When an ill wind blows, persevere

sunnybutcoldbybrucestambaugh
Even sunny days that looked warm were chilled by persistent winds.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The cold and wet of winter and early spring seemed to be unrelenting. The constant breezes made already cold days seem even more so, and damper than they really were. It felt like the wind had blown nonstop since Thanksgiving.

To paraphrase John Heywood, who first penned the words in the 16th century, “It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good.” That’s the way I thought of the many persistent gales that delivered us storm after storm for four months.

We here in northeast Ohio have endured a variety of weather elements for too long. Snow, sleet, freezing rain, ice, fog, torrential rains, flooding, and bone chilling temperatures have all been part of our weather menu. However, it has been the relentless wind that has been the most bothersome. It made even a sunny spring day seem like February all over again.

Day after day the icy wind seemed to go right through you. It was that bad. As much as I love weather, I had about had it with the unyielding gales.

coldplowingbybrucestambaugh
Amish farmers have had some raw days to do their field work this spring.

I am glad, however, that the wind does aid farmers by drying out the mushy soil so planting can begin. But I pity the many Amish farmers who have had to spread, plow, harrow, and plant in the endless blusters. They and their trusty draft horses had to be freezing.

There’s another hazard to wind. Wildfire danger increases when steady breezes dry out already brittle dormant foliage and grasses. That’s one reason why spring’s quenching rainfalls are so welcome, even if they are accompanied by nasty winds.

On a recent trip to visit friends in Leamington, Ontario, a steady wind buffeted our van on the trip north. Along the Ohio Turnpike we spotted a Bald Eagle soaring against the northwest wind over an open field in search of prey.

windyyardworkbybrucestambaugh
Brisk yard work of cleaning winter’s deposits of debris still required coats and gloves in Ohio this spring.

We discovered that the weather in Ontario, including the wind, hadn’t been any better than ours. Indeed, we wore sweaters and jackets during the extended weekend.

The only exception was our last day there, Monday, April 15. That day dawned in beauty and quiet. The sun shone brightly as we said goodbye to our friends.

By afternoon as we reentered the U.S., the wind had once again picked up. At least it helped push us homeward as we traveled.
I was glad to see the sun, and feel its welcome warmth. Perhaps the stubborn winter weather systems that brought the chilling blustery northwest winds had finally been broken.

Shortly after 4 p.m. I turned on the van’s radio to listen to the news. From the announcers’ demeanors we knew that something serious had happened, only neither my wife or I were clear as to what the problem was. As we listened, we learned of the bombings in Boston.

Like most good people of the world, we were horrified. It was an ill wind no good citizen could ever have anticipated.

Tolerating a persistent cold wind is one thing. Enduring a terrible, intentional act of violence is another concern altogether.

We must live our lives as best we can, embracing each new day with gusto, hope and a fearlessness that no harsh wind, natural or man-made, can destroy.

hopefulsunrisebybrucestambaugh
© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

Pre-release special price on Fifty Shades of Grace

I am pleased to announce that I have a chapter in a newly published book, Fifty Shades of Grace, by Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia and Waterloo, Ontario. The book will be released May 1.

fiftyshadesofgraceAs a special introduction, Herald Press is offering a 30% discount on the book until May 9. The book sells for $12.99. To order the book, contact MennoMedia at 800-245-7894 or click this link, MennoMedia.

The book is a collection of true inspirational stories about experiencing God’s grace in the midst of everyday life. Each of the fifty essays explores what grace looks like in action—even in a world jaded by violence and unforgiveness—and how grace can triumph over tragedy, or the daily annoyances of family life.

The chapter I wrote, entitled “Testing my Peace Stance,” tells about accompanying my late father, Richard, on an Honor Flight for World War II veterans. Stories are also included from noted writers Jim Wallis, John Powell, John Perkins, Lovella Schellenberg, Christopher Kennedy Lawford and many others, mostly from the Mennonite/Anabaptist tradition.

In his foreword, Donald Kraybill says, “The stories compel, mesmerize and strike again and again with wonderment for the many colors of God’s lavish love. These contemporary stories of grace all rub against the grain of popular culture. They offer a redemptive counterpoint to the darkness and oppression lurking in the shadows of bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey.” Kraybill, an authority on Anabaptist groups, is a co-author of Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy and author of many other books.

©Bruce Stambaugh 2013

Everyday should be Earth Day

fullmoonsettingbybrucestambaugh
I learned the love of nature from my late father and the discerning eye to capture it from my late mother.

By Bruce Stambaugh

As far as I’m concerned, everyday should be Earth Day.

I got that attitude from my late parents. They weren’t environmental activists to be sure. But they appreciated nature, each in their own way. They respected the environment and taught their five children to do the same.

Dad loved to hunt and fish. As we grew up, he had each of his three sons tag along while he hunted. I don’t know why he didn’t involve our two sisters. I remember Dad once being so keen-eyed that he caught a cottontail rabbit with his bare hands. No buckshot was every fired.

momanddadbybrucestambaugh
The late Marian and Dick Stambaugh at the cottage they built in southeast Ohio.

When we were old enough, we joined him hunting pheasants, squirrels, rabbits and grouse. Dad saw the benefits of hunting, being outdoors, bringing home game, teaching his children about wildlife and conservation.

Since I tended to be a fair-weather sportsman, I preferred fishing. Problem was, when you went fishing with Dad, it was an all day deal no matter whether the fish were biting or not.

tyingupbybrucestambaugh
A pontoon boat on Clendening Lake in southeast Ohio.

Dad loved to take his grandchildren on lazy cruises on his pontoon boat on his favorite fishing lake, Clendening. He would motor up Coleman’s Run to one of the many giant, sandstone outcroppings, and tie up. It didn’t matter if we caught much or not. We lounged in the warmth of the afternoon sun and the fellowship.

There was just something about being out in the fresh air, taking in the natural beauty all around. One time we even heard a black bear scratching its claws on a tree trunk.

Our gentle mother gave us a more cultured look at caring for and appreciating the earth. She was an accomplished artist, and loved painting landscapes, usually in watercolor.

Using both vibrant and soft colors, Mom perfectly captured nature in her many seasonal moods. There is a sparkling stream cutting through a dormant, snowy pasture, a gently curving country road that leads your eye past a vernal woods on the left and a Victorian farmstead on the right, and a glowing array of blazing Holmes County, Ohio fall foliage, and a thousand more.

lonehunterbybrucestambaugh
Mom painted Dad walking through the woods, shotgun over his shoulder.
Mom even captured Dad on canvas. He is a mere silhouette, shotgun over shoulder, walking back to their cabin, empty handed as usual. Dad admired that painting in part because his lovely wife chose him as the subject. He also loved it for the scene, a lone hunter hiking through a shaded glen, the glassy lake shimmering in the background. It certainly reflected Dad’s child-like spirit of simply enjoying the invigorating experience of nature.

As a youngster, I remember helping Dad plant hundreds of tree seedlings on a steep, abandoned farm field overlooking Clendening. Thrusting those sprigs into the loamy earth was much more than a kind act of conservation. It was a true lesson in hope.

colorsalongthelakebybrucestambaugh
The pines I helped to plant have grown tall along the lakeshore.

I say that because now I enjoy the view from the porch of the cottage that the folks built. My wife and I bought and remodeled it and use it in much the same way as Mom and Dad. We enjoy sharing the same woodsy lushness, the forest creatures, the starry nights, and the quiet calm as Mom and Dad.

Just like Dad did with his children and grandchildren, I can stand on the porch, point across the lake to the grove of tall pines and tell a story about when they once fit in the palm of a young boy’s hand.

Thanks to my savvy parents, Earth Day doesn’t just happen in April.

viewfromtheporchbybrucestambaugh
The view from the cottage porch.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

Bluebirds make me anything but blue

bluebirdsandfishbybrucestambaugh
Eastern Bluebirds take turns getting a drink at the little waterfalls of the backyard garden pond with an orange audience.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a familiar blue flash. A male Eastern Bluebird had landed awkwardly on the wooden framed feeder that held peanut butter suet cakes.

That same scene had been repeated in my backyard many times over the years. Intended for woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches and titmice, Eastern Bluebirds and other avian species have also enjoyed the rich protein offerings.

The first time I observed the bluebirds attack the suet, I took special notice. Eastern Bluebirds dine on protein-rich insects and their larvae. Suet apparently helped fill the void when insects, or berries for that matter, were unavailable in Ohio’s cold season, which this year has lasted much too long.

maleeasternbluebirdsbybrucestambaugh
Even in the winter, the colors of male Eastern Bluebirds radiate.

In the springtime, the male bluebirds burst into an iridescent, radiant blue that glows in the morning sun. They are in their flamboyant mating plumage, brilliant on head, back, wings and tail feathers. Their orange breasts contrast nicely with the showy blue. A splash of white on their wing shoulders and a snowy fringe along the birds’ bottom feathers nicely accent the flashy ensemble.

femaleeasternbluebirdbybrucestambaugh
The female Eastern Bluebirds have a beauty all their own.
Even the more subdued and shyer females could hold their own in a bird beauty contest. Their dullness, of course, is for natural protection from predators. Bluebirds are beautiful to say the least, and their cheery chatter and lyrical calls only enhance their artistry.

Bluebirds are not designed to cling to a typical suet feeder the way woodpeckers do by bracing themselves with their firm tail feathers. I marvel every time I see the bluebirds lunching at the suet.

The bluebirds often land atop the wood-framed feeder with wire mesh sides designed for easy access to the nutritious food. They

bluebirdonsuetbybrucestambaugh
The bluebirds perch as best they can to steal a bit of peanut butter suet.
perilously cling to the sides or bottom brace of the feeder, flapping their wings wildly as they peck at the soft suet. Since they keep returning over and over, day after day, to the suet, I have to assume that they aren’t expending more energy than is gained in the tricky process.

As their main course, the bluebirds and other songbirds regularly down chipped sunflower hearts that are offered at other feeders. They apparently use the peanut butter suet as dessert, and then wash it all down with occasional visits to the little waterfalls of the garden pond.

A half dozen pairs of Eastern Bluebirds frequent my feeders, shrubs and trees in the yard. If they choose to inhabit some of the bluebird houses erected around the property, I rejoice and stay vigilant. It’s a never-ending battle with the pesky House Sparrows to keep the bluebirds nesting.

bluebirdnestbybrucestambaugh
The nests built by Eastern Bluebirds are usually made of soft grasses or pine straw, like this nest in progress.
In the spring, I check the boxes regularly. If I find a finely structured nest of soft grasses and pine needles, I know the bluebirds have won the battle. If the nest is disheveled and constructed with a junkyard of materials, I pitch it in hopes of discouraging the House Sparrows.

Often the bluebirds will perch in the large sugar maple in our backyard above the dangling suet feeder. After just a few bites of suet on this chilly April morn, this male bluebird instead took wing and swooped low across the wide stretch of open, freshly plowed farm fields, making a beeline for my Amish neighbors.

Were they using a different feed? Was the bluebird nesting in one of their boxes? The answers were really insignificant. What did matter was that the bluebirds were thriving for all to enjoy.

Watching that bluebird arch across those fields in the morning sunshine couldn’t have made me happier.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

Enamored by names

I am honored to report that today I received the University of Akron’s Wayne College Regional Writers Award for non-fiction. Since I’m naturally too modest to say much about myself, friends and colleagues encouraged me to share this winning essay with you.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I have always been enamored by names.

By names, I mean the title affixed to something, someone or someplace that transcends the given moniker of the object, the person or the place.

When I moved to Holmes County, Ohio many moons ago, I immediately picked up on the custom of speaking in this sort of colloquial code that was neither an accent nor a dialect.

People spoke of names for places as if the entire world knew to what and where they were referring. Often times, most of those names could not be found on any official document, including a county map.

Still, people used the names as reference points, meeting places and settings for stories, imaginary and true. With apologies to Stephen Colbert, the “truthiness” of the tale didn’t really matter.

In my teaching days, my elementary students matter-of-factly offered up perfect examples of what I mean. When I asked the students where they lived, I got answers like “on French Ridge” or “next to Dingle Brown” or “ beside Blackbird Croskey.”

Once I caught on to this provincial name-dropping, I tried turning the tables on the kids through the lessons. They found it down right sacrilegious to learn that Glenmont had once been Napoleon and Killbuck was first Oxford.

Nor did they believe me when I told them that Fort Fizzle had really been a fort, and the cause of its rebellious caretakers actually did fizzle. It was an insignificant skirmish in the American Civil War. But it was our own.

The cute terminology wasn’t confined to the schoolhouse either. Once, when I reported to the fire station after the alarm had sounded, I found the first two trucks gone and the station empty. I checked the chalkboard where the type of run and its location were hastily scribbled. “Grassfire, Baddow Pass” was all it said.

I was stumped. I had no idea where that was, and had to wait until another volunteer showed up to find out which way we should go.

The name game even spilled over to church. When the youth group wanted to go on a hayride to Panther Hollow, I again had to ask about the exact location. When we got there, it was so spooky I thought it should be named Ghost Hollow. But I soon learned that was actually on the north side of the nudist camp. And no, I am not making up any of this.

When I moved to the eastern part of the county, I discovered the local names just as prolific, if not more so. Amid the Amish and Mennonite culture, several people have the same name. But there was only one Bicycle Dan and one Toothpick Andy.

We had our church picnic in Troyer’s Hollow. The Stink Plant sits on Weaver Ridge. Good friends live on Joe T. hill.

In the western, more Appalachian area of the county, the hills are steeper and the valleys are wider. In the east, with its more gently rolling hills, the tranquil valleys are referred to as bottoms.

A young woman was once talking with a small group of people about what each valley was called. She said she lived in Bulla (or Bull) Bottom, and that the valley on the north side of Walnut Creek was called Genza (or Goose) Bottom.

She promptly turned to a young man who lived over the next ridge, and innocently asked him, “And what is your bottom called?”

Like I said, I love these earthy, rural names rich in traditions and full of life, goodness and virtue.

© Bruce Stamabaugh 2013

The extraordinary benefits of a beneficial Saturday

sunrisebybrucestambaugh
Benefit Saturday began with a beautiful sunrise.

By Bruce Stambaugh

This was to be benefit Saturday for my wife and I. I simply couldn’t have projected just how beneficial it would end up being.

Before dawn a delightful aroma wafted across the landscape from the Amish farmstead behind our rural Millersburg, Ohio home. A congregation of people was barbequing chicken on portable grill wagons. A generator cast a harsh, artificial light upon the busy group, creating predawn silhouettes.

The benefit barbeque was for a couple that needed financial assistance due to extreme medical bills. She had cancer, twice. He had had surgery that kept him off of work for six months. To help out, we ordered six quarters of chicken to be picked up after 11 a.m.

mongolianhutbybrucestambaugh
A Mongolian hut is called a ger. (Photo by Kim Kellogg)
That was but one of three different fundraisers in which we participated that day. The first began at 7 a.m. with sausage, ham and pancakes. My wife ate the meat. I ate the pancakes. The breakfast was held to raise money for a mission project in Mongolia. An authentic, completely furnished Mongolian ger, a felt lined hut, had been erected in the church fellowship hall for all to inspect.

As tasty as the food was, the fellowship that buzzed around our table was even better. We reminisced with old friends about how our lives had intersected during the ups and downs of life. Breakfast doesn’t usually come with dessert, but that’s what this conversation ended up being.

Though the chicken cooking was literally in our back yard, we had to pick up our order at a residence a mile up the road. For lunch, Neva and I each downed a quarter of the flavorful hinkel, as the Amish refer to it. We enjoyed the chicken so much I returned to buy more, only to be told that they only had enough to fill the presale orders.

barbequingchickenbybrucestambaugh
Our Amish neighbors hosted the grilling of the barbequed chicken.

I drove back my neighbors’ long graveled lane to where the chicken was being grilled. I got the same answer there, but discovered the full measure of devotion of this gracious act of charity.

More than 80 friends, family and extended family members gathered to do the chicken. A total of four tons or nearly 8,500 quarters of chicken had been barbequed to sell on behalf of this family in need. The charcoal was lit at 5 a.m. The grilling began at 6 a.m. and finished up at 2 p.m. It was an all day deal.

From the looks on the workers faces, they were both elated at the success of their selfless efforts and fatigued from their long hours of hanging around the smoky grill pits. A total of 36 Amish churches helped sell the chicken, and they indeed sold it all. They may have barbequed lots of chicken, but in the process they also cooked up a liberal batch of compassion.

honeytownbybrucestambaugh
The band, Honeytown, performed at a local coffee shop to help raise money for our church youth group.

In the evening, Neva and I headed into town for a concert by a renowned, local quartet. Honeytown sang and played as a fundraiser for our church youth group. The kids were raising funds to attend a church wide conference in Arizona this summer. Only Mennonites would hold a gathering in the desert in July.

Each of these three benefits had a specific purpose, and each achieved success. Love comes in many shapes, sizes, and means, pancakes, barbequed chicken, and inspirational song among them. Though independent of one another, a common purpose and generous acts of human kindness bound the benefits as one.

We had been thrice blessed. Beneath an umbrella of golden sun and cloudless coral sky, this benefit Saturday had truly been extraordinary.

© Bruce Stambaugh