Record-breaking heat has affected Americans all across the United States this late summer and early autumn seasons. Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley was no exception. The shadow of the left wing of a restored and fully functioning DC 3 airplane brought at least temporary relief from the hot sun for this mother and her young daughter attending a recent air show near Bridgewater, Virginia. In the shade of the hanger in the photo’s background is the first Air Force One, Columbine II, used by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
It’s another quiet morning in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. The warming sun has climbed high above Massanutten Mountain to begin evaporating the valley fog and mist wisp by wisp.
The leaves of the red maples in our yard have started their annual process of revealing their true colors and the reason for their designated nomenclature. Even before they fully blush, a few tumble one by one onto the still luscious grass beneath.
The school buses have already made their morning rounds. It’s quiet now, with only the sound of blue jays squawking in the distance. My wife is her busy self, the washing machine already spinning its first load. Still, I can hear the soft sound of the dry mop gliding over the oak floor. Neva is in her realm.
Orange and brown wreaths have replaced the sunny summer ones on neighbors’ front doors. Pumpkins and pots of yellow and scarlet mums beckon visitors from their sidewalk setting.
The signs of autumn’s arrival have been overlapping with those of summer’s waning for weeks now. The outer rows of massive cornfields have long been cut and chopped into harvest bins. The rest will soon follow until the silos are full. The Old Order Mennonites drive horse and buggies to church. They wheel huge tractors down narrow country roads into their sprawling farm fields with no thought of contradiction.
It was a pleasant summer, our first as residents of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Folks kept saying that this wasn’t a normal one for Virginia. With intense hurricanes brewing and massive wildfires sweeping the west, is there such a thing as normal weather anymore?
The chimney swifts that called our neighbor’s flue home for the summer disappeared days ago. Ohio friends have reported flocks of common nighthawks winging south. Shorebirds, some rather rare, made pit stops in the Funk Wildlife Area, Killbuck Marsh, and Beach City backwaters to the delight of novice and hardcore birders alike. Those, too, are sure signs of fall’s arrival.
Starlings, northern cardinals, and cedar waxwings have already obliterated the bright red dogwood berries even before the trees’ curling leaves have completely transitioned from green to crimson. The Carolina wrens provided the soundtrack to the feeding frenzies.
Just as we did the summer, we anticipate with wonder whatever our first Virginia fall delivers. Neva will continue to play chief cook and bottle washer for our daughter’s household until the volleyball season subsides in early November. Just like all the other seasons, I’ll continue to do whatever I’m asked or told to do. Usually, it’s the latter.
Seasons come and seasons go. Life marches on. We embrace each moment of each day with joy no matter the silliness, pettiness, and egotistical disposition of those in more powerful positions than the rest of us.
That, my friends, is the way it is. We must keep on keeping on no matter the season, the situation, and the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
Rake leaves with a smile on your face. Stop and talk with your neighbors who are likely doing the same chore. Share your abundant tomato harvest or a freshly baked apple pie with others. The results will be delicious.
Enjoy the pleasant fall weather, the changing of the leaves, the foggy mornings, the brilliant sunrises, the stunning sunsets, and each moment in between. In the process, autumn will fall most graciously upon you and yours.
I’ve always enjoyed finding objects in my photographs that I didn’t know where there until I viewed the shots on my computer. This photo is the perfect example.
The original focus of this capture was the striation effect created by the blooming sunflower heads, the tassels of the ripening field corn, and the rows of cumulus clouds on a late summer’s day. However, upon closer inspection, I found what appears to be someone’s lost hat hanging on a stalk of a sunflower in the foreground. It’s a tradition of this Old Order Mennonite farmer to allow folks to freely harvest as many sunflowers as they wish from this five-acre field. A little box is nailed to a utility pole for donations, which are given to a local charity.
I surmise that someone lost the hat while picking sunflowers and another kind person found it, placed it where it could be seen if the owner came looking for it.
“Striations and one lost hat” is my Photo of the Week.
We got the last space in the parking lot. My 11-year-old grandson and I were beginning a hike in nearby Shenandoah National Park.
We had trudged this trail with his entire family a couple of years ago. This time the two of us would do the trek on our own terms and in our own time. Clearly, though, we wouldn’t be alone. The warm sunshine and cool temperatures drew many others to hike in the perfect weather.
I carried snacks and water in my multi-pocketed vest I mostly used for birding and photography. I packed extra batteries for my camera given my history of digitally documenting every step of the way. Davis carried the binoculars.
Our ascent began as soon as we crossed the roadway. Soon we joined the Appalachian Trail that winds through the Blue Ridge Mountains. A stone marker with a metal band identified where our loop trail and the main trail split.
We indeed encountered other hikers, some early birds who were on their way down, and others like ourselves who were ready for the rocky trail ahead. As we climbed, we always had to watch our step. The trail consisted of dirt, stones, terraced steps formed by exposed tree roots, and huge rocks.
Ascending the summit of Bearfence Mountain is more of a rock scramble than it is a climb. For an 11-year-old, it was child’s play. For a creaky-boned, gimpy-kneed grandfather, it felt like survival.
I struggled to pull myself up the jagged boulders that served as the ridge-top trail. Undulating, rocky outcroppings intermittently protruded above the surrounding forest of oaks, maples, sassafras, wild cherry, and dogwoods.
Davis, on the other hand, bounded catlike up, down, and around the biggest boulders. Rectangular dabs of baby blue paint clearly pointed the way over the exposed bedrock and through narrow crevasses and the many trees. When I dallied, either to catch my breath or to take a photograph, Davis retreated to make sure I was keeping up.
During an easier section of the trail, Davis surprised me with a hiking theory he had developed. He said a team of hikers required five different people.
“You need a photographer,” he said, “who is last in the group because he or she is always taking pictures to document the trip.” I appreciated both his astute observation and his subtle hint at picking up the pace.
From a rock.
Taking a break.
Red Admiral sunning.
A hiking team also needed an explorer to guide the group and who usually took the lead, he continued. I think he had found his calling. The other skilled positions included a writer to record and report about the trip once it is completed, a carrier to tote the equipment, and a collector who gathers samples to research after the expedition.
I thought his comments both profound and practical. However, I quizzed him about the obvious. Weren’t the two of us already doing all of those tasks?
“Oh, yes,” he said. “I guess you’re right. But it’s still easier if you have five.”
As we enjoyed the expansive views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west and ate our snacks, other hikers joined us. Butterflies danced in the forest openings and sunbathed on lichen-covered rocks bordered by wildflowers and bright berries. Davis, of course, kept practicing his hiking team concept by being the explorer. He disappeared and reappeared at will.
I didn’t need to ask my grandson what he thought of the day. Davis’ enthusiasm spoke more ardently than any words could. He had enjoyed the outing as much as his pooped Poppy.
I grew up a baby boomer suburbanite. I lived most of my life in the country. Yet, I love the city.
Cities offer so much to see and do, places to visit, museums and art galleries, zoos and concerts, professional sports and excellent restaurants, and a cross-section of the world’s cultures, races, and religions. Given all of that, I’m still contented when in a city to simply stop, look, and listen to all that is happening around me.
In this particular case, my wife and I and our tour-guide friends were waiting at a light rail stop in Seattle, Washington when I spotted these reflections in the windows of a hotel and office buildings across the way. The scene created its own living urban art.
Once I saw the mountain I couldn’t stop looking at it. I pulled into nearly every scenic overlook along the circuitous route to Mt. Rainier to gaze at this beauty and take her photograph. She didn’t seem to mind in the least.
It was my first visit to Mt. Rainier National Park. Yet the majestic mountain drew me in like a long, lost friend. The mountain embraced me rather than the other way around. Still, our feelings toward one another were mutual.
I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. This was a nondiscriminatory attraction. Peoples of all races, religions, cultures, and ages shared the same awe. It showed in their various displays of excitement, photo ops, and quickened pace up well-marked trails.
The weather likely affected my initial reaction. From the time we left friends’ home north of Seattle, Washington, low, thick, gray clouds rolled through the sky. I had visions of not being able to see the peak at all.
As we approached the park’s boundaries, a meteorological switch appeared to have been flipped. The cloud blanket disappeared, and we drove through forests of tall evergreens crowned by clear blue skies.
The chalky waters of the rushing White River contrasted nicely with those greens and blues. The frothy river owed its origin to the melting snow of the magnetic mountain miles away. Its snow-capped peak glistened in the morning sunshine.
When we arrived at Paradise Lodge in the mid-afternoon, there was no room at the inn. No worries for us; we had reservations. I just couldn’t find a parking spot so many admirers had gathered at the mountain’s base.
With all this natural beauty, I wasn’t about to complain about such trifles. I explored the many trails that lead away from the visitor center and the lodge while my wife rested. The trails were easily traversed, paved even, at least until they grew steeper up the mountainside.
Consequently, the paths were packed with curious souls like myself. Young and old, pedestrians and those in wheelchairs, all inhaled the luxury surrounding us. Here in the higher altitude, the air was pure, crisp, fresh, delicious even, sweetened with the faint fragrance of blooming wildflowers. Birds chirped and headed for cover as the incredible mountain drew us closer.
Soon, however, the crowd clogged the trail, like a bear jam in Yellowstone National Park. To my surprise, that’s exactly what caused the delay. A young black bear grazed on ripe blueberries only 30 to 50 yards up the slope from the trail. We couldn’t believe our good fortune.
Satisfied with my observations, I moved on. Near a gurgling alpine brook, a gaggle of teenage girls seemed uncertain about what to do. When I told them about the bear, some screamed while others wanted to know where. I showed them, and I think all of their jaws dropped simultaneously.
That evening, I found an excellent spot to view the sunset and was not disappointed. Odd shapes of wispy clouds floated carefree over lower peaks to the west. The thin clouds reflected deep blues and warm pinks and oranges. Though the sun had long dipped below the horizon, it was as if time itself had stood still.
The next morning my wife and I had that same trail nearly all to ourselves. We stood in awe and admiration as the sun’s first rays planted a good morning kiss on the mountain’s peak.
In that cool, pristine, peaceful moment, we were in no hurry to leave. Who would be when under the spell of such a mother of a mountain?
During our brief tour of downtown Seattle, Washington, our friends guided us to Gum Alley. They just smiled and said we had to see it. I had no idea what to expect, but they were right. We had to see it for ourselves.
Officially named “Post Alley,” locals have dubbed the narrow street “Gum Alley” for a good reason. Apparently, it’s a Seattle “thing” to stick chewed gum onto the brick walls of the buildings that serve as the bounds of this public right of way. Its beauty is art deco personified.
Believe it or not, these walls had been cleaned of all of the gum postings less than a year ago. The young lady in the photo was actually posing to have her picture taken by a friend. As often is the case, I just happened to be at the right place at the right time to capture my Photo of the Week, “Stretching It.”