Why I liked summer nights, and why I still do

Amish girls, Amish cart, Ohio's Amish county
Up the long lane. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

When I was a youngster growing up in a suburb of a blue-collar steel town in northeast Ohio in the 1950s and 60s, I loved summer nights.

Let me be clear that the foremost reason for my affection for summer was that school was out. But it was so much more than that, and still is.

Sure, summer days filled with warm temperatures, fluffy white clouds sailing by and gaggles of my peers running loose made for riotous times. We’d play ball, ride bikes, and explore for hours on end along the little creek that snaked through a woods down over the hill from our brick bungalow.

However, we knew when to come home for lunch and supper, or we wouldn’t eat. It was that simple.

It was a crazy, wonderful era to grow up. Times were changing. Right after supper, we watched the world unfold before us on the nightly news on black and white television. I had trouble reconciling what I saw then with what I had seen just before dinner on the Mickey Mouse Club.

Sputnik
Sputnik.
That might have something to do with why I enjoyed and enjoy summer nights so much. Things got quieter after 10 p.m. or so. The noises of life subsided. I escaped into the refreshing darkness, unafraid, in awe of creation, and in search of anything that moved in the sparkling sky.

Since we were on summer vacation from school, my siblings and I were permitted to stay up later. I loved the evening’s coolness, a respite from the daytime heat and humidity. The nighttime air was our air conditioning.

I took full advantage of those cooler opportunities. I loved to view the night sky. Streetlights were scarce in our neighborhood then, allowing us actually to see the constellations and the countless stars.

My folks must have noticed that interest, too. I got a telescope, and that allowed me to examine the heavenly hosts up close. It was the beginning of the space age, and once I even was able to follow Sputnik, the first-ever man-made satellite launched by the Soviet Union.

Sputnik, headlines
Headlines announcing Sputnik’s launch.
Satellites were still so novel that newspapers published the time and flight path of their orbits. When I saw Sputnik, I couldn’t believe its simplicity, a round ball with four protruding antennae.

I liked simpler, natural things, too, like fireflies, the flash of heat lightning in distant storms, an owl hooting. Most of all, I embraced the solitude that summer nights afforded.

Here I am decades later, a grandfather instead of a grandson. I still love the quietness of early summer nights, before the crickets and katydids begin their concerts.

half moon
Half moon. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
Living here in the country, I lie awake at night listening to distant sounds far from our home, dogs barking, horses whinnying, and jetliners cruising high overhead. It’s that calm. If I’m fortunate, a Whippoorwill will wake me from my daze, or a pair of coyotes will howl from the hilltop behind our home.

An American Robin will startle me awake long before dawn, perhaps herself startled from her nest. Was it a cat, a flying squirrel, an owl, or did one of her babies grow restless and try an early morning fledgling flight?

I still like the nights before the crickets start choir practice. I still prefer summer’s air conditioning to artificial. I am most appreciative that lightning bugs don’t crackle when they blink.

But wouldn’t it be neat if they did?

sliver moon, planets, night sky
Night sky. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Summer solstice sunset

summer solstice, sunset
Summer solstice sunset. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Each summer solstice, I stand at the northwestern corner of our property here in Ohio’s Amish country and watch the sun sink between the twin silos on our Amish neighbor’s farm. I guess it’s my version of Stonehenge. Normally, if the sky is clear, I often see a golden orange glow. Not this year.

I watched the sunset on the summer solstice again last Sunday evening. As sunsets will do, the colors in the evening sky seemed to change by the minute. I kept shooting and shooting photos. I thought the roses, violets and baby blues painted above the silhouetted farmstead in this shot created an amazing scene.

“Summer solstice sunset” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Some days are simply for the birds and more

Amish farm
The farm. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

Some days are simply for the birds.

Recently, I had a couple of days that were exactly that. I helped out a friend by leading a few birding field trips to a local farm.

The target birds were young Barn Owls, a couple of fuzzy baby American Kestrels, and bubbly Bobolinks. In a rather rare situation, both Barn Owls and Kestrels had hatched their young in nesting boxes the farmer had erected in his old bank barn. The meadow across the road remained uncut so the tinkling Bobolinks could frolic and flourish.

The farmer and his family went out of their way to accommodate both the birds and us. Their farmstead was neat as a pin. Flower beds and gardens were nearly pristine. The three generations that called this place home welcomed us with open arms and hearts.

Both the farm’s setting and the intentional agricultural techniques employed accounted for the diversity of birds and other wildlife. Surrounded by rounded hills dotted with emerald woodlots, the land rolled away from the farm buildings more like waves than fields.

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I imagined in a birdseye view a quilted panorama. Broad patches of variegated greens and tans from forested hills, alternating fields of pasture and croplands stitched together by brushy fencerows created a pastoral patterned effect.

Such a landscape also enhanced the desired habitats and food sources needed for the various avian species. It was obvious the farmer, typical of many in our area, understood the balance between conservation and productivity. Sad to say, some deem that approach as inefficient or even old-fashioned.

The days were precious in so many ways. Cottony clouds hung in salient skies over windswept grasses nearly as tall as the weathered wooden fence posts that delineated their boundaries.

The meadow’s high grasses mingled with seedy weeds, and wildflowers danced in the wind beneath while the Bobolinks, Eastern Meadowlarks, Song and Savannah Sparrows and Red-winged Blackbirds let loose. The birds’ melodious chorus easily drew the attention and appreciation of each group. All the birders, spanning three generations, thought the birds and their songs beautiful and luxurious.

(Click on the photos to enlarge them.)

Though he said he wasn’t a birder, the kind farmer had erected nesting boxes in his ancient barn for the owls. That is what attracted folks from near and far for this special chance to view the birds. It was indeed rare to have both owls and falcons nesting in the same barn.

Participants hailed from cities. Others lived nearby. Their ages ranged from preschoolers to octogenarians. A courageous woman on crutches in the midst of cancer treatments even ventured forth. I drew strength from their enthusiasm.

Atop wobbly ladders, we viewed the baby birds one by one through a pencil-sized peephole drilled in the plywood boxes made by students at a local vocational school. A small, square hole cut into the barn siding permitted the adults to enter and exit to feed their young.

Below, hushed conversations ensued in each group. Sunlight streamed through the intentional spaces between the horizontal clapboards. Still the barn was dark and steamy.

No one complained whatsoever. All realized what a privilege it was to view the birds and enjoy the genial hospitality of this marvelous family who welcomed all of God’s creatures.

These glorious days were definitely for the birds, obviously in a juxtaposed sense. The smiles on the faces of all the birders declared each visit a joyous success. None of us could have asked for more.

meadow, Amish farm
The meadow. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Streaming through

light streaming through barn
Streaming through. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

While leading some field trips to view baby barn owls, I happened to catch this scene. The light from the bright outside was streaming through the old broken shutters on a vent that helps air out the barn. Though it was rather dark inside the barn, this natural light played upon the inside wooden wall, revealing every intricate detail of the weathered barn siding.

“Streaming through” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

In honor of two very friendly fathers

By Bruce Stambaugh

My late father and late father-in-law were clearly different men. But they had a lot in common, too.

Both my father and my father-in-law, Wayne, were genuinely friendly to everyone they met. They each set an example on how to interact and connect with others.

Stambaughs, Millers
Marian and Dick Stambaugh (L) and Wayne and Esther Miller. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
Dad was lanky and gregarious. Though skinny as well, Wayne was of average height. Dad was a Type A talker. Wayne was more laid back, but could easily carry his own in any conversation.

That was especially true when it came to sports. Both men were like little kids if baseball, football or basketball were the topics of conversation. They had a love-hate relationship with all teams Cleveland.

They didn’t just talk athletics either. Dad played three sports in high school and perused his enthusiasm for games well into adulthood. Wayne bowled and played church league softball.

Both found those activities as a means to an end. They got to play, and they thrived on the conversational interplay before, during and after the games.

Of all their commonalities, friendliness was at the top of the list for both Dad and Wayne. In fact, they became good friends, in part because they knew many of the same people.

farm tractor
Where my late father-in-law felt most comfortable. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
Wayne was a farmer, and Dad loved farms, but for different reasons. Farming was Wayne’s livelihood. Dad made friends with farmers near and far because he liked to hunt and fish. He also found their various stories fascinating.

Wayne and Dad got along famously. In fact, once Neva and I set our wedding date, both men started to invite folks to the ceremony that knew both families. Unfortunately, some of those people weren’t on our invitation list. Is it any wonder we had 400 guests?

I learned early on that Dad liked to meet new people. He’d take us kids along on his excursions exploring farms all over eastern Ohio.

Wayne Miller
Wayne Miller at our daughters wedding in 1998. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
After he retired and stumbled onto the hobby of Indian artifact collecting, Dad’s interests in farms had a new twist. Again, Dad’s high-spirited enthusiasm carried over to his children and grandchildren, who he coaxed into accompanying him on his relic gleaning excursions. It was his version of hands on lessons in history, geography, and conversation.

I knew Wayne liked me right away. On my first visit to the Miller farm, he took me straight to the barn to see the pigs. My wife said it normally took other guys two or three visits. I was honored, and our relationship blossomed from there. He treated his other son-in-law with equal love and respect.

family
Dad and Mom with our daughter, her son, and me. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
Dad would use the arrowhead hunting excuse to visit Wayne and Esther’s farm, along with neighboring fields. Their real friendship was just part of the formula that successfully melded our two families together.

Even in death, Wayne and Dad connected. Wayne died on Dec. 22, 2001. Dad died on Dec. 21 eight years later.

It is no wonder that even today people that knew Dad and Wayne describe them both with the same fondness. They use similar complimentary terms to reflect on each man. Both were sociable people, easy to like and admire, they say.

Of course, both Wayne and Dad were human. They each expressed themselves in less than articulate ways at times. But to those who knew them, or maybe only once met either of them, the conclusion was the same.

People remember the genuine congeniality of both Dad and Wayne. That’s a legacy we’d all like to leave.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Blue and pink

Amish boy and girl,
Blue and pink. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Of all the photos I shot this day, I thought this one was the finest. With the help of Ian and his sister, Lydia, I had been leading birding field trips to their grandfather’s bank barn. Birders from near and far wanted a glimpse at some baby Barn Owls and some recently hatched Kestrel chicks.

Amish are noted for being conservationists. This family was no different. Besides the boxes for the owls and kestrels, they had several bird feeders filled with seeds for backyard birds. In addition, Ian and Lydia pointed out a Ruby-throated Hummingbird’s nest and a nest just now being constructed by Cedar Waxwings. The nests were only feet apart in the same tree in their front yard.

Across the road Bobolinks, Eastern Meadowlarks, Savannah Sparrows, Red-winged Blackbirds, Brown Thrashers and other birds of the field sang. They put on a great show for the folks on the birding tours. Some even posed for photos, which I took advantage of.

The Barn Owls and Kestrels were “lifer” birds for several of the folks on the tours. But for me, it was this shot of Ian and Lydia during a lull between groups that I cherished the most. Since they were youngsters, I was permitted to take their photo. The relaxed poses of Ian and Lydia, and the bright colors of the shirt and dress contrasting with the barn’s white-washed siding and the darkness of the barn’s opening made “Blue and pink” my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Remembering to be grateful for each new day

Amish buggy, Holmes County OH
Horseless carriage. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

On my morning walk, my neighbor’s grandsons exited the house well before 9 a.m. They each had their necessary baseball gear in tow, gloves, bat, and ball.

I called out to them, “Baseball for breakfast, boys?”

They just smiled and ran to their imaginary Major League park, the grass groomed immaculately by their grandfather. I walked on, lifted by the sound of bat striking ball.

Because the local greenhouse was having a sale, more traffic than normal traveled the tiny rural road. Believe me, they were busy.

eastern meadowlark, songbirds
Eastern Meadowlark. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
The chorus from the Song Sparrows, Eastern Meadowlarks, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Red-headed Woodpeckers helped balance the roar of engines and jake brakes accelerating and descending hills on highways a mile away.

That’s one of the luxuries of living in the country. The sounds of life’s contrasts become all too obvious.

Young Amish girls, all three sisters that I knew, pulled an empty wagon toward the greenhouse.

“Going shopping this morning?” I asked them. A simple “Yes” and a few giggles was their retort. I silently lauded the mother for allowing the girls to pick out the desired plants.

This opportunity gave them responsibility, decision making, and experience in money exchanging, all valuable life skills. It was just one example of raising children in the way they should go.

As I reached Jonas’ farm, his wife walked down the sidewalk to the gravel driveway where her husband waited in the buggy. I waved, and Jonas returned the common greeting.

All the while I strolled and interacted with these good folks, I kept thinking of my friends far away in Syria, Iraq, Honduras, Texas, California, and other foreign countries.

How I wished they could be walking with me to experience this goodness that I take for granted far too often. Instead, some of them were just trying to stay alive, work diligently for peace, help the needy, and recover from massive flooding.

Amish, Amish boy, bicycle
Biking by. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
At that point, I embraced them and the day the only ways I knew how. I thought and prayed for them as I walked along on this lovely morning. I hoped it was as divine for them whatever their current situation.

When I passed by the greenhouse on the return trip, there was Jonas again. He was sitting in the buggy while his wife looked for flowers and plants.

I kiddingly cried out to him, too. “Don’t you like shopping, Jonas?”

“I trust my wife,” he said. I bet he helped her plant whatever she bought though. That’s the kind of betrothed devotion I admire.

Potting shed, landscape decorations
The potting shed. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
Down the homestretch, where traffic gets busier and louder, an Indigo Bunting sang from deep within a woodlot. I stepped to the road’s side to let the vehicles zip by, and to listen to this magical sound. I wished the drivers could hear it as well.

When I reached our property, my heart sang in harmony with the birds. My energetic wife was watering a variety of colorful flowers, some she had purchased at the greenhouse sale earlier that morning.

The Eastern Bluebirds flew from the birdhouse I had put up for them. My heart rejoiced all the more. I was glad they had won out over the pesky House Sparrows. A House Wren chattered atop another birdhouse nearby.

I have a lot for which I am grateful. This walk reminded me that each morning I open my eyes I need to say a joy-filled thanks.

rural sunset, Holmes County OH
Rays of hope. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015