When we vacation on Amelia Island, Florida, my wife and I usually head to the pier in downtown Fernandina Beach for sunsets. The assortment of ever-changing colors that glow in the western sky and reflect in the waters of the Intercoastal Waterway are fabulous unless it’s cloudy.
We were invited one evening to have dinner with friends at the south end of the island away from the water. Still, I checked on the sunset from the rear of their fourth-floor condo. I wasn’t disappointed. The sun’s rays illuminating the evening’s high, thin clouds created an amazing sunset. The Nassau River was a mere ribbon of orange, snaking through the saltmarsh beyond the canopy of live oaks.
I couldn’t remember seeing so many warm shades of orange. “Florida Oranges” is my Photo of the Week.
I can’t exactly tell you when the weather bug hit me. All I know is that the weather just fascinates me.
Maybe it started when I was a youngster. A summer thunderstorm would force the neighborhood gang of kids onto our front porch. Rained out of our outdoor mischief, we passed the time oohing and ahhing at the vivid streaks of lightning dancing across the sky.
College invigorated my interests all the more. Geography courses answered questions I didn’t even know to ask. My weather appetite intensified.
After I had graduated, I took a teaching position at Killbuck Elementary School and joined the volunteer fire department after moving to the village in the valley. When I learned that the National Weather Service depended on first responders as severe weather spotters, I was elated. I took the required course to become a trained spotter. Doing so enabled me to combine two interests into one, firefighting and weather.
Both my school days and my volunteer firefighting days ended years ago. However, my obsession with the weather continues.
I keep an eye on weather forecasts for good reasons. The lives of others might depend on it. In today’s electronically connected world, I get the word out about potential severe weather through posts on social media just in case a few people don’t hear about the impending storm.
I likely won’t ever outgrow the desire to watch the weather. When the National Weather Service posts a storm watch near where I happen to be, I go into proactive mode watching various radar and severe weather pages on the Internet.
Thanks to technology, a spotter’s approach to watching for severe weather has significantly changed over the decades. Instead of going to the highest hilltop with the best vantage point and viewing from a vehicle, I can stay in the safety of my home. There I track the storm on my computer and by watching out the windows for rotating clouds, hail, and any flooding I can see.
It’s a little different story in the winter. Spotters help out the National Weather Service by measuring the snow the old-fashioned way, using a ruler. Of course, the measurement has to follow protocol. Spotters measure snow depths that accumulate on a board elevated above the ground.
Morning and evening, the local weather service office receives reports of new snow totals from dozens of snow spotters across the coverage areas. Doing so helps the professionals in evaluating their forecasts and even in issuing weather advisories. After all, frozen precipitation is the hardest type for career meteorologists to predict accurately.
Like many of the other community activities I’ve done in my life, being a weather spotter is a voluntary position. Knowing I am only one of many who help the weather service get the weather word out to citizens is all the pay I need.
Between tornadoes, blizzards, flash floods, damaging straight-line winds, and lightning strikes, I’ve seen a lot of wild weather in my lifetime. It may sound a little strange to say this, but I enjoy reporting what I find.
I suppose I do it both for the thrill and the necessity to relay what I have observed. Helping the official weather forecasters, even in some small ways, gives me great satisfaction.
I guess I’m just a weather geek at heart. I’ll gladly wear that badge of honor as I forge into the next snowdrift.
As my wife and I walked the beach at Little Talbot Island State Park in Florida, plenty of action played out all around us. Waves crashed against the sandy eastern shore as the strong westerly wind blew wisps from the tops of the waves’ curls. Surfers took advantage of the favorable conditions. Ospreys sailed high overhead, searching the shallows of the surf for lunch. Forster’s Terns and Northern Gannets dove into the ocean in their never-ending quest for survival.
Humans walked the beach, heads down scanning for sharks teeth and pretty shells. Mothers watched their children dabble in the cold Atlantic, which kept them from venturing in too far.
For me, though, the most exciting find was at the end of the large limb of driftwood where seawater still lingered from the morning’s high tide. The salt water brought out the true color of the wood while the sun and salty air bleached the branch’s exposed, dry parts. The result is my Photo of the Week, “Driftwood.”
There can be no mistake about it. I enjoy meeting new people. Now, there’s nothing wrong with the guys and gals I already know. I like them, too, and the stories and friendships we share.
Of course, I love my family. They mean the world to me. I hope they think likewise.
I find there is just something personally memorable about meeting strangers who so willing and so easily engage in conversation. It might be the only one we have, and then we all move on. Then again, happenstance encounters might lead to endearing bonds. You never know unless you take a risk.
I’m glad for folks who feel the same way. Otherwise, life wouldn’t nearly be as sunny. To be sure, traveling takes away the home field advantage for everyone. We’re all standing on neutral ground.
I attribute my willingness to smile and greet others to two factors. One was my gregarious father, who knew no strangers. He enjoyed exploring nature and history, and the fear of asking was never a fault. Tact, however, didn’t seem to be in his repertoire. People liked him anyhow.
The other is my intense yearning for learning. And the only way to satisfy that is to listen, look, read, ask and explore. Hopefully, I mind my manners in the process.
Travel enhances the desire to gain new understandings. It also has afforded plenty of opportunities to meet and know many fine folks. A few of them come to mind.
While visiting San Antonio’s world famous River Walk, I casually asked a local police officer where the best place to eat lunch was. He deferred, saying he wasn’t permitted to make recommendations.
I reworded my question. “Where are you going to eat lunch?” I asked. He told me, and we waved to each other as he walked in.
We found a young ranger equally helpful at Grand Canyon National Park. When he finished his talk, I asked him where the best place was to view the sunrise.
The wise young man looked around, leaned in and whispered, “Shoshone Point.” We weren’t disappointed the next morning.
When vacationing in Fernandina Beach, Florida, I kept seeing the same woman evening after evening taking photos of the sunset over the town’s harbor on the Intercostal waterway. We talked, shared about photography, and the next thing I knew Lea had invited me to her home for a camera club meeting.
I can tell we’re going to be photographic comrades for a long time.
More than 30 years ago, Neva and I attended a church conference in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. We stayed in an old brick farmhouse of a very gracious guest. We hit it off right away, despite my lame attempts at humor. I especially loved Mary’s tasty and colorful meals. We’ve been friends ever since, even attending her wedding. Now we love her saint of a husband just as much as Mary.
Several years ago, Neva and I met Sharon, a nationally syndicated columnist, at a book signing in Toledo of all places. We hit it off right away and have been communicating and encouraging one another’s writing ever since.
These are but a few examples of the many, many kind people we have met along life’s meandering path. I’d run out of ink if I mentioned everyone.
Besides, you know who you are. Thanks so much for being our friends.
My wife and I and some friends of ours from Ohio were visiting Ft. Clinch in Ft. Clinch State Park in Fernandina, FL during a “Living History Day.” A volunteer in era-appropriate Civil War attire was eloquently sharing about the old fort’s infirmary when this oil lamp caught my attention. The morning sunlight warmly played upon the lamp and the table on which it sat. The white-washed brick wall, with some original mortar showing through, served as an appropriate backdrop. The setting made for an impromptu capture without me being too rude to our guide.
At our house, winter is for the birds. Well, so are spring, summer and fall. We feed the birds that frequent our backyard year-round.
My wife and I enjoy watching the various bird species that visit at the assortment of feeders we put out for our feathered friends. Consider it our preferred entertainment.
The birds also take advantage of the little garden pond near the feeders. The water runs down the small waterfalls all year for the birds to bathe and drink. That’s especially important in the winter when most water sources often freeze.
But it’s the feeders that the birds flock to, excuse the pun, especially when the temperatures are extreme and the ground covered with snow. Natural food sources are often limited.
The feeders help out the birds and bring color and fun activity to our backyard. To meet the various needs of species big and small, a variety of feed stocks an assortment of feeders.
Dark-eyed Juncos prefer to scratch at cracked corn on the ground. Northern Cardinals are more versatile, feeding on the ground, from hopper feeders and will even perch on the oil sunflower feeders.
The faithful American Goldfinches prefer the chipped sunflower seeds from the tube feeder by the kitchen window. Eastern Bluebirds will join them.
Several kinds of woodpeckers visit the suet feeder, filled with peanut butter suet cakes. The sturdy wood and wire contraption hangs from a limb of the sugar maple tree that dominates the backyard.
We are fortunate to have nearly all of the kinds of woodpeckers that live in Ohio, Downey, Hairy, Red-bellied, Redheaded, and even Pileated. We’re particularly grateful for the latter.
Pileated Woodpeckers, Ohio’s largest woodpecker, are giant, usually secretive birds that often live and feed deep inside dense woodlots. We’re glad the ones that visit our backyard are an exception.
For the last couple of years, a pair of these incredible birds has regularly visited our backyard suet feeders. We live in the country. Nearly 200 trees and shrubs populate our little slice of land. The small grove apparently is enough to satisfy the Pileateds.
The desire to dine at our free buffet must overcome their instinct to be reclusive. Often we know when they are coming. Their harsh call warns all other birds that the big boy and girl have arrived, and to make way. The others regularly oblige.
As big as they are, the Pileated Woodpeckers don’t seem that aggressive toward the other birds. Surprisingly, it’s the opposite. The smaller woodpeckers, Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, and White-breasted Nuthatches play it safe until the Pileateds retreat.
I’m pleased that the big birds feel safe coming to our feeder every season. With the maple tree dense with leaves, the birds can easily hide. The huge woodpeckers even bring their fledglings to the feeder in the summer.
Without the leaves in the winter, the Pileateds are much easier to see. They always arrive from the south, usually landing on the same limb. They shinny down the big branch and flop over to the heavy-duty feeder.
Both the male and female are striking in their size, shape and coloration, a vivid red and contrasting white and black. Their thick, chisel-like bills taper to narrow, blunt points.
My wife and I are grateful for all of the beautiful birds that visit us, whether it’s once or daily. The Pileateds, however, are a most revered treasure.
I love most to take photographs like this. What I thought I was shooting was nothing more than my grandson walking along the beach near a pier. Clearly, that’s what it is. However, it wasn’t until I downloaded the photo to my computer that I realized the marvelous harmony of the pier legs and those of my grandson.
Call it luck. Call it an accident. Call it what you want. I call it my Photo of the Week, “Spontaneous syncopation.”
Another Groundhog Day is upon us. What’s all this silliness about anyhow?
I’ve never entirely understood the ubiquitous clamor over this unofficial holiday. Even as a youngster, I remember watching the Today Show on television on Feb. 2. Willard Scott, the show’s weather guy, got so excited if the groundhog didn’t see its shadow. Folklore says that means spring will arrive sooner than the official date.
That’s just nonsense, of course. Wild animals have some sense of impending doom. I heard stories about deer fleeing the lowlands along the Killbuck Creek in Holmes Co., Ohio well ahead of the devastating flooding in 1969.
But a groundhog, or if you prefer woodchuck, whistle pig or land beaver, predicting when spring will really arrive? I don’t think so.
The town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania garners the most attention on Groundhog Day. The good folks of the hard-to-spell town have been hosting the official celebration of this hoax of a holiday ever since 1886.
I was surprised to learn the event had been going on that long. It’s gained in popularity since the release of the Hollywood movie of the same name in 1993. Since then, folks swamp the little west central Pennsylvania burg wanting to get a look at the four-legged weather prognosticator from Gobbler’s Knob.
Townspeople couldn’t be happier to host the throngs of curious visitors for their festival. They gladly take their money for food, lodging and trinkets. I guess in the dead of winter, people will do about anything to break cabin fever.
I was also intrigued to learn that Groundhog Day was a carryover from traditions in Europe. Most of them were borne around a religious holiday called Candlemas, where clergy blessed candles that were distributed to parishioners.
The candles were lighted on February 2. If the candlelight was needed due to dreary weather, the populous took that as a sign that winter was waning.
Who were these kind but superstitious folks? Why Germans, of course. And what nationality predominated in swarming through Penn’s Woods in the pioneer days of our great country? Why Germans, of course.
In clearing the land for farming, they found groundhogs rather numerous. The four-legged varmint also happened to resemble an animal from their homeland, the hedgehog.
In fact, pioneer farmers in New England had a very practical saying. “Groundhog Day, half your hay.” In other words, if a farmer had used up more than half of the hay stored for the winter, lean times could be ahead for the livestock if winter lingered.
So it seems that I might have to ease up on the good folks in Punxsutawney. Why not have a little fun and make a little money in the process?
Having something to celebrate at winter’s midpoint may not be such a bad idea, after all. Given the day’s history, it does have a purposeful origin. As time and traditions both transformed, a case can be made that Candlemas morphed into Groundhog Day.
I don’t see either the day or the fuss going away anytime soon. We can thank the Germans for creating the tradition. We can thank the hyperventilating media for extending it.
I guess this just goes to show that even when you think something is a bit unusual, you can still learn from it if you keep an open mind. I won’t demean Groundhog Day again. Neither am I planning on celebrating it.
I will light a candle in the day’s honor. While I’m at it, I better check my supply of hay, too.