Recognizing the virtue of September’s silence

Listen. Did you hear it? If not, there’s still time. In a few short days, September’s most significant gift will be gone.

The changing leaves too often get all the attention, especially the gorgeous sugar maples. I have no argument with that whatsoever. September merely sets the stage for Nature’s colorful artwork.

Inexplicably, that wondrous, warming rainbow leaves leafy trails to this September virtuous quality. Can you guess what it is?

In the pondering, we uncover this gracious gift the world is too often too busy to unwrap. September’s silent specialty is all around us. Do you hear it? That rhetorical question is no joke.

Silence is golden as the saying goes, and from beginning to end that silence is never more so than in September. Listen again to see if you agree.

September gives us ample opportunity to embrace her unique child. Her silence never sleeps. She is as still as still can be 24-hours a day.

At every dawn, September’s stillness is broken not by the sun, but by humankind winding up for another day of work. Unnatural sounds break the silence and intrude upon our slumber.

The morning train whistles reverberate up and down the valley warning of its impending crossings. Even with the house windows closed, we can hear it from miles away.

Tires hum on the variegated macadam where country and city roadways meet. On occasion, sirens tell a tale of disrespect, distress, or disorder that further disturbs September’s sacredness.

With the initial rush over, my wife and I settle on the back porch for a simple breakfast. Too fascinated with the month’s hush, we seldom interrupt it or one another’s thoughts.

Thinking the coast is clear, mourning doves swoop in for morning refreshments at the birdbaths. One slight movement by either of us and the spell is broken. The ripple of wind that propels them to safety in the neighbor’s blue spruce tickles my neck.

A rabbit nibbles freely at the fibrous greenery. Its oversized eyes sparkle in the sunshine, its floppy ears twitch without disturbing the quietude.

We take up the same positions at lunchtime. Migrating ruby-throated hummingbirds squawk their arrival at the nearby feeder. Too much like humans, they spend more energy chasing each other away rather than learning to share the nourishing liquid nectar.

The leaves and needles of the neighborhood trees hang limp and still. Even if a slight afternoon breeze gently bounces them around, they remain faithful to the code of September silence. They hit the ground inaudibly.

Beneath those shady limbs, lawnmowers roar back and forth, back and forth. When the last blade is cut, the glorious silence returns. Does anyone hear it?

If not, the ubiquitous gangs of bellowing blue jays are sure to enforce it with their host of calls and cries. Their intentions are righteous; their methods are inadequate and contradictory, to say the least. Still, once gone, September’s silence is palpable.

Twilight may be the best time to catch a glimpse, a snippet, a pocketful of September’s hush. With the day’s work done and supper over, the last of the season’s crickets sing the silent song into the night.

Overhead, the Milky Way, dim as it is in the potentate sky, twinkles its approval of the welcome stillness. The day is done. Though many have tried sunup to sundown, September’s silence has thankfully prevailed.

Much like the rest of us, September’s days are numbered. Listen for her calming silence while there is still time.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Horses in the morning mist


I caught these horses grazing in the morning mist at a September dawn a few years ago. The photo was taken in the heart of Ohio’s Amish country in Holmes Co., Ohio.

“Horses in the morning mist” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Moving more slowly for good reasons


I’ve been moving a lot slower lately. At my age, that can be expected. That, however, is not the primary reason for my more leisurely pace. I recently had a right knee replacement.

Before the operation, I had been hobbling along at my usual rapid stride for too long. With bone on bone, arthritis, and bone spurs, I knew my knee would need medical attention.

I sought the absolute best orthopedic surgeon I could find. His reputation clearly preceded him. I had to wait three months for a consultation, and then another five months for the knee replacement surgery itself.

Three and a half hours after the surgery.
I took that delayed process as a cue. I needed to be more patient, more deliberate in my approach to life. I wasn’t a spring chicken anymore, and my achy knee daily reminded me of that fact.

My wife and I attended pre-surgery classes together. The instruction covered the do’s and don’ts of my activities both before and after the operation. Also, a friend from church had had the same surgery by the same surgeon at the same hospital as me with impressive results.

From these sources, I gained confidence, and specific themes emerged.

“Stay ahead of the pain,” was one. In other words, don’t try to be a hero. Take the pain medicines as directed.

“Ice is your friend,” was the second piece of wisdom. Elevating and icing the leg helped reduce the swelling and inflammation. Ironically, though, swelling is needed to properly heal the soft tissue, muscles, and ligaments that have been cut into and/or moved in the surgery process. The key was to keep the long, stapled incision dry and clean.

Long before the surgery, I began a routine of recommended exercises. I continued to do them in the healing process. Doing so clearly paid dividends.

On the stationary bike in the hospital rehab.
The doctor had told me that he would have me walking the same day as the operation. My surgery was at 10:30 a.m., and I was strolling down a hospital hall with a walker and supervision by 3:30 that afternoon.

Staying hydrated was another essential element in the post-surgery protocol. I drank like a fish.

The doctor had one more piece of pre-surgery advice for me: “Keep moving.” So I did.

I walked around the neighborhood, usually in the morning, as much as I could. I also went hiking, though I often stopped to rest, especially on inclines.

Though I have yet to have my post-op surgery visit with the doctor, it’s clear all that locomotion paid off. At the end of my first session, my physical therapists said I didn’t need either my walker or cane. A week after surgery, I was walking unaided up and down our street.

How I kept writing.
I noticed that my gait was nearly half of what it was before the surgery. As we walked side by side, I told my wife that I think this is the stride that I should continue to maintain.

I felt comfortable walking at a slower pace. An occasional sharp pain radiating from either side of the knee kept me focused on each and every step. It was the first test of my new, slower resolve. I had a new knee and a renewed appreciation for all that was around me.

I know I am fortunate, and that I still have a long way to go in the healing process. I hope that the more unhurried stroll through life will enhance my awareness. I’ll breathe deeply, observing, absorbing, and appreciating with even more vigor of whatever finds me along life’s path.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Relaxing


Our friend had the right idea. But then, he had been to Knick Glacier near Palmer, Alaska, several times. While the rest of us scurried around exploring moraines, discovering wildlife, and capturing as many photos of the incredible scenery as possible, Doug leaned against a rock and just relaxed. With this view, who could blame him?

“Relaxing” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Finding a new sanctuary

Big Meadows.

Not long after we moved to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley more than two years ago, I sought a nature spot. I wanted a place where I could practice my photography, quietly watch birds, or simply do some walking.

I had many such places within an hour of our home in Holmes County, Ohio. They all had their unique features that attracted many folks in addition to fulfilling my photography, birding, and hiking desires. I had hoped to find one location close to our Virginia home that met those needs, too.

I have plenty of choices when it comes to getting out into nature for walks, birding, and photography in the Shenandoah Valley. I hit the trifecta if I can incorporate all three into one trip.

When you have a national park within the boundaries of your county, the answer seems obvious. It’s a 40 minutes drive to the park’s closest entrance. Shenandoah National Park was formed out of parts of eight Virginia counties, Rockingham among them.

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The park offers a host of options for visitors, though I have only been able to thoroughly explore a few so far. Big Meadows is one of those, and to date, it has been my go-to spot.

Big Meadows is a wide-open space on the summit of Skyline Drive at mile-marker 51. Its simplistic name perfectly describes its main feature. The place is a big meadow.

What’s it doing there, and why? With the park’s dense forests, fast-running streams that often lead to crashing waterfalls, Big Meadows is an anomaly to the park. No one seems to know how or why Big Meadows was formed. It’s certainly a fish out of water given the diverse geology, geography, and biology in Shenandoah National Park.

Big Meadows is and always has been lush with wildflowers, grasses, and low shrubs. Archeological research reveals that Native Americans camped in Big Meadows. Evidence shows they used controlled burns to flush out the abundant wildlife of the area. The park service still uses controlled burns to keep Big Meadows Big Meadows.

The area is more than a big meadow, however. The Byrd Visitors Center offers an informative display on the formation of the park, along with a gift store, and restrooms. A way station for hikers, an amphitheater, a lodge, restaurant, campgrounds, picnic areas, and multiple hiking trails can all be reached from Big Meadows.

A few photos from my most recent visit to Big Meadows. Please click on the photos to enlarge them.

Of course, the Appalachian Trial runs on the west slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains on the edge of Big Meadows. Waterfalls are not far away along with some incredible views of the Shenandoah Valley.

On a hot summer’s day, Big Meadows is a pleasant escape from the valley’s heat and humidity. The temperature on the mountain can be 10 to 15 degrees cooler.

Even for those who aren’t able to hike very far, Big Meadows offers a lot. Visitors can sit in their cars while butterflies flit from one group of flowers to another. I’ve even seen dark-eyed juncos pecking for food around the Byrd Visitors Center in the summer.

The winter weather gets so wicked, however, that I tend to only visit spring, summer, and fall. Besides, the park often closes the Skyline Drive in the winter anyhow.

Everyone needs a place to get away, a place to relax, to take a load off, retreat from the hectic, pounding pace that we’ve come to know in the early 21st century. Big Meadows is such a place for me. Where is yours?

The view of the Shenandoah Valley from Big Meadows Lodge.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

The Bush Pilot


While returning from an exhilarating trip to the Knik Glacier, a bush pilot flew low over our boat in the Knik River. The pilot was shuttling tourists like us for flyovers of the glacier and surrounding mountainous areas.

“The Bush Pilot” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Why September is the golden month

September in the Shenandoah Valley.

My wife caught the moment perfectly. We sat on our back porch enjoying our usual simple Sunday supper.

“It’s really still,” Neva said. In response, I looked up. I am not sure why, because silence can’t be seen.

As usual, though, she was right. For no dogs barked, no lawnmowers purred, nor were any voices heard.

An unusual phenomenon caught my attention. A light breeze blew through the back yard, rustling the red maple leaves. Though they quivered steadily, they, too, were silent. I found that both eerie and fascinating.

I relaxed in the uplifting and refreshing quietude. Such an instance enables you to see the moment itself as it is, not as you want it to be.

Turning.
Here we were only on the first day of the month, and already September issued forth one of its many golden moments. If the ninth month kept to its course, there surely would be many more, hurricanes notwithstanding.

The stillness seemed to be the day’s crown jewel, adorning a crest of many arches already naturally appointed. I noted a few of the maple’s eastern-facing leaves had already tinged.

On my morning walk around the neighborhood, I had noticed that other trees also had begun to transform their leaves. A giant sugar maple showed reds and orange where the morning’s first light peeks over the eastern hill that separates the city from the country.

A helter-skelter pattern of blotchy brown infested the fringes of the pointy leaves of a mighty pin oak. I had to wonder if it was seasonal change, blight, insects, or a combination of those causes.

Overhead, a disorganized flock of Canada geese winged it south. I heard the honking long before I saw the birds. Someone or something must have disturbed their foraging in a nearby farmer’s field to be out of formation.

Not the usual V-pattern.

On social media, birders in Ohio and Virginia alike shared photos of western sandpipers, red knots, and other gorgeous birds visiting local mudflats and waterways on their return trip. Birds know when it’s time and September gladly greets them.

The summer’s heat had taken its toll on flowers, whether wild or cultivated. Even recent decent rains couldn’t revive them.

On the way home from church, I had noticed the once lush leaves of the soybean fields had dulled to pale green. Interspersed flecks of diluted yellow appeared randomly, much like the pin oak’s disorderly display.

In contrast, fields of sunflowers glowed golden, a living symbol for the month itself. September is notorious for being the gilded sibling among its peers. Could jealousy be why August stirs and spins its tropical trouble into its September sister?

September relishes its title. It shows off its stuff at county fairs, produce stands and in supermarkets. The honeyed tones of summer squash, cantaloupes, the last of the season’s sweet corn, and the early ripened gourds and pumpkins prove the point.

Pumpkins galore.

I suppose that is only appropriate since stores are already pushing fall sales and Halloween merchandise. If they haven’t already done so, primary classroom windows will mimic the fall colors with a run on yellow, red, and orange construction paper.

Of course, with the flip of a mental sports switch, our attention has turned from baseball to football. High school, college, and pro scores dominated the front pages of Saturday morning newspapers, at least the ones that still publish.

Crickets trading musical text messages woke me from my muse. September is here, and I intend to enjoy every moment the fair-haired month has to offer. I hope you can as well.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019