Monthly Archives: November 2018

Learning to be thankful for life itself

Lewis Falls, Shenandoah NP, hiking

Cascades above Lewis Falls.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The holiday season is here. Thanksgiving Day has come and gone. Christmas, Hanukah, and New Years will be here in the twinkling of an eye.

It’s easy to get caught up in all the excitement, hoopla, and glitz of the extended festivities. After all, the big box stores, TV, radio, online ads, and printed fliers have been pushing their holiday wares for weeks now.

I try not to pay too much attention to all that holiday hype. In my retirement, I have, instead, come to enjoy each moment, anticipate the day at hand, and celebrate the unfolding daily events.

I have also learned that that is much easier said than done, given the state of the world, the conniving of greedy people and corporations, the unsettling of Earthly events, natural and otherwise. Still, we must carry on. So I did, and I do.

This particular day I joined a senior citizens’ hiking group led by a retired banker, a most trustworthy man. Our destination was Lewis Falls in Shenandoah National Park.

Our group of nine wound its way down the trail through the shedding deciduous trees, brushing against mountain laurel whose berries the forest birds and bears had not yet devoured. We crisscrossed several small streams, all of them rushing to plummet the 83 feet of Lewis Falls.

These cascading ribbons join just as they tumble into the Shenandoah Valley. We stepped gingerly across the last of the wetted stones and finally made it to the shaded overlook of the falls themselves. We refueled at that lovely sight on the snacks we each had brought along.

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I climbed over the protective stonewall to get a slightly better view of the falls. It nearly cost me my life. I pitched the last handful of peanut butter cracker crumbs into my mouth and tried to swallow. I couldn’t.

I tried to breathe in. No air made it to my lungs. I didn’t want to die this way.

My EMT training kicked into gear. I got the attention of the nearest person and pointed to my throat. She asked me if I was choking and I nodded my head frantically. She hollered for the others and started to jump the wall to help me.

In these 20 seconds or so, I continued to try to swallow. I couldn’t speak. I thumped my chest with my fist twice, made a growling sound, and attempted to swallow again. Just as this courageous woman was about to apply the Heimlich maneuver, I felt the mountain air tickle my lungs. I took a swig of water, waved off my would-be rescuer, and spoke a few raspy words of thanks.

The woman was heartily relieved, but not nearly as much as me. As we backtracked up the zigzag trail, everything looked brighter, the colors more vibrant, the air sweeter. The trek back to the cars seemed much shorter, easier even until someone noticed that Herb was missing.

The tallest member of our pack, Herb had headed back ahead of the rest of the group. But he wasn’t at the parking lot. The retired banker quickly formed a plan, and once again my firefighter/EMT training instinctively activated, only this time for a search and rescue effort.

Though frustrated for nearly two and a half hours, the search ended happily. Herb was found safe and sound. We all headed for home in thanksgiving and wonderment of creation and life itself.

In the midst of all the mundane marketing and holiday cheer, I have a suggestion. Let’s remember to be thankful for life itself.

The view of the Shenandoah Valley seemed even more pristine than usual despite the muted colors.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under column, holidays, human interest, nature photography, photography, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, travel, Virginia, weather, writing

Happy Thanksgiving!

Shenandoah Valley, Virginia
In the United States, the fourth Thursday of November is designated as Thanksgiving Day. Its purpose originated in October 1621 when the Wampanoag Native Americans joined with Pilgrim settlers to celebrate the harvest time. Here is a link if you want more details.

In honor of the day and the season, the Photo of the Week is a typical scene from Virginia’s beautiful Shenandoah Valley, where my wife and I have lived since May 2017. We will be having the traditional meal of turkey and all the trimmings, including the grandkids’ favorite dessert, Nana’s delicious apple pie.

Wherever you may live, from our family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving!

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under architectural photography, family, history, holidays, human interest, nature photography, Photo of the Week, photography, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia

Why are you thankful?

By Bruce Stambaugh

Thanksgiving is upon us. This year in the United States, the annual day of thankfulness arrives as early as possible, November 22. Our Canadian friends to the north celebrated their Thanksgiving on October 6.

It is only right and proper to pause as a people to reflect and give thanks. We can be grateful for so many things in our abundant living.

A friend on social media posted a list of items for which he was thankful. Given his life of service to others, I wasn’t surprised at how simple and ordinary the conveniences were that he listed.

Sometimes it’s the familiar, everyday activities and routines that are most meaningful to us. With my friend’s permission, here is his top 10 list of thankfulness:

1. Drinkable tap water
2. Flush toilets
3. Working septic system
4. Washer and dryer
5. Electricity in the home
6. Clothes to wear
7. A house to live in
8. Shoes
9. Floors that aren’t dirt
10. Ample food

Keeping things simple helps us think beyond ourselves, consider the plight of others who don’t have even those most basic necessities. The Center for Disease Control estimates that 780 million people globally do not have access to clean water, and 2.5 billion lack improved sanitation. That’s billion with a B. Think about those numbers for a second.

Food, water, and shelter are the basic essentials for living. My friend set a good example. He recognized just how fortunate we are to be able to go most anywhere in our country and turn the tap and be able to drink the water without worry of contamination. I realize that folks in Flint, MI would differ with this comment. As dangerous as their situation is, I’m glad it is an exception.

And when it comes to waste products, I’ve always respected folks who make their living dealing with the muck of life. Farmers, public utility workers, garbage and waste haulers all have tough jobs. I am thankful for them.

Granddaughter's new shoesBefore we moved from Ohio to Virginia, Neva and I significantly reduced our individual wardrobes. I had too many shoes and too many shirts and pants I seldom wore. Off they went to the thrift store. I’ve been to locales where decent clothing was hard to come by, if only for economic reasons. I, too, am thankful for affordable clothing and footwear.

Housing is indeed another luxury we too often take for granted. Many moons ago I encountered students I had in my classroom who lived in a house with dirt floors. I had a hard time getting over that when we were more than halfway through the 20th century.

Now here we are well into the 21st century, and poverty and inadequate housing are still rampant in our society and globally. Neva and I do what we can to help the homeless through trusted charitable agencies. I am also thankful for the home we share together, and for my gracious wife’s willingness to use her gift of hospitality.

Before the guests arrived.

Finally on the thankfulness list is food. Food is a universal need and reason for jubilation. Food takes center stage at Thanksgiving. Roast turkey, dressing, potatoes and gravy, salad and pies all bedeck Thanksgiving Day tables in Canada and the U.S. alike.

When we say grace over this Thanksgiving Day meal, I’ll also be mindful of those who would love to be gathered there with us. Perhaps we should ensure that happens by inviting others not generally in our family circles.

When you think about it, doesn’t my friend’s list about cover what Thanksgiving is all about? What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Divergence

Massanutten Mt., Shenandoah NP, stratocumulus clouds,

Divergency.


When I left home shortly after 8 a.m., the sky was cloudy. The forecast was sunny. I wondered how “they” could get it so wrong. I was heading to Shenandoah National Park at the easternmost section of Rockingham Co., Virginia. By the time I got to the east side of Harrisonburg, skies to the northwest were crystal clear. I had hope that the day wouldn’t be gloomy after all.

By the time I arrived on Skyline Drive, the road that winds its way along the park’s spine, I could see that it was just a matter of time that the sky would clear. When I reached the critical point of the layer of stratocumulus clouds on the left and clear sky on the right, I had to take a picture. I felt fortunate to capture the meteorological phenomenon that scientists call divergence. That is, the air mass with the clouds was moving away in a horizontal direction from the air mass without clouds.

I used the Southern Pine as the marker of this weather DMZ. Massanutten Mountain is just to the right of the pine tree.

“Divergence” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Finding gratitude where least expected

Rockingham Co. VA, rural farms

Where some of the local food is grown and where some of the food pantry clients live.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Life never ceases to amaze me. In my long years of living, I’ve learned that gratitude often emerges in the least likely of places.

My wife and I were asked to volunteer one evening a month at a local food pantry near downtown Harrisonburg, Virginia. The Friendly City is home to 55,000 people in the center of the Shenandoah Valley. The pantry operates once a week, providing foodstuffs for those who don’t have enough income even to buy basic grocery necessities.

Participants are only permitted to visit the food pantry once per month. Individual records are kept to ensure the rules are followed. That has never been a problem, however.

tomatoesbybrucestambaugh

Locally grown produce like these tomatoes is often donated to the food pantry.

The pantry receives its supplies from two sources. A regional food bank provides federal government USDA commodities, while local supermarkets, restaurants, and farmers donate their surplus food to the pantry. A few farmers even grow extra produce to help supply in-season fresh foods.

Those who depend on the food pantry for their sustenance must qualify by income for the USDA items. Pantry participants receive the locally provided food without qualification. The pantry offers a few healthcare products, too.

Neva and I have settled into our roles of interviewers. Our job has multiple responsibilities. We have to ask many invasive, personal questions before we can check off the USDA food preference list with the clients. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to write down $0 for a monthly income. It’s a humbling experience both for the clients and us.

With all the “workers wanted” signs around, a logical question might be, “Why don’t these people get a job?” The answer to this question is two-fold. Many of the clients do have jobs. Their meager incomes and family sizes qualify them for the federal subsidies.

William Penn quotation.

From my observations and interactions, those who receive aid and don’t work are not employable for a host of obvious reasons. Some stay at home with small children. Some are senior citizens whose productive working days are long past. Some are disabled with no financial support of any kind. You get the picture.

Amid the discomfiting officiousness, one quality consistently shines from month to month, person to person. Everyone we encounter expresses gratitude for any help provided. Some are effusive while others say a quiet thank you.

As humbling and perhaps even embarrassing as the experience is for the clients, they are all thankful. Without being prompted, a few share heartbreak stories with us. They seem glad to have someone with whom to converse. We listen intently and thank them for sharing. A hardy handshake sometimes ensues.

I have yet to meet anyone who feels entitled to this food. Just the opposite is true. The clients’ glow of exuberant gratitude outshines any hint of disparity.

The joyous expressions and cheery thankfulness for whatever assistance they receive more than reward us for our collective efforts. Every client is especially appreciative if the list indeed includes healthcare items like diapers, shampoo, or toothpaste.

It takes courage to admit you need help. But if your child is hungry and the cupboard is bare, courtesy, gratitude, and thankfulness vanquish pride.

A disconcerting trend has developed, however. Each time we serve at the food pantry the number of clients tends to increase. Nevertheless, humility, smiles, and expressions of relief also grow exponentially.

Who would have thought that we would find and receive abundant gratitude from those who can’t afford daily food? Who would have imagined that serving in such a manner would reward us with humankind’s most heartfelt thanks?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Autumn on the Farm

farmstead, Rockingham Co. VA, Shenandoah Valley

Autumn on the Farm.

The morning sun broke through the layer of cumulus clouds to perfectly highlight this hillside farm west of Harrisonburg in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Even though they were past their peek coloration, the sun-drenched buildings of the farmstead nicely accentuated the leaves of the mixed hardwoods.

“Autumn on the Farm” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Why voting is vital for a democracy

flash flooding, Rockingham Co. VA

Fire and EMS volunteers work a water rescue.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I believe that to be effective, to be relevant, to be dynamic, to be healthy, a democracy depends on its citizens interacting. There are many ways to be involved in the lifeblood of the country.

Some citizens choose to serve the country directly by participating in its infrastructure. They join the military. They work in public institutions like schools, hospitals, police and fire services, and work in government agencies. Some even run for public offices.

Of course, not everyone feels called or led to do any of those actions. They prefer the private domain. They farm, run their own business, keep house, work in an office or factory or restaurant or drive trucks or fix the plumbing. They, too, keep our country humming.

There is one common denominator that we all can do, however. This action is an equalizer to ensure that our democratic republic thrives and survives. We can vote. Each and every citizen 18 years and older is entitled to vote by merely being registered.

Voting was designed as the means to democracy. It is a process as much as an ideal.

Historically, only white male property owners could vote. As our democracy evolved, women and minorities eventually gained the right to vote, too.

In our grand experiment of democracy, voting was established to ensure a grassroots stability to local, state, and federal government assemblies and their representative agencies.

Ideally, the vote of its citizenry was designed to be the final check on the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government. That methodology creates ebbs and flows in the democratic process that gives angst to some and satisfaction to others. That is how democracy works, lives, continues.

That is true, however, only if voters indeed vote.

Winston Churchill was purported to have said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all of the others.” In truth, Churchill merely paraphrased another individual without attribution. So the originator of that wisdom has never been determined.

What is clear from that quote is that societies need some form of government to remain civil, efficient, effective, and stay within their realm of responsibilities. To be sure, different people have different perspectives on how those principles are achieved.

Again, that is why voting is so critical. The idea of one person, one vote is carried out in a representative form of government such as ours. That representation is manifested through elections.

I remember as a youngster going back to the elementary school where I attended to watch my father mark his paper ballot before the polls closed. My parents wanted me to experience the political process first-hand.

Many years ago my adult Sunday school teacher and friend, a peer about my age, presented a lesson on the separation of church and state. He used that as a foundation to explain why he never voted.

If you don’t vote, don’t complain.

I listened intently to all of his logical reasons. When he had finished, my reply caught him off guard.

I said, “All the reasons you listed not to vote are exactly why I do vote.” He respectfully accepted my response as I did his conviction not to vote based on his religious beliefs. That is as it should be.

The right to vote comes with an important caveat. In exercising that right, voters need to educate themselves on the issues and candidates, and the various positions held before going to the polls.

In other words, do your homework, and then for the sake of the country, go vote.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Aviary Sunbathing

Shenandoah Valley, Rockingham Co.

Absorbing the sun.

At first sight, I wasn’t sure what was under the blazing maple tree. From a quarter of a mile away, I couldn’t tell if the figure was a person or a bird.

Fortunately, I found a route that paralleled the scene and drove slowly down the narrow country road. I clicked a shot with my zoom lens fully extended. A quick review of the picture confirmed my suspicions. I had captured a Great Blue Heron basking in the warmth of the late afternoon sun. But why at this exact spot? Was there water nearby?

I pulled my vehicle forward and found the answers to my questions. A small stream, which I later learned was Cub Run, meandered behind and below the bird and alongside a set of railroad tracks. This gorgeous bird couldn’t have picked a more lovely spot to absorb the welcomed sunrays.

“Aviary Sunbathing” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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