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.
One basic principle in photography is to “look the other way.” In other words, when everyone else is looking at the obvious photo opp, look around. You just might find something even more enjoyable.
That’s precisely what happened on a recent outing to photograph another glorious sunset. Before the sun disappeared behind the Allegheny Mountains that mark the Virginia/West Virginia boundary line, I turned to look east to find this lovely scene.
The sharply slanting rays of photography’s golden hour bathed the already russet leaves of the stand of oaks around this home. This photo is the way I shot it, with no tweaking needed.
Whether alone or in a crowd, it always pays for a photographer to look the other way.
Like the last sliver of the moon, November is waning. December is upon us as if we needed a reminder.
After our crazy hot and dry summer and warm and pleasant October, November serves as a buffer between those golden memories and the chilly days ahead. She is readying us for whatever winter brings.
November likes to use her weather arsenal at every opportunity. The recent early blasts of cold weather have already been a one-two punch signaling that winter will soon officially be here.
November clearly understands her convoluted purpose. I recall summer-like weather early in the eleventh month. I sweated on a modest hike in a nearby state park.
A few days later, I was photographing horses romping in the snow. November loves to tease us that way intermittently.
I have fond memories of family Thanksgiving gatherings where the football team of cousins played outside after we stuffed ourselves. I’m sure our parents gladly traded the precious peace for grass-stained blue jeans. Then again, I recall scurrying our young son and daughter from the car to the safety of grandma and grandpa’s farmhouse to avoid cold, stinging raindrops.
Weather, of course, isn’t the only transition from fall’s fairer days to winter’s worst. Every avenue of communication assaults us with seasonal offerings.
TV commercials full of holiday cheer and gift suggestions have aired for weeks. Radio stations blend in secular Christmas songs with hip-hop.
Don’t even get me started on the mail. Sales flyers, myriads of requests for year-end donations, and open enrollment options for us Medicare folks fill our mailboxes. Social media ads and email blasts join the sales conspiracies.
Every time my wife and I head out, we notice more Christmas trees set up in homes along our various routes. A few folks have even jumped the season and decorated their outdoor trees and shrubs with holiday lights. Stringing them up in fair weather is one thing. Turning them on well before Christmas is another.
My energetic wife has joined the efforts. Our battery-operated candles already adorn the windows of our modest ranch home.
November’s gradual trend towards crisp, cold air clears the atmosphere, allowing the stars, planets, and constellations to sparkle. Of course, you have to bundle up to enjoy the celestial show, but it is more than worth it.
I’ve had my birdfeeders up for weeks now, and I am still waiting on that first rarity. Until the purple finches, pine siskins, or evening grosbeaks appear, I’m content with the regulars, but not the pesky, intruding squirrels.
I still enjoy the house finches, Carolina wrens, blue jays, white-breasted nuthatches, Carolina chickadees, tufted titmice, and pairs of northern cardinals. I do keep a sharp eye out for a few stray cats that aim for a carryout feathered meal.
A small flock of American robins recently began to start each day at the heated backyard birdbaths. With the steam rising from the warmed water into the cold air, all the splashing resembles an avian spa.
Soon we will flip the wall calendar to its last page. We’ll scramble to find the 2022 calendars that we bought or that arrived in one of those large manilla fundraising envelopes.
As much as I love the rebirth of spring, the warm days of summer, and October’s many golden hours, I accept November’s transitional role. Dormancy is a necessary part of life.
As an Amish farmer friend of mine recently told me, “Winter is waiting in the wings.” Indeed it is.
In the U.S., Thanksgiving Day is always the fourth Thursday in November.
Do we truly understand the breadth of what Thanksgiving means, though? Yes, we have our childhood memories of loving, familiar faces gathered around a dining room table ladened with savory food.
For me, and perhaps for you, I cherish those thoughts of the soothing fragrance of a steaming, hot turkey fresh out of the oven, tasty mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, flavorful stuffing, and of course, homemade pumpkin pie. That mental picture never gets old.
In my case, it was usually Grandma Frith’s three daughters and their families who somehow found room to squeeze into one space to enjoy the feast and one another’s company. I hang on to those precious recollections, knowing that it was a different era then.
Times have changed as they should. We’ve all grown up. Our grandmother and all our parents have passed on. Even the oldest of the 17 baby boomer grandchildren died too young.
We are scattered all across the country now, still related but disconnected. We each have created new traditions with our own families. In effect, we are replicating what we knew, what we loved, only altered to fit our situations.
As our adult children married and have children of their own, holidays like Thanksgiving naturally take on new approaches. In our mobile age, families learn to share their loved ones. It’s the prudent thing to do.
So, one year we gather together on Thanksgiving Day with as many immediate family members as possible. The following year, Nana and Poppy find alternative ways to celebrate.
We gather with our grandchildren and their parents when it is convenient. It’s still Thanksgiving, just not on the designated day. We are thankful nonetheless.
To me, the date and day are insignificant. I am thrilled to assemble with our intimate troupe wherever and whenever we can. While my stomach rumbles full of turkey, my soul is full of joy. The latter is the preferred nourisher.
For that, I am most grateful. I am also aware that all peoples are not equally blessed, and that thought alone humbles me. It stirs me to be more vigilant for opportunities to care and share with those less fortunate.
I count my blessings, indeed, grateful to be where I am, at this place in time, even if the times are hard for some. It is our responsibility to help others however and wherever possible, simply for the common good of all.
For no matter our circumstances, we are one nation indivisible. We must work hard to keep it that way, especially at Thanksgiving.
The word “thanksgiving” is derived from two words and blended for a singular meaning. The word “thanksgiving” dates back to the 1530s and is formed by combining the noun “thanks” with the verb “giving.”
“Thanks” is taken from the Old English “panc,” meaning grateful thought. “Giving” comes from the Old English “giefan,” or to bestow or grant.
Consequently, Thanksgiving is more than a mere term, more than a holiday. Thanksgiving is a sentence requiring appreciation, gratitude, and generosity.
So, Thanksgiving means much more than delicious food, genuine fellowship, and back-to-back-to-back football games. Thanksgiving involves praise, reflection, and acts of kindness.
The Thanksgiving command suggests a trio of actions for each of us. First, we must remember those who have helped us achieve what we have. Second, embrace and celebrate with your friends and family. Third, we need to share our blessings of abundance with others.
In so doing, Thanksgiving weaves the past, the present, and the future into a purposeful, warming lifestyle tapestry. That alone is reason to be thankful.
My wife and I were sitting around a roaring campfire with friends when the clouds to the north began to reflect the rays of the setting sun. I slipped away from the genial conversation and snapped this photo at the peak of the lavender sky above this glorious autumn landscape.
From that point on, the conversation freely flowed, the radiant fire grew warmer, shaking off the evening chill. It was an evening to remember, most grateful for the all-sensory experiences.
A killing frost serves as the end of the growing season. Much like the coloring of the leaves this year, the initial freeze was a month later than the average date.
We had our first frost of the season last week here in the Shenandoah Valley. For good measure, the next several mornings were equally frosty.
Consequently, the leaves seemed to reach their peak color and then came tumbling down like rain showers. When a breeze stirred, it poured orange, red, yellow, and crimson.
Trees in the mountains to our west and east seemed to show their duller shades still. Here in the valley, it was a different story.
Trees in residential areas glowed the brightest. One particular neighborhood took the prize. Perhaps the combination of the sun’s angle, the slope of the hillsides, and the species of trees created the showiness.
Regardless of the reasons, I was thrilled that I happened upon the scene at just the right time. For days, these trees kept their composure by wearing their chlorophyll masks.
Then, as if by magic, the trees began to turn, which is too trivial of a term. Many of them glowed. In the low slant of the morning and even sunshine, the colors simply took your breath away.
A short walk around our daughter’s neighborhood enabled me to capture multiple photos of fall’s glory. I felt honored to be in such lovely company.
The same was true where we lived five miles away. Sugar maples and red maples especially glowed brilliant hues of reds, yellows, and fading greens. The plentiful variety of oaks retreated to their reddish russets.
That same day, I came across a poetic quote by naturalist and writer John Burroughs. He penned: “How beautiful the leaves grow old. How full of color are their last days.”
Those wise words hit me hard. As a septuagenarian heading toward yet another birthday, Burroughs phrasing echoed through my soul. The poet’s quote seemed especially apt for this time of year, for this time of my life.
Here we are at the physical boundary of November’s purpose: separate fall from winter gradually so humans can fully prepare for life’s necessary hibernation ahead. The series of frosts simply put their exclamation mark on that fact.
All these years of appreciating the changing leaves, I had never thought of them in Burroughs’ terms. Yes, they are pretty when they finally turn their natural colors. There’s much more to his pair of poetic lines than science and common sense.
When I read Burroughs’ insightful lines, I nearly wept. His two simple yet powerful sentences touched me with depth, truth, and stark reality.
More than that, Burroughs poetic description serves as a metaphor for our own lives, should we be so fortunate to live into our Golden Years. Perhaps I finally understood what the phrase “our Golden Years” meant.
This year the leaves precisely fulfilled Burroughs words and meaning as he wrote them. If we bothered to notice, we became the benefactors of this annual wonderment.
None of us know when, like those lovely leaves, we will fall from the tree of life. It is incumbent on us to fulfill our purpose here on God’s good earth every day.
Do we see the wisdom that shines beautifully from those whom we too often label “old?” Do we see how full the color is in their last days? Do we understand that someday we will be them?
If not, let us pause to notice the flourishing lives they lived and say thanks.
I came across this intriguing scene yesterday in a rural Virginia town. The car’s owner appeared from his residence across the street, so I asked permission to take photos of the old hot rod and building. He said he didn’t mind and continued toward the old structure’s entrance.
I asked him what kind of car it was. “A Model T,” he replied. Before he could take another step, I asked him about the building. He kindly told me that it had housed an insurance company’s office many years ago. When I further asked about the front doors, the man said he had installed those for better access to his workshop.
I loved how the color of the door fronts nearly matched the pink wheels of the Model T hot rod. And the shapes of the windows merely added to the building’s character.
For a while, we thought summer would never end with the oppressive heat and humidity and the lack of sufficient rain in many regions of the U.S. and globally. But clearly, autumn has now settled in for the duration.
The first widespread frosts and snows for the northern climes have yet to occur. Tinder dry conditions in the western U.S. began early in the summer and continued far into fall. Thankfully, a record-breaking rainstorm helped put an end to much of the drought.
The primary anticipated autumn event for us humans is the changing of the leaves, which has turned out to be much later than usual. In many places, it has also been much shorter in duration than in previous years.
Fall is a favorite season for us photographers. The migrating birds, the changing leaves, the glorious sunsets and sunrises, and the autumn bounty of flowers create plenty of photographic opportunities. Plus, the weather is cooler and generally more pleasant.
I watched weekly updates from the qualified rangers at Shenandoah National Park, my go-to place for taking pictures. The reports kept saying the peak had yet to arrive.
Fall foliage maps created by tourist bureaus offered hope even though green seemed to be the dominant color within my range of vision. When one such map showed the adjacent counties west of us in West Virginia to be near peak color for leaves, I headed out.
Once over the first range of the Allegheny Mountains, I could see that the map and reality didn’t jibe. That didn’t deter me. It was a beautiful day, so I headed to Dolly Sods Wilderness, a noted photographer’s spot. I had never been there, and I wanted to get a lay of the place, if nothing else.
I was pleasantly surprised that the mountaintop wilderness preserve provided many colors, despite the lack of large deciduous trees. I snapped away and enjoyed my short stay.
A few days later, my wife and I drove north to upstate New York to visit our son and his wife and then turned east to the Adirondack Mountains, another new venue for me. We took four days on mostly state routes through Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and the Empire State.
Though it was typical peak leaf-peeping time, the colors on the maples, ash, hickories, and others mainly remained green or dull in color. In the Adirondacks, we were a bit late but saw splashes of brightness between multiple rainstorms.
On our trip home, only in central Pennsylvania did we see the expected reds, yellows, golds, crimsons, and oranges of the fall. Since we were on the interstate, we enjoyed the views without being able to stop for photos.
The leaves have finally begun to turn here in the Shenandoah Valley. Spots of colors dot cityscapes, landscapes, hillsides, and mountain forests. But as multiple cold fronts moved through with winds and rains, many leaves came tumbling down.
Like usual, nature had some life lessons to teach us. Natural wonders happen in their own time.
We learned or were reminded to be patient. The leaves did turn like we knew they would, just not when we had expected.
We learned to look for the beauty in whatever we found. It could be a single speckled leaf lying on the ground or a spider’s web adorned with morning dew drops like dazzling pearls on lacy strings.
We learned, too, to be grateful for all the beauty around us, not just in colorful leaves.
One of the lessons of photography is patience. I drove to Lake Shenandoah a few miles east of Harrisonburg, Virginia, yesterday hoping to capture a photograph of the evening sun shining on the red barn, with a beautiful reflection in the lake. As you can see, that’s not the shot I got.
Clusters of clouds blocked the late afternoon sun. Plus, a steady west wind rippled the shallow lake, eliminating any possibility for the anticipated reflection. I got in my car and started to head home when the sun broke through.
I quickly parked my vehicle and decided to head to the south trail. I kept looking back, and just as I walked beyond a tall sycamore tree, the lighting seemed perfect. I scooched down to properly frame the photo. The light bathed the cattails in the foreground and just kissed the red barn enough to have it pop among the russet colors. In addition, a sliver of the lake showed and far beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Shenandoah National Park.
Patience doesn’t always pay off, but in this case, it certainly did pay dividends.
Paul Sauerbrey and Halloween just naturally went together. My late friend was born on October 31, 1915.
Whether he intended to do so or not, Sauerbrey, which was his preference, lived a trick-or-treat lifestyle. Ironically, he never wanted his birthday celebrated, nor did he particularly enjoy all the Halloween commotion.
Sauerbrey taught elementary school for 43 years and claimed never to have missed a day. He loved teaching that much.
Sauerbrey also enjoyed both tricking and treating people. He either liked you, or he didn’t. There was no in-between for the Halloween baby.
Sauerbrey loved math, English, and science. He subscribed to magazines that promoted the latest scientific gismos, and he often ordered the ones that caught his fancy and that he could afford.
He would buy dozens of clickers and popup buttons that would react to changing temperatures. Once the metal reached a specific temperature, the seemingly dull device snapped loudly and popped high into the classroom air, startling students.
He also tormented his sixth-grade students with crazy word puzzles that required mathematical equations to solve. He praised the few students who figured out the correct Venn diagram and chastised those clueless as to what a Venn diagram was.
His students mirrored their teacher’s inclinations. They either liked him, or they didn’t.
I especially remember one particular prank Sauerbrey pulled on a warm summer day. Sauerbrey arrived at his favorite hangout, the village gas station.
A father and his two sons, one of whom was legally blind, owned the popular town hangout. Sauerbrey loved to pester the blind man, John, who was no saint himself. I was talking with John when Sauerbrey quietly approached from behind.
John had just poured a cup of water when Sauerbrey let loose with an air horn that he had recently purchased. John immediately turned and threw the water towards the sound and soaked our ornery friend. Sauerbrey’s trick had turned into John’s treat.
Sauerbrey loved to tell stories, especially about his younger years growing up on a farm in rural Coshocton County. Sauerbrey didn’t hesitate when a neighbor offered to take him and others to a Cleveland Indians baseball game. Sauerbrey had never been to a major league game before.
The neighbor had his passengers sit on chairs in the back of his pickup truck. Long before interstate highways, the 100-mile trip took them three hours each way through both country and city settings.
The group sat in old League Park’s leftfield bleachers. When a player hit a home run, Sauerbrey caught the ball. He promptly threw it back onto the field to the surprise and ridicule of those around him. It was a long ride home for my friend.
Sauerbrey had a soft side, though. When my family visited his three-room home in Killbuck, Ohio, he always spoiled us with Cokes and Hershey bars. Of course, we had to help ourselves.
Sauerbrey was generous, far beyond offering candy and soda. After he died in 1993, the former teacher left a majority of his estate to the Holmes County, Ohio, Education Foundation to assist future Killbuck students in attending college.
Some of the students have been the first in their families to attend university. Their majors have run the alphabetical listings of college catalogs: chemistry, education, English literature, diesel mechanics, physical therapy, speech pathology, sports management, and many others.
To date, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been awarded to students to assist with their higher education expenses. That’s quite a philanthropic trick for someone who never graduated college or earned more than $6,000 a year.