I must have taken a hundred photographs or more of Mt. Rainier in our all too brief visit to Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. I couldn’t help myself. At every turn on the long, winding drive to the base of this magnificent mountain, the old mountain showed a different face, a different mood. I had to capture each one.
This photo, however, is my favorite. I was hoping for an early morning sky with broken clouds at sunrise. When my wife and I arose, we found the sky a perfect crystal clear blue. We walked up a path towards Myrtle Falls not far from the historic Paradise Lodge where we stayed. A ridge of peaks to the east blocked the sun early on. When its rays finally crested the lower peaks, I was mesmerized. The warm, creamy radiance that glowed from Mt. Rainier’s summit was absolutely stunning. The fact that I got to share the moment with Neva made it all the more pleasurable.
When I first moved to Holmes County, Ohio a month after the devastating July 4th flood in 1969, I explored the countryside to get my bearings. As a rookie teacher, I wanted to know where my students lived, and what they were dealing with in the flood’s aftermath.
We had several other rookie teachers who were also new to the area. Our principal, Paul O’Donnell, loaded us all in his Chevy station wagon and chauffeured us around the hills and dales where our students lived.
Being a geography geek, I greatly enjoyed the tour. I decided that was the best way for me to get to know the Holmes County area. I bought a county map and drove the dusty back roads as often as I could. I marveled at the diversity of the area’s topography and vegetation.
In a matter of minutes, I went from marshlands up steep, winding roads to the top of hills with majestic views of the valleys below. Hillsides were often densely wooded, while croplands and pastures dominated the gently rolling landscape atop the ridges. I repeated the process when I moved to the eastern section of the county.
Whether east or west, I greatly enjoyed getting to know the countryside and its inhabitants. My wife and I are trying the same approach in our new county of residence, Rockingham, Virginia. Only we often use GPS instead of a map.
With Rockingham twice the size of Holmes County, there’s a lot of ground to cover. We’re chipping away at it as time allows. So far, we’ve explored a lot of beautiful scenery and quaint, rural towns. It didn’t take us long to discover why they are called the Blue Ridge Mountains. Even the Allegheny Mountains cast a blue hue in the day’s waning light.
The folks we’ve met so far are as friendly and polite as advertised. No one has even mentioned my Holmes County accent.
Besides sightseeing, our exploring is purposeful, whether traveling into the City of Harrisonburg, or the rural areas of the county. Running errands, going to appointments, buying fresh produce, an afternoon with the grandkids, all get us out and about, finding our way around our new home.
We also explore with friends and relatives who visit and want a look around, too. I enjoy those trips the most. They usually involve a stop at a local restaurant to try their fare, followed by another stop at a local ice cream shop. The problem is deciding which one.
We’ve been practical about our excursions. We live in a housing development that serves as a buffer between the city to the east and the county to the west. Consequently, most of our rural exploring to date has branched out north, south, and west of our home.
We’ve especially come to love the Dayton area, where many of the Old Order Mennonites live. Old Order Mennonites drive horse and buggies just like the Amish. And like the Amish, they are deeply rooted in the soil. Most are farmers. Some are business owners, providing services that the majority of their peers could use. Harness shops, bicycle shops, and dry goods stores are typical.
Many have branched out into businesses for customers beyond their own culture. Orchards and produce stands are prominent.
We have enjoyed our junkets around the Rockingham countryside vistas. We’re looking forward to uncovering exciting new places and making additional friends and acquaintances. In Virginia, both are easy to do.
I had just finished talking to the young man about taking photographs on his father’s farm. As I started to get into my vehicle, I spotted the man at the gate to a ranging hillside pasture. This stunning pair of steeds trotted down to greet their friend. Since he had given me permission to shoot photos, I had to take this scene. I doubt that the man thought he and his beautiful horses would be my first photo.
It seems like I just can’t get away from it. Retired from my career in education 18 years, butterflies still tickle my tummy this time of year.
From pre-school through college, the school year either has or is about to start for thousands upon thousands of students. Emotions can run high for everyone.
I remember those days all too well.
As a student, I always got excited about the start of another school year. I couldn’t wait until the class lists were posted a week or so before the fall term began. We never knew exactly when those blue-inked mimeographed lists would show up on the glass doors of the Edgefield School. Often times we depended on another student finding out and spreading the word.
Once posted, I hustled down Harrison Ave., turned left on 38th Street, and climbed those foreboding cement steps to the double glass doors of the three-story brick school building. Besides wanting to know who my teacher was, it was more important to me to know who my classmates were. Friendships in youth are critical.
My grandchildren didn’t have to run to the school to discover who their new teacher was. The principal sent a letter to each pupil. However, because of privacy reasons, they’ll have to wait until the first day of school to learn whom they will spend the next nine months with learning their lessons.
Talk about nerves. I’ve already heard some chatter about hoping so and so is in their class. Of course, once everyone gets their letters, I suppose most will know before school begins.
Though they might not admit it, I think the older the students get, the more nervous they are. With required proficiency tests in every state, there’s a lot of pressure on students to do well for themselves, their class, their school, and their district.
That’s likely the last thing on a freshman’s mind. No matter how big or small the school, peer pressure cuts across every aspect of today’s teenage life. I wouldn’t want to ever go back to those uncertain years.
The beginning of another academic year runs the gambit of emotion for parents, too. They’re glad to have the kids back on some predictable routine and some much needed free time for themselves. Some parents are just downright relieved that school is back in session. And yet, they’ve enjoyed the time with their offspring over the summer months.
School supplies have to be purchased, along with school clothes, and arranging for childcare if both parents happen to be working the same shifts. Finding dependable, safe situations can be stressful if not expensive.
Even us grandparents feel the tension of the start of school. Wanting to help as much as possible and in any way can, we seniors like to stay abreast of what all the grandkids are doing, and how we can assist the parents. Cries for help often come at the last minute.
Good teachers, of course, have long been readying for this first day. I’ve seen their cars parked at the local schools all summer long, just the way I did when I was a principal. That doesn’t mean they won’t get those butterflies in their stomachs. Even the veteran’s do that. The same goes for bus drivers, custodians, cooks, secretaries, and all other staff members.
So whether it’s sending your first child to school for a full day of learning or whether you’re a seventh grader who can’t locate your assigned locker, take heart. You are not alone. Everyone else is either excited or anxious, too.
The Big Meadows area of Shenandoah National Park is a big, wide-open prairie-like saddle tucked between the park’s hardwood forests. It’s about midway along the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah N.P. According to a park ranger, no one is certain why the meadow is even there. No matter. It is, and the wildlife loves it.
In the summer, Big Meadows is especially a haven for songbirds and insects. Bright and fragrant wildflowers serve as food and habitat for the beautiful butterflies. These thistle blooms were a magnet for this pair of Silver-spotted Skippers and this female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.
We couldn’t have picked a better time to move. The lush Ohio springtime ensured a colorful goodbye for us.
When it came to flowers and blooming trees and shrubs, it was, in fact, one of the most beautiful springs in memory. We didn’t have to go far to appreciate the beauty either. The pink dogwood tree I bought for Neva for Mother’s Day several years ago burst the brightest and fullest it had ever been.
Its sister dogwoods bloomed just as showy. Their lacy white flowers opened early and stayed late. I couldn’t have been more elated. Those trees and I go way back. Before our move from Killbuck, Ohio to our home near Berlin, I transplanted several trees from the little woods behind the house we had built. Three wild dogwoods were among them.
The trees graced our place with shade in the summer and sheltered nests of American Robins, Cedar Waxwings, and Chipping Sparrows. In the fall, their berries turned fire engine red while the leaves morphed from green to crimsons before winter’s winds blew them away.
But it was the few weeks in the spring that I always treasured when the lovely, soft pedals bloomed pure white, crisp as snow, frilly as the daintiest lace. The lilacs also joined the show. Their lavender heads were full as possible. Their fragrances perfumed the air for days and days, temporarily compromising the simultaneous barn cleanings of the local farmers.
We would miss the peak display of iris, gladiolas, coneflowers, and cosmos. We knew that was part of the cost of moving.
Besides, we found love and beauty in other places. We met with as many friends and family as we could who had played important roles in our lifetime of Ohio living. Most of those gatherings occurred in the days and weeks just before the move.
Knowing time would be short, we actually began the goodbye process nearly a year ago. I did a farewell tour of the schools where I had served as principal for 21 years. I made my rounds one last time as a township trustee, too. I bid farewell to constituents who went out of their way to make my job easier.
Our immediate neighbors held a potluck dinner for us and gave us a generous gift. Neva and I even made one last stop at the Farmers Produce Auction near Mt. Hope. Of course, we had to patronize Dan and Anna’s food stand.
Time didn’t permit us to meet with everyone of course. But we shared meals, stories, laughs, tears, and hugs with many, many folks. Some people sent us cards. Others popped in for a few moments for a final goodbye.
All of those contacts were bouquets more beautiful, more fragrant than any flower arrangement and blooming shrubs could possibly be. We deeply inhaled those most meaningful relationships.
Our final send off came from our little church of 46 years, Millersburg Mennonite. Without those characters and their unswerving support, we wouldn’t be the people we have become. I had to blame somebody.
Those gatherings empowered us to accept the reality of changing locales. The love and well wishes expressed gave us the strength we needed to begin anew. We can never, ever thank them enough.
As we drove out the drive for the last time, the dogwoods were at their summit. As lovely as they were, they still couldn’t compare to the radiance of the loving, lifetime friendships we had made.
I have too many hobbies. Besides photography and writing, I enjoy biking, birding, wildlife, wildflowers, hiking, weather, sunrises, and sunsets, just to name a few. Every once in a while, I am fortunate to be able to combine some of those activities into one outing.
Recently I explored a new location for sunsets. Though lovely, the promise of a blazing sunset diminished as the sun sank lower and lower behind the Allegheny Mountains 17 miles away. To the north, a rogue thunderstorm drifted over northwestern Rockingham Co., Virginia. The last of the day’s light dappled the outer edges of the billowing storm cell.
Being outside in the cooling evening air on this hillside cattle farm brought me much joy. Capturing a photo of a growing thunderhead highlighted by the setting sun in this idyllic setting capped another lovely day in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.