Today is Ascension Day, the 40th day after the resurrection of Christ. For the Amish in the Holmes County, Ohio area, Ascension Day is a holiday. Families gather to reflect, visit, share, relax, and just enjoy each others company. Youngsters may go fishing, hiking, biking or play games like volleyball and softball.
Of all the holidays that the Amish celebrate, Ascension Day is the most informal, with no worship service or fasting. It simply is to honor the day that Christ ascended into heaven. Perhaps it’s a lesson from which all of us can learn.
Most times, when I look out the windows of our home or silently gaze across the landscape from our back porch, it seems like a dream come true.
When I was a child, my father occasionally would pile his family into the car and head to Holmes County. He loved the rolling hills, the tidy farms, the stands of hardwoods interspersed with patches of multi-hued green and golden crops. The winding, hilly roads stitched together these living quilt blocks.
We wound our way on two lane highways through towns like Navarre, Wilmot, Winesburg, Berlin and on into Millersburg. For us impatient kids, the drive from our blue-collar suburb 40 miles away seemed an eternity.
Dad made the day trip even longer. We stopped to buy eatable souvenirs at the cheese houses, built with shiny, glazed tile blocks that mimicked the yellow chunks of Swiss. We couldn’t wait to unwrap the brown, waxed paper parcels secured with sturdy, white string. They perfectly represented the productivity of the land and its practical people.
Dad loved the slower pace of life in Holmes County, best modeled by the buggies drawn by satiny chestnut horses, and the afternoon sun highlighting the blond manes of giant workhorses pulling hay wagons through waves of emerald alfalfa. Neat white clapboard farmhouses, sometimes two abreast, and carmine bank barns brought focus to this dreamy world.
Dad would also stop along the way to photograph colorful landscapes, or just to enjoy the view. Sometime later, Mom would produce a watercolor that vividly depicted the same scene.
I often ponder those excursions with Dad, noting how ironic it is that my wife and I settled in Holmes County. We made it our home, raised our children here, began and ended our careers here.
In the summer, I sit on the back porch eating heirloom tomatoes and drinking fresh mint iced tea while our neighbor and his circle of family and friends gather wheat shocks on a hot, sticky afternoon. Undeterred by my presence, hummingbirds zoom over my head to the feeder.
In the winter, American Goldfinches, Northern Cardinals, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Eastern Bluebirds and White-crowned Sparrows consume the seeds provided for them. A whoosh of wings announces a sneak attack by the resident Cooper’s Hawk, attempting to snag a snack, too.
In the spring, I watch with wonder as maple leaves unfurl ever so slowly. Yet it seems one week the trees are bare, and the next I’m under their shade.
I’ve never been to New Hampshire or Vermont to behold their fine fall colors of picture postcard scenes where hardwoods surround pristine, quaint villages. I intend to go someday. This fall, however, I’ll enjoy the equally colorful pallets around Charm, Beck’s Mills, Killbuck, Glenmont, Trail and Beechvale.
As pretty as our area is, its hardy people, though humanly and humbly imperfect, make it even more attractive. My wife and I are grateful for friends and neighbors who reside and work in and about our bucolic habitat. It’s a privilege to be among them.
Holmes County wasn’t the only enticing rural area our family visited on those trips long ago. But it was a favorite. I never dreamed I would end up living all of my adult life here, rooted to its rich, productive soils, and intertwined with its industrious, ardent inhabitants.
I tell people that I was born and raised in Canton, Ohio, but I grew up in Holmes County. Now you know why.
When I rounded the “S” curve north of our home, I saw this scene and hoped the horse wouldn’t move before I could capture the moment. Fortunately for me, it didn’t. I think the beautiful animal was simply enjoying the warmth of the morning sun, something that has been all too rare in northern Ohio this spring.
It just seemed logical to title this photo, “Outstanding in his field.”
It happened in a flash, as scary moments often do. I was mere inches from serious injury if not death. My guess is we all have events like this.
I don’t mean to overdramatize this. The split-second incident helped me further appreciate both what had previously occurred that day and what I was about to encounter.
I had already had an illuminating morning. I got to help my Amish neighbors run some timely errands. They had made dozens of glazed donuts for an open house at a nearby greenhouse. My task was to deliver the golden goodies and their makers to the party. It was hardly a chore.
I also got to see the wayward Rock Wren again. Why this cute little creature landed two miles east of my house smack in the middle of the world’s largest Amish population, I have no idea. I just know it did, and the property owners were more than hospitable to any and all who wanted a chance to see this rarity.
Hundreds came to view this bird that belonged in the Rocky Mountains. This was only the second recorded appearance of this species in Ohio. After taking too many photographs of this feathered rock star, I returned home.
I checked to see if the mail had been delivered. With a small hill to the north, I have been especially careful about crossing our busy county highway for 34 years. The vehicles tend to zip along despite the posted speed limit. Just like my mother taught me, I looked both ways, and crossed to the mailbox, which sets well away from the road.
I grasped the handful of letters and turned to retrace my steps. At that exact moment, a car driven by a young man roared by going south in the northbound lane. As he passed two other vehicles, his rearview mirror nearly clipped me.
I don’t think the young driver ever saw me. He was too focused on getting wherever he was going. At first, I stepped back to catch my breath even though the roadway was now clear.
Then I smiled. Rather than be mad or frightened, I immediately became filled with gratitude for many things. Being kept safe topped the list. Others included the fulfilling experiences and interactions I had already had that day.
I determined to be even more grateful for the rest of the day and all the days that followed. I would he thankful for the people I meet along the way, too.
My life continued. I visited friends near Mt. Hope that had a pair of Barred Owlets roosting on a tree near their home. The afternoon sun beautifully highlighted the cute, cuddling pair.
Another friend had given my wife and me our first morel mushrooms of the season. Neva sautéed them with olive oil and a dash of salt, and we downed them with over easy eggs and some locally raised and cured bacon.
It may have been one of the best meals I had ever eaten or was glad to eat, given the close call. For dessert I relished the relationships with friends and family as much as the savory mushrooms and bacon.
My mailbox episode was an important universal lesson. We need to express our gratitude whenever and wherever we can as often as we can. We just never know when we will no longer have that chance.
I have been encouraged by friends and followers of this blog to share more of my photographs. I have decided to post a Photo of the Week, choosing the best photograph taken during the previous week.
I hope you enjoy this series of photos, and I welcome your comments.
The first offering is of an Amish farmer with his Down Syndrome son. The youngster walked the length of the field to catch up to his father and the team of work horses. His father placed a large chunk of a recently cut tree trunk on the harrow for the boy to use as a seat. Half-way across the field, the father handed the reins to his young son to guide the team of horses on his own.
My brothers, sisters and I were extremely fortunate. Our mother cloaked her love in grace and mercy. I wish everyone could say that.
Our late mother loved in so many ways. Compassion was a gift she abundantly shared.
Mom’s calm demeanor didn’t keep her from taking care of business when she had to, however. With five active cherubs on the loose, her hand of justice reached out and touched someone whenever needed. Mom fairly disciplined simply to teach right from wrong.
As was the norm in the post-World War II era, Dad was the family breadwinner. He was an engineer by trade. Mom was an engineer, too, a domestic one, though the proper term back then was housewife. Mom masterfully coordinated all the cooking, cleaning, washing, planning, nursing, and entertaining.
Mom had an uncanny, almost instinctive ability to adapt to many situations. With her five ornery children and one needy husband, it must have been her survival mechanism. Our hyperactive, always on the go father likely had something to do with that.
Dad was the prototypical Type-A personality, joining sporting, civic and church activities that often took him away from home right after he had finished the supper Mom had prepared. Mom seemed to take it in stride.
However, I remember some rather heated discussions occasionally punctuated the night air when us kids were supposed to be fast asleep. Speaking the truth in love was the thread that stitched Mom’s compassionate mantle.
I always admired that spunkiness. It perfectly balanced her more tender side, which was the one she wore so beautifully most often.
I have fond, vivid memories of us kids exploring boxes full of black and white photos that documented our parents’ early years together. I always chuckled at the one with Mom holding a shotgun. Dad claimed he and Mom did go hunting together, and Mom never denied it. But it was just so unlike the mother I remember. She disliked cooking the game Dad brought home.
Mom was always there for us, especially if we were sick. News of the latest mumps outbreak brought back vivid memories for me. I was miserable lying on the couch, covered in a homemade afghan, Mom trying her best to get me to drink and eat something, anything, instinctively knowing my painful discomfort.
And yet, she soldiered on with the rest of her household chores, making sure supper was ready, and everyone had clean clothes for the next day’s activities.
Despite all she had going on, Mom wouldn’t hesitate to stop what she was doing and play catch with us or dig a flower for a teacher or visit a sick neighbor. Mom lived her love.
Mom was very artistic, and blossomed into an award-winning watercolor painter. She and Dad even went on annual weeklong art junkets to the mountains of the Carolinas.
When Mom accompanied Dad on special archeology digs, she painted while he dug or hunted for artifacts. One of her landscapes graced the cover of a book. Mom was that good.
Mom’s paintings now adorn the walls of friends, family, and extended family members all across the country. They are beautiful testimonies to her artistic abilities and to the passion that she invested into all her efforts.
Mom lived 90 remarkable years. This is the third Mother’s Day without her. We greatly miss her. Mom’s gracious love lasts not only in our memories and her lovely paintings, but also in our hearts.
After the long, miserable, snowy winter, and the damp, cloudy and windy days of early spring, soaking in the warmth and calm of a sunny afternoon was just what was needed. And that’s just what I did.
After a light Sunday lunch, I poured a glass of mint tea and headed to the back porch. I wasn’t alone.
Because of the unfriendly weather, we had delayed rescuing all of the porch furniture from storage. I simply sat on the steps that face our little garden pond, and absorbed the soothing sun and so much more.
Since it was a Sunday, the usual hustle and bustle of work traffic on our busy county road was nil. Sounds of horse clops and rolling wooden buggy wheels coursing along the unyielding macadam predominated, occasionally interspersed with vehicles motoring north and south.
That was the background noise. Around me the action took a more natural flow. Newly arrived Chipping Sparrows flitted from tree to greening grass, searching for seeds and nesting material, their sharp, delicate chipping joining the chorus of other birdcalls.
Downy Woodpeckers announced their arrival with an assured flutter of wings and their usual, perky chirp. Their herky-jerky head gyrations showed their cautiousness. Hunger quickly overcame their suspicions of me, and they clung wearily to the peanut butter suet feeder.
The much more brash male Red-bellied Woodpecker loudly barked out its presence as a warning to any other species that might have thoughts of feasting there. He clearly trumpeted that it was his turn, and he took it with me as an audience.
I didn’t realize I was doing such a good job of behaving myself until a female American Robin jumped out from beneath our porch deck. She bounced within inches of my feet and into the shade beneath the feeder that hangs in front of the kitchen window.
I sat as still as possible while she poked and pecked at the seed residue dropped by the perching birds onto the soft soil below. Then she hit the lottery. She snagged an earthworm, which she downed posthaste.
With that the robin bounded away, and then harshly scolded me as she winged it to a far limb on the old sugar maple 20 feet off. When she finished her lecture, she promptly flew away.
It was at that point that I noticed the dozen or so goldfish in the pond basking in the sun at water’s surface. All faced me, their mouths opening and closing as if to say, “Feed me. Feed me.”
I went to the little garden shed, grabbed a handful of fish food and plopped it into the water. The school scurried and splashed to get to the nutritious floating pebbles, then sank to the bottom to finish the meal.
The sun also brought out the resident green frog nestled into a cozy spot among the sprouting pond reeds. It picked off several insects while I sipped my tea. Bathed in abundant sunshine, the neighbor’s road horses grazed lazily on the new sprouts in the hillside pasture.
The first butterfly of the spring fluttered by and landed in the sun at the back of the porch. The Mourning Cloak was well-worn from its long flight north.
A male Cardinal called sweetly from a perch in front of the house. I eased around the corner and soon spotted it. He sat at the summit of one of the crimson maple trees in the front yard, singing his entire repertoire. Behind the house, the sun coaxed a small herd of deer into the alfalfa field.
The glorious sunshine had warmed my skin. The immerging springtime sights and sounds heartened me to the core.