By Bruce Stambaugh
I drove away from the city to get a country view of a Shenandoah sunset. I came away with so much more than picturesque photos.
I had taken several sunset shots near our daughter’s home in the Virginia valley that is the result of ancient geologic folding. I wanted a different backdrop. I decided to head for a friend’s childhood home.
After I had dropped off my oldest grandson at baseball practice, I drove a few miles south and west of the city that is rapidly sprawling far beyond it’s historic downtown. My friend, Ava, had moved to Ohio last year. She said she remembered people stopping to take pictures of the views opposite her home.
Ava had given me perfect directions to her old place. I found it well before sundown, which gave me time to check out the area, and take a few photos first.
Ava was right. The panorama alone was stunning. This high spot on a gently rolling ridge opened up nicely to the west. The sun glowed above the Alleghenies miles away.
I sent her a text with a photo of the evening’s western landscape. Ava’s reply caught me by surprise.
Despite all the years she had lived there, Ava didn’t have a sunset photo from that perspective. Her family’s religion forbade owning a camera. I didn’t know that, however.
In her words, Ava said it was a precious vista that hemmed the western range of her formative years. It was the scene she saw as she walked to the school bus, gather the mail and drove the buggy to church. The foothills, valleys, and mountains served as a geographic security blanket for her.
Ava profusely thanked me for the photos that brought back so many poignant memories. Capturing and sharing that setting generated a heartwarming story that dearly warmed me far more than the fiery sunset.
Tractors whizzed in and out the long lane of the family farm. Wagonload after wagonload of chicken manure got spread on the sloping fields while the sun blazed away behind the distant foothills and aged mountains.
My senses were conflicted. What I saw thrilled me. What I smelled I just endured until dark.
As I was about to leave, a young man on one of the tractors stopped on his return trip to the barn. A young boy and younger girl flanked the ruddy driver. The farmer wanted to know if I was taking the photos for my own use.
I nodded in the affirmative. He seemed startled when I asked him if this was the old Shank place. He confirmed what I already knew.
We chatted some more, and I told him that I knew Ava. Likely cautious of a stranger, he just smiled broadly and nodded in return without saying that Ava was his aunt. She told me that later. Ava was as thrilled that I had met one of her kin as she was with the photos I had sent.
I had gone in search of a friend’s homestead and a different view of the sunset. I succeeded on both counts. But that’s not what made the evening extraordinary.
Every sunset is different of course. By making these unexpected, long distant connections between an aunt and her nephew, this sundown dazzled me with more than shimmering red and orange rays.
This serendipitous interaction brought me a personal, soothing satisfaction. It was a moving encounter no camera could ever capture.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2015