Sorry to creep you out, but this photo is not what it appears. This is not a corpse. It is a photo that my wife took of me as I was wheeled into my hospital room only three housrs after knee replacement surgery.
The reason I am all bundled up in blankets was that the room was freezing. Apparently, housekeeping had turned down the air conditioning temperature to 50 degrees Fahrenheit and forgot to reset the thermostat when they left. The kind nurses gathered pre-heated blankets to warm me up. Since the anesthesia still had its effect on me, I was mostly out of it when Neva snapped this photo.
As the colorful leaves fade and twirl in the wind, another splash of luster arrives to dot the landscape. Migrating birds appear to see the winter through. I relish their return.
Many of the birds, of course, merely pass through on their way to much warmer southern climes. The ruby-throated hummingbirds, for example, have long been gone. A stray late one might yet be seen. Most are far south of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley by now.
I’ve had two tube feeders hanging from the red maple trees in the front and back yards for weeks now. Many of the year-round regulars have begun to partake in the free sunflower seed buffet.
The noisy red-bellied woodpeckers are hard to miss. Their iridescent red-striped head and contrasting black and white ladder back are as flashy as their aggressive behavior. They’re not bullies. They just know what they want and help themselves.
Our smallest woodpecker, the downy, is much more pensive and much less flashy. Only a blotch of red on the back of the head identifies the male from the similarly marked black and white feathered female.
Every now and then, a northern flicker or two will show up at the birdbaths or forage for ants in the mulch on warmer days. With their earth-tone coloration, they are handsome birds for sure.
An array of bedecked songbirds frequents the feeders, too. A cheery chip, chip, announces the presence of the bright red northern male cardinals and their khaki-colored mates. That color combination enhances any bird feeding station.
It’s the richly feathered Carolina wrens, however, that keep the cooler fall air filled with music. Their protein preference is to search for dead insects than to settle for seeds. Even the peanut butter suet isn’t their first choice.
The beautifully patterned song sparrows might belt out a chorus or two. However, it’s the plaintive call of the white-throated sparrows that thrills me. They have only now just begun to arrive. Their hop, kick, and scratch feeding tactic is a joy to watch as well.
The white-crowned sparrows are the showpieces of the sparrow species. Their distinctive black and white stripes can’t be missed. Their looks alone qualify them as the feeder referees.
A lone eastern towhee made a brief appearance in the back yard recently. It foraged beneath the pines that border the neighbor’s property. It was a first for my Virginia yard list.
Last year, I was pleasantly surprised by the appearances of a small flock of purple finches. Though less colorful than their male counterparts, the females stood out with their creamy patches and brown streaks. Neatly attired red-breasted nuthatches also appeared intermittingly. I’m hoping all of them return.
Given the recent report on the loss of nearly 30 percent of North America’s bird population in the last 50 years, I’ll be happy with whatever birds do arrive. Several species have even been declared extinct. Europe is experiencing similar losses of bird species.
The extensive study covered nearly the exact timeframe that I have been watching and feeding birds. All the while, bird populations have slowly been declining. Losses of habitats in nesting, migrating, and wintering locales have hurt the bird numbers. Climate change and herbicide usage are other suspected causes of the birds’ demise.
Despite the bad news, I’ll continue to feed the birds in the fall and winter. The birds provide welcome entertainment during the dormant months. The way it’s going, the birds will need all the help they can get.
The morning sun cast an illuminating light on the colorful deciduous trees west of Harrisonburg, Virginia, in the heart of the pastoral Shenandoah Valley. Cloud shadows played across the Allegheny Mountains that divide Virginia from West Virginia and served as a quiet backdrop for the colorful foreground. Also, note the rolling fence in the front of the scene mirrors the undulating mountains in the background.
I didn’t realize how much I charged through life until I couldn’t. Getting a new knee will do that to you.
Much like my late father, I wanted to get as much out of life as I could. Dad would come home from work, eat supper, and off he would go to his next adventure. His chosen activities ran the gamut of his interests: softball, arrowhead hunting, fishing, hunting, or attending one of his many organizational meetings.
With all this time on my hands in recuperation mode, I have come to an insightful realization. I mirrored my father for too long in my life. I had and still have many interests. Besides my career in public education, community service consumed much of my time.
Volunteer firefighting, township trustee, hospital trustee meetings, and church leadership all demanded my time. Those days are over. I still enjoy the out-of-doors just as Dad did. In my open-air times, I shoot birds, too, only I use a camera.
This time of year, the leaves are usually my main focus. Given my current limited mobility status, however, that has mostly changed. Unless I go for a drive with my chauffeur wife, I enjoy the colors that I can see from home.
What better time than October to change gears, relax, and just embrace each moment as it arrives. The air has cooled. The front and back doors are propped open, inviting a refreshing and gentle breeze to flow through the house.
The morning sun illuminates our neighbor’s home across the street. A glorious blue sky serves as the backdrop, and a handsome birch tree and a tinting red maple stand as bookend accents. Their fall decorations of yellow mums and cluster of orange pumpkins give a warm welcome.
To the south, the sun bathes the backyard, too, highlighting the pale green, elongated leaves of the shingle oak we transplanted from our Ohio home. Those leaves, also, are slowly transforming to a gilded brown and will rustle in the winter winds until springtime buds displace them.
A family of house finches chatters softly in the blue spruces above the white picket fence of another neighbor. Northern cardinals chip in adjacent pines before taking turns at the black oil sunflower feeder. A family of eastern bluebirds checks out a birdhouse for possible winter habitation.
With the afternoon sun beaming, I return to my reading on the patio. The natural warmth seems to enhance the book’s enlightening content. To keep my leg limber, I shift positions as often as I turn pages.
Towards evening, it’s rush hour at the birdbaths. American Robins, unseen and unheard for days, suddenly swamp the three aquatic venues available. The hand-honed sandstone bath proves the most popular. Others settle for the water dish and the old cast iron pedestal basin.
Living life at my modified and sometimes stationary pace is inspirational. In my reposed state, I marvel at the rosebuds outside my office window, closed tight in the morning, and fully opened by mid-afternoon.
Both the Harvest Moon and the Hunter’s Moon have come and gone. The first frost has ended the growing season in many locales while others have experienced their first snowfall. Winter is knocking on the door. October’s showiness will soon be over.
It is with great gratitude that I embrace each moment as it arrives, glad that my previous busyness is history. My sincere hope is that I’ll still apply this moment-by-moment attitude when I no longer have to sit icing my elevated knee.
I thought I was doing so well with my new knee. Then reality hit.
At my two-week post-surgery check-up, the orthopedic surgeon was pleased with my progress. However, he didn’t like the swelling in my leg from above my knee to my toes. I didn’t much like it, either.
The doctor said the swelling was most likely from my daily goal of walking a mile. I needed to rest, not walk.
That was my reality check. Thinking I was doing the right thing, my extra walking was actually slowing the healing process, adding to the post-surgery pain that goes with any major operation like knee replacement.
The doctor repeated what I already knew and was doing. “Elevate your leg, ice it, and rest,” were his orders. He assured me that I was well ahead of schedule in my healing. I need not try to hurry it along with my aggressive walking goals.
I got the same message the next day from my physical therapists. The swelling was hindering my ability to stretch, extend, and flex my repaired leg. I felt silly.
I got the message loud and clear. Healing takes time.
Being retired, the time I had. So I reordered my post-surgery routine. I continued with my physical therapy twice a week. I did my exercises and stretches. I wore out my recliner, my go-to spot to raise my leg and ice it, a lot.
Most importantly, I eliminated the additional walking. Both the doctor and therapists told me that many patients still used either a walker or a cane several weeks after the surgery. I walked without either a week after my operation.
I was the exception to the rule. Only I didn’t realize it or appreciate it. The doctor said that my dedication to the pre-surgery exercises likely had prepared me for a quicker response to walking unaided.
However, I needed to adhere to after surgery recommendations for a successful recovery. Now that I have settled into my new routine, I see how foolish I was to try to rush something that genuinely needed time and rest to properly heal.
I have always been an active, involved, engaging person who enjoys helping people. I like staying busy. I enjoy work that I can do. I learned that for the present, my most important task was to rest, elevate, and ice.
I listened to the medical experts by reprogramming that energy. I have limited my computer time. When I do write, I type with the laptop on my lap, feet up.
I sit in the sunshine on the back porch, reading or watching gray squirrels plant acorns in the grass. Minutes later, the ever-observant blue jays unearth those same tasty treasures. For a change of scenery, I lounge in the comfort of my recliner, feet up, leg iced, and reading.
Even at this slower, laid-back approach, the days seem to fly by. I hope that’s not merely a reflection of my age.
The healing process has been an awakening and a humbling experience. I thought of others who weren’t as fortunate as me. Weeks after their surgery, they still relied on walkers and canes. I realized the arrogance of my over-zealousness to heal.
I grasped the importance of patience. The stark awareness of my situation increased my gratitude.
I learned that clarifying my own condition sharpened my empathy for those not as fortunate. Compassion took on a new form.
Healing from significant trauma to the body, whether by choice or accident, simply takes time. This old patient has finally discerned how to be patient.
It’s that time of year, again, when the leaf peepers hurry far and wide to find the prettiest leaves. This photo was taken exactly four years ago to the day high in the Maryland mountains. The leaves on the trees on this hillside declare the breadth of Mother Nature’s paint palette. In this case, I was on one of my many trips between Ohio and Virginia before we moved to the Shenandoah Valley.
If the calendar has a nostalgic month, October is it for me.
As a child, our father would load his brood of five into the old cream-colored Chevy, and we would head southwest out of our blue-collar steel town to the wonders of Holmes County, Ohio. Oh, the things we would see and encounter.
We’d stop along the windy way of U.S. 62 to sample cheese. We watched horse-drawn black buggies clop along, marvel at the corn shocks standing in rolling fields, and gape at long farm lanes that led to large white houses with big red bank barns. The real show, however, was in admiring woodlot after woodlot ablaze with every shade of orange, red, and yellow.
Dad would photograph the most colorful of the scenes. I couldn’t have imagined that as an adult that I would spend the best years of my life in that setting, among those people.
If I had to pick an ideal month and place to paint an iconic picture of our life, it would have to be October in Holmes County. My wife and I reared and raised our children there. We fulfilled our careers there and made life-long friendships.
During the first decade of our life together, my wife and I lived in the western hills of Holmes County. In October, there was no prettier drive than the road from Killbuck to Glenmont with its seven hills all dotted gold, russet, and yellow. It was a landscape artist’s paradise.
We built our first home on a bluff facing into that lovely valley. The view was always gorgeous in October.
When we moved to the eastern section of the county, our directional orientation and views changed but were equally splendid. Facing east, many gorgeous sunrises greeted us. The brilliant sunsets we enjoyed from the back yard were similarly lovely.
The bucolic scenes of corn shocks drying in fields surrounded by blushing sugar maples, rusting oaks, and yellowing ash and tulip poplars were commonplace, but no less appreciated. I drove back many of those long lanes to converse with the inhabitants of those white houses, and the keepers of those red barns. It was like those childhood visions had become actuality. That’s because they indeed had.
But October served as a double-edged sword of sorts for me. I didn’t mind the changeable weather. If an early-season Canadian clipper arrived, the snow seldom stuck, and if it did, the fluffy whitewash merely enhanced the already glorious countryside.
It wasn’t the weather or even the stinging scent of burning leaves that concerned me, though. Early Halloween pranks brought us volunteer firefighters out at 3 in the morning to douse some of the corn shocks that had been set on fire for pure orneriness.
On more than one occasion, town squares resembled barnyards. Temporary pens of goats and sheep were surrounded by hay bales and relocated corn shocks that blocked the traffic flow.
The good news was that the farmers usually got their livestock back safe and sound. Fortunately, that tradition has waned with the advent of security cameras and alarms.
We haven’t experienced such shenanigans during our two-year stint in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. With consecutive dry summer and fall months, the autumn leaf colorations can’t compare to those of our former home either.
I suppose that is what in part drives my pleasant autumn nostalgia for those bygone Holmes County days. October does that to me.
I sincerely doubt that this is what Jimmie Hendrix had in mind with his song “Purple Haze.” But if there ever was a photo of purple haze, this surly has to be it.
It was a chilly morning several years ago in Ohio’s Amish country about this time in October. The mist coming off of the farm pond caught the twilight’s first light. I also doubt that the residents of this Amish farmhouse ever heard of Jimmie Hendrix. But they do know what purple haze is.