather, I never had a chance to photograph the beauty of this Christmas tree farm in the mountains of northern West Virginia. But my latest trip proved the perfect opportunity. I wasn’t disappointed. The early morning sun highlighted the various greens and browns of early September, and the rows of evergreens added a geometric touch to the natural beauty.

“Christmas in the Mountains” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

2 Comments

Filed under Christmas, human interest, Photo of the Week, photography, rural life, travel

Can you accidentally buy a house?

Shenandoah Valley, Harrisonburg VA

Morning in the valley.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Is it possible to accidentally buy a house? I suppose so since we did.

I’ve attended auctions where someone has scratched their head or waved to a friend, only to hear the astute auctioneer bellow out, “SOLD!” Once the dust settled, the person embarrassingly explained his way out of the unintentional purchase.

Buying this house didn’t work that way for my lovely wife and I. Nor did we even try to back out. Once the hammer dropped, we enthusiastically signed on the dotted line. And we signed and signed and signed.

It didn’t take long to appreciate the consequences of our unintentional intentional purchase. We were in it for the long haul. “It” is moving to the Commonwealth of Virginia. We had our very personal reasons.

To uncomplicate this complicated story of our apparently surprise transaction, let me begin at the beginning. It might even help me to grasp what has truly transpired.

Our daughter and her family, which includes our only grandchildren, live in Harrisonburg, Virginia. They love it there. They work there. They play there. They even went to school there, Eastern Mennonite University to be exact. Their alma mater employs both our daughter and her husband.

In fact, our daughter is the head coach for the women’s volleyball team. She’s very busy August into November preparing for and playing the season. Of course, we want to watch her team in action. So over the mountains and through the woods we go from our home in Holmes County, Ohio to the magnificent in any season Shenandoah Valley, home to Harrisonburg.

women's volleyball, Eastern Mennonite University

Where we hang out.

In these hectic times, Carrie needs our help, well, at least my wife’s. Neva is the engine that keeps the household humming. With three busy youngsters, someone needs to see they are fed, watered, and clothed. Add in going to doctor appointments, baseball, choir, and soccer practices, and their schedules resemble those of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.

Consequently, we spend much of the fall helping in Harrisonburg. We also make several six-hour trips from Ohio to Virginia to attend the grandchildren’s events throughout each year.

We’re not spring chickens anymore. So we began to consider moving to the valley. To see what our money could potentially buy, our realtor friend scheduled some house tours for us.

The last place got our attention. We wanted a turnkey home, one floor, no basement, smaller lot, a two-car garage, and municipal sewer and water. This little ranch had it all. The owners had also remodeled it just the way we would have done it ourselves. We immediately felt at home.

There were issues, however. We weren’t exactly ready to buy a home, according to our established moving timeline. At first, that was no problem because another couple had already put in a bid on this house.

However, those potential buyers and the sellers couldn’t agree on a price. Excuse the pun, but that opened the door for us. So we made an offer. In a matter of head-spinning hours, we had a deal. The house was ours. I signed the sales agreement electronically online. Neva signed on the hood of a car in a parking lot at 10:30 at night.

Apparently, we indeed wanted this house. We had better. We now owned it. Intent on keeping to our timeframe, excellent renters were quickly found for our new home.

If everything goes as planned, which it has so far, we will become Virginians by next summer. So there you have it.

Can you accidentally buy a house? Yes. You. Can.

Shenandoah Valley

Looking towards our Ohio home.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

8 Comments

Filed under family, human interest, Ohio, photography, travel, writing

Gourds galore

gourds, produce auction

Gourds galore.

There is no place I’d rather be this time of year than the local produce auction. I find its sights, sounds, smells, colors, textures, excitement, energy, people, and the variety of produce invigorating and inspiring. This box of mixed gourds is exemplary of that.

To me, they are much more than a cardboard container of seasonal produce. The various sizes, shapes, colors, and kinds represent all that is right about the farmers’ auction. The sale provides a means of income for growers, most of whom are Amish families. Young children to teens to adults help with the gardening throughout the planting, growing, and harvesting processes. The buyers, a mix of Amish, English, and representatives from large grocery stores, purchase boxes, crates, flats, and pallets of produce to be resold at roadside stands or offered in local supermarkets. Local restaurants and residents even buy food items for their customer and family meals.

The buyers and workers at the auction are also a mix of folks from near and far, some Amish, most not. Just like these gourds, some colorful characters are among them, too. That’s a subject for another time.

“Gourds galore” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Leave a comment

Filed under Amish, human interest, Ohio's Amish country, Photo of the Week, photography, rural life

I love yoga and my wife isn’t jealous

rainbows

Exhilaration.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I love yoga. I don’t know any other way to put it.

The regular exercises have transformed my life, body, mind, and soul. And that’s no exaggeration. The class is held weekly, but given my schedule, I can’t always make it. I miss the praxis when I don’t attend.

My wife and I go as often as we can. The routines invigorate these two aging baby boomers with creaky bones and achy muscles.

focusing

Beauty.

Though it’s not a religion, we discovered yoga at church. Sessions were open to all, no experience required.

For the longest time, I thought yoga was something to eat. That’s a different product. Yoga is an ascetic discipline practiced for health and relaxation.

Still, these first lessons whet my taste for this appetizing meditative practice. It’s a non-fattening addiction to have.

My sharp-eyed wife found the starter kits needed for every yoga geek. With a rolled up rubberized mat and yoga blanket, we head to class as faithfully as we can.

The instructor is a gentle woman with a pint-sized body and a super-sized heart. Alana knows what she is doing.

religious banner

Spirit.

Her soothing voice softly commands your attention. Alana’s encouraging and complimentary instructions quietly and positively modify your posing when needed.

Alana’s patience is unending. Not that the small group, mostly boomers like Neva and I, are rowdy. We can just be a little slow and mulish.

But that’s one of the many pluses of doing yoga. Practice makes practice. There is no “perfect” in life unless you’re scoring a 10 in the Olympics. In yoga, a bow and a smile demonstrate reverent respect in mission accomplished.

In fact, yoga is not about competition. It’s about focusing, breathing, stretching, being, contemplating, living. By completing all those action verbs, the 75-minute sessions evaporate.

I love the slow, deliberate pace that stretches my body, clears my mind, and concentrates on my breathing, always through the nose. Given my schnozzle, I have no trouble getting plenty of air.

mother, admonisitions

I can still hear my late mother say, “Sit up straight.”

I will admit that I do have one goal, a simple curative that my saintly mother tried telling me over and over again. “Sit up straight,” she’d say. I’m still working on that.

As I sit cross-legged on my cushion or as we stand in tree pose focusing on a singular spot, concentrating on the calm, soft instructions, my entire being smiles. I am at peace with my world, my God, and myself.

Through the studio windows, I can see and hear birds calling and flitting about. I listen to the next instruction and redirect my thoughts. It’s a mindful process, a healing effort that comes from within and without.

What we do is hatha yoga. I call it kindergarten yoga, with no disrespect intended to our gracious mentor. We work hard, and I am always amazed at how much better I feel at the end of class.

The terms of yoga are as much fun as the various poses. Table, bridge, down dog, triangle, and warrior pose are just some of what unclutters our minds and exhorts our bodies. Balance is both a literal and figurative dynamic of yoga.

Always near the end of our workout, we turn to Shavasana, the death pose. It’s better than it sounds, an extended time for relaxation and reflection. We lie on our backs, arms and legs spread eagle, eyes closed, feeling head to toe the connection with the mat and the floor beneath, not a care in the world.

That’s why I love yoga so much.

the art of wondering

Wonderment.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

A personal note: Neva and I practice our yoga at True Nature Retreat a few miles from our home.

2 Comments

Filed under human interest, writing