Thankful for a colorful fall

autumn leaves, fall colors

Splotches of color.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Autumn’s extended dryness definitely took its toll in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. The peak leaf coloration never arrived. With only a splattering of exceptions, the generally dull, brittle leaves just tumbled down with little assistance from the wind.

While the leaves mostly faded, my wife and I found color in a multitude of venues and activities that more than made up for the unusually muted landscape. If our calendar of events, duties, and responsibilities were displayed on a color wheel, we wore every hue, shade, and tone available.

Volleyball was the prime coat to most of our Picasso of busyness. Our daughter is the head coach of the women’s team at Eastern Mennonite University. Practices and games filled her fall time. Throw in scouting future players, meetings, and travel, and the coach had little time for family household chores. Nana took her place.

It’s a good thing Nana likes to cook. She made many, many evening meals for our grandkids and their parents. On occasion, she even cooked up specialties for the entire team. To many, that might be a bit much. But my wife is up to any challenge, especially when she can rule in the kitchen, her favorite creative place.

We served as chauffeurs in loco parentis for our three grandchildren. Sometimes both Nana and I were on the road simultaneously. She picked up Davis and Maren from school. I took Evan from baseball practice to fitness workouts. While the weather was still warm, we all attended Evan’s traveling team baseball games. Now the temperatures are much colder, and that sport is but a memory.

At her piano recital, our granddaughter Maren made her hours of practicing count. She did a marvelous job tickling the keys playing her two little ditties. So did all the other young performers. Smiles radiated all around the hall from glowing parents, grandparents, and teachers. The young students got all gussied up for the special event. Their outfits stylishly complemented the lively music that filled the hour.

Maren had violin lessons Nana shuttled her to and from as well. Once after school activities started on Tuesdays, I would gather Maren there and drive her straight to soccer practice on the other side of town.

Davis, the middle child, found his own recreation on his bicycle or just enjoyed his own private time. We also gladly cared for Millie, our granddog, when no one else was available.

Of course, Nana and I did our own things, too. I enrolled in a college history class. Nana sewed and quilted to keep from being bored as if that were even possible. We took in joyous concerts, life-long learning lectures on current events, plays, and visited museums and art and photography galleries.

red maple, fall colors

Red maple in the morning.

I’d be remiss if I failed to mention the many people beyond our family with whom we interacted this fall. We gathered with new and old friends alike. They warmed our souls better than autumn’s most brilliant golden sugar maple. We especially appreciated brief visits from friends and relatives passing through The Valley.

Despite the season’s leafy letdown, Nana and I have definitely had a colorful, fulfilling autumn. I don’t mean to be trite or contrived with this metaphor.

I am glad that our first fall as residents of Virginia has been an absolute joy. This Thanksgiving season, we count ourselves fortunate, grateful, and happy. I will admit one thing, however. As autumn winds down, just color me tired.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Artificial Tree

tree shadow, fall colors

Artificial Tree.

Maybe I’m trying too hard. But I loved the way this tree’s shadow fell to the little forest of nearby blazing saplings, forming a false crown for the now-naked tree.

“Artificial Tree” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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In honor of the day and my father

Richard H. Stambaugh by Bruce Stambaugh

My father, Richard H. Stambaugh, achieved a long-time goal when he was able to visit the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. on September 12, 2009 thanks to Honor Flight. As part of a photographic review of the 21st century's first decade, this picture appeared on the front page of the NewYorkTimes.com on December 24, 2009, three days after Dad died.

The original article was first published on Nov. 11, 2011. I am republishing a revised version today in honor of Veteran’s Day in the U.S. and for all those who work globally for peace.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The very first sermon I heard preached in a Mennonite church 40 years ago was on nonresistance. That was precisely what I was looking for spiritually, and I embraced it. My father, a World War II veteran, was skeptical, but eventually accepted my decision.

Now years later, I was to accompany my 89-year-old father on a special excursion called Honor Flight for World War II vets. Dad was dying of cancer, and he had long wanted to make this trip to Washington, D.C. Regardless of physical condition, each of the 117 vets on the plane was required to have a guardian for the all-day round-trip. Given his physical situation, Dad needed extra care.

Given my nonresistance stance on war, I was reluctant to go. I likely would be the only conscientious objector on the packed plane. But this trip wasn’t about me. It was about my father fulfilling one of his dreams. To help him accomplish that, regardless of my personal convictions, I needed to go with him.

Bruce Craig and Dick by Bruce Stambaugh

My older brother, Craig, and I with our father, Dick, prior to leaving Akron-Canton Airport. Craig served as guardian for two other vets on the day-long trip


As anticipated, the vets received their patriotic just due. Upon arriving at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., fire trucks sprayed arches of water across our arriving jetliner. This ritual was usually reserved for dignitaries. As we exited the plane and entered the terminal, a concert band played patriotic music. Red, white and blue balloons were everywhere, and hundreds of volunteers vigorously greeted us.
Handshake by Bruce Stambaugh

Another veteran was the first to welcome Dad to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.


At the circular, mostly granite World War II memorial, strangers came up to the vets and shook their hands and thanked them for their service. I emotionally took it all in, focusing my attention on caring for my elderly father.

The entourage visited several other war monuments in the U.S. capital that day, too. Back at the airport, we had left in the morning, the vets received a similar patriotic welcome home. Dad said this experience ranked right behind his 67- year marriage.

With that comment, I was exceedingly glad that I had had the chance to experience that day with my father. I felt honored to have been able to accompany him on his most significant day and glad he had gotten to go. Dad died three months later.

Despite all the hoopla of that day or perhaps because of it, the futility of war became all the more obvious to me and had actually reinforced my nonresistance stance. To a person, the vets with whom I spoke said they hated what they had had to do. I

Welcome home by Bruce Stambaugh

Hundreds of well-wishers greeted the vets upon their return to Ohio.

also remembered the words of Jesus, when he said to turn the other cheek and to go the second mile and beyond for your enemy.

For a day I had had one foot on the foundation of God and country, and the other on the teachings of Jesus. The trip with my father was an inspirational reminder of the commitment I had made as a young man to a different way of making peace in a hostile world.

Mailcall by Bruce Stambaugh

Each vet on the Honor Flight received letters to read during mail call on the flight home.


Because of this experience, I had bonded with my father in his time of need, and I greatly respected what my father and the other veterans on the flight had done. And yet, I knew I could not have done what they had, not because of cowardice, but out of conviction.

I had participated in the Honor Flight out of love and respect for my earthly father. I had held fast to my peace convictions out of love and devotion to my father in heaven. In that paradox, I had found no conflict whatsoever.

Bob Dole, WW II Memorial

When Dad spied Senator Bob Dole, who forged the way for the World War II Memorial, he rose out of his wheelchair and shuffled and squeezed his way beside the senator.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

This first article appeared in Rejoice!, the daily devotional for Mennonite Church USA.

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Russet Rainbow

Big Meadows, Shenandoah National Park

Russet Rainbow.

The scene just blew me away. The afternoon sun highlighted every hue and tone of russet that Big Meadows had to offer. Grasses, leaves of wild blueberries, reeds, scrub oaks, and even the red oak trees all glowed some shade of reddish-brown. The subtle differences all blended together made an impressive sight.

Big Meadows is a large mostly open bowl-shaped area along the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Surrounded by thousands of acres of hardwood forests, why this fantastic meadow is there is a mystery even to the park guides and scientists. I’m just glad it is.

“Russet Rainbow” is my Photo of the Week. Click on the photo to get the full effect.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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In hiking, easy is a relative term

Hawksbill Mountain, Shenandoah NP

Hawksbill Mountain summit.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The official National Park Service website listed the Lower Hawksbill Trail as an easy walk. I would soon discover that “easy” was a relative term.

To be honest, I’m not sure what I thought the hike to the highest peak on the Skyline Drive would entail. I followed the preparation instructions as best I could. I packed bottles of water, snacks, camera and accompanying batteries, binoculars, wore hiking shoes and a hat. I thought I was all set.

Before reaching the trailhead, I had already stopped at nearly every turnout along the Skyline Drive after I entered Shenandoah National Park at the Swift Run Gap entrance. As usual, I took too many photos.

As I approached the trailhead’s parking area, I could see that I wouldn’t be hiking alone. Parking spaces on both sides of the roadway were at a premium. After all, it was a beautiful fall day for being outdoors.

I stuffed my supplies in the multiple pockets of my hiking vest and headed up the trail. The path’s incline seemed a bit steep for a trail identified as “easy.” I soldiered on, stopping every so often to catch my breath. Unfortunately, the way got steeper and steeper.

I met a few other hikers coming and going along the rocky trail that wound its way nearly two miles to the highest summit in Shenandoah National Park. Hawksbill peak logged in at 4,049 feet above sea level, a mere foothill for the Rocky Mountains. The trail climbed up and through a tinder-dry forest of mixed hardwoods and occasional evergreens. Finally, the trail flattened out, and the vegetation became more brushy and dense. I was near the top.

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Once I saw the stone shelter, I knew I had made it. I scrambled the last 50 yards to the ragged Hawksbill summit and started snapping photos. A man with walking sticks teetered on the precipice while his friend took his picture.

I sat down near them to rest and admire the view. Instantly, the three of us began conversing. The beauty of wilderness tends to meld human hearts. I learned that the man with the walking sticks was named Jim. He had taken on this hike as a mental and physical challenge. In late March, Jim had been hit from behind by a vehicle as he walked along the highway near his home in eastern Pennsylvania. Jim was hurdled through the air like a struck deer and landed on the payment unconscious and severely injured. Both of his arms and legs had compound fractures, and Jim’s abdomen was split open.

First responders didn’t expect Jim to live. A month in the hospital and several operations later followed by another month in rehab, Jim beat the odds. He had had lots of time to think. Jim fondly recalled the year he graduated high school when he had walked the entire 2,184-mile length of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine.

Jim.

He decided that climbing to Hawksbill’s summit would be the perfect way to help heal emotionally from his recent traumatic accident. So with plates and screws in his arms and legs, Jim did just that with only the aid of two walking sticks and his friend Josh. Jim’s broad smile alone evidenced his courage, humility, and accomplishment as he posed for a photo.

It was then that I realized that despite all my huffing and puffing up the mountain, I really had taken the easy trail.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Right Where They Fell

autumn leaves, sugar maple leaves, iron fence

Right where they fell.

This has been an unusual fall across much of the country. Here in Virginia, we have received only recent rains, much too late to help the leaves reach their peak colors before they fell. This sugar maple in a yard in the quaint town of Dayton in Rockingham Co. defied the dry weather. Perhaps not as bright as usual, her broad leaves still turned rich gold in color.

Whether from fatigue or the extended dry spell or both, the shapely maple gave up most of her leafy crown all at once. With little wind, this year’s crop remained right where they fell. The old wrought iron fence seemed to help corral them, too.

“Right Where They Fell” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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In awe of fall’s many murmurations

meadow, Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg VA

The hilltop meadow.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Have you seen them? Fall’s murmurations are everywhere, or at least they were. They can be as fickle as fall weather. In fact, it’s autumn’s cooler temperatures and shorter daylight hours that often spur them on.

European starlings create the defining form of murmurations that are often caught on video. Massive, migrating flocks of starlings whirl, dance, gyrate, and swirl, darting high and low, turning seemingly indiscriminately in the sky. One minute they mimic a ballet dancer, the next a fearsome Halloween monster. Sometimes they perform over land, other times they maneuver above great bodies of water. Either way, their machinations mesmerize human observers.

Common Buckeye, honeybees,

Getting buzzed.

These starling murmurations, so prevalent in the fall, appear cloud-like, pulsating as if scripted to a choreographed symphony. They change direction and tempo, moving from Beethoven’s measure to Springsteen’s beat. I once saw a murmuration where thousands of starlings turned and twisted like a tornado, so much so that other drivers also pulled over to watch the show.

As magical as they are, the starlings cannot claim a patent on this fascinating phenomenon. Though not as showy or perhaps even as noticeable, other creatures great and small participate in their own migratory matinees.

A recent Sunday afternoon sabbatical on a hilltop brought me to that conclusion. October’s bright afternoon sun bathed the land in warmth and beauty. I couldn’t have been happier.

West Virginia, Virginia, Appalachian Mountains

The blue mountains.

To my west, the Allegheny Mountains stood eternal, the hazy blue boundary line between Virginia and West Virginia. To the east, the Massanutten Mountain held watch over the city of Harrisonburg, which hummed with its usual busyness.

As pleasant as that was, the setting became secondary to the murmuration activity in the lovely hillside meadow before me. In its last days of seasonal, colorful productivity, hundreds of butterflies flitted everywhere. Multiple species competed for the blooms they far outnumbered. Thousands of honeybees, bumble bees, and beetles also joined in the frenzy for the limited floral offerings.

Monarch butterflies, meadow, wildflowers

Blooms and butterflies.

Though they weren’t captivating clouds of whirling birds, each insect species had its own style. Butterflies chased butterflies. Bees buzzed butterflies, usually unsuccessfully. It wasn’t uncommon for a ladybug, honeybee, a Monarch, and a Painted Lady butterfly to all inhabit the same blooming wildflower plant, appropriating whatever they could for their journey or hibernation ahead.

Overhead, turkey vultures sailed on rising convection thermals, additional byproducts of the generous sunshine heating the cooler landscape. Beyond the urban trees and down the hill, a red-shouldered hawk shrieked its call in an attempt to flush songbirds from their protective cover.

American robins appeared with only abbreviated chirpings. Silent and absent since their last summer nestings, robin congregations bobbed on yards and scavenged crabapple trees for any morsel of energy to wing their way to milder winter climes.

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An eastern phoebe launched from a solitary dogwood tree loaded with bright red berries. The bird had no interest in them, however. Instead, it captured an unsuspecting damselfly, and returned to the same perch in the same tree, wagged its tail one more time and disappeared.

On the way home, a rather lopsided V winged across the last of the sunset’s orangey glow. Even with car windows closed, I could distinctly hear the geese honking as the darkening sky absorbed them. At day’s end, I was elated to have observed a few of the other forms of nature’s murmurations, each with their own flair, their own personal signature.

What murmurations of fall have you seen? Look sharp. They’ll soon be gone, replaced by the coming season’s institution of slumbering stillness.

sunset, Shenandoah Valley

Waning sunset.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Country View

Shenandoah Valley, Virginia

Country View.

I call it photography by driving around. It has multiple purposes. We moved from Ohio’s Amish country to Virginia’s enchanting Shenandoah Valley in early May. Although not entirely unfamiliar with the area around Harrisonburg, I decided the best way to get to know the countryside was just to drive around the rural roads. Doing so helps me get a lay of the land, occasionally talk with local folks, and find scenes like this one.

This viewpoint is about eight miles north of Harrisonburg looking southeast toward Massanutten Mountain. If you look closely (click on the photo) to the left of the grain mill silos, you can see a string of train cars sitting idle on tracks in the valley near the village of Linville.

“Country View” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Waiting on rain and suffering the personal consequences

picket fence, black-eyed susans

Is it the flowers?

By Bruce Stambaugh

I sat on the patio reading a marvelous book my best friend had given me before we hightailed it out of Holmes County, Ohio for Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. I didn’t read long, however.

A good case of what I’ll call the Shenandoah Sneeze forced me to retreat to the safety of our air-conditioned home. I had no choice. I was sneezing more than reading. I used more tissues than I turned pages.

Reading was only the secondary reason I had escaped to our outdoor sanctuary. I thought if I went outside the thick promising clouds would finally let loose a downpour. It didn’t happen. Apparently, I was under the spell of not only the Shenandoah Sneeze but also the Harrisonburg Hole. I’ll gladly clarify this localized lingo.

When my wife and I had our first appointments with our new doctor, one of the first questions she asked was if we had contracted any allergies yet. Apparently, newcomers to the Shenandoah Valley acquire hypersensitivities they didn’t have previously. Harrisonburg is The Valley’s notorious epicenter for such physical reactions.

home, Harrisonburg VA

Home sweet home, as long as the windows are closed.

I never had allergies my entire life of living in northeast Ohio. Now, every now and then when I step outdoors, or our home’s windows are open, I suddenly begin a succession of rapid-fire sneezes. I have no idea why or what is causing it. I’ve tried both over-the-counter and prescription medication. Nothing seems to help, so I just endure it. When an attack occurs, I retreat to a private space so as not to spoil a perfectly good autumn afternoon for others.

After the sneezing episode ends, my eyes itch and water and I have to breathe through my mouth due to nasal congestion. In relating this all too personal information, I am not asking for pity, only understanding.

As for the Harrisonburg Hole, that’s the real reason I went outside in the first place. The official forecast was a 90 percent chance of rain. It had been more than a month without rain. Not. One. Drop. I figured if I ventured outdoors the sky would inevitably open up. It didn’t.

backyard, Harrisonburg VA

Where I’d like to relax without sneezing.

Besides the parched yard, I had a selfish reason for desiring a good soaking. I had fertilized the lawn the previous morning when the dew wetted the browning grass. The moisture-laden blades of grass made the tiny granules of fertilizer stick. To make the fertilizer effective, I needed the promised precipitation. Otherwise, the lawn could burn out more than it already was.

You see the Harrisonburg Hole is a fabled meteorological phenomenon that affects our fair city and its immediate surrounding areas. Nine times out of 10, when the weather forecast calls for a high chance of rain, it doesn’t. It does rain, north, south, east, and west of “The Friendly City.” But it doesn’t rain in and around Harrisonburg.

So far I haven’t found one person who can explain why this occurrence happens so frequently. I just discovered a bevy of believers in the myth that apparently has more than a grain of truth to it. I can attest that I’ve checked the radar on more than one supposed-to-rain occasion only to find steady rain everywhere but over “Rocktown.”

I was hoping that in addition to rinsing the specks of fertilizer into the ground that a steady rain would also clear out whatever was in the air that was causing me to make the Kleenex brand rich. No such luck.

Please excuse me now. I have to sneeze again.

still life

Wishing my life would be still.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Seasons of Gaillardia

gaillardia, blanket flower, great spangled fritillaary

Seasons of Gaillardia.

When I asked my wife to identify the flower the butterfly was enjoying, her reaction surprised and inspired me. “Wow,” she said, “seasons of Gaillardia!” Then I saw it. As the growing season winds down, this meadow of wildflowers held the blanket flower nearly in every stage of growth. The Variegated Fritillary butterfly, which just happened to be in the shadow of a taller flower, fed on one of the remaining Gaillardia heads still in full bloom.

“Seasons of Gaillardia” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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