In our continuing exploration of the Rockingham Co., Virginia area, we found a riverside park in Bridgewater. The shape of this old sycamore tree caught my eye. With my friend, Rick, standing beneath the sycamore, it helped demonstrate just how massive this ancient tree was. Rick is a big man.
It was directly across the river from this tree that Conferdate soldiers attended a Sunday morning worship service in the field high on the hill.
“Under the Sycamore Tree” is my Photo of the Week.
Summertime. That luscious word rolls off my tongue just as smoothly as butter melting on a steaming ear of sweet corn.
Officially, summer only recently arrived. The summer solstice just slipped by, technically ushering in the season we’ve already been enjoying. In other words, the citizens of the Northern Hemisphere have entered the sacred stretch of long days and slow sunsets.
The sunsets really do linger longer than those occurring in other months of the year. Around the solstices, the farther the sun sets from due west, the shallower the angle of the setting sun. We reap the positive consequences with slower, magically glowing sunsets. How much longer? A full, beautiful minute. The same is true at December’s solstice.
That extra minute of bliss is but one of the bonuses of summer. There are plenty of others.
School children have been celebrating summer’s arrival for days. Consequently, lifeguards at swimming pools have already worn out their pool whistles. Lawn mowing, weeding, and gardening are old hat to dedicated growers. The outdoor supply inventories at big box stores and local nurseries alike have dwindled, causing latecomers to scrounge elsewhere or wait until next year.
Big round bales, the regular rectangular ones, and even haymows prove first cutting successes. Row upon row of field corn stalks desperately tries to catch up to their sweet corn cousins. Tomato plants are simultaneously blooming and showing their first fruits in various shades of green, yellow, pink, and red.
Summer baseball, softball, and golf leagues have long been underway. Seasonal resorts are booming, welcoming newcomers and veterans alike. Multi-generations crowd miniature golf courses to enjoy the sunny days and exotic, extended evenings.
Is it just me or have the backyard bunnies multiplied exponentially this year? They’re everywhere in all sizes. I’ll let you explain that to the kids. Baby birds have long fledged, leaving the nest to begin life on their own. Several species are in the process of constructing their second nests.
It didn’t take me long to fully appreciate the shade produced by a fulsome crown of established maples in our Virginia yard. Either it’s hotter here, or the shade is thicker and cooler. Either way, I’m glad for the fully leafed trees.
Lightning bugs by the billions light up lawns and fields and forests alike. It’s one of the treasures of summer to watch those signals flash while sipping the waning day’s last glass of iced tea. I’ll take decaf, please.
Folks who make their living outdoors, of course, love the summer weather. Road construction workers, farmers, carpenters, excavators, surveyors, delivery personnel, mail carriers, tree trimmers, garbage collectors, and landscapers bask in the sunshine. A rainy day or two gives them a break from the non-stop outside work that beckons to be completed before the fair days falter.
In the meantime, we all reap the benefits of those hazy, crazy days of summer. Fresh bouquets don our dinner tables, along with fresh fruit and vegetables. Shoot. There’s freshness all around.
Spaced somewhere in between all of these pleasantries are family vacations. Some go north to fish. Some go south to visit Minnie and Mickey. Others stand at the rim of the Grand Canyon and just gape.
Scientists, astronomers, and amateur sky gazers may mark these longest days of the year in mere minutes. But the rest of us know better. We count our blessings in buckets of laughter, bushels of berries, and baskets of blooms.
Summertime is here. Let’s enjoy these long days and slow sunsets while we can.
A late friend of mine gave me the perfect description for dilapidated old barns like this one. Paul would say, “Look! There’s an air-conditioned barn.” Having grown up on a farm during the Great Depression, my friend knew a lot about hard work and barns. Barns that had openings on more than one side drew air through them even if no breeze was blowing. The cooling breeze and shade provided those working inside the barn a little relief from the summer’s heat and humidity.
Every time I see a barn like this I think of my good friend Paul and his many old wise sayings.
It’s been a little more than a month since we moved from our beloved home in beautiful Holmes County, Ohio to our new place of residence in Virginia’s lovely Shenandoah Valley. We knew there would be similarities. We just didn’t know they would abound.
We learned to know the area long before we moved. Our daughter attended college at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg. She met her husband there. Now the school employs both of them, Carrie as a coach and Daryl as part of the administrative team.
In the few weeks that we’ve lived here, we have learned first-hand just how similar Holmes County is to Rockingham County. Those likenesses transcend the beauty of each locale.
Both have wooded rolling hills. Numerous creeks snake through luscious, productive farmland. Not surprisingly, the same staple crops are grown here, which makes sense since we are in the same growing zone. Field corn, alfalfa, wheat, oats, and soybeans create a patchwork of verdant colors. Produce stands dot the countryside here, too.
Livestock includes dairy cows and beef cattle, pigs, sheep, and goats. Long, silver poultry houses can be found high and low across the rural areas of Rockingham County. In Holmes County, they’re mostly white. My guess is that turkeys far outnumber humans in The Valley given the number of those barns I’ve seen. Agriculture is a major economic force for both locations.
Consequently, every now and then when the wind is right we get an acrid whiff that reminds us of home. However, we don’t need a breeze to inform us when the barns have been cleaned.
Just like in Ohio, our house is built on what was once farmland. Only instead of a few neighbors, we have many. We are one of nearly 500 households in our development. Mature trees and manicured lawns predominate around well-maintained homes. People take pride in their property here with equal zest.
In Ohio, airliners sailed regularly over our home on final approach to Akron-Canton Regional Airport. In Harrisonburg, we have the same effect only more frequently. Jets fly overhead, only higher, on approach to Dulles International Airport.
Unlike our old home, all of the utilities in our housing development are buried underground. There are no streetlights, though. On a clear night, we can actually see the stars better here than we could at our former home.
There are other obvious differences of course. Rockingham County is twice the size of Holmes County in both square miles and population. The boundaries of Rockingham County boast the Allegheny Mountains on the west and the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east.
The Massanutten range runs north to south through the center of the county, stopping east of Harrisonburg. It should be noted that the hills of Holmes County are actually the western foothills of the Allegheny Mountains. So we are literally geologically connected.
Once outside the city, the roads of Rockingham County are as narrow, windy, and hilly as those of Holmes County. With Old Order Mennonites thriving in the fertile valley, horse and buggies are nearly as common as in Holmes County.
The culture, local mores, and values are similar as well. Our neighbors exemplify that daily with their friendliness.
Purchasing our home here foretold the familiarity. At the bank, we got our house loan from Julie Yoder. Emily Miller led the house closing. Jayne Schlabach was our realtor. There’s even a Joe Bowman car dealership. In Holmes County, he’d likely be selling buggies.
Just like home, we have the same cell phone carrier with the same quality reception. I have to go to the front porch so you can “hear me now.”
No need to feel sorry for us. We feel right at home in Virginia.
I came upon this incredible building on a recent foray into the Virginia countryside exploring with my wife and another couple. I had seen it on Google Earth. It wasn’t until I stood in front of this historic hotel that I could fully appreciate its beauty and grandeur.
The hotel was built around natural mineral springs that were first frequented by Native Americans. The resort is owned and operated by the Episcopal Dioceses of Virginia. The church uses it for retreats, but it is also open to the public.
Given its setting and beautiful architecture, the Virginia House would be a perfect place to relax and enjoy nature.
Years ago a small army of children caused a raucous in a restaurant. My only son leaned in, and half in jest asked, “Why do couples bother to have kids?”
I saw my chance and took it. “I’ve wondered that a few times myself,” I retorted. A wry smile was the only evidence that my adult son got my point.
My wife and I felt fortunate to raise two beautiful children, a girl, and a boy. Like any other kids, they caused us grief and moments of angst of course. But in the bigger and better picture, they were both great kids. I’ll relinquish bragging rights to simply say I have immensely enjoyed being their father.
As young adults in our late 20s, Neva and I were raw at parenting. We didn’t have the infinite resources parents do today. We did have a strong support team. Besides our parents, siblings and friends who were also raising children helped steer us in the right direction.
Our own parents served as our most positive role models. They taught us to be polite, respectful, truthful, and fair. We tried to do the same with Carrie and Nathan. Not that what we did or said was perfect or absolutist in approach. We just believed in letting our children explore the world, allowing them to make mistakes as long as their actions didn’t endanger themselves or others.
We loved and love our daughter and son. We wanted the best for them. But we were realistic, too. Living on teacher salaries, we weren’t rich. But we weren’t poor either. Our wealth came not in dollars and cents or stocks and bonds but in enjoying as many life experiences together as we could. Often that meant relating to other human beings and to nature. We traveled, worked, worshiped, and played together.
We tried to teach our son and daughter the essential elements required for a successful life. We emphasized the formula of our parents. Develop a strong work ethic, be actively engaged in the community, participate in a faith family, and embrace the family circle no matter how crazy. To that end, we stressed being kind, generous, considerate, curious, questioning, creative, helpful, compassionate, mindful, and honest.
That being said, I’m pretty sure my own children have taught me more than I actually taught them, however. As adults, both son and daughter now offer unsolicited advice for personal improvement. I weigh their opinions seriously. Do I have any other choice?
Fatherhood has taught me to be patient with others and myself. It has taught me to laugh at the silliest mistakes and move on. It has taught me to always part with an “I love you.”
Fatherhood has taught me to celebrate both the joys and disappointments that life brings. The good Lord knows there are plenty of both. The pleasures of parenthood go far beyond the first time holding your newborn baby. The sorrows speak for themselves.
I know I wasn’t the perfect father. Neither was my dad or any father for that matter. But mistakes and all, I just tried to do my very best to guide my children from birth into adulthood.
That is the purpose of being a parent. Raise your children to be interdependent adults who productively contribute to society. Isn’t that all a father should really expect as a measure of parental success?
My wife and I were walking with friends in downtown Harrisonburg, VA one afternoon when we happened upon this scene. This old, rusty signpost still stood in front off a remodeled office building. We wondered why they didn’t either restore the pole as well or just take it down.
Then I looked up. This pair of display lights stared back at me. I wondered what sign they had once illuminated with their soft, incandescent bulbs blazing away in the night sky. This rusty light pole stood as both a testament to the past and as a work of urban art to the present. In a way, the pole with its twin lights, long dormant, stood in stark contrast to the ugly utility pole and wires that now overshadowed this relic from yesteryear.
I sat on our screened-in back porch eating a light lunch with my wife and our granddog, Millie. Neva and I were dog sitting while our daughter and her family were away for the weekend. The dog duty was in the fine print of our moving contract.
As I nibbled at the delicious egg salad Neva had prepared, a mockingbird called from the crest of a roof three houses away. Not to be outdone, a northern cardinal sang its springtime repertoire from a neighbor’s lilac bush.
As I picked at my lunch offerings, I thought about a comment I had heard a couple of hours earlier. “It’s been a long week,” the man said. That caught my attention.
Anticipating a bit of bad news or perhaps a string of events that bore him negative consequences, he instead spoke far beyond himself and his own life experiences. He mentioned those in the world who lacked basic human needs, food, shelter, water, love. Every week is a long week for them.
I marveled at his keen sense of compassion, his devotion to looking and living outside his own situation, his own desires, his own problems no matter how big or small. Instead, his concern was for those in dire straits. His urging was to be observant, considerate, and helpful to those we meet in our daily comings and goings.
That hit home for me. Here we were, only a month in our new home, still trying to establish some semblance of a new routine in our new state.
Not surprisingly, Neva was ahead of me in that regard. She had already begun to volunteer once a week at a local thrift store doing what she loves. Helping others regardless of their station in life or their background or their creed is in her DNA. She had also already helped pack groceries at a local food pantry.
I’ve been slower to engage in such activities. After spending my entire adult life in the public eye one way or another, I wanted my new routine to be more personal, more private. I want my actions to continue to be purposeful, useful, and productive for others in this new life we have chosen for ourselves.
Participating in the lives of our active grandchildren and their parents tops our lists. We’ve already begun to do that, Millie being Exhibit A.
My intentions are to cultivate the activities that I love besides my family of course. I’ll find some birding buddies. I’ll go hiking and biking. I have books to write and photographs to publish. But as the man mentioned, I needed to reach beyond myself, too.
I’ll have plenty of opportunities with three universities nearby, the community’s focus on arts, the multi-cultural demographics, and the rich historical and natural geographical features the Shenandoah Valley offers.
But as I sat on our porch with Neva and Millie, lazily eating, listening, pondering, I considered those in the world who have long weeks every week. I need to incorporate the lame, the lost, the least into my newly unfolding routine as well.
I’m not exactly sure how that will play out. I just want to step outside my comfort zone, my familiarities. It seems the right thing to do, especially given the horrors in today’s complex and interconnected world.
I’ll begin by meeting people right where they are. Spontaneous or planned, it must be done. Perhaps then their week and mine will feel a little shorter than their previous one.
One of the great joys of being a photographer is finding unexpected beauty in the simplest things. I went out one recent morning to capture the fog rising out of the hollows of the Shenandoah Valley. I rounded a curve on a narrow country road and found this scene. The bright morning sun illuminated thousands of dew drops congregated on weedy grass stems growing from an embankment. I thought the silvery effect was gorgeous.
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