Autumn, an appropriate metaphor for life

colorful leaves, autumn leaves
The trees near Ivan’s home.

By Bruce Stambaugh

With our numerous stands of mixed hardwoods, I always look forward to fall’s colorful leaf display. In our busied lives, however, the transition from green to gold seems to take forever. But in a flash or a persistent wind, the trees all stand leafless.

That realization confronted me as the autumn leaves reached their vibrant peak when I received word of Ivan’s death in the middle of the afternoon. Ivan was a valued member of the cancer support group to which I belong. I had visited with him in the hospital only a week earlier knowing that his time was near.

Still, when I heard the sad news, tears of sorrow flowed for Ivan and his family. Our intimate group had welcomed him in, and he contributed far more than his usually quiet demeanor would have suggested. Later that same evening, joy overcame my sadness as my favorite team, the Cleveland Indians, claimed Major League Baseball’s American League pennant. It was a bittersweet moment, one that Ivan would have relished with me.

Right after the final out, I called my friend Tim, also an avid Indians fan. He was as giddy as I was. When I invited him to the first game of the World Series, I think he fell over.

I was fortunate to have secured tickets for the opening World Series game long before the Cleveland club even began the postseason. I hoped beyond hope that they would make it, and they had. I wanted Tim to share in the joy of seeing a World Series game in Cleveland with me.

The leaves were still coloring up when I left Virginia’s majestic Shenandoah Valley the next day to return home for Ivan’s viewing. Paying my respects to the family became a personal priority.

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I had traveled the same roads from Ohio to Virginia just after visiting Ivan the previous week. The leaves in the mountains of western Maryland and northern West Virginia were near their peak. Those in both Ohio and Virginia were turning, but still had a ways to go.

I was amazed at what a difference those few days had made. Patches of red, gold, and burgundy dotted the forested mountain slopes. On the ridges above, giant white windmills twirled in the autumn breezes.

giant wind turbines, fall leaves
Beauty and the beasts.
I thought about Don Quixote jousting with those Dutch windmills. I was satisfied to simply photograph this real live contrast of beauty and the beast and continued on my way.

When I got to Maryland’s mountains highest altitude where I thought the colors would be the brightest, I was disappointed. Many of the leaves had already dropped. Some trees were completely bare.

When I stopped for lunch, I commented to the waiter about my disappointment in missing the peak coloration. I was three days too late, he said.

That happens in life. Our timing just isn’t what it might have been.

It was dark and pelting rain when I arrived at home. But just the illumination from my car’s headlights told me the sturdy sugar maple in my backyard was glowing showy orange.

The combination of rain and wind brought down lots of leaves. But plenty remained for all to enjoy.

Baseball. World Series. Friends. Fall’s coloring contest. I know these precious moments will all wither away like the last leaves of autumn, which passes by us in a vapor.

Life can be like that, too, a hard but applicable metaphorical reality.

orange sugar maple
Our backyard treasure.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Autumn in Amish Country

colorful leaves, Holmes Co. OH
Autumn in Amish Country.

I think I’ll just let this photo speak for itself.

“Autumn in Amish Country” in my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Living where you work

home, Amish country
Our home for 37 years.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’ve always liked living where I worked. For all of our adult lives, my wife and I have resided in the communities where we plied our skills as public school educators.

We did so intentionally, knowing there were distinct advantages. Experiencing the everyday life of those with whom we taught and guided served as a blessing far beyond anything we could have imagined.

To walk where our students and fellow school staff members walked gave us insight into the core values and principles that drove their lives. We wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Amish buggy
Along the way.
After we had married in March 1971, Neva and I lived in Killbuck, Ohio where I taught at the elementary school for nine years. I got to see my students first-hand before, during, and after school. I found great reward in knowing their lifestyles, family circumstances, and living situations.

A year after I became a principal in the East Holmes Local School District, we moved to our present home built on an Amish farm. That was 37 years ago. What a joy it has been.

Families invited us into their homes for meals, hymn sings, weddings, and just to visit. We participated in the life circles of the mostly Amish and Mennonite communities. That enabled us to understand and appreciate their ways and values more fully.

When you live in the same location for nearly four decades, incredible benefits find you. Just the other day I visited with a former student from one of the many respectful families we got to know and interact with over the years.

Our conversation in his office thrilled me. Here was a young man who grew up with Amish linage, earned his graduate degree at an Ivy League school no less, and now is serving his home community in multiple leadership roles.

Over the years we have joyfully watched such students mature, finish eighth grade or high school or college, and all contribute in meaningful ways to our culture and society. It’s especially momentous when we encounter one another on life’s journey.

Amish farmstead
A typical Amish farmstead.
I regularly see many former students. They cash my checks at the bank. They serve me my dinner at a local restaurant. They build and sell me furniture that lasts a lifetime. Even my attorney is a former student of mine. The list is endless.

Others I only see or correspond with occasionally, even randomly. There’s no greater joy for a teacher than when a former student recognizes you in the aisle of a large grocery story and rushes up and unabashedly embraces you with a long, loving hug.

Then there are the times when I bump into the orneriest student ever, and he nearly shakes your hand right off of your arm in recognition that he made it. It’s like winning the lottery, only much, much better. After all, the kid knew the way to the principal’s office blindfolded. Now he has a dream job and a lovely wife.

The memories the students share in these encounters make me smile. I usually have no recollection of the incident or how positively it had impacted them. And yet, whatever was done or said then helped them in their young lives. Being told that warms my old heart.

East or West, I am so glad to have lived where I worked. My life wouldn’t be nearly as full without these precious relationships. All I can say is thank you to those of you who have filled my cup to overflowing.

I am grateful to have known you then and now.

dogwood in bloom
Fond memories bloom eternal.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

October’s Super Hunter Moon

Full Moon, Hunter Moon, Super Moon
October’s Super Hunter Moon.

I enjoy viewing photos of full moons from around the world posted on various websites. It’s always amazing to me how different the same object appears based on one’s geographic location, weather conditions, and opportunity to shoot the moon so to speak. I try to join in the global photographic session whenever possible.

The latest opportunity came this past Sunday evening. The sky was dark and clear, save for a wisp of a cloud passing before October’s Super Hunter Moon. I always love it when an unexpected object, a jetliner or a flock of geese, for example, passes in front of the moon and you have the chance to capture it.

This hand-held photo was taken at 8:11 p.m. EDT in Harrisonburg, VA. The next Super Moons will be November 14 and December 14, 2016.

“October’s Super Hunter Moon” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Two state advantages

autumn in Virginia, landscape
Appalachian autumn.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’m no magician, but I feel like it at times. While my energetic and talented wife has camped herself in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley for the fall, I’ve had one foot in Ohio and the other in Virginia.

Because I still have work duties and responsibilities here at home, I’ve shuttled between Holmes Co. and Harrisonburg, Virginia, where our daughter and her family live. I get to enjoy the amenities of both places. There’s a lot to absorb here, there, and in between.

With the changing leaves, it’s a win-win proposition for me. I have the luxury of observing the colorful transitioning and beauty of each locale. On the drive to and fro, the vividness splashed across the forested mountain slopes is exceptionally enchanting.

My wife, Neva, is having the same experience in a much different role. From August into November, she has dedicated herself 24/7 to assisting our daughter, son-in-law, and the trio of grandkids. Our daughter’s volleyball coaching job is a time demanding, intense position.

volleyball, home-cooked meal
The ladies enjoying another Nana meal.
Neva has the role of assistant coach, assigned to domestic mentoring duties, and whatever else is in the fine print of her contract. From my perspective, she’s doing an ace of a job.

Meanwhile, I know the inspiring circuitous route between the two burgs, Millersburg and Harrisonburg, over hill and dale and mountains all too well. No GPS is needed. Out of necessity, it’s a back and forth life for me.

In a way, this approach is softening the shock of moving. By Neva living for three months in Virginia, and with my multiple round trips, we are phasing ourselves into our new community, and out of the one where we raised our children and honed our vocations. Cut and run was never our modus operandi.

Our goal was to gradually transition from being Buckeyes to Virginians. Neva and I have spent our entire adult lives in the public eye. We were both career educators for the local school districts. We each served in various capacities in several community organizations, plus the necessary involvement in our church.

We recognize that we are replaceable. That’s not the point. We wanted to say goodbye slowly, and help all, including ourselves, let go here and grasp our new surroundings there.

Snail snack, nana
Creating a creative snack.
That is just what is happening. You should see Neva. She is in her glory organizing meals for both our daughter’s family and her volleyball team. She picks up the grandkids at school and runs them to doctor appointments. She cleans, mows, does laundry, walks the dog. On and on it goes.

My official work responsibilities are harder to terminate than Neva’s. There are assignments to complete, and leadership still needed on the boards of trustees on which I serve, and the businesses I consult. The timing had to be just right before I could call it quits.

Since folks have learned of our departing, we have been overwhelmed with well wishes and blessings on our new adventure. Those gestures only cemented our love for the life we have lived here.

We are heartened by the affirming support so graciously expressed to us. Just as joyously, we are reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones in Harrisonburg.

Having feet planted in two different states has been fun. But eventually, we’ll have to sink new roots into the lovely Shenandoah Valley.

I imagine that, too, will be magical.

changing leaves, Holmes Co. OH
Back home.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Turning

changing leaves, colorful leaves
Turning.

This photo is proof that the leaves are indeed turning into their natural colors once again in Ohio’s Amish country. As I drove around the area yesterday afternoon, I was surprised to see such a wide range in coloration of the leaves. This photo shows it well. Some trees are already near their peak. Others are beginning a tinge of color while many are still mostly green.

“Turning” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

In praise of history and historians

Duke of Gloucester Street, Colonial Williamsburg VA
Living history, Colonial Williamsburg, VA.

By Bruce Stambaugh

History is important. I’m forever grateful for folks who emblazoned that maxim upon me way back when. Parents, teachers, professors all collaborated to ensure that I appreciated the value of knowing times past.

My father was instrumental in getting his children involved in amateur archeology. That was in part thanks to my younger brother, who found an arrowhead on the school playground.

As teens, my brother and I assisted Dad and others at various digs like Ohio’s only Revolutionary War site, Fort Laurens in Bolivar. Dad also helped retrace Colonel Bouquet’s Trail into Ohio, which included Holmes Co. Hands-on learning was Dad’s tool of choice when it came to our indigenous tribes and the pioneers who interacted with them in the settling of Ohio.

Gnadenhutten Museum
Worth the visit.
In college, passionate geography and geology instructors explained how various topographic features came to be. In a college Ohio History lecture hall with hundred of other students, I think I got a passing grade because I was the only one who could correctly pronounce Gnadenhutten in neighboring Tuscarawas Co. Again, I have Dad to thank for that as one. We often explored the areas around the tiny historical town.

It was also helpful to live my entire life in geographic regions that played important roles in the development of Ohio. From Flint Ridge to Schoenbrunn to Fort Fizzle, Native Americans, pioneers, soldiers, rebels all forged their presence upon the land on which I lived. That love of what once was still drives me today.

I’m also fortunate to have a wife who appreciates the place history plays in our life today and the future. In other words, Neva enjoys an excellent museum as much as me.

It’s even nicer when you can weave family, vacation, and history into one outing. It helps to have family members who happen to live in prime historical places. We get to visit and explore together.

Williamsburg, Virginia, where my older brother and his wife live, is such a place. We never tire of living history locales like Williamsburg, Yorktown, and Jamestown.

That’s the thing about history. As discoveries continue and new information compiled, history is always changing. I’m not talking about those who would deny the facts and try to twist them to suit their personal beliefs.

History becomes clearer, more defined, better understood the more we explore, the more we learn, the more we know, the more we want to know. Thanks to ongoing research and continued exploration we form new understandings based on new evidence.

At both Colonial Williamsburg and Monticello, for example, tour guides now state clearly the plight of slaves, something conspicuously omitted on previous visits. At Jamestown, archeologists have proved that the original settlement wasn’t washed away after all.

Given the history that is right around us, one doesn’t have to travel far to dig up the past. Novels have been written, movies made, history books published about the history that is all around us. Likely that applies to most anywhere you live. Only the facts, circumstances, and characters change.

Despite what many good books and movies have shown, we really can’t travel back in time. Scientists know that is physically impossible. There is only the present to study history and plan for the future.

We have valued alternatives, however. We can read, explore, study, and visit museums, parks, and historical monuments that help us understand our personal and collective history.

Now that is the way to time travel!

Monticello by Bruce Stambaugh
Pastel blooms accented Monticello’s architectural beauty.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016