Evolution of a beloved sugar maple

Under the tree by Bruce Stambaugh

By Bruce Stambaugh

The sugar maple in our backyard and I go way back.

When my wife and I purchased our current home 33 years ago, only three trees graced the acre and a half. That had to change for several reasons.

Trees provide so many benefits to any property, urban, suburban or rural. Trees add both an aesthetic and economic real estate value.

Close up by Bruce StambaughBesides their beauty, trees provide practical purposes, too. In summer, their shade serves as a natural air conditioner. They prove a reliable windbreak against harsh winter winds. As a bird enthusiast, I wanted a mixture of trees that would supply a nice habitat for a variety of birds year-round.

The sugar maple that now dominates the middle of our backyard was just one of several trees that I transplanted from our property near Killbuck, Ohio to our current residence near Mt. Hope. I did so in the fall, the optimal time to transplant since trees are dormant.

I dug the tree out of our hillside woods. The soil was so loose and gravely it all fell off. I wrapped the bare-rooted maple in burlap, and headed east. By the time I had reached our soon to be home, it was dark. I stabbed the ground with the pointy tree shovel, pulled the earth back, slipped the roots into the moist ground, stamped it closed and left.

Later in the light of day, I trimmed all of the limbs and the top third off the tree to let the roots take hold the first year. And did they ever. In three decades, the little sugar maple has grown into a full, mature, shapely tree. It is the jewel in the leafy crown of our modest domain.
Blue and orange by Bruce Stambaugh
Over the many years it has endured a lot, including serious damage from the remnants of a hurricane, a severe thunderstorm gust and an ice storm. Each time I carefully patched the exposed flesh as if it were an injured child.

The sugar maple has hosted innumerable bird nests during its life, birthing many different songbird species. Other birds and animals big and small have sought sanctuary in its embracing arms and expansive, dense canopy. Most were wanted. Others, like the family of raccoons that raided the bird feeders, were not.

Backyard birds use the tree as a launching pad to the nearby feeders. Nuthatches and woodpeckers wedge sunflower seeds into the crackled, flaking bark to crack open the shells to get to the sunflower meat.

My verdant friend hosts free entertainment, too. Late spring to early fall Ruby-throated Hummingbirds take turns waiting in ambush on a favorite perch for other hummers coming to the sugar water feeder that hangs by our kitchen window. It’s pure joy to watch them chase and chatter after one another.

Over the top by Bruce Stambaugh

The sugar maple tree is a beauty in any season, but particularly in October. With each bright sunrise, a warm orange glow streams through the windows into the house. The tree’s crown blazes high above the rooftop, contrasting nicely with the backdrop of the evergreen of queued white pines against the stubbled cornfield.

The sugar maple paints a new autumn scene each October day. In less than a month, the leaves of my stately arbor ally turn from rich emerald to glowing gold, and all too soon drop in feathery waves.

Even leafless, the sugar maple freely shares its generous hospitality, attracting birds, critters and humans. Spring, summer, fall or winter, my old friend says welcome home.

Welcome home by Bruce Stambaugh

A week by week pictorial record of the changing of the leaves on the sugar maple follows.

Sept. 30, 2012 by Bruce Stambaugh
Sept. 30, 2012
Oct. 9, 2012 by Bruce Stambaugh
Oct. 9, 2012
Oct. 16, 2012 by Bruce Stambaugh
Oct. 16, 2012.
Oct. 22, 2012 by Bruce Stambaugh
Oct. 22, 2012.
Month's end by Bruce Stambaugh
By October’s end, the sugar maple stood bare.

This column appeared in The Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

A Thanksgiving tradition comes to an end

Home by Bruce Stambaugh

By Bruce Stambaugh

For years, the extended Stambaugh family gathered as one at Thanksgiving. Not this year.

When I was a youngster, we had a rip roaring good time on Thanksgiving Day. Usually we celebrated with our cousins, the offspring of my mother and her two sisters. We would assemble at the old farmhouse of Uncle Kenny and Aunt Vivian, who we affectionately called Auntie Bibbles.

It was like Christmas before Christmas. With 17 cousins ranging from teenagers to toddlers, we relished the day together. We would play games inside and out, if the weather cooperated. I’m sure the adults privately prayed that it would.

Marvelous fragrances filled the old farmhouse from the array of good food cooking. The adults chatted while they prepared the savory meal. The family matriarch, Grandma Frith, oversaw all the action in her reserved but proud southern hospitable manner.

We occasionally had to wait on my father to arrive before we ate. Much to my mothers chagrin, Dad loved to hunt rabbits and pheasants on Thanksgiving morning. It wasn’t the hunting so much as being habitually late that drew Mom’s ire. Of course Dad has his tales to tell.

Once the meal was over and the kitchen and dishes cleaned, the adults joined in the merriment. If I remember correctly, they often raised more clamor than the kids. That’s because they were all good sports and lovingly embraced each other’s company.

Maren and Daryl by Bruce StambaughAs the families grew, the Thanksgiving tradition underwent a logical metamorphosis. Each of the three families began to celebrate the blessed day on their own. Most of the cousins were no longer children, but adults with spouses or significant others of their own. The rambunctious cousins were beginning to bear rambunctious children of their own, too.

My family would gather at the home where we were raised. Somehow we all managed to squeeze in the little brick bungalow. Realizing their place was a bit tight for the growing family, Mom and Dad added on to make more space for holiday gatherings.

Each family chipped in with their specialty dishes to make the feast complete. Roast turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, candied sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and, of course, pumpkin pie filled the table of plenty.

After the meal, Dad always had to turn on the Thanksgiving Day football game on the TV. No matter what else the assembled masses wanted to do, the game was part of the ritual.

Family gathering by Bruce Stambaugh

Over the years the grandchildren, as they tend to do, grew into teenagers themselves. Today, they are all mature adults, productively contributing to society, using their various skills. Some with children of their own, they are scattered geographically from New York City to Atlanta, Ga. to Chicago, Ill. to Wooster, Ohio and places in between.

For our family, for the first time for as long as I can remember, there will be no collective Thanksgiving gathering for the Stambaugh side. Our mother died last April, and Dad has been gone since Christmas 2009. I think we all made every effort to meet for them as much as for the meal. Now that need is gone.

Thanksgiving 09 by Bruce Stambaugh

This Thanksgiving the families of my four siblings and mine will each do their own things. We are all right with that. We will embrace this new transition in our lives and be thankful for the day, the memories of the past and those to come.

It just may be our new Thanksgiving tradition.

This column was published in The Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

The good, bad and ugly of Super Storm Sandy

Sandy clouds by Bruce Stambaugh
The last clouds of the remnants of Super Storm Sandy left Holmes County, Ohio late afternoon on Nov. 1.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’m both a news and weather junky. When the weather is the news, I’m fixated. So it was with Hurricane Sandy.

From the time the hurricane entered the Caribbean until it finally dissipated in Canada many days later, I focused on news of what came to be known as Super Storm Sandy. Between her alpha and omega, Sandy stormed up the east coast. Once she turned inland, the destruction intensified.

Initially the media focused on a breaking story of a severely damaged construction crane in New York City. I watched in awe as video showed hurricane force winds bending the towering, monster crane like it were a twig. The damaged section dangled precariously several stories above a busy street while police and firefighters evacuated the area. News cameras zoomed in on the scene for the entire world to see. Much more serious incidents were occurring unknowingly far out of the cameras’ lens.

Sandy was one massive storm, just as predicted by the professional severe storm forecasters. Perhaps that is one positive to take away from this major weather event. Knowing that weather scientists were able to project accurately the intensity and path of the storm may convince people to take better precautions when future storm warnings are issued.

A huge geographic swath impacting millions of people got hammered. Sandy merged with an interior cold front, creating a hybrid storm with fierce winds, torrential rains, flooding, storm surges and even heavy snow in the Appalachian Mountains.

Sandy’s aftermath told an ugly, unfortunate story. Major metropolitan areas, including New York City, were particularly hit hard. As Sandy moved inland, the consequential events unfolded, and the media coverage began to expand.

Beach by Bruce Stambaugh

Sandy’s winds, rains and high tide storm surges had obliterated once pristine places and popular vacation spots. Those who failed to heed the warnings either were stranded or rescued. Unfortunately others paid with their lives. Beaches where sun worshippers once lounged and children romped were simply gone. Beachfront homes and businesses disappeared.

Millions of people were without electricity, potable water, food, transportation and heat. Schools were closed. Businesses shut. Ruptured gas lines burst into flames, destroying entire blocks of homes. It was a mess to say the least.

The high winds and heavy rains we experienced here were minor compared to most affected communities. In fact, we were happy for the quenching rains.

Emotions and responses to the super storm became paradoxical. While snow resorts in West Virginia opened earlier than ever, several storm-related deaths occurred from auto crashes on slippery roads.

Birds seldom seen in Ohio were blown into the Buckeye State ahead of the intense storm. Birders here were ecstatic. All the while thousands upon thousands of people in northern Ohio were without power.

As the reality of the breadth and depth of the storm became known, the media ranged far and wide to cover the catastrophe. Both heart-warming and heart-wrenching stories of people helping people developed. The damaged crane seemed inconsequential compared to other ongoing calamities and heroic acts of goodwill.

Jessica by Bruce Stambaugh
Jessica Stambaugh
As massive and destructive as Sandy was, it seemed to affect each of us personally. That was certainly true for my family and me. A niece, Jessica, lives in Manhattan, and was among the throngs without power and heat for days.

I never did hear what happened to that dangling crane. I just know that Jessica was safe. Unfortunately, scores of others couldn’t say that about their loved ones.

This column appeared in The Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

A good day made better

Sunrise by Bruce Stambaugh

By Bruce Stambaugh

The dawn broke cloudy with a promise of needed sunshine. Compared to the previous gloomy day of overcast skies, gusty winds and chilly rains, the sun, even just peeks of it, would be more than welcome. It didn’t disappoint.

Blue sky by Bruce StambaughBy mid-morning, the layered blanket of grayness drifted east. Stray cumulous clouds took turns hiding the sun, until they tired of the senseless game. By noon, the wonderful warming sun had the entire blue sky all to itself.

By that point, I had already embarked on my dedicated plan for the day. Having been holed up for several days due to illness, I was ready to get out and about. I headed to one of my favorite places, the retirement community where I used to work and where my folks and my wife’s parents used to live.

I needed to visit with an elderly friend from church. Fannie’s welcoming smile always makes me feel right at home. This day was no exception. I enjoyed the comfort of her old wooden rocker while she chatted away.

Of course I had to hassle the office staff with whom I used to commiserate for five years. Aides, nurses, therapists, and other staff members greeted me as well. The place and people were as gracious as ever.

While there, I decided to check on several other residents I knew. All are old enough to be my parents. Each one always asks how I am doing, and I always respond, “Pretty good for an old guy.” They laugh, refute my declaration, and assure me that I’m still a young man.

I don’t always feel that way. But with every visit there, I come away feeling blessed and motivated. It seems an oxymoron to be renewed at a retirement center. But it’s not by any measure.

I see people I have known all of my adult life, some since I was a child. Despite their various ills and infirmities, I still envision each just as I knew them in earlier days.

One room school by Bruce Stambaugh

There was Betty, my favorite homeroom mother in elementary school; Eileen, the most pleasant of cooks at the school where I taught; Ethel, a model of encouragement for many, and Frances, who radiates sunshine on the gloomiest of days.

Fred, the retired minister, filled me in on his trip to Virginia, hardly missing a detail. His 91-year-old mind was sharp, his eyes bright as he recalled his reunion with friends, brothers, children and grandchildren.

There are others to be sure. Each has captivating stories to tell, yet they sincerely want to know how I am doing, and my wife, too. I always answer that question by saying with a twinkle and a smile, “She’s as mean as ever.”

My senior friends laugh and scold me in the same sentence, proving that they indeed are still deserving of my respect and honor. It heartens me to see and hear them laugh as if they were 40 and not 90. They ooze wisdom.

As they settled in for their lunch, I headed for the car. The dominating sun had warmed the once chilled fall air. It was a beautiful day, made more so by the lovely and loving folks who call me “young man.”

The day had promised to be a good one. My mature friends made it even nicer than the amiable weather.

Buggy on fall day by Bruce Stambaugh

This column appeared in The Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012