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 was searching for a rare bird when the setting sun caught my attention. When I noticed how the last of the day’s sunrays illuminated the ragtag fringes of the cattail heads, I forgot the bird to capture this shot.
The golden tint of the sun on the lake highlighted the rich and varied browns of this late November scene. I didn’t see the bird, but this moment made the trip worth it.
The last Thursday in November in the United States is proclaimed Thanksgiving Day. Tomorrow, my wife and I will gather at our daughter’s house with her and her family. Our son-in-law’s family will join us to celebrate the day, too.
We will have all of the usual Thanksgiving meal trimmings: roasted turkey and dressing, homemade mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, and an assortment of homemade pies. It will be scrumptious.
We are grateful for this bounteous meal and warm home where we will feast. But more importantly, we will be most grateful to share it with family. Loving family relations can never be taken for granted.
We will also remember those who have passed on and those who aren’t as fortunate. Gratitude must come with the recognition, responsibility, and desire to help the least, the last, and the lost.
I enjoy taking photos of my grandchildren, especially when they are participating in their various activities.
We recently attended our granddaughter’s middle school concert. Of course, the brass instruments were in the back row. Maren plays a euphonium. Given her seating assignment, I figured I better take some snapshots before the program started.
I especially liked this shot of her peeking over her music stand as the music director gave preliminary instructions. The reflection in the euphonium’s bell added splashes of color. Maren was all eyes!
Each time we visit our grandson and his parents in upstate New York, we try to stop at a new place on the way up or back, sometimes both. Returning home on our latest trip, we decided to visit the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
I had been to the Flight 93 crash site about a year after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. There wasn’t much to see back then. Visitors were required to view the crash site from afar. Consequently, you couldn’t see much.
A short chain link fence held memorials to the 40 victims and first responders. A firefighter’s turnout coat and helmet were the most apparent objects. Relatives and friends had attached photos of the deceased and fresh and plastic flowers that hung askew from the woven wire fence.
A photo taken seconds after Flight 93 crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
A long, single wooden bench sat tangent to the makeshift memorial fence. It served as both a resting place and a reminder not to go any farther. The plane had crashed into an old strip mine, which appeared to have been haphazardly reclaimed. You entered the area from the west on the old dirt pit road formerly used by coal trucks and excavating equipment. A small graveled parking lot had been developed north of the temporary memorial area.
I remember standing there in silence out of respect for these brave folks who deserved to be recognized and honored better than this. The desolate setting seemed to mock the tragedy. An abandoned rusting steam shovel sat overlooking it all. The starkness of the scene shocked me.
This visit was much different, however. The Flight 93 National Memorial was established in 2005 as a tribute to the passengers and crew of the fateful flight. The federal government bought up the land around the sacred site, which the National Park Service maintains. Creating the national memorial was a coordinated public-private effort that included the Families of Flight 93, Friends of Flight 93, the National Park Foundation, and the National Park Service.
We drove in and out of rain showers on our way to the site. The entrance is now off U.S. 30, the Lincoln Highway. A black-topped roadway winds three miles to the Visitors Center Complex. The road’s length allows visitors to respectfully transition from the present time back to that fateful day. The Visitors Center is located on a rise overlooking the crash site near the old parking lot. Exhibits recap the unfolding events of that terrible day through videos, photographs, newspaper clippings, and maps. The building itself is plain, unremarkable in design, and positioned to mark the final path of the flight.
The center also includes a bookstore, a viewing window, the Flight Path Walkway, and an Overlook. Since the crash left nothing more than a crater, a 17-ton bolder from the property was moved to mark the spot of the debris field. Visitors can walk or drive to the Memorial Plaza, located just north of the impact area. A Wall of Names points to the victims’ final resting place.
My wife and I arrived right after a school group did. Ranger Greg gave the youngsters and their chaperones an overview as we walked by them. Soon, they caught up to us in the exhibition room. We couldn’t help but hear Ranger Greg’s booming voice as we viewed the different displays. He certainly had the students’ attention as he told the story of Flight 93. He caught ours when he mentioned that the plane had veered off its scheduled path by abruptly turning southeast-bound over Canton, Ohio. My wife and I were both born in that blue-collar city. We walked closer to the group and listened as he told one aspect of the story after the other, most of which we had never heard before.
We drove to the Memorial Plaza, and volunteer ambassadors welcomed us. The rain intensity increased as Neva and I walked together quietly under a small blue umbrella, a fitting color for the place and mood. We stopped in front of the Wall of Names, an alphabetical listing of the flight’s crew and passengers. As I had experienced at the chain link fence two decades ago, memorial items had been left at some of the names. A wooden angel, fresh flowers, and a wine corkscrew rested beneath the first name on the black walkway. A volunteer explained why.
Christian Adams, a German citizen, worked for a German wine association. He was on his way to a wine convention in California that morning. The corkscrew served as yet another poignant symbol.
Items left at the Wall of Names in memory of Christian Adams
The dark walkway tiles represent the many cedar trees burned by the explosion and ensuing fire when Flight 93 dove into the ground upside down. A ceremonial gate of hewn cedar planks marks the way to the flight’s demise and the final resting place of those on board.
The radical changes I experienced gripped me. The 40 groves of 40 oak and maple trees planted in honor of the brave passengers and crew added a splash of russet to the fading fall landscape. Other volunteer trees sprouted from seeds planted by squirrels or blue jays or after lying dormant in the spoils of the old strip mine field. Today, they also serve as living memorials to the souls who lost their lives on that pleasant September day that turned so horrid.
We left with a new appreciation and a deeper understanding of what transpired on and to Flight 93. More than that, I was grateful for the simple, appropriate memorial that honored those brave, doomed souls.
What a difference just a few days make. A friend told me that the colors on Shenandoah Mountain were exceptional. A man I could trust, I took his comments to heart.
Viewing the colorful leaves of autumn is a long-standing tradition for me. Of course, living most of my life in Ohio’s Amish country spoiled me. I was surrounded by brilliant colors nearly every fall without having to leave home.
I needed to satisfy that desire to participate in autumn’s color fest. The Saturday morning after my excursion on Skyline Drive, I headed west on US 33. It’s not just the main route west out of Harrisonburg, Virginia. It is the only roadway west that traverses the Allegheny Mountains into West Virginia.
The drive to the summit of Shenandoah Mountain takes about half an hour from my home. I headed out mid-morning, and as I reached where the road runs parallel to Dry River, the main waterway of Shenandoah Mountain, I changed my course. It was evident that the afternoon light would better illuminate the beauty of the leaves.
Not wanting to waste my attempt, I turned into a locally popular park, Riven Rock. In the summer, families go there to cool down from the heat and humidity by playing in the clear, placid waters of the braided stream. Here the morning sun proved me correct. Only the southernmost leaves were highlighted while I stood in the shade on the eastern bank. I decided to try again in the afternoon.
Before venturing out again, however, my wife and I attended a high school marching band concert at nearby Bridgewater College in the town from which it derives its name. We watched our second grandson and his bandmates perform a great show. So did some of the sugar maples on campus.
Our grandson after the performance, the marching band, and sugar maples.
I headed out again just after 3 p.m. I planned to drive to the top of Shenandoah Mountain, where there is a parking lot for a trailhead. On the way up the twisting road, I noted places where I could pull off to photograph nature’s glory. And I could see that the higher I went, the richer the colors. I was pumped.
Vehicles nearly filled the small parking lot. I wasn’t surprised. It was a great day for hiking and enjoying nature’s beauty in the George Washington National Forest. The trailhead leads from the parking area to the only remaining fire tower on Shenandoah Ridge. The hike up to High Knob Fire Tower is popular. The crowded parking lot said plenty of hikers were on the trail.
Please click on the photos to enlarge them.
I took a few photos at the top of the mountain and returned to my car to capture the beauty. Going down showed me just how right my friend had been. The trees along the two-lane winding road were gorgeous.
Nature was in her glory, and so was I. I stopped in the few safe places I had spotted. The afternoon sun bathed the crimsons, golds, yellows, and reds. I tread carefully along the narrow, curvy roadway as cars and trucks whizzed by.
I rejoiced in my good fortune. The colors were incredible. The leaves that the afternoon sun backlit also caught my attention. I happily snapped away.
After only a few stops going a fourth of the way down the mountain, the colors drastically faded. Just as meeting people on Skyline Drive energized me, knowing that I had reached my goal of capturing the turning of the leaves filled my spirits.
Fall is my favorite time of year, and these experiences are why.
I was hoping to see the Blue Ridge Mountains painted in shades of red, yellow, and orange in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park. What I discovered were only splashes of brilliance here and there.
Most of the mountain forests were dull in color. I was a bit early.
Of course, I wasn’t alone in my quest. Others were out and about, cruising the roadway for the same reason. I spotted vehicles from several states and even a Canadian province at the various overlooks where I stopped.
The day was bright and beautiful. The park’s early afternoon temperatures were in the 60s and high 50s. The bright sunshine warmed lower elevations in the Shenandoah Valley 10 degrees higher.
The excellent weather and a good report from a morning doctor’s appointment put me in an exceedingly good mood. The people I met wherever I stopped only increased my joy. Everyone seemed to be in a jovial mood.
Folks were snapping selfies with the coloring trees as their background. I took time out from my photography with offers to take portraits of couples, families, and a woman with her dog. Of course, engaging conversations ensued as they thanked me.
It didn’t matter what state of origin or type of vehicle they drove—Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Georgia, or Ontario; camper van, motorcycle, Mercedes, or clunker. Everyone seemed to be on the same emotional page. That connectivity made the day and the scenery even prettier than they already were.
The first family I came across was from the deep south. They were on their way to Williamsburg and wanted their two boys, 17 and eight, to experience at least a little of the storied national park.
I asked the younger one if he knew he was walking on the Appalachian Trail. Indeed, he did. I told him he could go back to his second-grade class and report that he had hiked the AT and see if they knew what that was. He just giggled.
I started at the southern entrance to the park at Rock Fish Gap. Go north, and you will be in the park. Go south, and you travel the Blue Ridge Parkway. Either direction, it’s a beautiful, leisurely drive that soothes the soul and eases the mind. The 35 miles per hour speed limit contributes to that cause.
That’s what the woman with the dog was attempting to do. She drove southeast from Philadelphia towards Charlottesville for the parkway. When she realized Shenandoah National Park was so close, she changed gears and spent a night camping in Big Meadows, nearly in the center of the park.
As we chatted, she voluntarily confessed that she had turned left out of Big Meadows without realizing she was going in the wrong direction. Reality caught up to her when she arrived at the park’s northern entrance south of Front Royal, Virginia.
Undaunted, she merely turned around and headed south. She laughed at herself for trying to rely on GPS when there was little to no cell phone service in the park. She was happy to know she could get internet at Waynesboro, her destination for the night. The next day, she could begin her journey on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
A retired couple on a motorcycle was thrilled with the photo I took of them with crimson leaves of oaks, maples, and dogwood as the backdrop. They seemed most pleased, however, that I had included their bike in the photo.
Ironically, the colors dulled as I cruised north and to higher elevations. Only patches of sunlit staghorn sumac brightened the roadside.
I had stopped at most overlooks, snapped many photos, and talked so much that it took me three hours to drive the 40 miles to Swift Run Gap. No matter. It was an afternoon well spent and one I’ll remember for a long time.
On my way out of the old gym, I walked across the wooden floor and put my arm around Maren, where she had gathered with some of her volleyball teammates. Her seventh-grade team had just lost an ugly two games against a team they had beaten only two days prior. Maren’s eyes met mine, and her tears flowed. For once, I knew words weren’t necessary or even appropriate. I lovingly squeezed her shoulder and smiled through my eyes behind my Covid mask.
Before the match began, I sat with Maren’s brother, Davis. I showed him some photos I had taken the previous night as the marching band lined up to play the National Anthem before the Friday night football game. I also had a few I took during the band’s creative halftime show. I had Davis point out where he was in the formations so I knew where to look in the photos. Even with my camera’s long lens, it was hard for this old guy to recognize his grandson. All the tall band members looked similar to me in their striking blue and white uniforms. Giant feather plumes flowed from their headgear. In those few moments, Davis graciously explained the music program, the instrument he plays, and where he was positioned as the band changed formations.
Before I left, his father asked me to take care of their family dog in the evening while they drove to Richmond to watch our oldest grandson, Evan, pitch a scrimmage game at his university. Of course, I agreed but was called off with a text from Davis just as I was about to leave for their house. They were already on their way home from the game. Daryl told me in a text that Evan pitched one great inning and then struggled with his control in the second. I could relate.
The college grandkid.
My wife and daughter visited grandson Teddy in Rochester, NY, while I held down the homeplace. I had scheduled my third Covid booster before Carrie headed north to see her nephew for the first time. Of course, Neva volunteered to go, and I supported her decision since I didn’t want our daughter driving seven-plus hours by herself.
They kept me in touch with their visit by sending lovely photos via text messages of Teddy with various people. First came a shot of our friend Dick Beery holding Teddy and smiling in my place. I was envious but not jealous. Dick and Sandy had moved from Ohio to Rochester for the same reason we moved from the Buckeye state to Harrisonburg. They wanted to be close to their only granddaughter. They live a mile from our son and his lovely wife and enjoy hosting us when we visit Rochester. This time it was Carrie and Neva that enjoyed their hospitality.
Other photos filled my text thread over the next few hours. The first was one of Nathan carrying Teddy on his shoulders the way I used to hoist him. Nathan was smiling at the joy of lifting his son into this crazy world. Nathan once sarcastically asked me why people have children. Nathan’s broad smile showed that now he knew.
Teddy looked more astonished than pleased at four months in some of the shots. After that came precious photos of Carrie and Nathan with Teddy and one of just Carrie with Teddy basking in the morning sunlight. Soft sunrays kissed their faces, illuminating their already brilliant smiles. Photos of Teddy and Nana and a family photo ensued.
Though I longed to be there, my fatigue and the soreness in my left arm told me I had made the right decision to stay home. I had spent time with Davis and Maren. Plus, revisiting the photos in the texts, I realized I was as happy as if I had taken them myself.
I enjoyed my weekend with the grandchildren, in person and virtually.
While visiting the Marbry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Meadows of Dan, Virginia, I spotted this creature staring back at me. The knotty apparition in the weathered barn wood sure resembled the face of a real Barn Owl.
For comparison, here’s a photo of a real barn owl.
What do you think? Does it look like a Barn Owl to you or perhaps some other creature?