Given the crazy assortment of weather we have had in the Shenandoah Valley this summer, photographic sunsets have been hard to comeby. Any hint of a possible colorful evening sky, and I headed to my favorite sunset spot. Too often it was to no avail.
Recently, however, that changed, even with few cumulous clouds to reflect the setting sun. I was glad for this recent sunset, and I am happy to share it with you.
Our grandkids are growing in so many ways. The most apparent transformations, of course, are their physical changes.
On their last visit to Nana and Poppy’s Ohio home, we had family photos taken. That was April 2017. At 5 foot 9 inches, I was taller than all three grandchildren. Not anymore.
When we returned from a recent trip to Alaska, I could no longer make that claim. Both Evan and Davis have outgrown me. Two years makes a big difference when you are growing youngsters.
In fact, Davis is challenging his older brother for tallest sibling bragging rights. At 15 and 13, they both likely have some growing yet to do.
When Nana asked Davis if he was the tallest in his middle school, he said not by a long shot. One classmate is already 6 foot 3 inches.
When I asked what sports the tall teen plays, Davis quickly replied with one defining word: “Guitar!” That’s what I get for stereotyping.
We took the sprouting trio out for our annual before-school-begins breakfast at their favorite eatery. Since it was already going on 10 a.m. by the time we arrived, the outing was more like brunch. Growing youngsters need their sleep.
The discussion around the breakfast table revealed other sorts of growth. They each shared about their recent trip to the west coast.
The highlights they named surprised both Nana and me. They all liked the Chihuly Art glass garden in Seattle. Riding motorbikes and four-wheelers in Oregon was a close second, followed by watching surfers at Huntington Beach, California with cousins they got to meet for the first time.
We talked about the upcoming school year. When asked about the classes they would be taking in high school and middle school, each boy pulled out a smartphone and read off their schedules. Little sister, who isn’t so little anymore, is excited to have her best friend in her fourth-grade class.
As they chattered on and we waited on the food, I couldn’t help but reflect on their younger years in Texas, where all three were born. We enjoyed those infrequent visits, although the hot Lone Star summers often kept us inside playing with Matchbox toys and changing diapers.
Now they live in the heart of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, and so do we. They are the primary reasons we moved here from the beloved Buckeye State more than two years ago. Living five miles apart is much more convenient than five hours by airplane.
Watching the grandkids change so quickly is both gratifying and a bit scary. We relish each moment, even the predictable squabbles of youth and siblings. I’m thankful that the role of grandparent is less harried than that of the parent.
Evan, Davis, and Maren all have their various likes and dislikes, gifts and abilities. It is both a joy and a challenge to keep up with their busy, young lives.
We bundle up and watch Even pitch even if it’s 40 degrees with a stiff northwest wind. I marvel at Davis’ preference for quiet, personal time, whether on a solo bike ride or being in his room. I shake my head in disbelief at Maren’s packed after-school schedule. How she manages soccer and choir practices, and piano lessons that sometimes follow one another is a mystery to me.
The grandchildren are growing. Nana and I relish the rapid changes that seem to occur daily. We anticipate with wonder all that is yet to come, thankful we’re here to help and take it all in.
The early morning sunlight is glinting off of the coffin red barn’s windows. The soft rays temporarily paint the white house pink. The laundry is hanging on the washline to dry. The cows are heading back to the pasture. The buggy horse is grazing among the Queen Anne’s Lace. Altogether, it is another August morning down on an Amish farmstead in Holmes County, Ohio.
It was a cloudy day all across the United States. My wife and I flew five hours from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, to Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C.
A blanket of gray covered the entire area of the northwestern United States and southwestern Canadian provinces. On liftoff, it didn’t take long for the jetliner to punch through the clouds, and quickly climb above them.
As the plane leveled out at its cruising altitude, splotches of brown and green peeked through the gray and puffy white clouds. Were we over Washington, Idaho, Montana? I didn’t know, and it didn’t matter.
We were winging it home after a two-week stint of sampling nearly every type of transportation imaginable. On our extended trip, we hopped on planes, trains, buses, cars, vans, SUVs, boats, old Army troop trucks, ships, and even repurposed school buses. We walked a lot, too. Now we were back on a jet heading home.
It was Alaska or bust for us this time. Unlike too many of the old gold prospectors of long ago, the 49th state was no bust for us. Neither was the Yukon Territory, which geographically mirrored much of Alaska’s towns, mountains, and inland rivers.
We had crossed back and forth between the two countries several times. But now in the sky, borders were insignificant, indefinable. They were unrecognizable as God meant them to be until man intervened and contrived invisible boundary lines. Bees, butterflies, grizzly bears, bald eagles, and migrating birds deemed them meaningless.
The clouds thinned over America’s breadbasket. Their charcoal shadows indiscriminately cast jigsaw-like puzzle pieces onto croplands and the Badlands alike.
From the jetliner, more ominous storm clouds appeared, and the earth again disappeared. We flew south of the sharp anvil-shaped thunderheads that towered 20,000 feet higher than the 37,000 feet we reached.
Once clear of the storms, I saw the mighty Mississippi River turn and twist beneath the haze as the plane began to bounce in the turbulence ahead of the weather front we had breached. Fastened seatbelts kept us in place until the skies smoothed and summer’s famous white, fluffy clouds steered us eastward.
The clouds were broken enough for me to finally distinguish details on the ground seven miles below. Jagged rows of giant windmills sprouted in the quilt-patterned patches of midwestern agriculture. I wondered if the farmers regretted or relished the decision to take the money and let the monsters run.
Directly to the north, I could see an airport and a city butted up against the end of a large lake. It had to be Duluth, Minnesota at the western tip of Lake Superior.
East of the Big Muddy, clouds blanketed the states like one continuous unrolled sheet of quilt batting gone ballistic. Then the cottony layer transitioned into cotton balls. I could see Michigan’s western shoreline, even the little inlet to Traverse City.
The plane began its gradual descent. Lake Erie appeared through the summer haziness, then Columbus, and then the squiggly Ohio River. In West Virginia, rows and rows of hundreds of windmills towered above lush hardwood forests on old, folded mountain ridges. John Denver played in my head.
As the sun waned, the plane drew lower and lower. We crossed the Appalachians, the Shenandoah Valley, and the Blue Ridge Mountains, all in less than a minute. Through the haze, we landed with a gentle bounce.
We had had a marvelous trip, but it was good to be home under a cloudless sky.
While visiting the Anchorage, Alaska area, friends took us to the Independence Mine State Historical Park. Many of the original buildings are in disrepair. A few still exist, while others are reconstructed.
In Anchorage, the weather was warm and sunny. At the old gold mine site high in Hatcher Pass, rain and fog prevailed. As we toured the buildings, I spied this view of the grounds. Taking a photograph through the old bunkhouse window was both symbolic and representative of the past and present. It perfectly framed the scene. The pink fireweed in full bloom added a subtle color that accented the foggy setting.
It’s been 20 years since I retired as a public school educator in Holmes County, Ohio. I began teaching fourth grade at Killbuck Elementary School only weeks after the historic and devastating July 4th flood of 1969.
It’s fair to say that neither Killbuck nor I have been the same since. I can’t speak for the town, but for me, that’s a good thing.
I have many fond memories of my time in both West Holmes and East Holmes Local School Districts. I was hired just 10 days before school started. A significant teacher shortage had hit rural areas then. West Holmes still needed 10 more teachers before school started.
I had the two most important requirements needed to teach back then. I had a college degree and a heartbeat. The only education course I was certified to teach was driver education.
I was assigned to a tiny third-floor room in the old high school part of the school complex. I had 28 fourth graders packed into that small space.
I can still name every one of those 28 students. That’s the kind of lasting impression that experience made on me.
Students in the other eight years that I taught at Killbuck were equally enjoyable. I especially appreciated the support of the parents, as well as the camaraderie of the school staff members.
To keep teaching each year, I had to complete at least two college education courses. That meant many night classes and summer school for this teacher. It didn’t take me long to realize that this was what I wanted to do for a living. I loved children, and despite some of the silly state and local requirements, I enjoyed teaching.
I liked it so much in fact that I got my Master of Education degree and became an elementary principal in East Holmes. I also worked out of the central office coordinating the expanding federal programs. But it was the kids I enjoyed the most, plus the opportunity to help teachers teach.
I served as principal of Mt. Hope and Winesburg Elementary Schools for 21 years. I also supervised Wise Elementary for three years at the same time. To complete the triangle of visiting each school each day required driving 21 miles.
For me, the best day of each school year was the first. The students were always excited, scared, and ready to learn. Once they settled into the new routines that soon changed.
I marvel at those precious years, those shinny tiled hallways that bustled with the cheerful sounds of children laughing and learning and quietly chatting. I recall trying to chase teachers out of the buildings long after the school day had ended. Sometimes teachers were still there in the evenings grading papers, displaying student work, or planning for future lessons.
I recall marvelous, heartwarming stories involving children, their parents, teachers, and administrators. There were darker times, too, but far and away, the better memories rule.
It is hard to believe that two decades have evaporated since I retired from the profession I loved with all my heart. I know I wasn’t perfect in executing my responsibilities. I simply tried my best to be an educational leader for the community that I served. After all, the schools belonged to the community, not me.
I can say without hesitation that the 30 years that I spent in the hallowed halls of public instruction in Holmes County were some of the best of my life. But for me, now and forever, school is dismissed.
The setting sun backlit this thunderstorm over Sugar Grove, West Virginia just as the top of the storm was being blown apart by upper level winds. I shot the dramatic scene from a ridge in western Rockingham Co., Virginia.