Making meaningful memories

Amish farm
Tourists flock to Holmes Co., Ohio simply to rekindle memories of the way things used to be.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Whether we realize it or not, we make memories every day.

Memories don’t have to be from times long past. Often they are the moments at hand that we cherish the most. The older I get, the more emotive I am about the everyday happenings in my life.

Some memories come from yesterday. Others bubble up from the yesterdays of long, long ago. Some are innocent, innocuous ditties while others are serious, life-awakening treasures.

The odd thing about memories is how they so often just pop up at the strangest times and places. It’s why we need to be mindful of our constant memory making.

flexible flyer sled
The Flexible Flyer now serves a different snowy purpose.
A spark down deep spontaneously ignites and I’m hiking a switchback alpine trail inhaling thin, clear mountain air. Another moment I’m in the delivery room of the local hospital watching my lovely wife deliver our second child. Soon our family doctor holds our newborn in front of us, exclaiming, “She’s a boy!”

In another flash, I’m a child myself, belly flopping on my Flexible Flyer through heavy, wet snow, shouts of glee echoing off the blanketed hillsides. I still have that magic sled.

I remember our daughter, only two at the time, ordering a male guest who tried to leave to sit back down. Her little tea party wasn’t ready to end. The man laughed and complied.

I remember racing to beat the rapidly rising tide to the beach in a shallow bay on Cape Cod. I’ve checked the tidal charts ever since. Then there was the warm summer’s evening I climbed the 897 steps in the Washington Monument in the nation’s capital. The walk back down wasn’t nearly as exciting for this 16-year-old.

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Other less joyful memories we wish we could erase of course. But they, too, are indelibly etched in our minds, resurrected at the strangest, most inappropriate times. We cope with thoughts and prayers and tears, always moving forward in our too short lives.

Many of the memories my wife and I have mutually maintained involve travel with family and friends. I hadn’t been to Hocking Hills State Park since I was a teenager. I enjoyed a recent trip with friends as much as I did the one 50 years ago with family.

We strolled trails, discovered waterfalls, explored caves, and enjoyed every color of green imaginable. We wandered forests of towering trees with unfolding canopies and floors of thousands of feathery ferns.

wedding cake
The wedding cake.
The best memories don’t have to come from exotic, far away places either. They can be pretty close to home. And, too, some settings are made to be memorable.

Ideally, wedding ceremonies and the ensuing reception are memory machines. This celebration was especially so. We witnessed the wedding of our Amish neighbor’s daughter. It’s always an honor to be guests at such occasions.

We loved the focus on family and personal commitment. It was a happy yet solemn occasion. The combination of the simplicity and the significance of the marriage sealed the moment into my mind. There was no flowing wedding gown, no tuxedos, no flowery bouquets, only serious contemplation.

At the reception in the barn, the buzz of the lively conversations further seasoned the already scrumptious food passed up and down long, pleasantly decorated tables. It truly was a life celebration worth remembering.

Memories are potent reminders of life’s sweeping landscapes. What endearing memories will we make today that will be worthy of future recollecting?

Ash Cave, Logan OH
Ash Cave, Hocking Hills State Park, Logan, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Greens Galore

forest ferns
Greens Galore.

On a recent visit to Hocking Hills State Park, Logan, OH, the many shades of green we encountered astonished us. In this setting in Conkles Hollow, the feathery ferns filled the steep hill beneath massive rock outcroppings and towering cedars and deciduous trees with leaves unfurling. The mosses and lichens added to the natural green pallet as a trio of men did a photoshoot of their own.

“Greens Galore” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Keep looking up

smartphones, beautiful sunrise
Checking the phone.

By Bruce Stambaugh

My friend innocently reminded me of something I had said to her that I had forgotten. Her timing couldn’t haven been better in repeating my words of advice.

She said I had told her always to keep looking up. That comment referenced finding birds and bird nests in her yard. When I heard my words played back to me, I realized their application ranged far beyond bird watching.

My mind flashed back to our snowbird weeks in northeastern Florida in the winter. We had rented a condo right on the Atlantic Ocean for a few weeks.

I often greeted the days from the balcony of our condo. One particular day stood out.

The sunrise was spectacular. The waves were gentle, peacefully hypnotic in their rhythmic rolling. Where the waves lapped at the gritty sand, shorebirds busily foraged for sustenance.

dolphins, Atlantic Ocean, Florida
Dolphins playing.
An orange sun danced on the ocean’s horizon, reflecting glorious beauty across the rolling waters and brilliantly painting the sky. Dolphins played and fed in the morning surf before it broke upon the beach.

A few folks were out and about, too. But many of them seemed disengaged from all the natural beauty around them. Their heads fixated down to their hand-held smartphones, unmindful of the golden sunrise, the unfolding nature, or the inspiring sea.

During our weeks-long stay, I saw this same scene repeated over and over again. You don’t have to be on the beach to see it either. In today’s technologically driven society, I’m sure you have encountered the same situations in your daily routines.

lighthouse, smartphone
Even a view of a lighthouse couldn’t keep this gentleman from checking his phone.
It’s easy to see this faulty waywardness in others. For me, it’s much harder to recognize my personal, self-absorbed participation in this 21st-century phenomenon.

If we’re honest with ourselves, all too often we fall into the same ill-mannered habit. We become so infatuated with our gizmos that we disregard all that’s happening around us, including those we love.

I know. My daughter took a photo of me with her phone, of course, sitting on a bench in front of an ice cream stand on a balmy summer evening. My baldness is prominent in the photo because I had my head down looking at the smartphone I held.

I felt guilty when I saw that photo. For the record, my daughter took it for the setting and color, not for my embarrassment. That was on my shoulders.

scrolling smartphone
Caught on camera.
It’s a bit ironic, isn’t it? Sophisticated electronics designed to help us communicate much better and faster actually keep us from real interaction, like a casual conversation.

With constant, instantaneous access to information, much of it negative and harsh, it’s easy to become overwhelmed, disenchanted. We shouldn’t. No matter our individual situations, we each need to keep looking up, whether it’s for finding birds or keeping a positive attitude or noticing the events unfolding around us.

A restaurant’s entryway sign perfectly summed up the current social situation with a hand-printed message on their welcoming chalkboard. It read, “We do not have Wi-Fi. Talk to each other. Pretend it’s 1995.”

I immensely enjoyed that evening with my daughter visiting people in small towns where I had never been. We talked as we traveled, and I learned a lot, more than I did by scrolling my phone while we waited for our food.

I should have remembered to keep looking up.

sunset, cheers
Cheers to looking up.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

The Chimney Farm

Amish farmstead, furrowed field
The Chimney Farm.

I love to shoot this farm, especially when the setting sun brightens the buildings. On this spring evening, cumulus clouds billowed in the background, adding depth to the photo. I have pictures of this farm in all seasons. But this is the first with the field plowed. However, week-long rains softened the usually firm furrows.

As it turned out, the plowed field became the foreground for the unintended main subject. The family of chimneys on the various farmstead buildings carry the viewer’s eye left to right, a visual tour of this iconic Amish farm.

“The Chimney Farm” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

May is for the birds

May flowers
May flowers.

By Bruce Stambaugh

May is for the birds. That’s good news for those of us who live in northern Ohio.

Year in and year out, May tends to be a very pleasant month here. The days grow longer and warmer.

Garden flowers splash welcomed colors against neatly trimmed, emerald lawns. Rainbows of wildflowers carpet forest floors, hiding the decaying leaf litter for six months. Mushrooms and May apples join them.

But what broadens the smiles in many folks from ages four to 94 are the returning birds. Not that people have been disappointed with the aviary species that frequented their backyard feeders in the dormant months.

The colorful songbirds, all decked out in their mating wardrobes, radiate new life into their human audiences. I’m certain the birds are unaware.

Gulping grape jelly.
Gulping grape jelly.
You don’t even have to be a serious birder to know that feeling. When the first Baltimore Oriole flashes its black and orange and whistles its distinctive call, it’s officially May.

Out come the store-bought and homemade feeders full of grape jelly. Stand back and let the gorging begin.

This year the birds seemed simply to fall out of the sky. Person after person reported the first of the year Baltimore Oriole, Orchard Oriole, and a Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

It’s amazing how those little hummers remember where the previous year’s feeders hung. If they beat you to the punch, they’re hovering outside your kitchen window waiting for lunch or supper, depending on when their flight landed in your yard.

This year I beat them to it. I had the feeder cleaned and filled with fresh sugar water long before April melded into May. But the birds got the last laugh. The first bird on the hummingbird feeder was a male Baltimore Oriole. Yes, they like a sweet sip now and then, too.

So, out went the oriole feeder. I hardly had stepped away when a male Baltimore Oriole swooped in for his feast. A male Orchard Oriole, a bird that I had never seen feed at the grape jelly station before, soon followed.

Friends near and far reported orioles galore. Their joy mimicked that of the infectious calls of the birds themselves.

male rose-breasted grosbeak
Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak.
Then came another wave of exuberance. Folks from all around called, emailed, and showed me photos of a bird they had seldom had at their feeders before. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks held their own fallout party. Some people reported eight or 10 at a time feeding. Not only are these handsome birds fun to watch, but their song also matches their beauty.

Of course, a few rare birds pass through on their way further north for the summer. American White Pelicans and stately Black-necked Stilts made appearances to the area.

But this time of year, it’s the colorful warblers that serious birders covet. Scores of birders from around the world converge on the Lake Erie shoreline to watch and listen for this annual splendor. They are seldom disappointed.

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The Biggest Week in American Birding is held annually from early to mid-May in northwest Ohio’s Magee Marsh Wildlife Area. Scores of migrating birds, warblers, shorebirds, and birds of prey among them, rest and forage in the adjoining marshes, wetlands, and woodlots before heading over the lake.

Even if you can’t make it there, the birds may still come to you. The key is to be on the watch.

You never know what bright and cheery surprise may come your way in May. But look quick, because just like May, some of them might be gone in a vivid flash.

trumpeter swans
Lift off.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Holsteins

holstein dairy cows
Holsteins.

From my perspective, there is nothing particularly dynamic or unusual about this photo. As soon as I saw this scene, I knew I had to capture it. Driving back roads in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, the contrasting, vibrant colors jumped out at me.

As soon as I exited my vehicle, the cows stopped their grazing and stood posed for the photo op as if they had done this several times before. They might have. Because right after I snapped this photograph, most of the Holsteins charged the fence to scare off the paparazzi. I obliged them.

“Holsteins” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

A mother who still watches over me

By Bruce Stambaugh

Though she’s been gone now for four years, my mother still watches over me. I just never know when she will appear.

This isn’t a ghost story. It’s a love story.

Marian Stambaugh, Mother's Day
Mom.
Every now and then, a photo I took of my mother years ago spontaneously pops up on my computer. I never know when it’s going to happen. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to her appearance. Mom’s photo just inexpliciably shows up, and I couldn’t be happier.

I might be surfing the Internet or working on a photo project. I click my laptop’s mouse pad and boom; Mom is smiling away at me from the left side of my computer screen. She looks as elegant as ever, satisfied, happy, her wavy silver hair complimenting her rosy cheeks and her radiant smile.

At first, this sudden appearance spooked me. I can’t explain why her photo appears. But I’m ever so glad that it does. This lovely profile is the way I want to remember her.

There’s a lot of good to recall about Mom. My brothers, sisters and I were fortunate. We had a loving, lovely mother. Not everyone can say that.

Mom was everything a mother should be to her children. That wasn’t always easy either given the different personalities and demands of her five cherubs.

Our catalog of behaviors and misbehaviors revealed the alpha and omega of our mother’s temperament. She was no pushover. But she could be gentle and tender, too.

Even in the midst of the busyness of running an active household, Mom made time for each of us. She once interrupted lunch to dig up a bright red tulip for me to take to my fourth-grade teacher.

Mom knew how to discipline, too. She was firm but fair. But if we went too far, we’d hear the dreaded words, “Wait until you father gets home from work!”

wedding photo
Mom and Dad on their wedding day, August 15, 1942. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
Besides her skills as a domestic engineer, Mom was an accomplished artist, an excellent listener, a sports enthusiast, and a much better driver than Dad. She got her license when she was 40.

When I was a senior in high school, I only attended school in the morning due to classroom overcrowding. That meant I was home alone with Mom every school day afternoon. Mom and I had some amazing talks together.

Mom related personal stories I had never heard before, and I doubt she ever told anyone else. That conveyed all I needed to know about her love and trust. She set a high standard for being a parent.

Later in her long life, things changed for Mom. She began to show signs of dementia. The Alzheimer’s prevented Mom from expressing herself they way she wanted.

We could see her frustration in that, and would just sit with her peacefully as she gazed out a window. Nevertheless, Mom still looked sharp in her color-coordinated outfits that she had picked out to wear. Mom never lost her artist’s eye.

smiling mother
Big smile.
That’s why I enjoy it when that photo of her suddenly appears on my computer screen. I pause and remember just how much I miss her, and what a beautiful mother, wife, grandmother, sister, aunt, friend, and neighbor she was to so many.

When that picture of Mom appears, I can hear her reassuring voice say, “It’s all right, Bruce. I’m at peace in my new life.”

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom! Thanks for still watching over me.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016