Rural Reflections

sunrise
Rural Reflections.

Though the silhouetted willow trees gave the photo a tropical look, I recently captured the photo in Ohio’s Amish country. The scene made it more than worthwhile to rise and shine at 5 a.m.

“Rural Reflections” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

The end of Cleveland sports fatalism?

Amish boys, celebration
A local pizza shop in Fredericksburg, Ohio stayed open late so young Amish boys could watch the deciding game seven of the NBA playoffs. This photo posted on social media shows the boys cheering as the Cavs beat the Warriors.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Maybe this is the end of the strangling fatalism that sports fans of Cleveland’s three professional teams have endured for far too long.

“This” references the recent, glorious victory by the Cleveland Cavaliers over the Golden State Warriors that made the Cavs the National Basketball Association (NBA) Champions for 2016.

I know. In today’s fast-paced era of instant information, this fact is old news. But without that introduction, the rest of what I have to say wouldn’t make much sense.

First of all, I couldn’t bear to watch the game. I don’t follow the NBA much anyhow. I wasn’t about to jinx the Cavs by watching the deciding game.

However, when the alert on my wife’s smartphone reported that the Cavs had won, we bolted out of bed and turned on the TV to watch the post-game celebration. It was worth the missed minutes of sleep.

I was impressed with the genuine tears of joy and relief shed by all the players and the head coach. They clearly understood what that precious moment meant to all Cleveland sports fans everywhere. I teared up, too.

miracles
MiraCLEs do happen.

It meant the world to us. It said that after 52 years of hope, frustration, disappointment, and despair that Cleveland had finally broken the infamous, self-induced curse of losing. Of course, such a thing never existed. It just seemed so.

The Cleveland Browns were the last of the three professional sports teams to win a world championship. That was in January 1964. I remember it well because I was at that game as an excited 16-year-old, having had my name drawn in a lottery to purchase tickets.

The Browns won the National Football League Championship with a 27 – 0 win over the Baltimore Colts. They played the game in old, cavernous Municipal Stadium in sub-zero conditions. It was pro football’s super bowl before pro football officially had a Super Bowl.

I couldn’t have imagined then that that victory would be the last championship for a Cleveland sports team until the Cavs’ Father’s Day win. Since 1964, followers of Cleveland’s pro sports have had to endure a lot of disappointments to the point of being fatalistic.

No matter how good any of the three teams were, something silly, even unimaginable, was sure to happen as if the sports Gods had it in for the poor city whose river once caught on fire. I was there for that, too.

During that depressing stretch, fans of the Cavs, the Browns, and the Indians had seen it all. For the Cavs, it was Michael Jordan on far too many occasions.

For the Browns, it was The Drive, The Fumble, and The Move, when Art Model secretly transported the team to Baltimore. The Colts had previously shuffled off to Indianapolis.

For the Indians, it was Jose Mesa in the ninth inning of game seven of the 1997 World Series. They haven’t been close to a championship since.

But the Cavs have permanently corked that bottle of bad luck. Since I froze my nose in 1964, Cleveland finally has another world champion. Thanks to fatalism’s firm grip, I still can’t believe it.

Has this great victory killed the Cleveland sports jinx? Will folks simply get on with life without this fatalistic outlook about never being able to win? I sure hope so.

I do know this. When the Cleveland Indians defeat the Chicago Cubs for the World Series win this fall, I’ll be entirely, positively, wonderfully convinced.

fireworks, baseball, Progressive Field, Cleveland Indians
Someday fireworks will explode in celebration of an Indians World Series championship. Someday, maybe this year. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Channeling Monet

water lily flowers, Monet
Channeling Monet.

When I saw these beautiful blossoms, how could I not think of Claude Monet’s “Water Lilies” series?

“Channeling Monet” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

A season of transitions

lily pond, OARDC
The lily pond.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I sat alone on the park bench enjoying the beauty before me. I didn’t realize it then, but now I see that this little break from my regular routines served as a realization that summer had arrived.

I took in the action in this public garden of flowers, woodlots, shrubs, ponds, and meadows. Here life was abundant, evolving, vibrant, verdant, and fragrant.

Still, the hustle and bustle of urban life intruded. Trucks roared by on the nearby expressway. Sirens sounded in the small city below.

In this peaceful island sanctuary, I found relief, joy, introspection, and resolve. Children’s joyous voices that carried above and around the hedges and well-planned plantings of this lovely arboretum broke my spell.

Their mother asked for directions to the giant slide. I pointed them to the children’s forest where I thought it might be, and off they went. I wondered why they weren’t in school. Then it hit me. School’s out for the summer.

I silently laughed at my silliness. It was the time of year I had simultaneously loved and loathed. As a public school educator for three decades, my two favorite workdays were the first and last ones of each academic year.

Wonder, surprises, heartache, celebration and meaningful interactions filled the days in between. All that changed once school dismissed for the summer. In a matter of days, I missed the students.

That, too, changed with the transition into a second career in marketing and writing. Funny how it was so easy to forget the ebb and flow of the once all too familiar educational rhythm.

As the mother and her clutch left, I returned to my leisurely stroll among the various gardens graced with stone and steel artworks. The many transitions of life that this season brings arose all around.

I took another seat in the garden above a hillside amphitheater used for lectures, weddings, and meditation. An unsuspecting chipmunk scampered across my foot, then realizing its mistake, hightailed it for cover, chattering all the way.

Catbirds practiced their best imitations, competing with a distant mockingbird. Honeybees worked the fragrances. Black and tiger swallowtail butterflies fluttered from blossom to blossom, having only recently transitioned from pupa to fresh, crisp, winged beauties.

Like a herd of runaway soap bubbles, dozens of fluffy white puffball seeds floated by me. A gentle northwest breeze freed them from their mother cottonwood according to plan. This spontaneous event, too, symbolized an annual, natural transition from growth to evolutionary distribution.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Across the ravine, giant wooden statues carved by a tornado’s impact still stood as witnesses to nature’s contradictory might and resilience. In a matter of moments, the storm’s fury bent and broke the once massive trees like number two pencils.

Suddenly a yellow-green something flashed across my gaze. I chased the bird with my binoculars, uncertain about its species. I was thankful the bird lured me into the ravine.

A soaking wet blue jay sat high in an old snag for the longest time preening, uncharacteristically silent, drying baby blue feathers in the afternoon sun. Had it refreshed itself in the lily pond where I first sat?

A robin perched on a much lower branch also absorbed the golden warmth. Again the yellow-green flash appeared. An orchard oriole had revealed its concealed, woven nest near the top of a young horse chestnut tree.

Just then my ears caught multiple contented screeches. Without investigating, I knew the children had found the long, hillside slide.

Their summer of fun had begun, and so had mine.

hillside slide
Summer slide.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Here’s looking at you

Dickcissel, rare bird
Here’s looking at you.

When it comes to photographing birds, timing is everything. This photo is proof.

Birds found a half-dozen Dickcissels, always desired birds if found nesting in northeast Ohio, near a rural intersection a few miles from my home. The birds flitted from one grassy field to another, carrying nesting material, and defending territory.

The birds did occasionally light on fence posts, barbed wires, and weeds. Though I was several yards away from this male, I was fortunate the bird turned to look in my direction just as I snapped the photo. The yellow surrounding the Dickcissel’s eyes seemed to highlight all of the other beauty of this gregarious species.

I found the shot impressive enough to make “Here’s looking at you” my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

I am my father’s son

Allegheny Mountains
I still have personal mountains to climb.

By Bruce Stambaugh

My daughter’s words cut right to the truth. In the brief silence that followed, I was once again reminded that I am my father’s son.

The situation embarrassed me. I don’t even remember what caused the unpleasant commotion. I do recall my daughter’s sternness vibrated to my core as soon as she invoked my father’s name.

I bit my tongue, preferring instead to analyze the situation mentally. Dad, God rest his soul, would have persisted in driving home his point.

It’s taken me a long time to confess my similar faults. What’s the line about teaching old dogs new tricks?

Internally confronting the reality of your negative personal behaviors, comments, and intentions isn’t easy. But it’s necessary if I want to be a better husband, father, grandfather, friend, and person. It’s just the way it is.

Being too quick to respond is only one way I am my father’s son. I had a marvelous mentor in Dad offering an opinion whether requested or not.

I’m an expert at translating an interesting short story into a novel with no climax. I might even mention the main point. That never bothered Dad’s storytelling.

photography
Shooting with my lens.
I can’t tell you the number of times my wife has chided me for wiggling my leg while sitting beside her. At church, at home, in a theater, at a concert, I’m used to a nudge, an elbow, or verbal reminder that I’m activating global seismographs with my leggy machinations, just like Dad.

Fortunately, all my fatherly similarities aren’t undesirable. I enjoy meeting new people. They have enriched my life. Dad never met a person he didn’t like until they proved otherwise.

Dad was a man with many interests. He loved hunting, fishing, archeology, family gatherings, dancing, baseball, football, basketball, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. He was a lifetime community activist.

My likes are just as diverse. A lot overlap with Dad’s, like sports and serving community. However, I shoot wildlife with my camera and frame my trophies rather than eat them.

Ohio's Amish country
Where Dad liked to visit.

Dad liked to travel, too. With a house full of children and all of those outdoor interests, we didn’t often traverse beyond Ohio’s borders. We didn’t have to. The Buckeye state had plenty of day trips to offer families, including visiting Amish country.

I had the good fortune to marry someone who enjoys exploring new places near and far. It’s often fun revisiting the same locations my family did all those years ago.

It’s interesting to hear my two sisters-in-law confiding with my lovely wife about how my two brothers’ idiosyncrasies compare to Dad as well. At least I’m not alone.

super full moon
Dad was over the moon for Mom.
Dad had one admirable quality that glowed like a super full moon. He loved our mother to death. Dad showered Mom with flowers, candy, and cards every birthday, anniversary, and holiday.

He wasn’t exactly jealous. Dad just knew he had a beautiful wife, and wanted to keep that relationship as secure as possible. He thought the solution was to smother Mom, which came across as control.

Given the spunkiness of each of our wives, neither my brothers nor I need worry about that. We appreciate and encourage spousal individuality, and celebrate our special days accordingly. We know we are as fortunate in love as our father was.

I’m thankful for all that my gregarious, energetic, enthusiastic father modeled even if I unconsciously replicate some of those talents that occasionally land me in the proverbial doghouse.

Maybe that’s why we don’t have a dog.

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

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Floral Rainbow

lupines, Amish farm
Floral Rainbow.

Being surprised is just one of the benefits of photography. While on a field trip to photograph young barn owls, I spotted these beauties in one of the flowerbeds of the Amish farm where the owls were. The afternoon sun bathed these lupines, enriching an already colorful floral rainbow.

“Floral Rainbow ” is my photo of the week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

When glory bursts through

sunrise, Lakeside OH
Glorious moment.

By Bruce Stambaugh

From our rented efficiency apartment in our favorite Ohio retreat, Lakeside Chautauqua, the day seemed gloomy, even overcast. Then I stepped outside into the predawn elements.

High, wispy cirrus clouds tickled the waning half moon. The previous evening’s rainstorms birthed refreshing morning coolness. At first, the stillness surprised me. It shouldn’t have.

The sleepy town was even sleepier on this Sunday morning. On the way to the lakefront, I broke through the waif of freshly made doughnuts at The Patio, the village’s popular eatery, without temptation.

When I reached the dock, I was stunned. Not a soul could be seen or heard. The day’s early morning dim light glowed along with the Victorian lampposts. Dimpled rivulets, like a sea of golf balls, pockmarked the calm Lake Erie.

Typically this alluring pier is packed with folks, even at sunrise. Walkers, joggers, fisherman share the space. Not today. I had the place to myself. I was both thrilled and awed in the silent twilight.

A pinkish halo hovered over Kelley’s Island five miles across the water. However, a peek to the east dampened my hopes for a sterling sunrise. Still I hoped.

I retreated to the pier’s entrance, mentally adjusting for a morning stroll around the resort town’s parameters. I glanced east again and found paradise. The sun’s bright beauty overrode the clouded horizon.

All glory was bursting through. I chose to exercise my senses rather than my legs. The Sunday morning service was about to begin, and I wanted to participate.

I walked along the rocky reinforced shore toward the call to worship. Using my eyes, ears, heart, soul, and camera, I recorded as much of the sacred ceremony as I could.

Baltimore Orioles picked up the chorus with the robins and purple martins. A lone common nighthawk buzzed overhead, skimming insects attempting to attack the unfolding beauty.

Fish played, jumped, and fed in the shallows near shore, rippling the calm waters that reflected the brightening sky. First pink and red, then orange and yellow added to the heavenly pallet.

Yellow, purple, and white irises dotted with last night’s raindrops joined the congregation. Stone upon stone sculptures added to the outdoor ambiance.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Surrounded by reflected brilliance, a family of Canada geese glided through the still waters without their usual commotion. Unaware of my presence, a pair of young raccoons cooed as they foraged in the oversized rocks for anything edible.

Lakeside daisies, held harmless by earlier cooler days, stood at attention during the offertory. As if rehearsed, the geese honked while the Nighthawk buzzed, forming an inexplicable choir. The sun just smiled its approval.

The shoreline trees expressed their worshipful appreciation, too. The willows gracefully bowed as the geese floated by, while the oaks and ash remained tall, strong and attentive.

Soon other humans were drawn to the splendor. A visiting woman ran past me and asked if lived here. I wish. Even if I did, I still couldn’t begin to own the natural grandeur.

Protect it, preserve it, embrace it, praise it. Yes. Claim it as my own. Never.

This may sound funny, but it’s true. Without a sound, the sky spoke reassuring words, words that calmed and healed and inspired.

The sermon’s message was clear. No earthly power or politician or calamity or chaos could overcome this evolving creation of the Creator.

In that, I was most confident and filled to overflowing. At the benediction, the sun wholly overtook the darkness, and indeed, it was good.

sunset, Lakeside OH
Perfect ending.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Young Haymakers

making hay, Ohio's Amish Country
Young haymakers.

Tradition says Memorial Day is the unofficial start to summer in U.S. culture. In Ohio’s Amish country, seasons are often determined by harvests. The year’s first cutting of hay marks the summer harvest season in rural America.

Friends, neighbors, and family members of all ages pitch in to help make the hay. These youngsters gathered hay bales and held the reins to the horses pulling the hay wagon while the adults did the milking. Giving youth such responsibility teaches work skills and reinforces the already strong work ethic of the Amish.

“Young Haymakers” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016