Sights, sounds say August is waning

field corn

Rows and rows.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I don’t need a calendar to know we’ve past August’s midpoint. The sights and sounds, signs and symptoms abound.

Day by day, the sun rises brilliant and bold closer to the center of the horizon. Ghostly layers of morning fog drift above row after row of tan tasseled field corn, the stalks stunted by the parching summer heat and subpar precipitation.

Teachers’ cars already sit early and stay late in school parking lots while their masters slave away in the sweltering classrooms on their own time, already preparing for the year ahead. Mothers, brothers, cousins, nieces, and nephews accompany the fortunate ones, cutting out letters for holiday bulletin boards or hanging artwork to brighten the sterile schoolroom.

Workdays and evenings repeat the same preparations at Amish parochial schools. Schoolyards get mowed, windows washed, desks and books readied, backstops repaired, all to ensure everything is a go for the teachers and scholars on day one.

The busy buzz of back to school sales replaced the monotonous cicada chorus. Youngsters were glad for both.

The Holmes County Fair is over, this year celebrating not just another successful week, but its new digs. Farmers secretly wish the county commissioners would move up the start of the fair by a month just to get the rain when it’s needed the most. It poured right on schedule.

Multi-shades of brown paint the landscape. Flowers, well watered in the morning, wilt by afternoon.

Applesauce, sweet corn, and tomatoes are canned and frozen within days of one another. There is no rest for the gardeners, chefs, and lovers of all things natural, homegrown, and home-cooked. Succotash in January is the plan.

Orange barrels multiply overnight. Everyone’s pace quickens, except in construction zones. Time is fleeting, but we can neither increase nor decrease its speed.

At night, windows are thrown open even in homes with air conditioning. The concerts of the katydids and crickets are the reward.

The Perseid meteor showers, even more spectacular this year than most, are waning, along with the lightning bugs. Nature’s fireworks announce autumn’s awakening like an opened wedding invitation.

The boys of summer are sorting themselves out in some divisions, and bunching up in others. It’s marvelous to see the Cleveland Indians giving it ago, and those annoying Yankees not so much.

Footballers, pro, college, and high school, practice in the heat. Come playoffs, you can see the quarterback’s breath bark out the plays, we’re that close to the cold.

This year the Olympics caught the tail of summer’s dog days if one cared to watch. I chose to view the evening sky’s gold, silver, and bronze as the insects sang.

American Goldfinches, some of the last birds to incubate, escort their young to the feeders. Their thistledown nests will soon weather away in the forsythias.

August sunsets try hard to outdo the sunrises. Often the orange ball simply slinks out of sight, leaving only contrails glowing in the west.

From month’s beginning to end, nighttime quickens, too, and we wonder where both August and the summer went. They’re still here, just in shorter increments.

Despite the mini-drought, a rainbow of fruits and vegetables color local produce stands. Yellow, gold, crimson, and purple early blooming mums clash with the ubiquitous Bubblegum petunias. No one complains.

Wildfires burn out west, the result of global weirding and human intrusion on wildlife habitat. Like the drought, the fires will end though the intrusive expansions will not.

As August fades, life’s steady heartbeat thumbs its way into September. Are you ready?

Olympic sunset

Gold, silver, and bronze.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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Filed under Amish, baseball, birding, birds, family, nature photography, Ohio's Amish country, photography, rural life, writing

Signs of change

Amish farmer

Signs of change.

There is no greater visible realization of change in the Amish culture than on the farm, at least for the mainline Old Order Amish. Mechanization is the most obvious.

The grain harvest, wheat, oats, and corn, required manpower. Community circles were formed to help with bringing in the crops. The men and boys went from one farm to another until everyone’s harvests were completed. This happened over a period of weeks.

Because agriculture is no longer the number one source of income for most Amish families, the rules have changed to make the harvest more efficient, requiring fewer sets of hands. The majority of Amish men now work in shops, either on their own property or away from home. Or they work on construction crews, and in local businesses. To make it easier for those still engaged in farming, which is less than 10% of the population, motorized equipment like this Bobcat are permitted to assist the harvesting process.

In this case, the farmer lifted the large round bales of straw onto the horse-drawn wagon guided by his younger brothers. Previously, several farmers lifted rectangular hay bales onto the wagon, and then unloaded them into the barn, also by hand. The workhorses are essential to keeping the Amish farm Amish. They are the tie that binds the Amish to the land.

It may seem hypocritical to some, but to the Amish, it’s simply a way to keep the agricultural lifestyle. Change happens, and I suppose this young Amish farmer is glad it does.

“Signs of change” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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A real road trip down history’s highway

Port Washington Rd., historical trail

Following the trail.

By Bruce Stambaugh

If ever there was a road trip, our day outing down history’s lane was it.

We knew we would encounter historical remnants as we drove the length of Port Washington Road, Ohio’s first state highway. We didn’t anticipate the surprises we found.

Port Washington Road was created to connect Millersburg, Ohio with Port Washington, Ohio. That seems logical enough. Nearly 180 years ago, an accessible route was critical to local farmers who wanted to get their goods to market.

Back then travel was tough. The dirt roads that existed were rutted, dusty, and dangerous. Carrying your product to market was extremely problematic.

The opening of the Ohio and Erie Canal to Port Washington in southern Tuscarawas Co. was designed to improve that process. The canal system, hand dug in the 1820s and 1830s, speeded Ohio’s development. In turn, goods were shipped to New Orleans and New York City, enhancing the local economy.

Another couple joined my wife and me on the excursion. I had driven parts of the road many times, but never the full length. With directions secured from literature about the road, we began our trek across from Millersburg Elementary School on a diagonal street, Port Washington Road.

Signs marked the way we should go. It was a good thing, too, because there were more twists and turns, curves and hills than on any of Cedar Point’s many roller coasters.

Our air-conditioned van took us up, down, and around steep grades. I gasped at the thought of driving a team of horses pulling a fully loaded wagon with a season’s harvest aboard. It was hard enough for me to maneuver.

How in the world did they negotiate those hills safely? No wonder it was a two-day trip from Millersburg to the canal. The halfway mark was a layover in Baltic. That’s where we had lunch, in more comfortable accommodations than those early travelers.

We traversed village, township, county, and state highways. We visited curious crossroads romantically named Saltillo, Becks Mills, Meadow Valley, and Fiat.

Most of the roads were hard-surfaced in Holmes Co. But once we headed southeast out of Baltic, gravel roads became the norm.

Not long after leaving Baltic, we came upon a bald eagle foraging on a carcass in freshly cut oats stubble. I imagined sitting on a hard bench seat glad for the beautiful distraction from the dusty, bumpy road. The magnificent bird flew in sweeping loops over the field until we left.

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The scenery alone was worth the trip. Other than the open areas on high ridges, the landscape likely compared to what those wagon masters must have encountered. We passed through tree tunnels, and by old homesteads long abandoned, well-weathered clapboard siding showing more patina than paint.

We found several cemeteries along the route, too. We couldn’t help but wonder if some of the hopeful farmers didn’t end up deathly disappointed from the ruggedness, and maybe even being waylaid by bandits.

In the middle of nowhere, we discovered a church with a golden dome. The names on cemetery’s tombstones revealed former parishioners. Farther down the road, a sign marked another church cemetery. The structure was long gone.

In the meandering 37 miles we trekked, we had to have traveled in every direction of the compass. The roads were that convoluted. Nevertheless, we made it to our destination, now a sleepy, residential hamlet.

With the actual canal filled in long ago, the only hint of the waterway was a slight depression that paralleled Canal St. Between there, and the Tuscarawas River laid the railroad tracks, the steel trail of the invention that killed the canal.

The steel tracks left the canal to history and the curious to rediscover.

Amish children, pony cart

Pony cart fun.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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Reverse Sunrise

reflected sunrise

Reverse sunrise.

A fellow blogger friend of mine hates Monday mornings. I laugh at his social media ranting and memes about having to start a new work week. I laugh because he’s funny, and I’m mostly retired. What “work” I do do, I do from home.

I’m pretty sure my friend would have loved last Monday morning. The sunrise was brilliant, the colors changing by the moment. Of course, I hustled out with my camera. However, it was what I saw in the western sky that caught my fullest attention. Much like beautiful sunsets reflect in the eastern heavens, the morning’s pinks and blues danced off the neighbor’s buildings and the clouds hanging in the west.

“Reverse Sunrise” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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The joys of a perfect midsummer day

oat shocks, Amish farm

Field soldiers.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The day began as another sleepy sonnet in a series of hot, muggy, midsummer dog days. It turned out to be an inspirational novella.

In keeping with my fair weather routine, I took my morning stroll. I typically immerse myself in the sights, sounds, and morning fragrances of field corn and fresh laundry.

Not this day. The air was thick, moist enough to ring it out and still be left holding a damp rag. Breathing even became a chore.

Already sweated, I dove into necessary yard work back home. I wanted to complete it before the elements became even more oppressive.

I donned my trusty work gloves. Out came the noxious poison ivy. Out went the volunteer walnut and oak seedlings sprouted from the nuts that the squirrels and blue jays had planted in the flowerbeds last fall. They conveniently abandoned them for my birdfeeders.

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Even with little rain, the shrubs seemed to have grown a foot while we were away. I grabbed the trimmer and snipped the wiry branches.

After cleaning up, I took breakfast in the shade of the back porch. With the high humidity, the chances of rain looked promising.

I checked the progress of the road repair in our rural township, the prettiest in the state. No, I’m not up for reelection. As a trustee, I just enjoy inspecting the roads, conversing with folks, and breathing in the beauty of the picturesque landscape.

My camera is my faithful sidekick on my rounds. I’m mindful of respecting Amish ways when it comes to photography. I focus on the agricultural artistry. The golds and greens are at their peak of brilliance even in this mini-drought.

While away, the neighbor mowed the adjacent alfalfa much to the delight of the swooping swallows and the purple martins. They harvested insects in concentric circles around the sturdy workhorses and their mowing master.

To the east, thunderstorms built fast and furious, their anvil tops reaching 60,000 feet. Our meteorological ingredients fed the liquid fortunes of folks 100 miles away.

In the afternoon heat, I turned to writing in the comfortable air conditioning. I confess to guiltlessly adding my two cents worth to global warming.

Neva worked her magic with dinner. We enjoyed a summer feast of fresh veggies and fruit washed down with freshly brewed garden mint tea.

As the storms moved further east, the air here cleared and cooled, if only because the dew point and humidity took a temporary break. Feeling refreshed, we walked around the parched flower gardens and discovered the season’s first monarch caterpillars.

It was about that time that a friend rode by on his bicycle and waved hello. We returned the gesture and moseyed into the house. We weren’t in long when the doorbell rang. It was Mark. He had turned around, and come for a spontaneous visit, the best kind.

Mark was a former student of mine. With more tea poured, we began a marvelous time of reminiscing on the back porch. He filled us in on his family and former classmates. We happily learned that he is now a grandfather.

We cherished his presence and friendly update, despite the unintentional reminder of how old my wife and I are. It was one of the main perks of living and working in the same community over time.

Rank and location have their privileges. So does having a view to the west. A stunning sunset proved a fitting end to a perfect summer’s day.

sunset, Holmes County OH

Stunning sunset.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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Backlit Cloud

windmill, clouds at sunset

Backlit Cloud.

My wife and I are fortunate to have the view to the west that we do. Farm fields flow down and away from our home until they meet a steep hill that juts into the western horizon. A windmill that supplies water for our Amish neighbors serves as the centerpiece for the view.

We have lived here for 37 years, and each evening brings a new look west. I recently found this golden glowing backlit cloud hovering beyond the windmill.

“Backlit Cloud” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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Every now and then life nails you

Amish buggy

Morning excursion.

By Bruce Stambaugh

When you spend most of your life living in the world’s largest Amish community, you tend to get a lot of flat tires. It just happens.

You see, when a horse throws a shoe, the nails holding the horseshoe to the hoof go flying, too. If they land in the roadway, which many are prone to do, passing motorists often pick them up as their tires pass over the sharp metal nails.

You know what’s next. The tire goes flat, usually when you’re already late for an appointment. I’ve learned to deal with it.

I change the tire and take the flat to the repair shop to find the leak. More often than not, a horseshoe nail is indeed the culprit. The tire is plugged or patched, and I’m on my way again.

Sometimes the tire can’t be fixed. I fork over $150 or more for another tire. What more could I do? You don’t have to live in Amish country to be able to relate to this scenario. In fact, there are times when you wish flat tires were all that had gone wrong.

An acquaintance recently shared how his father fearfully faced open-heart surgery. A few years earlier, his wife, my friend’s mother, had died during the same procedure.

I listened to my friend tearfully relate other details about how his mother’s death had negatively impacted his father’s spirit for the last decade. He didn’t want to lose his father the same way. To my friend, it was like all four tires had gone flat.

Holmes County Ohio

Enjoy your view.

Others I know have lost spouses, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, grandchildren. You get the sad picture. You might even be in the picture. Unseen nails abound in life, often puncturing us when we least expect it.

Some nails are more nuisances than they are painful. Canceled flights, broken heirlooms, sick pets all qualify as life’s flat tires. Those can often be patched. Everyone experiences some bumps in the road that flatten our spirits.

Yelling and screaming might make us feel better. But doing so won’t fix whatever problems we face. I often look to others as models for the way I should go.

My wife and I have twice run into a friend who recently lost her husband to cancer. She is ever so thankful that friends and relatives have been taking her places. The joy expressed in her smile shines brightly, dimming the sadness in her eyes.

Amish buggy

Keep on keeping on.

As my friend Kurt and I walked the Survivors Walk in the Holmes County Relay for Life event last month, we met a young lady who had beaten brain cancer. She wasn’t going to let that nail in her tire deflate her enjoyment in attending middle school next fall.

Now that was the spirit, the key to living a positive life. This young woman radiated confidence and enthusiasm. It was an honor to walk with her.

Just like that darling teenager, it’s how we respond to life’s flat tires that can make all the difference. Mourning the loss, accepting the situation, and getting on with life as best you know how will help you get where you want to go.

As sure as a buggy will clip-clop by my house, I also know that it’s just a matter of time until I get another nail in the tire. When that happens, I’ll find myself back at the repair shop. It’s simply the way life is.

Amish farm, summer

Sunny summer view.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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Filed under family, friends, human interest, Ohio's Amish country, photography, rural life, writing