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.
Author and artist Christine Valters Paintners offers an enlightening viewpoint on photography. Instead of “taking” photos, we receive them. That concept puts photography and the photographer in an entirely different light. (Given this photograph, please excuse the pun.)
I embrace her idea. As I recalled how I merely happened upon this enchanting sunset scene, Christine’s words rang true for me. I didn’t do anything to “capture” this lovely setting. It was there for me to receive, and I am more than happy to share it with you.
We were all standing on the deck of the cabin when my wife spotted a bright red bird at the top of a tree 40 yards away. Through the binoculars, I quickly found the bird. Its jet black wings nicely contrasted with its radiant red body.
Upon hearing the description, the property owner was ecstatic. “I’ve been hoping the scarlet tanager would return,” he said with glee.
I got as much kick out of Rice’s reaction as I did seeing the distinctly marked bird. After all, this was a big, middle-aged man, not some youngster seeing this beauty for the first time.
I love it when people love nature. Their company becomes all the more enjoyable.
I shouldn’t have been surprised by our host’s excitement. My wife and I were there as guests to tour his expanse of property high on one of the seven hills of Glenmont in southwestern Holmes County, Ohio.
Our connection with this enthusiastic young man and his partner Liz goes back decades. My wife was Rice’s kindergarten teacher. We’ve known Liz since she was born and her baby boomer parents even longer.
When our children were children, they played together. We were as close as close friends can be. Neva and I felt privileged to explore this restored property that was all about conservation.
The scarlet tanager was only one of the highlights of our visit. Inside the cabin, an old property plat map hung framed on the wall. I’m a sucker for maps, and it called my name.
When I look at a map, one of the first things I do is find the legend. It tells me how to read the map. The descriptions of the property boundary markers caught my attention.
A large solid blue dot represented stone markers, which European settlers used when they claimed the land not long after Ohio became a state in 1803. Different icons identified more conventional boundary markers like standard iron pins.
Out on the large porch of the restored cabin, we spotted more than the scarlet tanager. Barn swallows swooped low over a trio of small ponds, skimming the water’s surface for a drink on the fly. A pair of young eastern bluebirds watched the show from perches on a dead ash tree. Painted turtles sunned themselves on an old snag angled into the water.
Sensing my intrigue, our hosts piled my wife and me into a Cadillac version of an all-terrain vehicle (ATV), and off we went to tour the rolling, mostly forested acreage. Of course, I wanted to find those unusual stone markers, too.
Our friends had cleared and maintained paths that wound up, down, and around the hilly landscape. We were in for a real treat.
We crossed a tree line in the ATV and spied a young buck with velvety spiked antlers. We stopped to view an open, rolling field planted explicitly with crops for the wildlife. Conservation is Rice’s practical goal.
As we continued over the undulating trails, our host pointed out trees he specified to be left by loggers who thinned the woods three years earlier. He walked with the loggers to ensure only the designated ones were cut.
High above the cabin, we came upon one of the old stone markers. It was too easy to find. A surveyor had recently spray-painted its top fluorescent red.
I appreciate people who care for the land. When they express their excitement openly at seeing the fruits of their labor, everyone is rewarded, including the wildlife.
The Dry River in Virginia’s Rockingham County really is dry. It isn’t always.
With heavy and persistent spring rains, the river often runs strong and bank full. When that happens, the river is not crossable. That’s because no bridge spans the waterway. Rather, a large cement slab has long been in place for vehicles to pass over the riverbed. “Road Closed” signs are posted when the water is running too high and fast over the concrete crossing. Appropriately, the road that runs across the river is named “Slab Road.”
Precipitation has been greatly lacking here in the Shenandoah Valley since early June. Consequently, the Dry River has been bone dry for quite a while.
The calendar didn’t change, but the weather sure did.
August came early this year. The calendar didn’t change, but the weather sure did.
The three H’s customarily associated with August, hot, humid, and hazy, have been around off and on since this June. Unfortunately, the dreaded trio has been mostly “on” all across the continent and beyond.
The results haven’t been pretty or even healthy. Record high temperatures fed massive wildfires, more typical for the fall months. The fires have been burning all across the West and in several Canadian provinces. A wildfire completely obliterated the small town of Lytton, B.C.
The wildfires have fed the brilliant sunrises and sunsets in recent days. Brisk winds aloft have spread soot particles eastward, creating that giant orange ball in the sky that we usually can’t look at directly. The August haze is extra heavy from Maine to Florida.
August’s weather seemed both more predictable and tolerable a half-century ago. Global warming and climate change weren’t household phrases back then. They are now.
In those days, the school year ran from the day after Labor Day until Memorial Day weekend. The school district seldom used up the permitted allotment of snow days. So, we knew we had the whole summer season to enjoy.
As a youngster, I always welcomed August even though it was the last month of school vacation. The neighborhood gang of baby boomers took the hot, hazy, and humid weather in stride.
You are never too young to help husk corn.
We were content to sit beneath giant shade trees and play cards and board games instead of more strenuous adventures. We saved our more energetic shenanigans for cooler evenings. I’ll skip the details since the statutes of limitations haven’t expired. No harm to life or property occurred, however.
August always gave us suburban kids pause. August was our reality check. It forewarned us to use our last remaining days of freedom wisely. We usually didn’t.
A few of us, of course, had jobs associated with youth, like paper routes and mowing lawns. My older brother and I both delivered newspapers. In those days, I had ink on my fingers and not in my veins.
County fairs and street fairs began in earnest. Our county fair was always the last week of August and ended on Labor Day. When the fair closed, the schoolhouse doors opened.
Our father usually grew a garden well away from our suburban home. After supper, my siblings and I crowded into the family car, and off we would go to help hoe, weed, and hopefully pick my favorite vegetable, sweet corn.
If we had a bumper crop, we headed to a strip mall parking lot, popped the trunk, and sold our excess at a dollar a dozen. Dad usually threw in an extra ear for free, the gardener’s equivalent of a baker’s dozen.
Back home, our dear mother had the pressure cooker ready. All we had to do was husk the corn. It’s another job that I still relish. My wife says I will be applying that apt skill as soon as the bi-colored corn is ripe.
Occasionally, Dad would also load the family into the car, and we headed to Holmes County. I always admired the platoon of golden wheat shocks standing at attention in the fields of Amish farmers.
I had no idea then that I would be spending most of my adult life living there. It served as a foretaste of many good things to come for me.
I look back on my lifetime of Augusts with pleasant memories. None of the three H’s can bake, wilt, or obscure them.
My wife and I could hardly wait for our Ohio vacation to arrive. It wasn’t so much the destination as it was the people we would see.
After 50 years of marriage, relationships are everything to us. With all of the interruptions caused by the pandemic restrictions and safety measures, the sheer desire to see friends and family members drew us back to our home state.
Sure, we wanted to visit our old rural Ohio stomping grounds, Holmes County. Before that, though, would come a much anticipated week at our beloved Lakeside, Ohio. It’s the Buckeye State’s most beautiful mile.
We have relaxed there each July since 1987, minus last year’s pandemic summer-sequestering. We looked forward to enjoying all of the resort town’s amenities.
We longed to stroll along the Lake Erie shoreline to view the colorful collage of flowers. We looked forward to playing dominoes with other baby boomer friends on the porch of our hospitality house. Most of all, we anticipated reuniting with fellow Lakesiders.
First, we connected with a couple of my siblings on the way. My youngest brother and his wife greeted us with their new Britney Spaniel puppy in tow. Our sister soon joined us, and we caught up with news of children and grandchildren around a table of finger foods.
To help further break up the long drive from Virginia, we stayed overnight with a lifelong friend. Glad for our company, she went overboard to accommodate us, sharing deep conversations that resulted in laughter, tears, and lots of delicious food. Our reunion holiday was off to a good start.
Beautiful summer weather welcomed us to the Chautauqua on Lake Erie. Lakeside was still Lakeside.
However, a powerful night-time cold front arrived, drowning out many of our outdoor Lakeside plans. The weather remained wet and chilly, more so than the forecasts had foretold.
Still, we were at our favorite family resort, and that was all that mattered. The on-again-off-again rain couldn’t dampen our reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones.
As a photographer, I always enjoyed rising early for gorgeous sunrises over the lake. Clouds and fog foiled that, too. The sun still rose. We just couldn’t see it.
The traditional stroll to the dock for sunsets even became iffy. A bagpiper serenaded the sundown to the joy and amazement of the adoring crowd at one of the few sunsets that we did see.
Summer flowers brightened cottages, homes, and even businesses thanks to the dedication of the hardworking Lakeside staff and volunteers. We enjoyed the many flashy floral displays.
Despite the weather, the Lakeside days slipped away. Saturday came too soon, and we bid farewell to our Lakeside friends. We headed southeast for dinner with my two brothers and their spouses.
Then it was off to the heart of Ohio’s Amish country, Holmes County, where we had spent most of our adult lives until moving to the Shenandoah Valley to be close to our grandchildren four years ago. We were amazed at the continued new construction, primarily commercial buildings.
On Sunday, we returned to the church where we worshiped for 46 years. More friends shared hugs and smiles both before and after the service.
We stayed with dear friends and watched the sun glint off of the newly restored courthouse dome. It was hard to believe the many changes of the last four years as our gracious hosts drove us around the county.
As we headed back home, we made one more important stop. Breakfast with my wife’s sister and husband and a close cousin and his wife, all baby boomers, too, served as an appropriate send-off.
Spirited conversations and genuine fellowship with family and friends marked the pinnacle of our Ohio vacation. Soggy weather couldn’t swamp that.
The patch of lovely pink coneflowers drew me to them. The pretty flowerbed would make a nice photo. Then I spotted a lone bee atop one of the flowers. It sat motionless, as if resting. The amount of yellow pollen protruding from each side impressed me. I had to snap a photograph before it flew away.
Ironically, the bee stayed still, and I walked away glad that it had caught the attention of these old eyes.
There she was, sitting in the hot summer sun sketching away. The oversized, floppy straw hat she wore blended in with the stucco building behind her and created its own shade. This septuagenarian was just one of many street artists participating in the Plein Air Festival at Lakeside, Ohio, where my wife and I vacationed.
With her permission, I captured this shot of her sketching a cafe scene across the street. “The Street Artist” is my Photo of the Week.
How do you mid-summer dream? It’s something we all do but may not recognize it as such. I’m not necessarily channeling Shakespeare’s classic comedy either.
Mid-July is the time of year when we find ourselves drowsing. We can thank the month’s long days of heat and humidity for that. I’m not complaining, mind you.
Summer’s lush and contrasting colors are at their peak before August’s dog days wither and fade them. There is no better time than the present to commune with the out-of-doors. It is summer, after all.
It’s a dreamy time of year. Nature gives us plenty of opportunities to while away our time by gazing at the many varieties of vibrant and verdant scenes that surround us. City, suburban, or country, all we have to do is notice the abundant bold beauty.
There are plenty of options for all ages. Venues like the Wilderness Center offer multiple choices for summer dreaming. Stroll the many trails or take a seat on a bench or a log and just sit and absorb whatever you encounter. Mosquitoes don’t count.
Put on your best summer muse. It could be the initial quiet moments of the dawning day or the cool of the evening as Venus glimmers brightly low in the western sky.
Sit on a porch swing and watch the fireflies flicker in the late evening haze. Cast a keeper-hook into a bed of blooming water lilies and gently reel and wait for that expectant tug on the line.
Swim in a farm pond with your teenage friends, or just lounge on a dock and bask in the ensuing laughter. Sit around a campfire, listening to the snap, crackle, pop, and watch the sparks skitter higher and higher until they fizzle.
Stand at your garden’s edge, and smile at the success of your persistent efforts to keep the weeds at bay. Watch a sunset over a lake or stream. Be awed as the orange, golds, and reds magically meld into pinks and blues as dusk becomes nightfall.
Silently follow a family of chimney swifts as they swoop in wide loops overhead, busily chattering before suddenly dropping into a nearby smokestack. Sit high in a mountain at a scenic overlook for hours and savor the ever-changing view.
Don your skis and skip wave after wave behind a speeding motorboat, laughing in the glorious moment. Share a homemade sour cherry pie with generous scoops of vanilla ice cream with your grandchildren.
Even Britain’s Queen Elizabeth has embraced the dreaming. She recently opened up the Buckingham Palace lawns to the public for picnic lunches. Take your own food, of course.
Studies have shown that spending time outdoors can improve your health. A mere 20 minutes outside three times a week could make a huge difference for you physically and mentally. By month’s end, you will have spent five hours recharging in nature.
Think back on all that has transpired in the last year and a half. Think ahead about what might yet be. Most significantly, dream, observe and appreciate all the goodness around you at this midway spot in our calendar year.
We all have endured a great deal, some more than others. There may be more to come. That’s all the more reason to take time to find a special place of respite outside, a spot where you can reflect and dream.
We can’t change the past, and we can’t know what lies ahead. We can, however, enjoy the moment at hand.
There is no better place to do that than your favorite open-air space. Happy mid-summer dreaming.
I took this photo exactly seven years ago today while I was checking my roads as a township trustee in Holmes County, Ohio. Wheat shocks standing in fields like this one was once a common scene in Ohio’s Amish country.
Today, only the lowest order of Amish still shock their winter wheat, oats, and corn in the fall. The mainline Amish have introduced horse-drawn harvesting machines to gather their grain. Doing so was a matter of efficiency. With less than 10 percent of Amish still farming, fewer farmers are available to help in the harvesting process.
Consequently, this photo perhaps is a shocking scene in today’s terms. “A Shocking Scene” is my Photo of the Week.