Facing unfounded fears brings unexpected rewards

Compton Gap Trail, Shenandoah NP
Our lunchtime view.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I love to hike. Planting myself in a hiker’s paradise has afforded me unlimited opportunities to satisfy my love for hiking. In reality, it hasn’t worked out quite the way I anticipated.

First of all, I have too many interests and too little time to fulfill all of them. Family responsibilities top my priority list, especially in the fall when our grandchildren seem to be their busiest. Hiking takes a backseat so I can help with the grandkids.

When I do get a chance to head to the many trails of Shenandoah National Park, I usually go alone. I enjoy the oneness with nature and the precious personal time to think and explore at my own pace.

However, that lone ranger approach to hiking changed when I discovered a peer-hiking group. When an outing on a trail I had not yet tackled was offered, I wanted to go. However, I hesitated for somewhat personal reasons.

I wasn’t sure just how fast the group would walk. Neither did I know if they would take as many breaks as I was sure to need. At my age, any hike that begins early morning can be problematic. In the words of Forest Gump, “And that’s all I have to say about that.”

Despite my doubts, I sent the confirmation email that I would join the group. I was greatly relieved when I got the reply.

The leader welcomed me into the hiking circle. He volunteered that the trek would accommodate all the hikers’ needs. In other words, the group would stop as often as necessary. I was glad about that news, but now a new set of insecurities surfaced.

I didn’t know how many people would be in the group. I didn’t know their level of hiking expertise. Nevertheless, I didn’t let my petty, irrational fears deter me, and prepared for the hike.

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I loaded my hiking gear, the hiking poles I had purchased but never used, my camera, binoculars, and a light lunch. I dressed in several layers of clothing to peel off as the day warmed.

Our group was small, only five, all of us retired with various levels of hiking proficiency. The other four hikers were as pleasant as could be.

We each enjoyed the camaraderie that ensued along the way. Our revered leader knew all aspects of the park, its botany, geology, and history. His genial personality served him well.

The day was crisp, the forest quiet except for an occasional gusty wind that rustled the still green leaves. I was surprised at how very few birds I saw or heard.

We followed the Appalachian Trail up the ridge on sometimes rocky, steep terrain, sometimes mostly flat, well-worn earth. Short grasses and fallen leaves bordered the trail.

We ate our lunch standing and sitting on ancient igneous outcroppings overlooking the sweeping valley below. Signal Knob, the northern-most point of the Massanutten Range, stood across the way overlooking the old-aged Shenandoah River.

After lunch, we crossed back over the AT, scrambled around and down another rocky point to view a rare exposure of basalt columnar jointing. Seeing the hexagonal formation dispelled once and for all any remnants of my silly fears.

It had been a glorious day hiking with newfound friends. Naturally, all of my fears proved to be unfounded.

In this age of fear-mongering and extreme reactionary phobias, it was a timely reminder for me. Trivial or not, tell your fears to take a hike before they walk all over you.

South Fork Shenandoah River, Shenandoah NP
Overlook at Shenandoah River State Park.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

The Embalming House

McGaheysville VA, Rockingham Co. VA, Halloween
The Embalming House.

With Halloween season in full swing and the day itself less than a week away, I wanted to join the fun. As we continue to explore our new Virginia haunts (pun intended), we keep encountering fantastic scenery and intriguing architecture all across Rockingham Co.

On our latest exploration, we visited the burg of McGaheysville (pronounced MaGakiesville) southeast of Harrisonburg. We found a cute little shop, some Civil War era farm homes and a doctor’s office/residence combination. A historical placard indicated that the building across the road from the doctor’s place was the embalming house. I thought that was both convenient and a subtle inference of the former physician’s medical prowess.

“The Embalming House” wasn’t much to look at, but it was more than appropriate for my Halloween Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

The older I get, the faster the days go

sunrise, Harrisonburg VA
A new day begins.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Just the other day I remarked to my daughter about how fast the days seem to go. I didn’t have to wonder why.

Logic would dictate that just the opposite would be the case in retirement. Weren’t the golden years meant to be slower, more relaxed than when we were younger?

I thought back to my full-time working life when days started early and ran late. Whether in my first career as an educator for 30 years or in my second gig in marketing, a wide variety of activities filled the days.

Add in the agenda of our active, growing children, community commitments, recreation, organizational meetings, and each day just disappeared. There never seemed to be enough time to complete all that was on my daily plate.

As you might imagine, teaching was demanding. I was bone tired by the time Friday rolled around. When I became an administrator, the routines changed, but my duties often extended long after school had been dismissed both for the day and for the year. Mindless meetings had much to do with that dynamic.

Not much changed in my marketing career. I could always count on surprises that suddenly altered my plans for the day.

When I said goodbye to all of that a couple of years ago, I figured my pace would slow down. Instead, life’s speed seems to have accelerated in retirement.

youth soccer, Harrisonburg VA
Goal by our granddaughter.

My daughter concurred with me about the quickness of the days. I had to wonder, however, about the look she gave me. Was it a sympathetic gaze into what the future held for her, or was it a look of astonishment at my declaration?

Perhaps there was a third option, one of appreciation for the assistance her mother and I provide to her family. We were in the heart of the volleyball season, and Nana and I do our parts to help make our daughter’s household run as smoothly as possible.

Carrie is the women’s coach at Eastern Mennonite University, and her husband is the chief financial officer for a rapidly growing start-up company. Professional duties pack their daily schedules.

So we do what we can to help. Nana makes meals, tidies up our house and theirs, and does laundry, shopping, and so much more. I have my honey-do lists.

sproodle, dogs
Our granddog.

Sometimes I care for our granddog. Sometimes I pick up a grandchild at school and transport them to another venue. Sometimes I serve as the landscaper, and sometimes I help with homework, even if it is math and in Spanish.

All of this interaction helps make the days disappear one right after the other. Of course, it could be that our energy level at this age isn’t what it was in our younger years. Then we chauffeured our son and daughter from school to soccer and piano practices to church youth group in addition to all of our other responsibilities.

Whatever the reasons for time flying, Nana and I prioritize our time and efforts into doing the tasks at hand. In between, we rest, relax, exercise, have lunch on the porch together, pray and meditate each in our individual way.

In truth, we expected all the busyness. We moved from Ohio’s Amish country to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley for just such assignments. It’s our new life calling.

We didn’t realize how very fast these golden times would go, however. In these autumn days of our lives, the time just seems to evaporate. I for one couldn’t be happier.

valley, Ohio's Amish country
In the evening of our lives.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

Fragrant Shadow

Fragrant Shadow

My wife and I have enjoyed observing the various migrating butterflies that frequent the flowering butterfly bushes in our backyard. We had the three shrubs planted this spring. The fragrant, white blossoms have attracted several varieties of butterflies.

I especially enjoyed watching this Common Buckeye flit from flower to flower. I liked how the sun cast a shadow of the flower onto the Buckeye as it enjoyed the sweetness of the blossom.

“Fragrant Shadow” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

Living in the moment has its rewards

Harrisonburg VA
A bad day.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The day hadn’t gone well for either my wife or me. You would think that people our age would know enough not to let circumstances negatively influence our attitudes. But, hey, we’re human after all. We each succumbed to separate and sundry annoyances.

My wife had more reason to be upset than me. But I didn’t know that at the time. I was too consumed with my own pettiness. Men tend to do that, at least I do.

Neva volunteers at a local thrift store as a manager. While the store’s full-time managers were away on vacation, the credit card machine malfunctioned. Once Neva realized there was a significant issue regarding recording sales, she scrambled to correct the problem.

I was at home oblivious to all of this. The world was falling apart again, and I foolishly allowed myself to absorb too much of the toxic news.

Despite our individual funks, we each still had our usual grand-parenting duties to fulfill. I was responsible for transporting Neva’s premade, delicious casserole to our daughter’s place, putting it in the oven at the prescribed time and at the predetermined temperature. Neva would be there to ensure the meal got served.

I completed my assigned, simple duties and retreated to the sunroom. I sat on the couch still miffed. I stewed in my own self-made misery, absorbing more and more discouraging news. You would think a retired volunteer firefighter would know better than to throw gasoline onto a smoldering campfire.

Harrisonburg VA
Maren was pleased with the shoes she got for her birthday.
Right after Neva arrived, an amazing thing happened. Our nine-year-old granddaughter entered the room, donned a pair of headsets and started to sing. Maren ignored everything else, focusing solely on getting each note just right, just the way she was hearing it sung through her headset. She was practicing for her children’s choir.

Her cheerful, innocent voice buoyed me. I threw all of my attention into admiring her determination, her concentration, her ambition, her appreciation for each tune, the lyrics, the opportunity to merely sing.

I resisted the urge to photograph and record the impromptu mini-concert. Instead, I just sat in admiration and joy, breathing and smiling. It was then that I realized something critical. I had forgotten about “my problems.” I realized they weren’t problems. I also understood the importance of what I was witnessing. This young lady singing her heart out was all that I needed, all that mattered.

Maren sang and sang until Neva couldn’t contain herself any longer. She interrupted the spontaneous concert to compliment Maren. Besides, suppertime was near.

I felt fortunate to have been witness to this spontaneous musical interlude of Maren’s. It was a heavenly reprieve from the messy noise of today’s world. I wish you could have been there, too.

There was a lesson there, not just for me, but all of us caught up in the heat of the moment, in the avalanche of information that streams from our televisions, radios, computers, cell phones, laptops, and any other electronic device to which we are tethered.

In the beginning, I had allowed hopelessness and despair to rule the moment. In the end, a time of earnest, uplifting singing transformed my heart and soul. I live for moments like these.

My granddaughter’s singing reminded me to live in the moment, breathe, and listen. Those are the ingredients for a beautiful day every day no matter the nature of the news.

Harrisonburg VA

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

Nature’s Elements

Paul State Forest, Rockingham Co. VA
Rain drops and sun rays.

If I have learned one thing in my seven decades on this marvelous planet of ours, it is to go with the flow. When I left the house, pleasant temperatures and partly cloudy skies ruled the sky. I intended to drive 10 miles to Paul State Forest near the crossroads known locally as Ottobine. I planned on walking the trails of this 172-acre gem of a woods to look for birds.

I packed my binoculars, birding hat and vest, and of course my travel camera, a Canon PowerShot SX530 HS. The camera is light, easy to use, and takes excellent shots, as long as sufficient light is available. I also had my iPhone along for safety sake. You never know when an old guy like me will need to make an emergency call.

Not far from the forest, the roadway showed signs of recent rain. Indeed, the clouds that hung close to the Appalachian Mountains to the near west looked ominous. With the early evening sun occasionally peeping through, they also looked gorgeous. The billowing thunderheads showed every shade of gray. Sun rays streamed through breaks in the building cumulous clouds, creating a stunning rural scene.

When I reached the small parking lot of the forest, the bucolic view towards the mountains was surreal. I turned my attention to shooting the unfolding and rapidly changing scene. The valley played open to the west, giving me an excellent view. I snapped away with both my camera and phone. Satisfied with the shots, I returned to my original goal of walking the woods in search of any migrating birds settling in for the night.

I had only walked a short distance when the heavens opened up. I returned to my vehicle, contented with the pastoral scene of clouds, rain, and sun rays. The birds would have to wait for another day.

“Nature’s Elements.” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

Enhance your trip: Make it personal

Rochester NY, Pont De Rennes bridge
High Falls

By Bruce Stambaugh

My wife and I share a mutual love for travel. To explore and learn together about new locations, people, and their mores substantially enriches our married life.

Adding family and friends into our forays gives us even greater joy. Our son recently moved to upstate New York, which gave us the perfect excuse to visit him and the Rochester area for the first time.

Nathan had moved to Rochester for a new job opportunity. He was effusive about the natural beauty and the many cultural and culinary opportunities that the city and surrounding area afforded.

Even before our flight from Virginia had landed, we saw what Nathan meant. The side-by-side Finger Lakes became elongated mirrors, beautifully reflecting the morning sunshine. That sight alone refreshed our spirits since rain persisted in Virginia.

The plane’s final approach to the airport took us right over downtown Rochester, a metropolitan area of a million folks. I caught a brief glimpse of a lovely waterfall in the heart of the center city.

Nathan picked us up, and we headed straight to his new apartment, a considerable downsize from his old Dutch colonial Ohio home. We immediately shared his satisfaction with his housing selection. He had bright and spacious living quarters in a stately Victorian that had been converted to accommodate several apartments.

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His new digs are ideally situated among other splendid old homes on tree-lined streets and boulevards. His place affords many amenities. It’s near downtown, trendy eateries, renowned museums, and art galleries. Nathan had chosen well.

Another personal plus for us was that retired friends from Ohio live just a mile away from our son. We caught up with them over brunch the next morning.

Of course, Nathan wanted us to experience a sense of his new stomping grounds. So off we went, walking and driving to area attractions over our long-weekend stay. The moderately rolling landscape dotted with mixed woodlots and ravines carved by ancient streams felt like home, both Ohio and Virginia.

We packed a lot in during our short stay. We toured the art gallery, wandered through an old mansion and accompanying gardens, dined at locally-owned and operated restaurants, discovered lighthouses, felt the cool north breeze off Lake Ontario, and sampled delicious home-made ice cream more than once. We admired the cityscape view from Cobb’s Hill and watched the autumnal equinox sunset from atop a skyscraper.

I found familiarity driving up Mt. Hope Avenue to Mt. Hope Cemetery. I had served 21 years as principal at Mt. Hope Elementary School in Mt. Hope, Ohio. More importantly, we toured the historic cemetery that holds the graves of social pioneers Frederick Douglas and Susan B. Anthony.

Though I had never been there, it felt like I had. The old cemetery was established on glacial kame and kettle topography. It was the same glacier that formed the similar rolling hill and valley landscape of Holmes County, Ohio where Neva and I had built our homes, cultivated our marriage, raised our son and daughter, and fulfilled our careers.

Of course, we had to find those downtown waterfalls, too. Soon we stood on the Pont De Rennes footbridge admiring High Falls with the cityscape as its backdrop, and all the sights and sounds of a busy 21st-century city. I absorbed all that I could, ecstatic for our son.

Like most travelers, I greatly enjoy exploring new haunts and all they have to offer. When the excursion involves family and friends, the trip becomes even that more meaningful.

autumnal equinox sunset, Rochester NY
Final glow of the autumnal equinox sunset.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018