Writer, marketer, columnist, author, photographer, birder, walker, hiker, husband, father, grandfather, brother, son, township trustee, converted Anabaptist, community activist, my life is crammed with all things people and nature and wonder. My late father gave me this penchant for giving and getting the most out of life, my late mother the courtesy, kindness, and creativity to see the joy in life. They both taught me to cherish the people I am with. I try and fail and try again.
I had to let the birds come to me during this year’s spring bird migration. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, I only occasionally ventured out on short excursions that often included a grocery pick up after a brief search for migrating birds.
So, I decided to look back in my photo files for a bird that I had never shared before. This Prothonotary Warbler caught my attention and sent me back to when and where I had photographed it. It was a cool, damp day at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area along Lake Erie’s shore in northwest Ohio. The boardwalk was crowded with other birders of all ages from around the world. The cameras clicked away when this bright yellow fellow appeared. Unfortunately, Magee Marsh is closed this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Prothonotary Warblers are only one of two warbler species that nest in tree cavities. They prefer marshy thickets as their habitats. They are named for Roman Catholic papal clerks known as prothonotaries who wear bright yellow robes.
I am glad we have Memorial Day. Its intent is like no other U.S. public holiday.
There is no popping of champagne bottles, no chocolate bunnies, no fireworks, no unwrapping presents. Originally known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day was set to honor the Union soldiers lost in the Civil War.
Now, of course, Memorial Day has a much broader purpose. In 1968, Congress established the last Monday in May as Memorial Day to honor all who served. The legislation also created a three-day weekend for federal employees.
Consequently, Memorial Day morphed into a long weekend with picnics, barbeques, family gatherings, patriotic parades, and other assorted gatherings. Miniature American flags mark the graves of veterans.
Memorial Day always meant a lot to my parents. They made sure fresh flowers were placed or planted at the graves of close relatives. It was a time of solemn, respectful remembrances.
I embraced that lesson. After Dad died, I took it upon myself to carry on the family tradition of commemorating family graves with flowers. By then, most cemetery rules had changed to only allow artificial arrangements and wreaths at headstones, and only for so long.
I suppose real or plastic floral displays weren’t the point. The act of remembering was what mattered.
Since we no longer live in Ohio, that physical act of remembering has ended for me. Like most everything else in our current COVID-19 world, I’ll do a virtual visit through my photo library to pay my respects and refresh my memories.
The pandemic will definitely make this a different kind of Memorial Day for most. Many parks and playgrounds will rightly remain closed as a necessary precaution against the spread of this invisible virus.
There will be no baseball games to attend or watch, no picnics to enjoy the fellowship of family and friends. Concerts and parades have been canceled. Nevertheless, we can still carry on the intended spirit of the day.
I will sit on our patio and contemplate the good times of the past. I will especially remember those who are gone. I’ll recall memorable family stories that my parents told about relatives that I never met. Grandpa Frith died from accidental electrocution six months before I was born. A thoughtless prank in a steel factory killed a great uncle. Every family has similar sad stories.
In many places, our western society views Memorial Day as the end of the school year and the unofficial start of summer. Both of those may be true, but the classes of 2020 won’t have the pomp and circumstance of traditional commencement ceremonies or the celebration of graduation parties.
As much as we would like to be out and about for such events, my wife and I will continue to play it safe. We will continue to social distance and mostly stay at home for the duration.
Vacations, weddings, celebrations, and sports activities, to name a few, have all been canceled, delayed, or postponed due to the spread of the deadly virus. Many may happen virtually using today’s innovative technology.
For that, I am happy. However, many will mourn either a recent loss or a loved one who died long ago. I will grieve, too.
Memorial Day is for remembering and honoring. For those who survive this momentous universal event, however long it lasts, I hope they look back to this Memorial Day in awe. I hope, too, the day will etch a more meaningful, profound, and indelible mental mark.
Wasn’t that the primary point of Memorial Day? Isn’t it still?
During these days of staying at home, my wife and I occasionally take short trips to break up our routines of being sequestered. Recently, we drove to the Edith J. Carrier Arboretum at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where we live.
We knew the many varieties of flowers and trees would be in bloom, and we wanted to take advantage of the beautiful day. We weren’t alone. Several other folks, young and old, had the same idea. So, we kept the proper social distancing as we strolled around the grounds. I was torn between birding and photographing the many beautiful flowers.
When I came to this scene, I snapped the photo based on its composition as much as its beauty. I loved the backlighting of the leaves and the lacy, delicate blossoms. I found the every-which-way intertangling of the intricate limbs striking. Plus, the tops of the tall pines and the bright blue sky in the background gave the photo the depth it needed.
Viewing the photo on my computer, I realized what a fantastic and challenging jigsaw puzzle this piece would make. So, I chose “The Jigsaw Puzzle” as my Photo of the Week.
Whether by hook or by crook, our dynamic daughter models many of her mother’s positive qualities. Keeping things tidy and organized through sorting is just one of them.
Our daughter has been cleaning, discarding, donating, organizing, selling, and otherwise giving away items from her home during the pandemic. I suspect you all have to some extent as well.
My wife and I have followed that trend, too, since we have the time during this health crisis sequestering. So far, we have sorted old slides and photos, books, clothes, and files.
My wife and I chuckled at long-forgotten moments captured on slides and photos stuck in boxes buried deep in a closet. The feelings they evoked ran the gamut of emotions.
All of this reordering has stirred memories and even uncovered a mystery. Our daughter found a children’s book published 55 years ago. The author had even signed it.
Carrie couldn’t remember where the book came from but suspected we had given it to her as she began her elementary teaching. Of course, Carrie passed it on to us to contemplate. The book didn’t register with either my wife or me.
“Deneki: An Alaskan Moose” by William D. Berry had a nicely illustrated jacket cover, which was torn at the binding. I examined the skinny book for clues of its origin. The hardback cover and pages were well-preserved.
I read the enlightening story and enjoyed the many illustrations, also done by the author. The storyline revolved around the encounters of a yearling bull moose near Denali National Park.
The signed inside cover.
A lovely signed title page.
The hardback cover.
It was a first edition book, and I found that Berry had autographed the book twice. One signature was on a card with a moose he had drawn and pasted on the inside right-hand cover. He also signed by his name on the author page.
Neither Neva nor I could remember the book, where we got it, or when. Carrie was sure we had given it to her. Since Neva and I were both educators, there were plenty of options. We just all drew blanks.
Berry’s writing was crisp, the story factual and informative, and his illustrations superb. A signed, first edition book was a treasure. The question was, whose prize was it?
I was intrigued. The setting was near one of the areas where Neva and I had visited last August on our tour of Alaska. I easily imagined the geography and topography the young moose and its mother traversed.
I Googled the author and found he had a studio in Alaska. I clicked on the website and discovered that William D. Berry had died in 1979. Berry’s son, Mark, and his wife Diane now ran the studio, located in Gustavus, Alaska.
I emailed them from their webpage, telling of the book’s discovery, and offered to donate it to them. By morning, I already had a reply.
Mark was thrilled to learn about the book. He said that the studio ironically never had a signed copy of “Deneki.” They had to buy one off of eBay for more than the book had earned in royalties in its initial year of publication.
Mark said he would donate the book to the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, once it reopens from the COVID-19 emergency closures. The university houses an archive of his father’s field sketches and other items.
The book arrived safely in Alaska by U.S. mail. It’s a treasure that might have remained hidden without the methodical house cleaning of our daughter and the foggy memories of her parents.
May’s Flower Full Moon was the last of the three supermoons of 2020. I wanted to photograph the full moon rising over the Massanutten Mountain Range that runs through the heart of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. However, my plans changed due to the weather. Spring has been unusually cloudy here this year. With a predicted clear sky on May 7, I was determined to capture shots of the full moon setting over the Allegheny Mountains that serve as the border between Virginia and West Virginia in Rockingham Co.
I had a clear view of the moon from Mole Hill, an ancient volcano, and noted area landmark west of Harrisonburg. Dawn’s early light highlighted Old Order Mennonite farms that dot the landscape all the way to the Allegheny foothills. The rusty silo, the brick farmhouse, the rolling, fertile fields, and the sweeping mountain slopes all take your eye right to the setting moon.
My brothers and sisters and I were fortunate. Our late mother was as loving and caring as we could have ever hoped.
Mom exhibited those endearing qualities for as long as I can remember until she died eight years ago. Even in her final months as Alzheimer’s took its toll on her memory, she remained pleasant. As her adult offspring, we embraced her goodness as often as we could.
As a gang of five youngsters, I’m sure we didn’t fully understand or appreciate just how kind our mother was. Still, each of us tried to express our love and affection for our kindly mother, especially at Mother’s Day.
As I recall, our elementary school teachers spurred us on with class projects that created gifts for our mothers. The fact that most of the teachers were mothers themselves likely influenced their desire to honor our mothers.
The art teacher helped with that cause, too. She had us make cards or draw flowers or paint a landscape for our mothers.
Ironically, my only male teacher in elementary school was perhaps the most resourceful. Mr. Bartley arranged for a local greenhouse to have a variety of violets for us to choose as Mother’s Day gifts. We walked from school to the nursery, picked our flower, and handed over the dollar bill that sealed the deal.
Our mother loved flowers, so I was most pleased with the teacher’s decision. It just so happened that the lovely plant that I had selected bloomed as a double-violet. Mom’s smile doubled, too, when she saw the frilly bloom.
Mom cultivated flower gardens around the exterior of our red-brick bungalow. She loved the bright tulips, the white, yellow, and blue irises, and the showy roses.
I loved them, too. One particular red tulip stood out to me, and I wanted to share it with my teacher. Mom took time out of her busy household chores to carefully dig up the flower and place it in a terracotta flower pot for my teacher.
Not only did she grow flowers, but she also painted them, too. When my sister Claudia brought home a fragrant, bulging bouquet of lavender lilacs, Mom was moved.
She placed them in a pitcher and was so enamored by them that she also painted a stunning oil still-life that perfectly preserved that marvelous gift. Fittingly, my sister still has the painting that she inspired, “Claudia’s Bouquet.”
Mom did her best to feed her hungry flock on Dad’s meager salary. Supper was always ready by the time he arrived home from work. Her Sunday noon meals were the highlight of her culinary skills.
Besides being an artist and homemaker, Mom enjoyed sports, too. If my brothers weren’t available, Mom would take time away from her household chores and play pitch and catch with me. She threw straight and hard, too.
You can imagine with our brood that our mother’s patience could easily wear thin at times. She was never mean or harsh with her discipline, which I think made us kids feel even more guilty for whatever offense we had committed.
I’m glad there is a day designated to honor and remember mothers everywhere. I realize that not everyone had a happy and loving relationship with their mother. It’s all too easy to take a mother’s love for granted or to think that all mothers are as devoted as mine was. I wish they were.
I am glad that Marian Frith Stambaugh was a caring, loving person. And I am incredibly happy that kindness and creativity are her motherly legacies.
The male Rose-breasted Grosbeaks usually get all the attention with the flashy rose-colored breast that is their namesake. The female is just as stunning with her variegated gray and brown feathers that beautifully accent her creamy whites. The eye-stripe is especially striking.
I hope you are fortunate enough to encounter both the male and female Rose-breasted Grosbeak as they migrate north to the nesting areas in the northeastern United States, around the Great Lakes states, and in the Appalachian Mountains.