This energetic young male Pileated Woodpecker posed just long enough for me to capture a shot of it before it flew off to another tree, possibly in search of a suitable nesting site. Before this photo was taken, the incredible bird was in and out of the holes on this snag.
I especially liked the way everything in the photo is leaning left. I felt fortunate to catch this shot when the woodpecker looked that way, too.
The pungent smell of ammonia tickled my nose as I sat on the living room couch reading my morning devotions. My energetic wife was already hard at work cleaning the house.
In our 46 years of marriage, I had seen this scenario unfold many, many times. Of course, I do my part to help, which is to say that I mostly stay out of the way at her request. I willingly comply.
I empty the wastebaskets and take out the garbage. I run and unload the dishwasher. After another tasty home-cooked meal, I make it my responsibility to clean up the kitchen. It’s the least I can do after Neva has done more than her share in planning, preparing, and serving the food.
Obviously, cleaning smells aren’t the only fragrances that have wafted through our house. Neva’s gift of hospitality is multifaceted.
I’m blessed by the aromas of other Neva orchestrated domestic activities like pumpkin pie baking in the oven, butternut squash soup simmering on the stove, and the spicy smell of savory tomato sauces boiling down like mini volcanoes.
We both smile with contentment when we hear the satisfying pops of lids sealing on the freshly canned peaches. I could paint a long laundry list of sensory-stimulated pictures Neva creates in our household. To put it simply, Neva gets things done.
Speaking of laundry, Neva keeps on top of that, too. I help, of course, from time to time. After all of these years, I’ve learned to dance without the caller singing out her instructions. My efforts still have to pass muster, however.
But I’m no fool. When it comes to household chores, I know not to interfere with Neva’s main domain.
Her gift of hospitality hasn’t been confined to our home either. Neva still finds time to help others.
From birthday cards to sympathy cards to comfort food casseroles, Neva puts her faith into practice for others. She has served the church in multiple positions, locally and statewide.
Our lives wouldn’t quite be the same without her devotion to volunteering at Save and Serve Thrift Shop in Millersburg, Ohio. The friendships she has made and nurtured over the years at the thrift store have enriched us individually and as a couple.
Her commitment to community doesn’t stop there. She has also served with Habitat for Humanity, the annual Christmas Church Walk in Millersburg, and with volunteer fire department auxiliaries to name a few.
Then there are our adult children and the grandchildren. Even 350 miles away, Neva watches over them as she can, too. With our son’s blessings, they are a big part of the reason we are moving to Virginia. We want to be closer to them to help whenever and wherever we can. As retirees and grandparents, it’s our primary task now as we enter the winter of our lives.
Career educator by profession, Neva always has taken her role as mother, wife, and domestic engineer as her chief duties. She has done so impeccably.
Why am I pontificating about my wife? It’s easy for me to take her and all that she does for granted, for me, the family, friends, neighbors, and strangers. Neva has enough Mennonite stock in her DNA to deny my praise of her. But she shouldn’t.
Our wedding anniversary is upon us. I want to publicly acknowledge how much I appreciate Neva and all that she does for me and for all those she has touched in our lifetime together.
It happens every year. The American Robins come out of seclusion in dense Ohio woodlots or return from a regional migration only to be greeted by a snowstorm. This year was no exception.
With no worms available due to the snow cover and cold temperatures, the Robins looked for other forms of food. The bright red holly berries fit the bill for a few of them. This male robin especially enjoyed flitting in and out of the bush next to our house. I was fortunate to be able to capture a few shots of him on the hunt for the round red delights. He would sit on a small branch in the snow, look around for a berry, then pounce on it as if it were going to make a getaway.
If you live in northern Ohio, you know there is one sure way to tell that spring is just around the corner. Snow has covered the freshly opened daffodil blossoms. Snow never smelled so fragrant.
Those of us who have grown up in northeastern Ohio aren’t surprised by this meteorological conundrum. Snow-blanketed flowers in Holmes Co., Ohio in March is as common as horses and buggies.
It’s March. It’s Ohio. It’s just a matter of when and how much snow we will have.
March snows are notorious for being heavy, wet, and timed to dampen our spirits along with the countryside. That’s especially true after a relatively mild winter like we’ve experienced this year.
With the temperatures balmy, the sun shining, people get antsy to get out and about to shake off any remnants of cabin fever they may have contracted. And so they do.
Bicycles are dusted off, tires pumped up, and excursions on the Holmes Co. Trail begin. Gardeners are anxious to ready their truck patches and flowerbeds for the soon-to-begin growing season.
That’s when the excitement rises. Coaxed awake by the unseasonably warm winter weather, luscious green shoots emerge from the bulbs through the moist, loamy soil, through the woody mulch, and into the light.
Crocuses and a few spring beauties join the trumpeting daffodils to happily announce spring’s debut. In some areas, trilliums even dot forest floors. Of course, they are all premature thanks in part to the warmest February on record globally.
The early taste of warmth spoiled us. So when the weather returns to more seasonal conditions, we go into shock along with the blooming flowers.
Other signs of spring unaltered by the weather also appear to whet our warm weather enthusiasm. College’s annual March Madness basketball tournaments fill TV screens in the quest for men and women’s champions. High school basketball and wrestling tournaments are drawing to a close, signaling the end of winter and the birth of spring.
For me, no other sport says spring more than Major League Baseball. After all, the boys of summer are in the midst of spring training in Arizona and Florida. So it must be spring, right?
Not so fast. Even in the southern United States, where azaleas, hibiscus, iris, lantana, and poinsettias bloomed brightly, caution was the word. Citizens had to be weary of frosts and late winter storms of ice and snow, too.
Those events are rare but all too real. It’s different in Ohio and neighboring states. March sometimes delivers the season’s heaviest snowfall. The problem is the storms often arrive just in time to douse any anticipation of spring’s benefits, like being outdoors, throwing open the windows and doors to replace winter’s staleness with spring’s freshness.
After a few days of airing things out, breathing in warm, fresh air, working in the yard, it’s rather hard to return to winter’s harshness. Nevertheless, that always seems to be our plight. Only we’re back outside covering those tender plants from hard frosts, inches of snow, and biting winds.
Backyard bird feeders get restocked. We tote in more firewood to replenish the supply for the wood burner or fireplace. The hard truth is that there’s just no turning down the damper on the fickle force of nature.
Spring is just around the corner. We just don’t know how long it will be until we reach that particular junction to fondly welcome spring’s return.
When my wife and I arrived home in Ohio’s Amish country recently, we were surprised to see that fields around our home had all been plowed while we were away for a couple of months to avoid winter’s harshness. Usually, plowing extends well into spring. But this year the farmers, especially those using horses to pull the plows, were able to turn the soil during this winter’s mild weather.
That all changed a couple of days ago. We were on the western-most side of the latest nor’easter storm that pounded the East Coast with blizzard conditions. Our share of the snowstorm was more typical of a March snow in Ohio. Most of our snow was lake effect snow driven by strong northerly winds. I was contented to observe the radiant beauty of the snow-covered furrows from the comfort of our home.
It’s a pretty simple formula when you think about it. The older I get, the colder I get. That’s how the math works for me.
The equation yields opposite results for my dear wife, whose thermostat seems to be heading in the other direction. Her female peers know what I mean.
All this is to say I can’t take the cold winter months anymore. My old bones shiver just writing that sentence, and I’m wearing a wool sweater. The goose bumps on my arms give testament to that fact, too.
While others wear shorts and t-shirts, I dress in pants, long-sleeved shirt, hat, and maybe even a jacket to stay warm. That’s how cold I get. Part of the chill is a side effect of some of my medication. I take it and dress accordingly, often in layers.
Being cold isn’t the only consequence of growing older in Ohio winters. My fingers swell, stiffen, and are continually cold. The skin on my fingers cracks in the damp, chilly weather. I realize those are minor problems given current world conditions. It’s still annoying.
In my younger years, I enjoyed the cold, especially if it was accompanied by a decent snowfall. I’d join my brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors, and sled ride for hours.
Once hunger and snow blindness set in, we’d head home to warm up with soup and hot chocolate. Our cheeks were rosy to the point of stinging, our noses red from the frosty air, our fingers tingling numb. We would change into dry clothes, and off we would go again, cascading down Winton Avenue as if we owned the road.
Sledding was at its best in an undeveloped section of a local cemetery. We felt charmed if we made it all the way downhill to the creek bank, dragging our feet in the snow like parachutes slowing a dragster.
Those days are long gone. I probably couldn’t even get on a sled. Now my wife and I spend the coldest parts of winter in northern Florida. It’s usually not always balmy there, but it’s not Ohio weather either.
Footprints in the sand.
Dogs in the surf.
Sunning on the bank.
Our hiatus from the northern cold affords us more benefits than warmer days. Neither my arthritis nor my bum right knee hurt as much thanks to the combination of the warmer weather and the many walks we take. The ocean was the front yard to our rented condo unit.
We walked south one day, north the next. Our preference was to stroll the compacted, moist sand at low tide. But walking in the softer sand at high tide worked, too. I felt warm either way. It was better than crunching snow.
Other times, I would head to nearby Egans Creek Greenway, an ecologically friendly nature preserve set in the middle of the island. The walk in the bright sunshine warmed my body and my spirit. Birds of prey, shorebirds, songbirds, marsh rabbits, river otters, white-tailed deer, assorted turtles, butterflies, and baby alligators all coexisted in the diverse habitat of salt marsh reeds, grasses, and shrubs, and the hardwoods, cedars, and pines of the tropical hammock.
I am grateful to be able to make these snowbird trips each winter. I don’t take that lightly at all. I know the time will come when that modus operandi, too, will end.
But until then, Neva and I will likely continue to seek shelter from winter’s harshness by heading south come next January. That’s a warming therapeutic algorithm sure to solve any chilling problem.
Just before we left Fernandina Beach, FL, I took one last stroll around the marvelous Egans Creek Greenway that runs through the center of Amelia Island. It’s a paradise.
I went with a friend to see what we could find, and even at low tide, we found plenty. Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, White Ibis, marsh rabbits, and of course, baby alligators sunning themselves in the late afternoon sun.
But it was this male monarch butterfly that really caught my attention. It was bright, fresh, brilliant in color. Bathed in the slanting rays of the sun, the butterfly was stunning. More than that, it brought hope that spring indeed was on its way because the monarchs are on their way north, too. Migration has begun!
During our winter’s stay in northeastern Florida, my wife and I often took our snowbird breakfast on the small porch of our condo that overlooked the Atlantic Ocean. Even with the temperatures in the 50s, you can do that if you’re in Florida and the morning sun is brightly beaming, warming the chilly air.
We set the little glass-topped café table in the usual fashion. Cereal bowls, juice glasses, coffee mugs, and the necessary utensils, spoons, and binoculars fulfill our needs.
The beachfront setting offered a menu much greater than our simple fare of cereal and granola. Rolling waves, gliding dolphins, a multitude of shorebirds, and the ocean’s salty bouquet organically stimulated all of our senses.
The configuration of the porch itself enabled our outdoor dining. The condo is built like a bunker with walls of cement. You can hear but not see your neighbors since the walls protrude beyond the edge of the portico. The effect is one of being tucked into a cave entrance where only the sun welcomes you and the wind simply whistles on by.
The boxy porch with concrete walls and floor and glass sliding door behind served as an oven of sorts. The sun’s rays warmed us perfectly, compromising the cooler morning air. The little whiffs of steam rising from our coffee mugs proved the science of this hands-on experiment.
The glass-topped café table that bore our breakfast gave testament to our seaside setting. A thin coating of fine sand and sea salt covered the tiny table top.
Earlier the sun had made its usual predawn show of things, glowing orange the length of where the sea met the sky. A jagged but unbroken line of dark clouds, like a poorly constructed picket fence, identified the Gulf Stream’s boundary.
As dawn neared, the sky washed away the hardy orange with pale pastels. The sun peeked above the watery horizon right on schedule. Seconds later, a blazing orange ball balanced on the ocean, then slowly rose and brightened.
Black skimmers and brown pelicans flew in standard formations inches above the water’s surface. The skimmers modeled their name with their levered lower bill by scooping small fish as the birds zoomed along. The pelicans flew in the single-file line for aerodynamics. Beyond them, a small pod of bottle-nosed dolphins foraged south to north, the sun glistening off their wetted backs and dorsal fins as they appeared and disappeared in purposeful rhythm.
A few early birds walked their dogs, jogged, searched for seashells, while lone fishermen drove their plastic pole stands into the soft, moist sand. Tiny sanderlings scampered out around them and then returned to where the low tide lapped at the shore. The little birds probed their pointy black bills into the sand like sewing machine needles as they sought their breakfasts, too.
The ocean was unusually calm. A million ripples played where waves usually rolled. Expectant young surfers bobbed on their boards waiting and watching for a wave to ride.
The sun, of course, continued on its expected ascent into the morning sky. Its rays transformed the mother-of-pearl sea into a field of dancing diamonds. The show was so dazzling, so luminous that you could hardly look at it for hurting your eyes. And yet, you could hardly turn away, the performance was so beautiful, so enthralling.
We basked in our cozy breakfast cubical. The cereal bowls and glasses were all empty. Our spirits, however, overflowed with wonder and joy.
I enjoy watching surfers whenever I’m at the ocean, and the surf is up. I admire their skills and ability to time the waves just right. I was intrigued with this particular surfer, however. He was cruising along nicely on the quiet Atlantic Ocean off Amelia Island, Florida when temptation apparently overcame him. As the waves rolled in, he paddled into position and picked his wave.
Soon this paddler turned surfer was riding the crest of the curling, backlit wave, using his paddle more of an aide to balance than anything else. I liked his ingenuity and his determination.