Monthly Archives: July 2018

Why I always dreaded August’s return

August, sunset, Virginia

An early August sunset.

By Bruce Stambaugh

August is upon us once again.

As I look back on it, I always dreaded the return of the eighth month. Through my not-so-nostalgic reflections, I realized that my reasons evolved across the decades.

As an elementary school student, I knew all too well what August’s arrival meant. We were down to one month of summer vacation.

Those were the days when agrarian mentality ruled the school year. All scholarly studies were squeezed between Labor Day and Memorial Day. When the county fair gates closed, the school doors opened.

Now, of course, no such luxury exists for students. Back to school shopping has already begun. With August at hand, many students start the daily countdown until the dreaded day arrives.

Don’t get me wrong. I liked school, well, the elementary version at least. However, I enjoyed playing much more so. Summer vacation generated much less stress for youngsters then. Our screen time meant going to the drive-in movie theater on Friday nights. Our phones stayed at home firmly affixed to the wall.

butterfly, wildflowers, Virginia

Male Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly on Cardinal flower.

So when the calendar flipped to August, the neighborhood gang of hooligans started planning our next sleep-out under the stars or our next daytime adventure at the creek down-over-the-hill. Time was a wasting.

In high school and college, it wasn’t playtime but work that got shortened by the start of school. At $2.06 an hour, I needed to work all I could to deter my own educational expenses. With younger siblings and a stay-at-home mother, it was the least I could do to help the family financially. My older brother set that model.

When I started my career in public education, I began to more fully understand the importance of August. It meant readying for another school year, only this time as the teacher and eventually principal.

The late summer days of August always meant sweating it out decorating my classroom before the students arrived. Those old schools didn’t have air conditioning. I could hear the busyness of protégés down the hallways also preparing for the coming school year. We came in early morning and early evening to avoid the afternoon heat.

August, Ohio's Amish country

Come August, summer winds down.

When I joined the administrative ranks, August meant meetings, which I loathed unless they were held on the local golf course. That venue seldom happened, however, despite the chatter around the window table at the locals’ favorite eatery.

I heard samplings of student whining from our son and daughter, who knew too well that the coming of August meant school band camps and fall sports practices. Our son chose wisely. He joined the golf team and scored much better than his father ever could.

Just like their parents’ childhood schedules, once the county fair ended, the school year began for our children, too. By then, however, Labor Day became the first school holiday, not the summer’s last.

Somehow, though, we all survived those August perils. As a retiree, August has lost it sting. I don’t have the self-imposed barriers to hurdle anymore. I can relax in air conditioning as the thermometer hits 90.

Like all the previous years, I anticipate golden sunsets sinking beyond the horizon. I’ll watch for the Perseid meteor shower, hoping that the August haze has faded in the cool of the night.

The fraternal twins of retirement and maturity have a mellowing effect on sour attitudes. Instead of dread, this August I’ll breathe in a deep breath, say a prayer of gratitude for another new month, and enjoy the moments at hand.

Ohio's Amish country, Amish

Back to school.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Afternoon sun

Natural Bridge SP, Thomas Jefferson, Lexington VA

The afternoon’s sun illuminated this already impressive natural wonder near Lexington, Virginia. The unusual rock bridge formation, once owned by Thomas Jefferson, is the critical feature of Natural Bridge State Park.

I particularly liked how the sun’s deflected rays seem to glow beneath the arch of this natural wonder.

“Afternoon Sun” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under history, human interest, nature photography, Photo of the Week, photography, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia

Summer is a humbling time

Amish farm, corn, wheat, oats

Grains of Summer.

By Bruce Stambaugh

With all of its positive and pleasant attributes, summer makes it hard to be humble.

We all want to get out and take full advantage of the sunny days filled with warmer temperatures and a wide variety of activities. We fling ourselves full force into each day whether it’s for work or for play. We want to drink in every drop of sunshine, warmth, and blue skies, from dawn to dusk.

Hungry Mother SP VA

At the beach.

Toddlers, children, and teens fill the local swimming pools, both public and backyard venues, while adults keep watchful eyes on the less careful youth. Construction workers bask in the fair weather, narrowing four lanes to one with an arsenal of orange barrels.

Lawnmowers hum morning, noon, and evening throughout global neighborhoods. Contractors and excavators work sunup to sundown. Farmers are in their glory, beginning to harvest the fruits of their labor.

In many places, the corn reached far beyond knee-high-by-the-Fourth-of-July standards. In others, stalks stood only inches tall, drowned out by the super wet spring and early summer rains.

Amber waves of grain really did roll in the wind until giant combines gobbled them up or they formed rows of shocks like so many soldiers standing guard in Amish-owned fields.

Summer, however, has other, more drastic ways to get our attention with her weapons. Summer can humble us lowly humans in many ways. Think floods, wildfires, tornadoes, droughts, golf ball-sized hail, record heat and humidity.

No matter our stature or station in life, we all succumb to those prevailing conditions. Summer humbles us.

humble singFor those unfamiliar with E.B. White’s beloved children’s classic “Charlotte’s Web,” humility played a major role in the book’s plot and dialogue. The spider Charlotte wove “Humble” into the web that served to save the life of the precocious pig Wilbur. She wanted a word that meant “not proud” as Wilbur’s crowning characteristic.

But humility has a second meaning beyond the social one. Humble implies a willingness to learn, and thankfully summer has much to teach us. The lessons are all around us in a more pleasing, useful, and beautiful form than what disasters wrought.

Vegetable gardens and truck patches team with all sorts of goodies that nurture us. Tasty homegrown sweet corn, luscious red tomatoes, green, red, and yellow peppers, and tangles of zucchini are just a few examples.

Roadside produce stands and supermarkets tempt us with juicy peaches and vine-ripened melons. Generations ago indigenous Americans taught us to plant, tend, and harvest these marvels.

For those non-gardeners among us, we sniff and thump and feel and taste to select the best of the bunch like our parents and grandparents did. The poor fruits and veggies pay the ultimate price.

Please click on the photos to enlarge them.

Flower gardens are peaking with hollyhocks and zinnias and cultivated flowers, too. Leafy hardwoods provide shade and refreshing coolness from the oppressive summer heat for humans and critters alike.

Wildflowers and wildlife, too, show their stuff. Dainty spotted fawns venture out on their own while mom watches from more secluded spaces. Parent bluebirds and house wrens ferry insects, worms, and berries to their youngsters nearly as big as the adult birds.

Families crowd beaches and climb mountains on vacations, exploring new venues or returning to old haunts discovered by previous generations.

Where is humility in all of this? Using the educational definition, it’s merely a reminder of the responsibility of the created to care for the creation. That is about as humbled as we can get.

pasture field, cumulous clouds

Summer landscape.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under Amish, birds, column, family, food photography, human interest, nature photography, news, Ohio's Amish country, photography, rural life, weather, writing

Surrounded

Surrounded.


My wife and I have always been enchanted with this lovely farmette at Judy Gap, West Virginia. The charming setting flashes into view on U.S. 33 as you round a downhill curve traveling west. The plain, white farmhouse with the sweeping front porch certainly stands out. However, it is the regiment of matching and neatly maintained red outbuildings outlined in white that really catches the eye.

The picturesque scene certainly conjures up a multitude of questions. What purpose does each building serve? Why are they situated every which way? Do the owners know just how gorgeous their property and unique set of structures are? Do they fully appreciate the beauty of both the setting and their artistic contribution to it?

As a stranger, I’ve never had enough nerve to stop to ask these intrusive questions. Instead, I am content to both admire and share the Currier and Ives-like scene.

“Surrounded” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Mere observation brings renewal

Lakeside OH, Chautauqua Lakeside

The fountain in front of Hotel Lakeside.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’m sitting on a bench beneath the shade of a determined sugar maple tree, perhaps its verdant growth encouraged by the view I’m enjoying. Who or what wouldn’t be heartened with these delightful surroundings.

Youngsters set sail on skiffs, their teenage teachers guiding them into and out of the steady east wind, tacking, and turning this way and that, the multi-colored sails energized by the steady lake breeze.

Only weeks ago a much different scene played out in this same location. One nor’easter after the other pounded the shoreline that now houses a single-file line of dinghies slotted between wooden four by fours.

The shoreline lost, as it always does, against such strong forces of nature. So did the dock, which had its securely anchored metal benches washed overboard.

Today, however, is different. The lake breeze is just stiff enough to keep Old Glory and the nautical signals continually flapping and a lone great egret working overtime to a new upwind fishing spot.

Beyond the pier’s end, a cigarette boat slices with ease through the small waves of Lake Erie. Sun worshippers, fisher-people, and swimmers all bask in the sun-drenched day, thankful the oppressive heat and humidity of recent days have been replaced by these ideal conditions. Not a single contrail pollutes the all-blue sky.

Purple Martins and tree swallows also sail over all the human aquatic action, skimming the latest hatch of Mayflies from the air.

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Parents and proud grandparents stand along the shoreline or in the pavilion watching their sons and daughters and grandsons and granddaughters sail away on the blue-green water chop. In a matter of minutes, they safely return, smiles replacing any lingering fear of their maiden voyage.

Just off of the end of the reinforced breaker wall of native limestone, fishermen bob in their bass boat, casting and recasting without success. They soon move on to calmer and hopefully more productive waters.

Back on shore, walkers stroll the sidewalk that runs the full length of the shoreline that makes Lakeside lakeside. This Ohio resort town, appropriately known as the Chautauqua on Lake Erie, is bustling with activity on this Sunday afternoon.

Lifetime Lakesiders gather on other shaded wooden benches like they have for decades like their parents and grandparents did before them. Only the seats are different. The view, the busyness of recreation, education, arts and crafts, and entertainment of the friendly, gated community unfold all around them just as it did when they were children, too.

Bicycles and golf carts wait patiently for their drivers and passengers in the green grass along the blacktop’s edge. The bikes stand unlocked, and ignition keys dangle freely in the carts. Such is Lakeside.

Daring teenage girls try their hand and legs at paddle boards, nimbly dropping to their knees when their hesitation takes hold. They eventually regain their confidence and return to their paddling.

The Westminster chimes of the clock tower atop the nearby pavilion bong 3 p.m., followed by bells singing “How Great Though Art.” Behind me, a gurgling fountain lures a toddler away from her mother until she beckons her daughter to the spotting scope aimed at Perry’s Monument on Put-in-Bay.

These few minutes spent observing, absorbing, listening, looking, appreciating all that is Lakeside, Ohio renews my body, mind, and spirit. Given this setting, that’s what is supposed to happen.

You don’t have to be at Lakeside to garner these healthy, in-the-moment results. But it sure helps.

Lakeside Chautauqua, Lakeside OH, swimming

Fun in the sun.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under architectural photography, birds, column, family, human interest, Lakeside Ohio, Ohio, photography, travel, weather, writing

Weathered

weathered storefront, old store, Mill Creek VA

Weathered.

There’s an old adage in photography that goes something like this: When others are shooting the obvious, look around, look behind you, look up, look down. I try to remember that when I focus on a particular subject matter, be it a landscape, sunrise, sunset, or wildlife. Another perspective might bring you greater rewards.

Such was the case when I stopped to photograph a church in rural southwestern Virginia. Rolling, high hills lined with Christmas trees served as the backdrop of the distinctive country church, which was outlined in bright, red paint. It made a very satisfactory photo.

However, when I turned to return to the van, I spotted this old, weathered building across the road. I loved its unique character, especially the age-dappled clapboard siding sandwiched between the two tones of green. I wondered about its history. What was its original purpose? Was the building being used for any reason now?

The old building’s aged appearance jumped out at me. “Weathered” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under architectural photography, human interest, Photo of the Week, photography, travel, Virginia

Never a dull moment at Lakeside, Ohio

throughthehollyhocksbybrucestambaugh

The waterfront at Lakeside.

By Bruce Stambaugh

There’s never a dull moment at Lakeside, Ohio. That’s quite a statement for a sleepy, little village on the shores of Lake Erie.

Don’t misunderstand. That doesn’t mean the residents are rowdy. Just the opposite is true for this Chautauqua town.

In the summertime, Lakeside bursts with energy and activities, planned and spontaneous. There’s never a dull moment because there’s just so much to do for any and every age level. I’ll let the activities speak for themselves.

The Lakeside programming offers vacationers and residents a multitude of sponsored options that enrich the body, mind, and soul. Founded in 1873 as a Methodist Church camp, Lakeside has evolved into a summer destination for thousands of folks across the country.

shuffleboard, Lakeside OH

Shuffleboard, a favorite Lakeside pasttime.

Lakeside is a place that welcomes all who come to relax, learn, meet new folks, enjoy entertainment, and commune with others and nature. It’s why we keep going back year after year. Now that we’ve moved to Virginia, my wife and I make Lakeside our guaranteed summer vacation.

Since Lakeside is a gated community during the summer season, it’s a safe place to be for one and all. Kids are free to roam its crisscrossed streets that run the mile length of the cottage-filled community.

They won’t be alone. The community swells to 6,000 or more residents at summer’s peak. Making new friends is easy. Besides, the 300 year-round residents are glad to have the company.

Planned programs and classes for toddlers to teens to senior citizens fill each day. Choosing which activities and events to participate in creates an estimable problem. You won’t hear “I’m bored” at Lakeside.

Children can attend arts and crafts classes, build model boats, or enjoy a game of shuffleboard with family and friends. Lectures, bible studies, morning worship, and walking tours enlighten the adults.

For those who love the water, Lakeside offers swimming in its new pool that includes lap lanes, a kid’s area, and water slide. There’s even a children’s splash park down by the dock.

The waterfront is really where the action is at Lakeside. The dock is the go-to place for sunbathers and fisherpersons alike. Lifeguards standby for those who choose to swim in the lake. Sailors young and old navigate their own boats.

sunset, Lakeside OH

Sunset on the dock.

You can fill your day with more casual options, too. Take a leisurely walk along the shore while enjoying beautiful flower gardens, lovely cottages, and gorgeous views of Kelley’s Island, and Perry’s Monument at Put-in-Bay. Or sit on a park bench beneath giant shade trees and dream the day away.

In the evening, Hoover Auditorium takes center stage with a variety of programs that captivate the entire family. Admission costs are included in the gate fees.

If the weather cooperates, sunsets draw people to the dock for picturesque photo ops. Sunrises are just as spectacular rising over the lake with their pinks and blues.

A farmers market offers up local produce and delicious homemade goodies two mornings a week. For those less worried about their diet, freshly made donuts and hand-dipped ice cream bring many smiles.

As for my wife and me, we’re more than content to sit on our favorite sweeping front porch that dominates the front side of the guesthouse where we stay. At the corner of Third and Walnut, we have a first-class view of all that Lakeside has to offer.

I’m always happy but never surprised to spot long-lost friends walk by. That reconnecting alone nurtures my body, mind, and spirit to the full.

sunrise, Lakeside OH

Silhouettes at sunrise.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under architectural photography, column, family, human interest, Lakeside, Lakeside Ohio, Ohio, photography, travel, writing

Veiled beauty

June's Strawberry Moon, Harrisonburg VA

Veiled beauty.

The night sky was bright and promising, at least where I live west of Harrisonburg, Virginia. It seemed near perfect conditions for photographing June’s Strawberry Full Moon rising over the Blue Ridge and Massanutten Mountains. But it wasn’t to be.

I arrived at my prearranged position high on a hill that overlooks the city and provides an excellent view to the east. I was in for a surprise, however. A broken layer of clouds hovered over the Blue Ridge Mountains. I knew the moon was to rise at 9:05 p.m. EST. As that time came and went, I still could not see even the faintest hint of the full moon.

Finally, just before 10 p.m., the clouds lightened from the moon’s glow. It wasn’t the shot I wanted or had hoped for, but it’s the one I got. I often take photos backlit by the sun. “Veiled beauty,” my Photo of the Week, was backlit by the moon.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Celebrating the freedom to be kind

Fort McHenry, Baltimore MD

Fort McHenry.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Long ago, someone once tried to trick me with a skewed question. “Do the English celebrate the Fourth of July?” was the query.

My answer went something like this: “Well, the English have a July 4th like the rest of the world, but I doubt that they celebrate it.”

The Fourth of July is Independence Day in the United States. It’s a day of traditions: family gatherings, picnics with hot dogs and hamburgers, baseball games, and fireworks, although the latter is often spread out over a period of days depending on planned community events.

American flags are flown, and many decorate their houses with red, white, and blue buntings. Some communities hold parades with high school bands, fire trucks, decorated floats, and troupes of children riding patriotic adorned bicycles.

In typical American fashion, fireworks on the Fourth of July began in 1777 during the Revolutionary War with England. They weren’t the only flashes and booms in the sky then. Muskets and canons were also fired as ways to increase the commotion and hopefully boost the morale of the rebelling colonists.

A few years later during the War of 1812, Baltimore, Maryland had a life or death situation louder and fiercer than any fireworks. On September 13, 1814, the British Navy opened fire on Fort McHenry, the primary protective garrison of the city’s harbor. Much like today, Baltimore was an essential Atlantic coast port. Its defense was vital against the British, who had just burned the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C.

The fort withstood a horrific 27-hour bombardment by the British fleet. Francis Scott Key, a noted attorney, witnessed the attack from a ship in the harbor. When the smoke and mist cleared in the morning, Key saw the stars and stripes still flying from the fort, and was moved to write a poem about the battle. That poem became the lyrics for the “Star Spangled Banner,” our national anthem.

My wife and I recently visited the fort with a friend. As I watched a replica of the original flag flap in the morning breeze, I thought about the importance of celebrating the Fourth of July. It’s much more vital than food, fun, and colorful pyrotechnic displays.

In these current, trying times, when everyone seems to be talking and fewer people listening, I recoiled at the unnecessary squabbles going on in families, private and public meetings, in the media and on social media. Much of it is not pretty, and too much of it is hurtful, divisive, and driven by fear, not fact.

A person I recently met gave this suggestion: Treat people kindly in the moment. It might be the only time you have with them. She was right.

This Fourth of July, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we began listening to one another without bias, without interruption, without labeling, without being dismissive or rude or worse? After all, we are one nation, made up of many peoples from many different origins, languages, races, religions, beliefs, and backgrounds. That is as the Founding Fathers envisioned in the words of the U.S. Constitution.

So let’s carry on with the usual Independence Day activities. As we join together with family, friends, neighbors, and even strangers, let’s begin again to converse with one another with civility, kindness, respect, and appreciation, whether we agree or disagree with what is said.

That’s how a community as small as a family and as large as a nation should behave in order to thrive. In accomplishing that, we really will have something to celebrate on the Fourth of July besides Independence Day.

grocery store sign

A sign for many cultures.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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