Monthly Archives: February 2019

A sign of the times

smartphone use, wedding photography
I wanted to get a shot of my brother-in-law walking his lovely daughter down the aisle at her wedding. Unfortunately, where I was seated didn’t give me much of an opportunity for a decent shot. My only hope was to lean back and take the shot as father and daughter reached the open space where the row of seats behind me met the aisle.

I got the picture. However, in doing so, I saw another all-too-familiar scene. Most of the occupants in the seats behind us had their smartphones up and recording the exciting event. Also, note that a gentleman also stood to take a photo. I had to capture the moment. And yes, I took the photo with my iPhone.

“A Sign of the times” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Why the shortest month seems so long

winter in Amish country, Holmes Co. OH

The harsh winter weather has made February seem like a long month.

Every year I get the same sensation. February, the calendar’s shortest month, seems like the longest. A wide range of reasons could account for this annual hunch.

Much of that perception may have to do with February’s unfortunate spot in the calendar birth order. As the year’s second son of 12 siblings, February is bound to have an inferiority complex. Even with an extra day in a leap year, February still can’t measure up.

It certainly doesn’t help to be sandwiched between January and March, each with the maximum 31 days every year. Nor does it help that February is the last full month of winter. By now, humans north of the equator have had it with winter, especially this year. They can’t wait for spring.

Is the shortest month merely clamoring for attention with its temper tantrums of weird and wild weather? To be sure, the weather all across the northern hemisphere has been wicked. A lot of complicated and interconnected reasons account for that. Still, February cannot solely be held responsible.

The polar vortex, which usually calls the Arctic region its winter base, ran away from home this year. It escaped in the waning days of January, and the frigid and frozen effects spilled into February, adding insult to injury.

weather warning map

The latest February weather warning map.

The vortex settled into the eastern U.S., forcing the ordinarily westerly jet stream to warp south around it. We all paid the consequences of that detour, including February.

Blustery winds sent wind chills into the danger zone for millions of citizens, making the environmental conditions all the more brutal. When people thought they couldn’t take it any longer, the vortex slunk away, and a warm front helped set the jet stream aright. Soon, vehicles were mired in muck from a rapid thaw.

About that time, weather officials confirmed an El Nino had developed in the Pacific off southern California. Wave after wave of rain and snowstorms blasted the entire west coast, incapacitating major metro areas.

Damaging floods, mudslides, and icy and snow-clogged roads inundated areas not used to extreme winter weather. Even Hawaii got snow.

More rain pelted down in California. Another snowstorm blasted the state of Washington. Additional freeze warnings plagued northern Florida. All this and February still isn’t over yet. How long does it take 28 days to pass?

It would indeed be unfair to lay all of the responsibility for the climatological miseries on poor February. It was merely an accessory to the crimes, guilty by association.

Ignore the weather, and February has a lot to offer for being the shortest month. It boasts about hosting more holidays per diem than any other month.

February’s progressive party includes Groundhog Day, Lincoln’s birthday, Valentines Day, Washington’s Birthday, and Presidents’ Day. Of course, all of those human conceived days have morphed into nothing more than flashy marketing ploys for a small town in Pennsylvania and retailers big and small nationwide.

I suppose, however, that much of our February malaise comes from nothing more than cabin fever. Never mind the occasional warm day when you could poke your head outside. As we all know, that was nothing but a February tease. It’s safest to stay inside until March.

Despite February’s chilly temperament, she does offer us at least one advantage besides being the briefest month. From beginning to end, we gain almost an hour of daylight in February.

Winter’s darkness is waning. In that, we find hope, rejoice, and offer February our heartfelt thanks.

A snowy ride.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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From Switchboard Road

Harrisonburg VA, rural snow scene, street photography
It was Thursday, and I hadn’t decided on my Photo of the Week, which I normally do well ahead of time. The last few days have been hectic with family responsibilities, writing deadlines, and yet another winter storm that brought snow, sleet, freezing rain, and rain.

I was thinking about what photo to feature as I drove home from a meeting this morning. When I turned south onto Switchboard Road, this scene grabbed my attention. I looked in my rearview mirror and to the road ahead of me. The narrow, curvy road is a busy thoroughfare, but the coast was clear. Down went the window, and I quickly snapped the scene.

The morning’s sun filtered through the storm’s residual clouds and a streak of rising fog. The rays glinted off of the three inches of snow encrusted with a glaze of ice. It looks black and white with only a hint of light blue showing.

I knew right then and there that “From Switchboard Road” would be my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Filed under human interest, nature photography, Photo of the Week, photography, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, weather

How to stay warm in the winter

winter weather, Ohio's Amish country

In winter’s grasp.

The polar vortex has had its way with most of us in the U.S. again this winter. Once it sank south and east out of the Canadian Arctic area, record cold temperatures and wind chills were set all across the northern states and some far into the south.

My wife and I watched the TV news in sympathy with those freezing in the frigidness of blinding blizzards and well below zero wind chills. We even had freeze warnings in northeast Florida, where we have spent parts of the last few winters.

Thanks to the Arctic air, it was cold there, too, in relative terms of course. Amelia Island is as far north in the Sunshine State as you can get. So when massive cold fronts spawned by the polar vortex invade the eastern U.S., we often feel the effects, too.

Fernandina Beach FL, Amelia Island FL

Pretty but cold.

With an ocean breeze and air temperatures in the 30s, the beach is no place to be either. Neither is the middle of a blizzard. We watched with dismay as TV reports showed the severity of weather conditions from several different stricken areas. Unfortunately, several people died from exposure to the dangerous cold.

I always liked the winter, and mainly snow. But the blizzards of 1977 and 1978 taught me that winter’s punishing harshness better be respected. Staying warm is always paramount.

That’s a primary reason for becoming a snowbird. I’ve said it before. The older I get, the colder I get. Other senior citizens that we met in Florida concurred. It is a natural consequence of the aging process.

Living in the heart of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley isn’t quite far enough south to avoid winter’s icy blasts. So we continued our snowbird trips after moving from northeast Ohio.

We enjoyed a month’s stay at a rented condo on Amelia Island and then headed to the far south of Florida. We visited the Florida Keys for the first time for a few days and soaked up perfectly warm weather.

With high temperatures in the 70s and 80s, it didn’t take us long to sport a tan. We spent the handful of days we had on the go. We greeted the morning sun and filled each day with as much adventure as possible until well after dark.

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However, we seldom checked off all the items on our wish list of places to visit. Spontaneity overruled preparation. We took advantage of surprises and vistas we came upon, stopped to enjoy and do some birding, and moved on to the next spot.

We especially enjoyed visiting Biscayne National Park and Everglades National Park. Together they protect much of the delicate habitats of southern Florida, preserving a vast variety of wildlife, flora, fauna, and people, too.

I never thought I would ever venture out onto the open ocean waters in a pontoon boat. But we did in both beautiful parks. The combination of generous sunshine and the joy of adding new birds to my life list warmed me through and through.

However, it wasn’t until we returned home that I encountered genuine radiant warmth. The weather had nothing to do with that.

At Sunday dinner, we caught up on our oldest grandson’s basketball season. The middle grandchild chatted on about the books he read and his upcoming band concert, while the youngest seemed contented to merely enjoy her lunch. Our daughter and her husband filled in the happenings in their busy lives, too.

The Florida experiences warmed us physically. That warmth, however, paled in comparison to that of reconnecting with our family.

Everglades NP, sunset, photography

Sunset over Eco Pond, Everglades National Park, FL.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Happy Valentines Day!

roseate spoonbill, Everglades NP
There is no better way for an avid birder to wish everyone Happy Valentines Day than to share a photo of a very special bird. This juvenile Roseate Spoonbill posed nicely for me in the wetlands of Everglades National Park near Everglades City, FL.

Like many other avian species, the prominent features of the bird give it its name. Its awkward looking bill is offset by the delicate pink feathers of this much-admired bird.

So for my Photo of the Week, I again wish you Happy Valentines Day!

© Bruce Stambaugh2019

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A photographer’s perspective

This iPhone photo was taken hand-held through a birder’s spotting scope. The Bald Eagle was a quarter of a mile away.

I enjoy taking photos. According to my son, that would be a significant understatement. At last count, I have close to 60,000 on my laptop, and that doesn’t count the older photos and slides packed away in a closet.

Why so many? I like to make sure I have at least one good photo of the subject I am trying to capture. In the good old days of film, I never knew what I was going to get until the prints came back from the processing lab.

Shooting low creates interesting results.

Digital cameras changed all that. You likely have seen people snapping photos, and then checking the back of their cameras or cell phones to see if what they took was what they wanted. Were everyone’s eyes open? Was the photo in focus?

Clearly, photographers can be picky. They also are creative.

I often photograph alone. However, I especially enjoy going on both planned and spontaneous photo outings with others.

While in Florida, I participate in a photo club that periodically holds scheduled photo walks to specific locations with equally selected assignments.

The subject matters often feature particular events. We have shot city Christmas light displays, carved faces in trees, done architectural photography, moon rises, sunsets, landscapes, and birds to name a few.

We sometimes debrief around a meal at an outing’s conclusion. We are asked to share at least one of our images with the group. The photos are then critiqued, which I always find most helpful.

I am always amazed at the shots of the other photographers. It is astounding and informative to see the different perspectives that are presented. I learn a lot and wonder why I didn’t shoot the scene from that angle.

I might have a decent snapshot of a great blue heron preening, while a friend has zoomed in on the finite details of the bird’s feathers. The textures, colors, and intricacies are breathtaking. Others create abstract shots of the ripples in the water, distorting the bird’s reflection like one of those crazy circus mirrors.

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Each person adds his or her own thoughts to the photo being analyzed. This approach enriches the photograph’s vibrancy and character. The critique suggestions help enhance the picture and the photographer, not ridicule, embarrass or judge them.

A friend, who is an expert photographer in her retirement, photographs the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean every morning. She shares the results on social media a few hours later to the delight of her many followers.

Having been on the beach nearby, I am amazed at what she has captured compared to what I have chosen. We shoot the same scene from different angles and viewpoints. Her photos are just as valid, yet they vary despite the fact we were simultaneously photographing the same subject at the same time.

These experiences enrich my understanding of perspective, a most essential ingredient in photography, creative arts and in life itself. We view the same scene, but based on our life experiences, beliefs, biases, goals, and focus, we can come away with differing viewpoints.

Ohio's Amish country

Letting the subject dictate the perspective.

One photographer’s technique isn’t necessarily better than another’s. They are just different.

I learn from life’s global variables. It fosters respect and admiration for one another and the creative gifts shared, especially when divergent viewpoints are appropriately expressed.

Perspective’s diversity seasons our varied menus and transcends any photographic circles. Wouldn’t the world be a more peaceful, enjoyable, hospitable place if we emulated photography’s objectivity in our daily human interactions?

How we answer that question can alter for good or for ill the perspective of all those we encounter.

My morning photographer friend Lea.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Butterfly Breakfast

Butterfly Conservancy, Key West FL
My wife and I visited the Key West Butterfly Conservatory and Museum in Key West, FL. It’s a magical place, full of colorful butterflies and plants and flowers on which they thrive. We arrived right after the business opened, which turned out well for both the butterflies and us.

The staff had just set out plates of over-ripe fruit sprinkled with various nutrients the butterflies needed. Whether intended or accidental, the breakfast offerings for the lovely creatures were themselves works of art.

“Butterfly Breakfast” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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When tragedy strikes, communities respond

Ohio's Amish country, Holmes Co. OH

Even a peaceful scene in Amish country can become tragic.

Tragedy. It’s bound to invade our lives, often when we least expect it. Too often, it happens more than once in our lifespan.

Unfortunately, we likely have all seen our fair share of tragedy. Calamity merely is part of life. That doesn’t make it any easier to accept.

I’ve seen and experienced a lot of tragic incidents in my life as a member of volunteer fire and rescue squads. Often I knew people involved in the emergency incidents. That’s not surprising when you live most of your life in a close-knit, rural community.

Sometimes tragic national news hits close to home, too. The recent fatal shooting of Dean Beachy and his son Steve is proof of that. Naturally, people were shocked and horrified at the senseless killings.

Their lives are a huge loss to the family and the many, many people they touched. My wife knew the family well, having taught Steve’s three older brothers.

Ohio's Amish country, Holmes Co. OH

An hour after a tornado damaged this farm building, neighbors came to repair its roof.

Most likely, we each could create a long list of personal tragedies that have significantly impacted our lives. Mine would have to start even before I was born.

My great grandfather was killed in an auto accident involving a drunk driver. The crash critically injured my father and his only brother a block from their home. My uncle’s traumatic head injuries caused lifelong, family-wide ramifications.

My mother’s father was electrocuted six months before I was born. I am sure you have a comparable list of interpersonal human misfortune.

We learn life lessons from tragedies. One is when disaster strikes, people respond. That’s the way community works. What affects one family affects us all to varying degrees.

My wife and I experienced and witnessed positive responses many times over our four decades of living in Holmes County, Ohio. When bad things happen to good people, others want to help. So they do. They bring food, share tears, hugs, and sit quietly with the victims’ family.

Some tragedies happen suddenly, like the Beachy shootings, a traffic crash or a house fire. Others happen gradually and last over an extended time. Likely, we have all known someone diagnosed with a terminal illness.

In either situation, shock, denial, anger, fear, and blame all surface in the face of loss. Often those emotions occur at different times for different family members. Heartache knows no boundaries. To be there is what really matters to the hurting individuals.

Ohio's Amish country, Holmes Co. OH

Barn fire.

As an EMT, I once responded to a drowning call at an Amish farm. The toddler was dead by the time we arrived in the country setting. Still, all the first responders wanted to do something. We comforted the grieving family as best we could.

With the corner’s approval, I carried the youngster’s body to the ambulance where family, friends, and neighbors filed through saying their goodbyes. It was the Amish way, and the officials in charge wanted to respect that.

Regardless of the type of tragedy, whether sudden or lengthy, no one is immune. As human beings, we can choose to offer whatever we can or to ignore the situation.

Those who chose the former realize that in giving there is receiving. In caring, appreciation is returned. In listening, genuine sharing occurs. With your presence, acceptance and understanding slowly unfold.

Human beings have a responsibility to one another, to be kind, to be generous, to be available, to help, to be respectful. There is no better time to express those gifts than when tragedy strikes.

It’s not merely the way a community responds. It is the way a caring community thrives.

Ohio's Amish county, Holmes Co. OH

This Amish barn raising occurred less than a month after the farmer’s barn burned.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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