It was exactly five years ago today that I took this photo of our Amish neighbor planting corn in the late-April sunshine. Add in the faithful dog, and it’s an iconic spring scene in Ohio’s Amish country. A majority of the three to four million tourists who visit Holmes Co., Ohio, every year come for such nostalgic vistas as this. Horsedrawn plows and planters bring back fond memories for our most senior folks. It’s a way of life that is rapidly disappearing, even in the largest Amish population in the world. Today, fewer than 10 percent of Amish still farm.
“Spring in Ohio’s Amish Country” is my Photo of the Week.
My wife and I were social distancing before we knew there was such a thing.
Before the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S., I made an all-day social distancing trip to Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. It was a mere hour’s drive from our winter hideout on Amelia Island, Florida.
I invited my lovely wife to accompany me. Having already visited there briefly with friends, Neva declined. Her aversion to snakes and reptiles made that an easy decision. However, I wanted to explore the place more thoroughly.
I didn’t mind going solo at all. We each believe that doing our own thing has contributed to the longevity and quality of our marriage. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.
You might know the refuge by its more colloquial name, Okefenokee Swamp. That is what the locals call it. Take a tour, however, and you will quickly learn that Okefenokee isn’t a swamp at all.
Native Americans gave the sprawling area the name centuries ago. In English, Okefenokee means “land of the trembling earth.” The moniker fits. In the less disturbed marshy areas, the land beneath reverberates with each step you take.
Okefenokee has been a national wildlife refuge since 1937. It was designated a World Heritage Site in 1974.
Much more than a shallow blackwater swamp, the 403,000 acres that comprise Okefenokee are a beautiful blend of hammock forests, creeks, wetland prairies, and cypress groves. Altogether, they serve as the headwaters for both the Suwannee River and the St. Mary’s River, which marks the Florida/Georgia boundary.
I arrived mid-morning under hazy, smoky skies in early February. My main objective was to find the elusive and rare red-cockaded woodpecker. Okefenokee is one of the last remaining sanctuaries for the endangered bird.
I drove down the eerily lovely Swamp Island Drive in search of the woodpecker. I had never seen one, and after spending the morning trying, I still haven’t. I did see plenty of nest holes high up in the longleaf pine trunks.
I wasn’t disappointed. Just being among all the beauty and the sounds and earthy fragrances of nature was sufficient.
Hundreds of sandhill cranes cackled unseen in the wetlands beyond the pines that surrounded a small pond. An alligator laid like a fallen log on the pond’s far lip. A brown-headed nuthatch foraged on a tree trunk only four feet from me.
Bigger alligators rested roadside along shallow ditches. I found it surprising how much the vegetation changed at the slightest rise or dip in elevation. The scenery was stunning despite the gray overcast sky and smoke from a nearby forest fire.
On the Suwannee Canal.
The tour boat.
The wetland prairie.
Only a few feet from the boardwalk trail, alligators absorbed whatever warmth the day offered. Neva would not have approved. By the time I reached the observation tower, the sandhill cranes had quieted and were out of sight.
I learned much more about Okefenokee on the afternoon boat tour. Our guide explained that the deepest water was only four feet. The vast geologic basin was filled with peat, which is why it quivered when stepped upon.
Our small flat-bottom boat cruised between stands of cypress graciously draped with Spanish moss, which isn’t a moss at all. Huge alligators lounged along the way, while a highly venomous water moccasin soaked in the filtered sunshine. Red-shouldered hawks screeched from high perches on old snags.
As I headed back to our condo, I savored the day that had buoyed me. For Neva and me, that style of social distancing helps enrich both our individuality and our affinity.
My wife and I have taken the stay-at-home orders quite seriously. At our age and with our medical history, we must do so.
Besides, our loving daughter keeps close tabs on us even though she lives five miles away. Our son in upstate New York checks in, too, digitally. Neva and I have no choice but to behave.
That’s life in 2020’s pandemic world. Technology keeps us connected without the ill-advised but much desired personal contact. What once seemed like an irritant of life by some is now our lifeline.
Neva and I have gotten more phone calls and texts in the last few weeks of being at home than we did in the previous several months. We, too, have made a few calls, sent texts, emails, and posted on social media.
Not to let go of our rural roots, my diligent wife sends cards and notes nearly every day. Somebody has to keep the U.S. Postal Service in business besides Amazon.
Our trips away from home are limited, which is as it should be. After ordering online, we pick up groceries curbside or deliver homemade masks to others. Neva has made more than 300 masks for others and local businesses and organizations.
Consequently, our gasoline bill has plummeted along with the prices at the pump. It’s the old supply and demand principle in action.
I have never washed my hands as often or as well as I have in the last few weeks. Our water bill may offset our reduced gasoline costs.
Since I retired three years ago, I thought every day seemed like Saturday. The quarantine orders have made it even more so universally. The days all just seem to run together.
I find myself smiling as I watch entire families walk by our house or ride by on bicycles. Youngsters on skateboards gleefully enjoy our gently sloping street. When Neva and I walk around the neighborhood, waves, nods, smiles, and hales of “Hello” greet us whether people know us or not.
Everything seems to be blooming at once in the Shenandoah Valley. Daffodils and tulips are already fading. Dogwoods and redbuds are painting the bare forests with dabs of white and pink. Irises and lilacs are flowering much too early.
As pretty as all that is, I need to be realistic. Each of us must view the situation beyond our own living space.
With vehicle travel and entire industries shut due to the coronavirus spread, satellite images show global pollution significantly reduced. But with companies and businesses closed, millions of workers have been laid off or furloughed.
The loss of their employment, income, and benefits gives me pause. As my older brother shared in an email, we retirees with monthly pensions have nothing to whine about during this crisis.
The pandemic should serve as a great equalizer. But that isn’t quite the way it is. Statistics show that the COVID-19 epidemic affects millions of people of color and the poor medically and economically the hardest.
These are precarious, vulnerable, stressful times. But we must keep pressing on, following the guidelines, being patient, kind, grateful, and prayerful.
It’s scary trying to protect yourself against an invisible enemy. We can, however, by following the health rules, enjoying the moment at hand, praying for the safety of all, and proper decisions by our leaders.
It must be spring! Farmers in Virginia’s pastoral Shenandoah Valley are out and about preparing their fields for this year’s crops. In fact, farmers in Rockingham Co., Virginia, have already made their first cuttings of hay for silage to feed their livestock.
This farmer, riding his ubiquitous John Deere tractor, was heading back to the farm.
By definition, Holy Week transitions from the jubilant high expectations on Palm Sunday to the sadness and disbelief of Good Friday to the sacred joy of Easter morning.
This year Eastertime is symbolic of the current world situation. Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, Holy Week mirrors the global state of human existence amid the coronavirus pandemic. We face the same human emotions today as that mixed crowd of humanity 2,000 years ago.
Our lives have been turned upside down in this evolving medical crisis. No one can escape the grasp of the pandemic’s ramifications, whether we contract the virus or not. We are all affected.
We all had high hopes with the advent of spring, especially at Easter. Now, all of that has changed. Unless you are one of the few remaining skeptics, reality has hit hard.
Personnel on the frontlines of helping to stem the epidemic are stressed and very fearful for their patients, their families, and themselves. Even following all of the recommended precautions has not been enough for some.
Schooling has taken on a very different and dynamic atmosphere for students, teachers, administrators, and parents alike. Challenging doesn’t begin to describe it. Nor does frustration, especially for those denied the much-anticipated pomp and circumstance of graduation ceremonies.
For those who live alone, the elderly, those who struggle with mental issues, or live with special needs, fear invades the interactions of daily living. Coping has never been harder.
Many have lost their jobs, income, and insurance benefits. Others employed in businesses deemed essential encountered the ignorance of others. The outrage of service workers filled social media as entire families show up to buy a hammer or just browse big box stores, clearly ignoring the social distancing safety recommendations.
Misinformation stokes the fear and invites unfounded rumors, which only leads to more confusion and doubt. Opportunists who price-gouge only see personal and financial gain in this time of crisis.
Where then is the Easter joy? We must look through the numbing heartache to see it.
The warming weather, the blooming flowers, and budding trees, the emerald green grass, the colorful migrating birds, the friendly waves, and well-wishes of walkers as they pass by are but a few expressions of hope. Springtime’s renewal parallels that of Easter morning.
We should sing prayerful praises for those who tirelessly toil to save lives and defeat this virus. First-responders, law enforcement, pharmacists, doctors, nurses, utility workers, grocery store owners and their employees, and delivery people are only a few of today’s heroes.
Globally, folks with a passion for helping have unselfishly responded. Scores of caring people are making homemade masks and donating them to local service agencies.
Here in Harrisonburg, Virginia, many people have sewn and donated thousands of masks for businesses, the hospital, medical offices, fire departments, the volunteer rescue squad, and not-for-profit groups that shelter the homeless. My wife is one such person, though I doubt she would want me to tell you that.
In a pandemic, contagion ignores race, ethnicity, politics, borders, and social status. We all are potential victims and potential helpers. Our humanness makes us vulnerable, afraid, uncertain and exposed. And yet, it is those very qualities that inspire us to join as one at this most difficult time.
Together we must use our gifts and skills for the common good to rise to this once-in-a-lifetime threat. Only then will the anguish of Good Friday transform into the gratefulness of Resurrection Sunday’s love.