When shooting photographs, I usually try to exclude anything that might be distractive to the main subject of the photo. However, I do make exceptions from time to time. This sunset scene on the Amelia River in northeast Florida fit that bill.
The glowing lights of the active paper mill accentuated the warm and cool colors of the clouded sunset. The gray clouds matched the venting steam of the mill’s smokestack. The orange reflection of the security lights balanced that of the setting sun’s on the river’s quiet waters.
Winter in Ohio usually means snow and blowing snow, and snow days, and power outages, and quick trips to the grocery store, and laughter in the wintery elements, and the stunning beauty of a Northern Cardinal’s crimson red against the season’s fluffy whiteness.
When all this happens, it’s a sign from Heaven above to my loving wife that it’s time for her favorite indoors sport, sorting. So we sort.
I am not critical here. Neva is a master organizer. I’m a left-brain thinker, dreamer, and doer of all things distracting from the task at hand. When we’re stuck inside unwilling to brave winter’s sharp teeth, we bind our already long marriage by going through “stuff” one drawer, one box, one file at a time.
I know it sounds boring, but it’s not.
Neva is also a multi-tasker. She sorts, reads, does jigsaw puzzles and watches college basketball on TV simultaneously. Me? I just watch the game, and, oh, usually munch on some snacks, too.
But when Neva plops a pile of long-forgotten “treasures” determined to be mine in front of me, I know it’s time to put down the chips and get busy. So like any good husband, I do. That’s what I said nearly 45 years ago, and I still mean it. So I dig into the pile.
We went through such a scenario the other night. However, all reorganizing came to a halt when I found a photo of the last fifth-grade class I had taught before I moved on to being an elementary principal.
My attention went to the gaggle of youngsters standing on risers loathing this photo op, as 11-year-olds are wont to do. I examined every face in the three rows of 27 kids, and to my amazement, I could only name a handful of them.
I quickly abandoned the basketball and scanned the photo to my computer. I innocently posted the slightly faded color photo on my social media Facebook page to see if others could help awaken my sleeping brain. I depended on a few of my former students who are in my Facebook circles.
Boy did they come through. One of my students in the very first class I taught asked to post the photo on a Facebook page appropriately titled “The Killbuck Gang.” I taught at Killbuck Elementary School in Killbuck, Ohio.
To my surprise, lots of former Killbuck School folks began commenting on the photo. A lengthy online discussion ensued. The student identification process would have made the FBI proud.
Several former classmates, now all adults, joined in the “name that student” game. In a matter of hours, every student was identified, and everyone seemed very pleased to have taken the stroll back in time together. I know I was.
It did this old heart good to see the enthusiasm and interaction of former students and friends as they recollected and reconnected. They filled us in on who was currently doing what in life. Sadly, a few students pictured had passed away, and I was sad to hear that news.
Still, this simple idea of posting the photo went viral in its special way. It refreshed many good memories that had been filed deep in my cranial vault.
I was glad to have all of the students appropriately identified. My wife was equally pleased to have me back in my easy chair once again sorting away.
For years, my wife had to endure me jumping up from the table morning, noon and night to respond to emergency calls. I served as a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician in Holmes County, Ohio for 27 years.
I can’t tell you how many times I must have interrupted a meal to respond to an emergency. Neva always understood that someone else needed my assistance more than our family, at least for that critical moment.
Now we’re both mostly retired, and I no longer respond to fire and EMS calls. I look forward to her delicious cooking, salad to dessert. However, pleasant surprises still occasionally interrupt our meals. Birds are usually the cause.
Recently Neva announced from the kitchen that lunch was ready. I knew to be prompt. I hadn’t even taken the first bite when I spied through a window some commotion. A hawk had perched on a thick pine tree branch in our backyard.
I raced for my binoculars as if I were answering a fire alarm. Even without the optical aid, I could see the feathers flying as the hawk plucked its prey. The hawk was having lunch, too. I watched the small accipiter briefly and then grabbed my cameras. I clicked and filmed away.
By its size and features, this beautiful bird was either a Sharp-shinned Hawk or a Cooper’s Hawk. Both are notorious for stealth flights in search of unsuspecting songbirds at backyard birdfeeders.
Clearly, I had just missed the capture. The hawk focused its full attention on plucking the feathers from its victim. Other birds gradually returned to the feeder buffet, oblivious to the hawk’s presence.
I consulted my favorite bird guide and compared my photos with the renderings in the book. All the while I continued observing the bird of prey. The bird’s physical characteristics best fit a Sharp-shinned Hawk.
Sharp-shinned Hawks and Cooper’s Hawks are tough to identify in the field. I had the advantage of perspective, comparing the bird in the pine with the branches around it. Its size appeared too small for a Cooper’s Hawk.
I checked other identifying markers, too. The bird’s rather flat head made its eye look large. The bright yellow legs were pencil thin. The brown streaks on its breast also said juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk.
I posted one of the photos I had taken of the bird on the social media’s Facebook’s Ohio birding page. Others, including the author of my guidebook, confirmed the ID. It’s always nice to get affirmation from an expert like Kenn Kaufman.
Not surprisingly, my wife’s delicious homemade butternut squash soup had cooled. Neither of us complained. We were mesmerized by the aviary activities outside.
Satisfied with the photos that I had taken, I returned to my meal. From where I sat eating, I could still see the young hawk pulling at the meat of its capture. Though seemingly gruesome, it was an everyday act of nature, and we got to see it.
I took another slurp of soup, looked up, and the hawk was gone. After I had finished eating, I went out to verify my suspicion of what the hawk had had for lunch. The feathers I found were indeed from a Mourning Dove.
Timing is everything. Had I not responded to the call for lunch when I did, I might have missed the unfolding action outside.
I didn’t mind this lunchtime interruption at all. I imagine the poor Mourning Dove would strongly disagree.
I took this shot two days ago from my back porch during one of the frequent whiteouts that hit Ohio’s Amish country. Can you see my neighbor casually pulling a wagon in front of the house as if it were the sunniest summer day? She was on an errand. Can you guess what it was? The answer is hanging there for you if you can see.
Blinding as it was, the snow came in waves and only accumulated about three inches. Still, capturing the moment created a washed-out abstract photo. “Whiteout!” is my Photo of the Week.
I’m not a morning person. I could make a career out of sleeping in. Not this day.
I was the official driver of a group of guys in search of a couple of rare birds that had inexplicably showed up in northeast Ohio. I love to bird this way, with friends who happen to be expert birders going in search of uncommon species.
Up at 5 a.m. and out the door 45 minutes later, I was dressed for the seasonably chilly weather. After two stops, the troops were gathered, and we headed north in the thick blackness of the morning.
We arrived at the natural lake near Akron where an unusual gull had been spotted. To see it, you had to be there early in the morning or late afternoon. A dozen vehicles already filled parking spots in the little park on the lake’s south shore.
Early birders lined up along water’s edge, scouring the area through the pre-dawn dimness. Light snow amid a foggy haze above the lake made it difficult to identify the birds even with expensive scopes and powerful binoculars.
We were looking for a Kelp Gull, a bird that should be in the Southern Hemisphere. Somehow it ended up here with thousands of other gulls, mostly Ring-billed. The gulls’ familiar squawking rang out across the silvery water and through the snowy fog.
The gulls began to circle tornado-like over the water. Even for expert birders, it was difficult to distinguish one species of gull from the other in the haze of the morning’s twilight.
The gulls swirled in a chaotic chorus and sailed southeast for unknown destinations. If the Kelp Gull was there, we didn’t see it.
From there our group traveled a few miles northwest to a residence to see a Brambling. Like the gull, no one could say why this Asian bird had landed adjacent to a small county park in northeast Ohio thousands of miles from where it belonged. It just had, and avid birders near and far were thrilled.
This beautiful bird had arrived amid flocks of Dark-eyed Juncos and American Goldfinches. The homeowner was a retired park director who immediately perceived the rarity and had his finding verified by noted birders.
Once the word got out, there was no stopping the entourage of birders wishing to add this avian curiosity to their life list. Birders came from as far away as Mississippi and New Jersey to see this bird. We were among them.
To keep the bird and birders safe, observers lined up along the county road opposite the feeders where the Brambling frequented. We climbed the slanting roadway and instantly spotted the bird. As I aimed my camera for a shot, a neighbor scared us all with the harsh sound of scraping off the hard frost from his windshield.
The birds flew for cover. No one admonished the man. Good birders know to be patient. Sure enough, seed-eating birds began to return to the feeders munching the scattered black oil sunflower seeds.
Like humans, birds behave in routines, too. The Brambling flew to a small, stunted bush by the chimney of the house, checking its surroundings. Soon it again fed on the ground among finches and Northern Cardinals to the clicking of cameras and satisfied smiles of birders whose ages spanned three generations.
Even though we had missed the Kelp Gull, it had been a productive morning seeing the Brambling. The blessings lay not only in observing rare birds but in the company of congenial birders, too.
I’d gladly alter any morning’s familiarity for such delightful diversions with kindred companions.
I’m always pleased when I discover a bird that I have never seen in my yard before. I was photographing some woodpeckers when I noticed a little bird darting around the trunk of the large sugar maple tree in the backyard. Not only did this bird move fast, it blended in perfectly with the bark of the tree.
As we approach Epiphany, the Advent season of hope, love, joy and peace comes to an end. The challenge for us, however, is to keep that quartet of ideals alive in the New Year.
The Amish celebrate Jan. 6 as Old Christmas, a time of gathering with family and friends, reflecting on what has been and what may yet be. In reality, it is more solemnity than celebration. Still, they gather to commemorate and converse, glad for another year of life.
Knowing some of my ornery Amish friends, I doubt the day will pass without a few light-hearted ribbings and laughs. Everything in moderation as the saying goes.
Just like music, laughter can bind folks together so long as the merriment doesn’t ridicule anyone. Coming out of the holidays into the New Year, we had plenty of opportunities to laugh with friends and family.
My six-year-old granddaughter led the way. When visiting our home over the holidays, I asked her one evening if she wanted anything. Her reply made me laugh.
“A glass of cranberry juice and a large carrot,” was Maren’s reply. I complied with a grin on my face. She was happy, and so was I but for a very different reason.
I wondered why the rest of the world’s entreaties couldn’t be so simple. We live in a fearsome, troubled world. Here was a kindergartner who only made a simple request, and in the process innocently made the seasonal celebration even more joyful.
Her comment wasn’t the only one that made me chuckle. Given my circle of family and friends, we laughed a lot.
A gathering of the cancer support group I belong to was one such setting. The six of us met with our spouses, and given the mix of characters among the couples, laughs were guaranteed. It’s always good to face down cancer with a group snicker or two.
At a friend’s open house for his new baby, the small congregate laughed and laughed at story after story. Good-natured chiding made for one lively evening. All the while, the baby slept and slept, apparently comforted by our genuine regard.
We hosted a long-standing Christmas Eve tradition of breakfast with lifetime friends. You should have seen my friend smile when he opened his gift of a travel mug from our 50th high school reunion that neither of us attended.
“Oh, you shouldn’t have,” he said. I know. But I did. It was fun.
Grandchildren at Christmas can be as antsy as any time of year. Determined to keep things moving, I challenged my granddaughter to play the board game Candyland. She got bored at winning. I adored being her patsy.
At our son’s place, the nine-year-old grandson stole the act. Prompted by his uncle, Davis’ timing was perfect when he disrupted an adult guest’s soliloquy with the man’s own conversational trick, “Sorry to interrupt you, but…” Davis brought down the house.
Other cheery times are less visible but just as productive. I put my car keys where I’m sure to find them instead of their usual location, and then I can’t remember where the surefire spot was. It’s good to go easy on yourself.
Like beads on a bracelet, each moment of laughter is strung together to brighten and lighten life. In 2016, I hope your world is filled with lots of laughter, even if it is only a cup of cranberry juice and one large carrot.