Turning thoughts into actions

By Bruce Stambaugh

I don’t know about you, but I do a lot of thinking while I’m shoveling snow. Given the amazing amounts of snow that have fallen this winter, my brain is about as strained as my back.

With two feet of snow on the ground, the most logical thought was obvious. Where would I put it all? The sidewalk already looked like the Grand Canyon, and the piles that lined the cement parking pad and limestone driveway were even higher.

As I shoveled my way around the house, making access to bird feeders easier, I realized my thinking strayed far from my physical task. My thoughts were so meandering that I absent-mindedly pitched the snow upwind.

Even with that rude awakening, my mind continued to wander. Is this a symptom of cabin fever or old age or am I just a typical man? Since I am not really expecting answers, we’ll go with all of the above.

I found Mourning Dove feathers in a couple of places. I wondered what predator dined on this prevalent and apparently delectable bird. Was it an owl, a hawk, a cat? I brushed the feathers aside and kept shoveling.

I thought about my friend, Jose, a coffee farmer who lived near San Marcos, Honduras where I visit occasionally. Jose, a tall, quiet, generous man, was killed recently in an accident while trimming a tree on his farm.

Jose was such a hard worker, a family man, dedicated to representing his little community the best he knew how. I’ll never forget the day I rode in the cab of his old, dented pickup truck, up the switch-backed, bumpy, one lane road to his two acre stand of vibrant coffee bushes growing on a steep mountain slope.

Though Jose knew no English, and I little Spanish, his non-verbal communication oozed hospitality. He turned our small group loose on those poor coffee plants and enjoyed the show, his welcoming smile continually flashing.

Several cardinals took flight as I rounded the house to the backyard. I had interrupted their lunch of cracked corn and oil sunflower seeds.

I thought about the Sunday morning service at the little church we attended while vacationing in Florida. I had already enjoyed some local birding opportunities, but never expected to be able to do so while at church.

The service was held in a room with large windows that faced a broad stream that met the Gulf a mile away. The faithful pastor had his back to what was happening outside.

While he preached, Black and White Warblers and Phoebes played in the banyan trees, live oaks and palms. Beyond the lush banks, Buffleheads scurried through the stream’s shallow water. Snowy Egrets and Black-crowned Night Herons waded, too.

I had just about completed my shoveling when I thought about my new friend, Fritz. He and his family had survived the catastrophic earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and had miraculously found their way to our little corner of the world in Ohio’s Amish country.

I remembered Fritz staring straight ahead while he related his harrowing story as if he were reliving each horrific moment. All I could do was listen. I felt for Fritz and his family. They had lost everything, including close relatives.

Amid the natural beauty around me, in Sarasota, in the mountains of Honduras, even in ravaged Haiti, my contemplative jigsaw puzzle reminded that life wasn’t always pretty. My efforts resulted in much more than snow removal.

Long after this deep snow has melted, opportunities to help others in need will abound. That conclusion doesn’t take much thought.

From Haiti to Millersburg, Ohio, a harrowing journey

Fritz Jeanty family
Fritz Jeanty hold two and a half year old son, Samuel, while his wife, Mamie, cuddles five month old son, Benjamin.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Shortly before 5 p.m. on January 12, Fritz Jeanty of Port-au-Prince, Haiti was on his way home when his car lurched from the force of a 7.0 magnitude earthquake. He didn’t realize the seriousness of the situation until he saw people running and heard people praying and praising God for being saved.

Fritz headed for home via the main road, but quickly came upon even more devastating scenes. People carried injured victims. Debris and clouds of dust were everywhere.

People were screaming, crying and praying all at the same time. While attempting to get home, Fritz met his pastor, who had his car full of injured victims, on the way to a hospital. The pastor told Fritz that the church had been leveled.

In his tireless effort to reach his family, Fritz drove as fast as he could until the road was completely blocked with collapsed buildings and dead bodies. Fritz parked his car, and ran towards home, fearful of what he would find. Before he could arrive, however, a neighbor intercepted him with good news. Fritz’s family was safe.

“I started crying right away,” Fritz said. They were tears of joy and sadness. “I was happy my family was alive, but I was sad for all the dead and injured, too.”

When he arrived home, his wife, Mamie, and two young sons, Samuel, two-and-a half, and Benjamin, five months, were unhurt but scared. Their home was rendered uninhabitable. The grocery store Fritz owned and operated five miles away had been completely destroyed, too.

“You could hear crying everywhere,” Fritz said. “I was overwhelmed.”

With darkness arriving, Fritz had to wait until early the next morning to turn his attention to extended family members who lived nearby. At dawn, he went to look for his brother, who he discovered was all right. However, Mamie’s two sisters were both crushed in the rubble of their home. But her mother was alive.

The Jeanty family lived on the street outside their destroyed home for a week. Fritz said they could hardly sleep, with frequent aftershocks, mosquitoes, nothing but rubble to lie on and potential looters roaming. The only provisions they had were some rice and cooking oil Fritz had stored in an old car in his yard. They had some water in a drum container, and Fritz had to walk two miles to refill it.

With precious commodities running low, Fritz went into survival mode. He reentered their badly damaged home, and carefully retrieved important personal papers, including the boys’ passports.

Fritz went to the American embassy in Port-au-Prince and was disheartened to find a long, long line. But because both of his sons had been born in the United States, Fritz was told to go to the airport to be airlifted out of Haiti.

Early the next morning they found themselves on a transport plane, unsure of where they were going. When they landed, they were in Orlando, Florida, which was providential. Just the previous day, Fritz had obtained a key for his father-in-law’s home in Orlando in case they somehow ended up there.

But Fritz knew they could not stay there long without money. He had kept some phone numbers of persons with whom he had worked in Christian Aid Ministries, based in Berlin, with missions in Haiti. A friend of a former CAM worker helped the Jenaty family make contacts in Ohio.

Arrangements were made for Fritz and his family to ride the Pioneer Trails bus back to Holmes County. In addition, contacts with Save and Serve Thrift Store in Millersburg were established, an apartment found, and by the time Fritz and his family arrived in Berlin the next day, they had a place to stay amid the largest Amish population in the world.

Fritz and his family are permitted to stay for six months. He is filling in his time by volunteering at Save and Serve, which is taking donations to help buy food and living necessities for the family. Donations to assist Fritz and his family may be sent or delivered to Save and Serve, marked Haitian Relief, P.O. Box 128, Millersburg, OH  44654.

Knotting comforters for Haiti

comforters for Haiti
An Raber (L), Peggy Roth and Linda Yoder knot a comforter for people in Haiti. Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), Akron, PA had asked congregations to knot 10,000 comforters for people in Haiti to match the 10,000 donated by a Canadian business.
working on comforters
Caroll Roth (L), Paul Thomas and Sandy Miler ready a comforter to be knotted at Millersburg (OH) Mennonite Church.

Rushing home for the big snow

Our back porch
A foot of snow covered the bird feeders by our back porch.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I think I am just going to quit going to Florida in the winter. I know it sounds selfish of me. But I really think it’s the right thing to do.

First of all, I am not a big fan of the Sunshine State. When I have visited in the summer, it’s always been way too hot and sticky for my liking. My experiences in the winter haven’t been much better. Both times that I have sought a sunny, warm reprieve from the sting of winter in rural Ohio, I got burned, and I don’t mean sunburned.

In 2008, my wife and I flew to Florida in March, mainly to see a few Cleveland Indians baseball spring training games before they moved to Arizona. Near the end of our brief stay, a rare blizzard hit the mid-west, including our home area. The magnitude of the storm was so vast, so consequential that no commercial airlines were flying to Ohio. Our stay in Florida was extended for three days. But it wasn’t much of a reward because the weather turned cool and damp, keeping us inside.

Instead of being able to take advantage of walking a pristine beach or go birding, we spent a lot of time watching The Weather Channel. Their meteorologist reported live from downtown Cleveland, showing firsthand the effects of the blizzard. As strange as this may seem, I really wanted to be at home, not in Sarasota. Part of that desire was guilt. I am a township trustee and I felt duty bound to be home to help dig out.

But more than that, I love storms. Weather is one of my major hobbies. In addition to being a severe weather spotter, I also measure the snowfall for our area for the National Weather Service. And here we were getting more snow that we had had in a long time and I wasn’t there to experience it, much less send in my snow reports.

Last month, we had another chance to visit Florida. Good friends invited us to stay a week with them in a house they had rented in Sarasota. Neva and I needed a break since 2009 had been such a draining year for us with all the family health issues we had had, most notably my father’s illness and subsequent death. This trip, though, we decided to drive instead of fly. When we arrived, the weather was very nice, our friends even nicer. We settled in and began planning our week’s activities.

We did the beach thing, which allowed me to both walk and take pictures, yet two more hobbies. We visited a lovely state park where I learned a lot about Florida floral, fauna and local history. Here, again, I was able to photograph several species of birds and some rather large alligators.

The last part of our trip was to be spent in Savannah, Georgia, a city I had long wanted to visit. We managed a trolley tour of the lovely historic city before our plans changed. Once again, a major winter storm was brewing in the mid-west, and once again my wife and I were glued to The Weather Channel. I saw the track of the storm and its expected arrival time. I knew we had two choices. We could cut our stay short and drive straight home or stay an extra few days until the roads were cleared. You can guess what we decided.

We returned in time for me to have the distinct honor of sending in my mundane but necessary snow reports. We were home, and I was happy to be measuring this big snow.

True love is best lived

By Bruce Stambaugh

Love was a word that my late father used sparingly, unless it was in reference to ice cream. Instead, Dad chose to display his affection, devotion and genuine love for people pragmatically.

That could explain why he was so deeply involved in such a wide range of activities in his long life. His presence was his way of saying he cared.

Dad went at life full throttle, never holding back, even when he probably should have. In the process, Dad didn’t let little things like tact and common sense get in the way of enjoying life.

Dad was like a big, little kid who loved life so much, he was afraid he was going to miss something. He immersed himself in any activity that brought him much joy.

That didn’t mean he was a selfish person. Just the opposite was true. If he liked you, Dad would give you the shirt off of his back, and he often did, even if he couldn’t really afford to. Dad liked a lot of people in his lifetime. When you live to be 89, are gregarious and have a variety of interests, life gives you many friends.

Dad had friends in both high places and skid row. He felt at home with either, and often used his friendships to get where he wanted to go. Dad’s goals weren’t lofty ones. But he saw no shame in networking when he needed to. In fact he knew so many people, he may have invented the practice.

If one of us kids needed a summer job, he would make a few calls and more often than not, we were employed. During my college years, I found gainful employment where Dad worked. I thought I was hired because of my charming personality and abundant skill set. More likely Dad pestered the daylights out of the personnel department, as human relations were called way back then.

That’s the way Dad was. He wouldn’t say he loved you. He just did loving things for you or with you. Dad wasn’t a mushy person, and he never would have been mistaken for a Casanova. He just put his love into action.

Hunting, fishing, arrowhead hunting, family picnics, reunions, traveling, civic and church organizations all attracted Dad like a magnet. Dad chose those activities to express his affections. He seldom did things alone. He lived for outdoor expeditions that involved as many of his buddies, family and friends as possible.

Dad hauled us kids along whenever he could. I never could figure out if it was his way of relieving Mom of some of the domestic duties or if he genuinely wanted us to learn how to find arrowheads or shoot rabbits or explore a buzzard’s nest deep in a cave.

In sorting through Dad’s myriad of items that he had saved, we discovered pictures of family, letters he had sent home from World War II, and much, much more. Dad could never throw anything away because it had a special meaning to him or could possibly be used for something. Problem was, only he knew what.

Weeks after Dad’s death, the family is still receiving notes of condolence. Many of those expressions of sympathy include specific, personal images of my father. Several have said they can still see Dad intently walking their farm fields back and forth scouring for any piece of flint he could find.

This year, those kind remembrances have a special twofold purpose. Besides heartfelt sympathies, they are Dad’s Valentines to us, too.

When the bus comes in, the fun begins

Crowds gather in Sarasota, FL when the bus from up north arrives.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The anticipation was almost tense, the excitement palpable, and the energy contagious.

The crowd gathered early, as if waiting to get into a sporting event. People milled around, talking with their inside voices though they were bathed in bright, Florida sunshine while standing in a church parking lot. But they weren’t going to a worship service.

Welcome to the bus arrivals from Amish country north to temporary Amish country south, also known as Pinecraft, an unincorporated section of Sarasota, Florida. Three times a week in February and March, the snowbirds cram the little parking lot where the buses unload.

By the time the bus pulled in, the attendance had swollen to nearly a 100. The crowd plus the cars, vans, pickups and two-wheeled and three-wheeled bicycles barely left enough room for the bus. In fact, the self-appointed welcoming committee spilled over into the narrow alley, making any passage by motorized vehicle impossible.

The atmosphere was part family reunion, part auction crowd. Some came to meet and greet. Most were there to watch. Men with white beards and denim pants with suspenders and women in pastel dresses and lacy white coverings predominated the scene. A few children in straw hats and long, plain dresses held tight to a parent’s hand. This entertainment was too lame for teenagers. Many of them were already at the beach.

The bus did pull in right on time opposite the tiny, stuccoed Pinecraft post office, and the anticipation grew as the assembled crowd waited for the bus’ door to open. It was as if Elvis himself would bebop his way down the bus’ steps.

Though all the cargo was precious, no one of that fame was expected to be aboard. Rather the murmured questions were simple. Who was on the bus that I know? How long will they stay? And where?

Appropriately enough, the bus had to turn off of Miller Ave. to enter the lot. A number of Millers were among those who waited. An unknown number of Millers were on the bus.

When the bus door did open, the answers appeared as the passengers made their exit one-by-one. With waves and smiles, friends and relatives welcomed the new arrivals to their transient winter home. The passengers returned the favor as they exited carefully down the deep steps.

Some in the crowd were drawn more by curiosity than the need to help carry luggage. They just wanted to see who was on the bus. Would there be people they might know aboard? What news from home would they bring?

In this particular case, “home” is most generally Amish country. Amish and Mennonites flock to this resort home away from home to escape winter’s chilly edge in Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and other states, too.

Many of the Indiana and Ohio snowbirds travel Pioneer Trails buses to the Sunshine state. It’s their most economical, and in many cases, only choice. Their faith does not allow them to fly or drive, so they take the bus.

David Swartzentruber, owner of the Millersburg-based bus business, said Pioneer Trials has been fulfilling the transportation need for these individuals for 26 years. During the two peak months, buses arrive Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Passengers on Pioneer Trials are primarily from the Amish populations in northern Indiana and in Holmes, Tuscarawas and Wayne counties. Buses pick up passengers and their luggage at various locations around each geographic area. Most often, buses from Indiana and Ohio meet up near Cincinnati, combine their loads and continue south. The northbound bus from Pinecraft and the southbound usually connect near Chattanooga, Tennessee. The drivers switch buses and the trips north and south continue.

Swartzentruber said other bus companies also transport people to Pinecraft, especially from Pennsylvania, where Pioneer Trails does not have a route. He said the other bus companies do not travel as frequently as does Pioneer Trails.

As expected, most passengers were Amish, and most in their retirement years. However, some young families, with two or three young children, and a few teenagers seeking fun in the sun exited the bus.

Some in the crowd, like Christ Miller from Millersburg, were surprised to see their neighbors arrive. They knew they were coming south. They just didn’t know when. In this case, Miller welcomed his neighbors Jr. and Fannie Burkholder.

Like the onlookers, the stays of the new arrivals range from one week to three months or more. No matter how short or long their time in Pinecraft, they will make the most of their stay visiting, eating out and enjoying the normally pleasant weather.

Once the last passenger had luggage in hand and connected with friends and relatives, the crowd thinned quickly. In 15 minutes, the excitement was over at least until the next scheduled bus due in from the north. When it arrives, the gregarious process will begin all over again.

Winter is for the birds

Female Cardinal

By Bruce Stambaugh

I am of the opinion that winter is for the birds. I mean that literally.

Watching the backyard birds enjoy the variety of foodstuffs at the feeders is my winter’s entertainment. The various kinds of feeders are stocked with an assortment of options for the birds to devour, and are placed for safe access by the birds and convenient observation by me.

In the feeding frenzy, the birds put on quite a show.

Several kinds of birds enjoy the spoils of the tube feeder filled with sunflower hearts. The feeder hangs in front of the kitchen window and can accommodate six birds at a time, if all goes well. However, just like people, birds get greedy and guard their territory, even though there is plenty for everybody.

The American Goldfinches seem to be the best behaved, often feeding in families around the feeder’s cardinal ring. It’s named that so that cardinals can enjoy the seeds, too. Cardinals normally prefer a flat surface or the ground for feeding. But occasionally the bright red males and reddish tinged olive females will take advantage of their namesake.

Despite their bright coloration and moderate size, cardinals tend to be skittish creatures and fly off at the first hint of trouble. A few of the cardinals prefer the cracked corn that is spread at the base of the sugar maple. But so does the feisty Song Sparrow, which easily scares off the bigger bird. Using its clawed feet, the Song Sparrow jump kicks at the seed, even though it wouldn’t have to. Hereditary habits are hard to change.

Other sparrows show their faces as well, especially if the ground is snow-covered. The pretty Tree Sparrow, with its distinctive yellow bottom bill, joins the feast along with the showy White-crowned Sparrow. The latter is one of the few species that sings in the winter. Their beautiful tune can warm even the coldest day.

The real fun begins when the acrobatic nuthatches, Chickadees and Tufted Titmice arrive, which they often do simultaneously. I am fortunate to have both White-breasted and Red-breasted Nuthatches, a first for me, coming to the feeders. They are the only birds that move headfirst down the trunk of a tree.

These birds take full advantage of the menu offered at the feeders. If the black oil sunflower seeds aren’t available, they might enjoy some extra protein that the suet provides. Or they might savor a hulled peanut.

All these birds give way when the bully Blue Jays appear. They loudly announce their arrival, and scatter the other birds with their arrogant intrusion. The jays gulp down a gullet full of seeds before flying off with their meal.

An even bossier bird is the Red-bellied Woodpecker. It wants to dine alone while partaking of the smorgasbord offerings, especially enjoying the peanuts. But they can be finicky, too. The next trip in the same bird may hit the ear corn.

Perhaps my favorite visitors are the Eastern Bluebirds, normally not noted as feeder birds. They do enjoy the brilliant holly berries right from the bush out front, but they also have been seen imbibing at the suet and sunflower feeders.

There are times, though, when the birds just don’t show up at all. It’s then that I know that perched nearby is the neighborhood Cooper’s Hawk, which loves a songbird lunch.

Occasionally I know that the swift hawk has enjoyed my feeders, too, at least indirectly. A pile of House Finch feathers atop the snow provides the proof.

Female Red-bellied Woodpecker

Finding the fountain of youth

The historically maligned Ponce de Leon was actually
well ahead of his time. That’s what I concluded
after a wintertime visit to Florida.

I have three adorable grandchildren,
proof enough that I am no spring chicken.
I won’t mention the other obvious aging clues.
While on my tour of the Sunshine state,
visited so long ago by the Spanish explorer,
I stumbled upon exactly what he was looking for.

The fountain of youth really does exist.
No matter where I went, a store, a restaurant,
a theater, even the beach, the result was the same.
I was the youngest one in the crowd.
Where admission was charged, I received the youth rate,
while everyone else got the senior discount.

I discovered what the conquistador could not.
In Florida, 62 is the new 16.
Poor Ponce was at the right place, wrong time.

Bruce Stambaugh

Feb. 4, 2010

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