Just before Christmas, this amazing couple made a joint appearance at my peanut butter suet feeder in the backyard. I felt extremely fortunate. Pileated Woodpeckers, Ohio’s largest woodpecker species, usually don’t frequent close to buildings. Apparently, the grove of trees that line the western boundary of our property provide enough protection for this pair of Pileated Woodpeckers that frequent the suet feeder. Seldom, however, do they feed together. The female is on the left, the male on the right. Can you make the distinction?
Fortunately, the Pileateds usually announce their arrival with a loud call meant to discourage other birds away from the feeder. That also allows me to grab my camera and be ready for just the perfect picture.
Vigilance is one of the main themes of the annual Christmas story. It shines as bright as the star of Bethlehem far beyond that ancient event.
For Christians around the world, the season of waiting for the Christ child, Advent, is nearly over. It is a glorious time of hopeful expectation that is renewed each year as winter approaches.
I have always found it a mystery and an appropriate model that the first folks to see the long awaited Christ light were generous foreigners and lowly shepherds, not saintly religious leaders or puffy politicians. The kingly entourage from the East persisted in their long travels to find the meaning of the glowing light in the night sky.
A heavenly host appeared to the shepherds, not exactly the highest class of citizens even in today’s social mores. Even as a child, I wondered why other folks never noticed what the wise men and the herders plainly saw.
Old and New Testament scriptures alike urge worshipers of God to be on their guard, to be alert, to watch for the light. Asked when that would be, even the adult Messiah said no one would know. The key was to be ready.
As a child, the holiday season meant a lot to me. First came Thanksgiving, the family gathering, and fun and amazing food. Next was my birthday, which always falls three weeks before Christmas.
Just as I knew then, I know now that Christmas is upon us. As a child, those were exciting days of expectation going from unwrapping my birthday present to the anticipation of opening too many gifts beneath the Christmas tree.
Now all those years later, the joy and excitement of Christmas remain, but hopefully for more mature reasons. As a grandfather and mostly retiree, I try to savor and share the mere moments of each day. It’s why I write. It’s why I photograph. It’s why I live.
As I have aged, I realize just how gracious life has been to me through all the experiences I have had. Best of all, most of those blessed moments have been with family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and sometimes even strangers who happen to love the same joys in life as me.
To me, the idea of Christmas is to use our senses to absorb, inhale, appreciate, touch, smile, share, and reflect the goodness given to us. Our gift to the world is simple. We are to use each and every opportunity to make the world a better, brighter place, one thought, one kindness, one word, and one person at a time.
From my perspective of living nearly seven decades, there is no higher calling than to make someone’s day, to help where help is unexpected, to give even when it’s your last dollar, to smile though you are hurting.
The first Christmas likely wasn’t December 25. Those poor sheep and their tenders would have been mighty cold. No matter. I like that we flow so smoothly from Thanksgiving to Christmas and on into a New Year in one holiday season.
My goals in life are simple. I try to awake every morning with a keen sense of the unknown. I cherish comfortable rest at night from a day well spent in service to others. Each day we renew the process all over again until our last breath.
Best of all, we know not the hour or the day or the season. We only know to live vigilantly.
More often than not, Carolina Wrens are heard rather than seen. One recent sunny morning, however, I found this Carolina Wren taking a dip in the backyard birdbath. After its morning bath, the wren flew to the feeder hanging on the back porch. It stayed there for several minutes, satisfied to let the sun dry its earth-tone feathers.
My wife and I made an impromptu, important decision. We broke a long-standing tradition for the perfect reason.
For the last 40 years, we have always had a live Christmas tree grace our home. That won’t happen this year.
The live tree always stood centered in front of the living room windows for most of December. This year an attractive, used artificial tree retrieved from a local thrift store fills that spot.
Our first live trees weren’t cut either. They still had their roots bound in burlap. After Christmas, we transplanted the trees in the yard of our first home we built four years after our marriage. When we moved to our present home 36 years ago, we switched to live, cut trees.
Both my wife and I had grown up with fresh cut trees in our homes for the holidays. My family often took excursions to select just the right tree. Dad used the saw, and us kids would help carry the piney prize back to the car.
We continued that Yuletide tradition with our children. We loved the family experience, the exhilaration of the nip in the December air in Holmes County, Ohio.
My favorite Christmas trees growing up were the Scotch pines. I loved their long, soft needs as opposed to the stiff, prickly ones of the Colorado blue spruce species.
In recent years, my wife and I tried Fraser, Douglas, and Concolor firs. They all kept their needles longer than other species and filled the house with a pleasant, conifer fragrance. Their soft, bluish-green coloration added a festive flair, too.
With all of these positive traits, why would we change now? The truth is, we hadn’t intended to switch.
We went looking for a Concolor that would serve a dual purpose. We would again get a balled tree first to serve as our Christmas tree. After the holidays, we would plant it to replace a mature blighted blue spruce removed from our side yard last summer.
We found a small, balled Concolor at our first stop. It was hardly three-feet tall, much smaller than we had in mind.
Then we got an idea. We bought the little tree and planted it where the stately blue spruce had been. We chose this lovely fir to serve as an evergreen memorial to our dear friend, Jenny Roth Wengerd, who died on Sept. 11 from a brain hemorrhage at age 47.
The tree was about the size of Jenny when we first met her at age three after her adoption from South Korea. Neva and I witnessed her naturalization as a U.S. citizen.
We often cared for Jenny and her siblings while their parents were away. She and her family stayed in our house the day their home burned down. We mourned with the family when Jenny’s brother, Steve, died of cancer at 25.
We had been through a lot together.
Jenny was as beautiful and compassionate as a human could be. She radiated love and joy to all who knew her. Planting a tree to her memory only seemed fitting.
Only a single ornament adorns this extra special Christmas tree. A simple, translucent angel watches over this dedicated evergreen.
We will celebrate Christmas with a fake tree this year just as joyfully as if it were a fragrant, beautiful fir. Outside our Jenny tree will sink its roots into the earth, a living memorial to our gregarious friend who died much too soon.
Clearly, this sunset was worth the wait. It exceeded all of my expectations. However, the reflections were what caught my eye. The line of trees and white fence reflected perfectly against the glorious sunset. This sunset shot required no filters and no editing.
I couldn’t resist. I had plenty of inside chores to complete, but the golden brightness of the glorious fall day drew me outside. With the sun dazzling in the clear blue sky, it would have been sinful not to soak it in. So I did.
Sunny days in late fall in northeast Ohio are rare. November and December are historically our cloudiest months. I wanted to take advantage of the beauty. I soon discovered that I wasn’t alone.
Of course, preparations for the holidays ahead already had people out and about. Folks seemed to double down on this beauty of a day. Traffic of all types kept the byways busy.
It was a day of contradictions. I passed an Amish man eating an ice cream cone while cruising along in his black buggy. It wasn’t even 10 a.m. It was 47 degrees Fahrenheit, proving once again that temperature is not a prerequisite for enjoying yummy ice cream.
Congestion reigned at the square in Mt. Hope, not an uncommon sight on sale day at the livestock auction. The sun spotlighted a farmer on a tractor chatting on his smartphone. The conversation must have been agreeable. He grinned like a Cheshire cat.
Up the road a piece, a flock of sheep grazed in the hollow of a broad, bowl-shaped field. The wooly coats glistened against the straggly spent vegetation that still stood above the close-cropped grass of the pasture.
Amish farmsteads turned uncharacteristically patriotic. A curtain of Navy blue sky served as the backdrop for the starched white clapboard houses and coffin-red barns.
The sun bathed everything everywhere. Even long-neglected faded siding begging for a proper coat of paint stood out. Rusty windmill blades glinted in the brightness.
A pair of Red-tailed Hawks circled and soared low over a woodlot and disappeared. Pigeons claimed barn roof ridges, white and gray backs to the radiant warmth.
By afternoon, sunbeams streamed in on a factory office desk. The busy boss himself beamed in the glory of the day’s beauty.
A pair of Amish preschoolers, probably brother and sister, fearlessly coasted their wooden wagon down the gently sloping township road. It may have been late November, but their joy said summer.
An Amish worker skillfully wrapped a finished piece of machinery in clear plastic to protect its fresh coat of paint during shipping. He was more than glad it wasn’t snowing.
Windows on a passing school bus were all down where the students sat. I doubt the jolly driver cared.
Near dusk, a stand of hilltop trees filtered the southwestern glow. Nevertheless, the sun’s strength still outlined a downy woodpecker’s fine feathers like an angel’s halo. The usually nervous bird seemed to relish the moment unless it simply wanted to pose for a cameo photo.
The sun set too soon and unspectacularly. On the opposite horizon, November’s frosty moon rose full. Its soft illumination stunningly highlighted thin wispy clouds, a pale but dramatic imitation of sunrise.
By day, the sun radiated more than welcomed warmth. It energized humans, Holsteins and wallowing hogs. By night, the recycled solar rays washed the earth in a rich beauty not often seen without a sparkling snow cover. I hated to do it, but I had no choice. I pulled the bedroom drapes.
I wasn’t shutting out the light so much as keeping the bright beauty of the day internal. Its brilliance still burned within me, an immeasurable, lustrous love that lulled me to sleep.
Clouds intrigue me. I know I’m not alone in that sentiment. While driving some back roads in rural Wayne Co., Ohio, I spotted this unusually shaped and colored cloud formation. To use the scientific name, these are stratus undulatus clouds.
In addition to their ribbon-like shape, the wide range of soft colors particularly caught my attention. The trees, mailbox, and fence help add perspective to my Photo of the Week, “Ribbon Clouds.”