Enjoying the cold from the inside out

Bluebirds on maple limb by Bruce Stambaugh
Male Eastern Bluebirds perched on the crooked limbs of the backyard sugar maple.

By Bruce Stambaugh

It was a good day to stay inside. Though the partly cloudy sky revealed a gorgeous sunrise, the thermometer read six below zero, the coldest temperature of the season so far in Ohio’s Amish Country. That alone told me this day would be best enjoyed from the inside out.

Given the fact that I was in the midst of a battle with the annual wintertime crud, I wasn’t about to argue with that logic. The frigid air would do me no good.

Having spent five long hours in the local emergency room the previous morning, I knew I needed to take it easy. Stuck inside, I resigned myself to two main activities. I checked the birdfeeders for visitors and I rested.

Compared to previous winters, it had been a disappointing season at the birdfeeders. I had kept them well stocked and cleaned of any old feed, mold or other potentially noxious particles that would harm or discourage the birds.

Despite my efforts, the usual nice variety and numbers of birds had failed to materialize. Before the snow flew, I had a pair of Red-breasted Nuthatches. But they must have been passing through because they haven’t been back.

Just before the holidays, Pine Siskins chased the American Goldfinches away from the feeder that contained sunflower chips. The siskins never came back either. After one of the series of Alberta Clippers came through, I had a Rusty Blackbird for a couple of days.

Goldfinch by Bruce Stambaugh
An American Goldfinch perched on a porch post.

The usual birds, other than the pesky House Sparrows, seemed fewer in number. A pair of Cardinals made infrequent appearances. The Dark-eyed Juncos, a given at winter feeders, were scarce. A few White-breasted Nuthatches and Black-capped Chickadees came and went irregularly.

A pair of bully Blue Jays could be counted to show up from time to time. A Downy Woodpecker pretty much had the suet feeder all to himself. The Red-bellied Woodpecker that had been a regular seemed to have disappeared since the snowfall.

The goldfinches and the congregation of house sparrows were the only feeder faithfuls. My winter’s entertainment wasn’t as entertaining as I would have liked.

As the temperature of this frigid day climbed into positive single digits, the bird feeders suddenly came alive. Colors flashed in the bright morning sunshine, and I grabbed my camera.

Two sparrows by Bruce Stambaugh
A Tree Sparrow and a Song Sparrow searched for food.

I spent a majority of the morning snapping one shot after the other. Tree sparrows picked at the corn my wife had put out since I was on the disabled list. The secretive song sparrow found a spot in the sun where it could simultaneously feed and warm itself.

The show really picked up at the shelled peanut feeder, which was a section of hollowed out log hanging from a hook on the back porch. The red-bellied returned, and brought along a hairy woodpecker as a sidekick. Tufted titmice and even chickadees grabbed some protein.

Bluebird with peanut by Bruce Stambaugh
A male Eastern Bluebird enjoyed a raw, shelled peanut.

A family of eastern bluebirds stole the show, however. They tried out every feeder. Males and females alike ate peanuts, chipped sunflower
seeds, black oil sunflower seeds and even pecked at the peanut butter-laden suet.

Despite the cold, both in the air and in my body, I had hit the trifecta. I enjoyed the extreme winter weather without having to bundle up, was treated to some wonderful birding, and captured much of it through the lens of my camera. I was beginning to feel better already.

Loathing acts and words of violence

Amish school by Bruce Stambaugh
A typical winter scene in Ohio's normally peaceful Amish country.

By Bruce Stambaugh

In the aftermath of the recent shootings in Tucson, Arizona, fierce discussion immediately followed the quick apprehension of the alleged shooter. To try to make some sense of this despicable act, heated vitriol quickly ensued, trying to focus blame on the rhetoric of popular political talking heads left and right.

I watched and listened. Mostly thanks to the ability to communicate spontaneously through the miracle of modern technology we call social networking, cable TV and talk radio, voices and anger rose simultaneously. So did the sale of guns and ammunition.

I watched and listened because I had sadly seen it all unfold before too many times in my lifetime. John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Bobby Kennedy, George Wallace, John Lennon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, Indira Gandhi, and Benazir Bhutto all came to mind.

These names, these famous folks were merely added to an even longer list of assassinations throughout history, the world’s and ours. Unfortunately, many of the more noted killings occurred in our own republic. Abraham Lincoln, William McKinley, James Garfield, Huey Long only begin the list.

We don’t have to stop at naming people either. Virginia Tech, Columbine, Paducah, and Nickel Mines are too easily recalled.

That’s what happens in the land of the free and the home of the brave where the first two articles of the United States Constitution create freedom of speech and freedom to arm. It is a delicate balance indeed to maintain in a free and open society. Too often, as was apparently the case in Tucson, unbalanced people upend everyday life at the price of innocents.

We cry out to make sense of it all when history has shown time and again that the reasons for shootings are often obscure and obscured. Usually, there is no clear-cut, well-reasoned reason.

Such high profile shootings demand the media’s attention because the public has a right to know and indeed needs and wants to know the details, the who, the what, the when, the why and the where of each and every act of violence. Sadly, because a crazy person chooses one freedom over the other, 9-year-old girls, federal judges, and United States representatives become the victims.

The public outcry is fast and fierce, and the rush on gun and ammo purchases shows an equal and opposite sentiment out of the desire for self-protection. Again, an ugly and unnecessary counterbalance occurs.

The unfortunate truth is, as we have learned in recent days, that these killings, usually via gunshots, happen close to home, too. A 10-year-old boy allegedly kills his mother with a gun. An adult son allegedly shoots his parents to death. An angry man blindly kills a young man hiding in a cornfield.

These last examples, of course, all occurred here in quaint, quiet and safe Amish Country. It doesn’t happen here. Those words were spoken in Tucson, Arizona, Big Prairie, Mt. Eaton and Mt. Hope, Ohio. Of course, “it” does because “it” did. “It” always catches us by surprise. It shouldn’t.

When people are free to speak their minds, to go about their normal business, and others are free to arm themselves and go about their abnormal business until the breaking point, a fateful, fatal crash between bullets and bodies results.

I mercifully dislike violence whether by guns or by vitriol, a word as ugly as its meaning. Both hurt and kill. There is simply no sense for sensible people to join the ranks of the unbalanced. The deranged already accomplish enough harmful havoc all by themselves.

Jeanty family is ready to return to Haiti

Fritz Jeanty family by Bruce Stambaugh
Mamie, Samuel, Fritz and Benjamin Jeanty will return to Haiti after spending a year in Millersburg, Ohio following the devastating earthquake January 12, 2010.

By Bruce Stambaugh

There is no place like home. In this case, for Fritz and Mamie Jeanty and their two young sons, Samuel and Benjamin, home is Haiti.

A year after their miraculous exit from earthquake ravaged Port au Prince, Haiti, to Millersburg, the Jeanty family is ready to return.

“From what I understand, it will be like it happened yesterday,” Fritz Jeanty said. “Friends and family tell me that almost nothing has been cleaned up.”

Fritz, 36, has been in regular touch via cell phone and e-mail with friends and relatives in his native Haiti. He knows it won’t be the best situation.

But he said thoughtfully, “It’s time to go home.”

Fritz understands the huge physical obstacles he and his family will face. His grocery store business was destroyed, and will never be reopened. Their home was damaged to the point of being unlivable. The cholera outbreak is yet another concern.

Nevertheless, Fritz and Mamie, 31, are ready to return home, ready to face the devastation and mourn the loss of life of friends, neighbors and family.

“Mamie lost two sisters,” Fritz said. “And right after the earthquake occurred, her 18-year-old brother disappeared. No one has seen him since.”

Fritz said he knows it will be hard to return. But he also knows it is the right thing to do.

“The people here have been wonderful to us,” Fritz said. “We are very, very grateful for all that has been done for us.”

A week after the massive trembler that leveled most of Port au Prince, Fritz used his resourcefulness to get his family to his father-in-law’s home in Orlando, Florida. From there he made contact with people with whom he previously worked in Christian Aid Ministries, based in Berlin, Ohio.

Within days the Jeantys were settled into a home in Millersburg, and donations of money, food, furniture and clothing were made. A Haitian Relief Fund was established to help the displaced family during their stay in Holmes County. At that point, the length of their stay was undetermined.

Fritz Jeanty by Bruce Stambaugh
Frtiz Jeanty volunteered five days a week at Save and Serve Thrift Shop during his year-long stay in Millersburg.

Fritz spent his time volunteering at Save and Serve Thrift Store in Millersburg five days a week, while Mamie cared for the boys. Samuel enrolled in Head Start preschool and soon learned English. Once the family adjusted to their temporary home, Mamie also volunteered at the store.

With his family safe, Fritz began thinking about their eventual return to Haiti. While assisting at Save and Serve, he marveled at the efficiency and goals of Save and Serve.

Knowing the need for good, inexpensive used clothing would be great in Haiti, Fritz imagined starting a similar store in Port au Prince using Save and Serve as a model. He shared his plan with the Save and Serve board of directors and they were supportive of his desire to help his fellow citizens while establishing a business to help his family survive, too.

Encouraged by their response, Fritz moved ahead with his plan. His father-in-law donated some land, and construction for the clothing store was begun.

A 26-foot box truck was donated to Fritz, and it was filled with clothing and shoes, which were also donated. Fritz and a driver, Ed Yoder of Millersburg, left for West Palm Beach, Florida. on January 10. Once there, the truck was loaded onto a cargo ship headed for Haiti.

“I need to be in Haiti when the truck arrives,” Fritz said.

He and his family plan to leave January 25. But it won’t be easy either for the Jeanty family or for those with whom they have worked.

“Fritz has been a tremendous help to us,” said Eric Raber, co-manager at Save and Serve. “He will definitely be missed, but we also wish the family well.”

Fritz plans on restocking his used clothing store in Haiti through the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) thrift store operations based in Akron, Pennsylvania. Such outreach businesses are part of MCC’s mission.

The Jeantys will live with family until Fritz can restore a room in their damaged home to a point where it is inhabitable.

“We will get one room ready,” Fritz said with his usual confidence, “and work on the rest as we can.”

As for the cholera, Fritz said that they would take the necessary precautions.

“We will only drink clean water,” he said. “We will wash our hands and make sure everything is clean before we eat it.”

Joe Wengerd set to end his education career

Joe Wengerd by Bruce Stambaugh
Joe Wengerd announced his retirement after 36 years in education.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The day after the school board accepted his resignation for retirement, Joe Wengerd’s ear was either tuned to the bus radio or had a cell phone pushed against it.

He was still handling his duties as superintendent of the East Holmes Local Schools in his calm, deliberate, concerned way. A snowstorm was approaching, and he had dismissed school two hours early.

With safety foremost on his mind, Wengerd wanted to make sure all the students arrived home safely. He also conferred with the athletic director to reschedule a basketball game.

“This wasn’t an easy decision for me,” Wengerd said about his retirement, “but it was the right one.”

Wengerd said he had thought about retirement for sometime. Finally, he concluded that it was time for a younger person to step in and take over the district’s leadership.

“I’m leaving the best job ever,” he said, “especially given this school district.”

However, one thing Wengerd said he wouldn’t miss was getting up at 4:15 in the morning to check for inclement weather. Altogether Wengerd has spent 21 years in the East Holmes Local Schools. He was superintendent for the last five years. He has a total of 36 years in education.

Wengerd began his career as a counselor at a children’s home in Logan County, Ohio. He later received his education credentials and entered the educational field. He taught elementary school in Ada prior to moving back to Holmes County.

He was principal in the West Holmes Local School District at Millersburg, Lakeville and Nashville elementary schools for eight years before returning to his home school district.

Wengerd said that one of the reasons leaving the school would not be easy was because his roots run deep in the East Holmes community. He was born here, attended Berlin Elementary and graduated from Hiland High School, and lives in the home where he grew up.

“It’s a great community to be connected to.”

Prior to serving as superintendent, Wengerd was principal at Charm, Flat Ridge and Wise elementary schools for four years and at Berlin Elementary for a dozen years. He also filled in temporarily at Hiland High School.

“Each of these were unbelievable jobs,” Wengerd said wistfully. “I didn’t want to leave any of them.

“Each leadership position became such a part of me,” Wengerd said. He also said he considered each a new challenge.

Wengerd said he was hoping for a new landscape to draw him. He won’t be alone in that sentiment. His wife, Phyllis, has also decided to retire after 31 years of teaching. She is a teacher at Chestnut Ridge Elementary.

“We will probably do some short term church service projects,” Wengerd said. “We love the national parks and will probably visit some of them, too.” He said they would also spend time with their only grandchild in Columbus.

The Wengerds have three adult children, all of whom are teachers. Daughters Kate and Maggie both teach elementary grades in Pickerington, and their son, Jesse, teaches math at Berlin.

“We didn’t make them go into teaching,” Wengerd said. But he and his wife weren’t necessarily the sole models for their children either.
“Education is the legacy of Phyllis’ family. She and her three siblings were all in education and so were their spouses.”

Wengerd received his bachelor’s degree from Bluffton University, and his Master of Education degree from the University of Dayton.

True to form, he had been thinking about retiring for sometime.

“There wasn’t a single event that lead to this decision,” Wengerd said. “I thought I would retire out of a building.”

Reflecting on being the district’s chief educational leader, Wengerd said, “I thought the superintendent’s position was a great opportunity to influence our students and give back to the community at the same time.

“I will miss working with the kids,” Wengerd said. “I liked to visit every building when I could.

“I love going out to Hiland and seeing former students that I had in Berlin as a principal. It’s fun to see them grow, mature and participate in extracurricular activities.”

Wengerd said he felt his biggest achievement as superintendent was getting the staff and students to all work in the same direction.

“In the five years I was superintendent, East Holmes received either an Excellence or Excellence with Distinction rating,” he said.

“Those results weren’t me,” he continued. “Those were the students and teachers working hard on student achievement goals.”

Wengerd said school board members were gracious in accepting his resignation.

“They told me they valued my leadership,” Wengerd said. “I greatly appreciated their comments.”

Wengerd said the board would work with the Tri-County Educational Service Center and the Ohio School Board Association in formulating a plan to search for a new superintendent.

Shaking the January blahs

swamp walk by Bruce Stambaugh
Friends walked the frozen marsh of Killbuck Creek in early January. (Photos provided by Dave and Kate Findley)

By Bruce Stambaugh

Normally, January is not one of Ohio’s more colorful months. I suppose residents all across North America could say that.

White and brown tend to be the dominant January color scheme here. It’s white if it snows, and basic brown on the bare ground if it doesn’t. Not exactly stuff of which calendar pictures are made.

With that introduction, I was going to write about how depressing it is to see the naked landscape during the winter months. I had my list of the usual suspects at the ready. The lack of color, the repetitive cloudy, dull days entombed with hard to breathe frigid air and the proverbial cabin fever all contributed to the annual epidemic of post-holiday let-down.

I had no sooner started to write when I received an email from a friend. She had attached several pictures of a swamp walk they had just taken in the backwaters of the Killbuck Creek near Killbuck, Ohio.

Most of the shots included the smiling couples that made the trek. I had a sneaky feeling their joy wasn’t just flashed for the camera. There seemed a deeper reason for their cheerfulness.

Though I did talk with my friend and her husband about their walk, the pictures really said it all. They revealed abundant beauty amid the wintry habitat of the marsh.

Buttonbush berries in varying auburn colors and stages of fermentation decorated the burnished host shrubs. By winter’s end, numerous types of wildlife, deer, turkey, robins and cedar waxwings among them, will have devoured the nutritious fruit.

beaver den
A beaver den in the backwaters of Killbuck Creek, near Killbuck, Ohio.

Behind a stand of some of the bushes, a blackish mound covered in tan sticks rose out of the mostly frozen water. The occupants of the beaver’s den were likely deep into their season’s sleep, unaware of their human visitors.

The pictures showed my friends walking on the marsh’s frozen surface, or posing for candid memories to be shared with friends and family. A rainbow of muted colors helped create their smiles.

The ice itself varied both in texture and color, ranging from off-white to clay gray. Nature’s arsenal of elements, wind, temperature, snow, and water flow all play a role in the seemingly dormant, yet ever-changing marshy environment.

swamp walk killbuck oh
My friends were amazed at the colors they found on their frozen wetlands walk.

Behind the low lying swamp, the rounded western foothills of the Appalachian Mountains jutted up like giant loaves of fresh baked bread. Clusters of pines served as a brief but green piedmont between the two.

At that point, a familiar fragrance distracted me from the pictures. I followed my nose into the kitchen to find pan after pan of fresh out of the oven cinnamon rolls cooling on the counter tops. Beside them, tins of golden-topped potato rolls also stood patiently cooling.

In addition, rows of jelly jars filled with cobalt colored blueberry topping for homemade pancakes and waffles sparkled from the light that filtered through the kitchen window. Smaller jars of crimson apple jelly added to the colorful collection next to the stove.

While I had sat sulking listlessly at the computer, bemoaning the dull days and confined activities, my energetic wife and thoughtful friends infused me with unexpected splashes of color. My smile nearly matched those of my friends in the swamp walk photos.

Inspired by digital pictures, picture perfect baked goods and showy glass jars, I realized that the blahs of January were self-induced. If I desired color in my life during the cabin fever time of year, all I really needed to do was to open my eyes.

Amish skaters

Honest to goodness laughter punctuated
the snowy night air, easily drowning out
the steady hum of the gasoline generator
that powered the incandescent necklace
arched over the frozen pond, illuminating
the slick surface where skaters frolicked.

Bruce Stambaugh
Jan. 7, 2011


Start the year with a bucket list

Cathedral Rock by Bruce Stambaugh
Cathedral Rock, Sedona, AZ

By Bruce Stambaugh

Instead of resolutions, I’m starting this new year by making a bucket list. As popularized by the recent movie of the same name, a bucket list is a compilation of activities you want to accomplish before you “kick the bucket.”

I’m not anticipating knocking on the pearly gates anytime soon. But then again that’s not always in our hands. I set these dreamy accomplishments to paper as a more determined effort to prioritize ambitions not yet achieved.

Obviously, a bucket list is personal, and varies according to any given individual’s interests and ambitions. The items need not be lofty, fancy, outrageous or flamboyant, just ideas and ideals unfulfilled. As one item is accomplished, another can be added.

What’s on my bucket list? Here’s a peek at some of the activities.

I want to write a book, maybe two. With my many interests, I certainly have gathered enough material. Now I need to pick a subject and get busy.

Shoshone Point, Grand Canyon, AZ by Bruce Stambaugh
Shoshone Point, Grand Canyon, AZ.

I want to visit all 50 states. I have been working on this one all my life. I have seven states to go, Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, North Dakota, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine.

I want to see a game in every major league baseball park. On this, too, I already have a head start. But I have dallied enough that some of the parks have long been torn down. I need to get moving before Wrigley Field and Fenway Park disappear.

I want to work with other relatives to develop a family tree. I know bits and pieces have already been compiled by extended family members. I want to help fill in some of the blank spaces if I can. Family is important to me and I enjoy history.

I would love to walk where James Herriot lived and worked in Yorkshire, England. A veterinarian by trade, Herriot made his intriguing life come alive for children and adults alike in his many books. He so eloquently intertwined the characters he met, the animals he treated, and the lovely rural Yorkshire countryside into fascinating tales.

Near San Marcos, Honduras by Bruce Stambaugh
The little church we helped build near San Marcos, Honduras.

I want to learn Spanish, at least enough to make my simplest inquiries known to those with whom I work and share when I visit Honduras. I figure it’s the least I can do.

I also want to read and reread the many good books that are gathering dust on my shelves. Like all the other items on my bucket list, they, too, have a lot to teach me. And above all else, I love to learn.

I also want to spend time hosting family and friends more than my wife and I already do. They always manage to teach me so much, especially the grandchildren. The grandkids keep me young in spirit even if they physically tire me out at times.

This laundry list of wannadoes is all well and good. But it is, like the Hollywood movie, a tad self-serving. A better bucket list should be even more inclusive and considerate of others.

Working side by side with folks, whether near or far, would be a more humanitarian item for a bucket list. Donating blood, volunteering at a hospital, serving food at a homeless shelter all would be appropriate additions to anyone’s bucket list.

You and I both might be stunningly surprised at how far such a practical, selfless implementation of service would take us. Perhaps we would go further than we ever thought we could accomplish.

That would be a bucket list worth creating.

Oceans and the weather

Gulf storm clouds by Bruce Stambaugh
Storm clouds gather at sunrise near Port Aransas, TX.

By Bruce Stambaugh

If it weren’t for the oceans of the world, the earth probably wouldn’t have weather as we know it. The landmasses then bear the brunt of nature’s bad weather and embrace her best. Considering that more than half of the world’s population lives within 60 miles of an ocean, their importance in weather making cannot be overstated.

Earth’s oceans occupy 71 percent of the world’s surface, and contain more than 97 percent of all the water contained on the globe. That huge volume of water helps create the weather that arrives on the planet’s landmasses.

Surprisingly, it is not so much the amount of water in the oceans that affects the weather as it is the temperature of the water. Just a degree or two warmer or cooler, and the oceans can have a dramatic effect on the weather experienced from season to season.

Oceans have an incredible ability to absorb, store and release heat into the atmosphere. It is this characteristic alone that affects the weather received around the world, even far inland.

Shelf cloud by Bruce Stambaugh
A shelf cloud of a severe thunderstorm moved over Ohio's Amish country.

This quality of ocean water also has the most dramatic affect on both climate and weather. Consider that the first 10 feet of ocean surface contains more heat than the earth’s entire atmosphere.

Major climate events, such as El Nino, result from ocean temperature changes. These temperature changes then impact weather events like hurricanes, typhoons, floods and droughts. Of course, those disasters directly relate to the success or failure of crops, and greatly affect the price of fruits, vegetables and grains, for example.

Just as the atmosphere is divided into layers, so are the oceans. The surface layer, the Epipelagic Zone, is also called the sunlight zone and extends from the surface to 660 feet deep. It is here that most of the visible light exists.

Naturally, with the light comes heating from the sun. This heating is responsible for the wide change in temperature that occurs in this zone seasonally and in latitudes. For example, surface water in the Persian Gulf can be 97 degrees Fahrenheit, while the water at the North Pole is 28 degrees.

Ocean circulations, waves, tides and sea breezes are other aspects of the ocean. Individually and collectively, they all influence the weather to some degree.

This article first appeared in the winter issue Farming Magazine.

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