The best time to enjoy nature is now


“There’s a hawk in the backyard,” my wife hollered from the other end of the house. I rushed to where she was. The bird was on the ground near the line of evergreens that divide our yard from a neighbor’s.

It was the neighborhood Cooper’s hawk. I had seen it before swooping low over homes in search of its favorite target, songbirds that frequented backyard feeders. I had briefly seen it in our backyard before.

The hawk’s blood-red eyes shown even from that distance without my binoculars. It was too big for another similar accipiter, the stealth sharp-shinned hawk. This beautiful Cooper’s had made a kill and was ripping it apart with its sharp, hooked bill.

I hurried to retrieve both my binoculars and my camera to watch the unfolding drama. I need not have rushed. The hawk remained in the same spot undisturbed, devouring its catch for nearly an hour.

At first, I thought the Cooper’s had captured one of the many grey squirrels that frequent our yard in search of food or to drink from the birdbaths placed around the exterior of the house. As soon as I lifted the binoculars to my eyes, I knew it wasn’t a squirrel.

I could see feathers scattered on the ground around the hawk. It had captured one of the mourning doves that come to the feeders or roost in our trees.

I wasn’t sad, nor did I think the scene gruesome. Neva and I had witnessed the balance of nature in progress, “survival of the fittest,” as some refer to it. Just as the dove needed food, water, and shelter, so did the hawk. In this case, the dove was at the wrong end of the food chain.

Empath that I am, I felt a little sorry for the poor mourning dove, but not that sorry. After all, the Cooper’s hawk needed to eat, too. That’s the way of nature.

I try to not get too attached to birds and other wildlife that I encounter. Instead, I just try to enjoy them and their various antics. Each one seems to have a personality all its own, behaviors that set it apart from others of the same species. The riotous European starlings might be the exception to that observation.

I marvel at how nature unfolds, sometimes at her own expense. Once, while watching sandhill cranes walk toward me in Florida, I heard a commotion behind me. A bald eagle had snatched an American coot from a channel. The eagle landed in a large tree where black feathers flew as the eagle ripped apart its breakfast.

Songbirds like this Indigo Bunting devour weed seeds.
It’s important to remember the big picture when it comes to nature. Where would we be if birds didn’t eat insects or weed seeds or other animals? That alone is reason enough for humans to take better care of planet earth.

I watched the Cooper’s hawk off and on for the duration of its dining. It ate judiciously, pausing every now to check its surroundings. It would return to its meal, pulling sinew, flesh, and bones from the carnage.

After it flew off, I went out to inspect the crime scene. All that remained of the mourning dove were two circles of feathers. One fanned out where the dove was snagged, and the other only inches away from where the hawk dined. The hawk had eaten every other part of its victim.

That is the way nature works. It is a joy and an honor to admire her at each opportunity that she affords.

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© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

In like a lion, out like a lamb, or not

March snow in the mountains.

March is famous for its variable weather. After all, the familiar saying, “In like a lion, out like a lamb” references the month of March.

There’s a good reason for that. It’s easy to imagine our log cabin ancestors being more than ready for spring after enduring snowstorm after snowstorm. However, pioneer-era folklore was based more on hope than meteorological compilations.

They professed that if March began with yet more lion-like elements, then it had to end with gentler, calmer, warmer, more welcoming weather. Who could blame them?

It’s only natural to want more appealing weather than another cold spell. In animalizing weather, it’s much safer to deal with a lamb than a lion, especially if you were a 19th-century settler with a bad case of cabin fever.

Likely, there was more to it than that. Those hardy people believed in a balance of life. Aristotle’s “moderation in all things” was their mantra. So, they logically applied that theory to the weather as well. If March was harsh in the beginning, it should be mild by month’s end.

Unfortunately, the weather doesn’t work that way. We take what we get, and given what we have gotten in the past, March’s weather could be a doozy. A lot of factors come into play.


March’s normal weather, whatever normal is these days, has historically played hijinks with global societies. March is known to deliver every variety of weather in its 31 days, and not always where or when you might think.

My family has personal experience with March’s fickleness. Seven years ago, we traveled from Ohio to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley to babysit our three grandkids, then ages eight, six, and three. Their parents went on a much-needed vacation to Florida.

Shortly after we arrived, a strong cold front moved through the eastern U.S. causing chaos. While Florida froze, the storm dumped a foot of heavy, wet snow on us. Babysitting was never so much fun as we frolicked in the winter wonderland. Sled riding, building snow forts, and snowmen filled much of our time.

When we returned home a week later to Holmes County, Ohio, the weather was dreamy. Under sunny skies, Amish farmers were plowing fields with horses. Now those seem like the good old days.

When we arrived home.

It’s easy to be nostalgic about March. I always thought of the third month as the bridge between winter and spring. Hoes and rakes replaced sleds and ice skates. The snow on the daffodils never lasted long.

It’s much harder to face the reality of the Marches of the 21st century. Now, severe storms are occurring more frequently and are much stronger than in previous times.

More than a hundred years of industrialization have drastically changed global climate patterns. Tropical areas that usually receive regular rains have been drought-stricken, resulting in catastrophic wildfires. Think Australia and California.

Globally, the last 10 years have produced nine of the warmest years on record. In fact, this January was the warmest ever. That could explain in part why many skiers, ice skaters, and ice fishermen far and wide had to feel abandoned by the nearly winterless winter weather.

That said, March will still be March. It just might be wilder than in olden years. Our forebearers rhymes may have had some wishful reasoning to them. The reality in the early 21st century may deliver more dramatic climatological results.

If we are fortunate, perhaps the meteorological lion and lamb will lie down together peaceably. That might bring spring weather of biblical proportions.

The signs say it all.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

It’s always good to be home

A new day dawns in Ohio’s Amish country.

Home. It’s a four-letter word that conjures up both good and sad emotions. It all depends on one’s circumstances.

I was fortunate. Returning home has always been a rewarding, meaningful experience for me.

I have no recollection of living in my first home on a channel of a lake near Akron, Ohio. But I recall many stories told to me in my adolescent years. I still get chided for grinding up coal cinders from the driveway. Apparently, I thought they tasted good.

My earliest childhood recollection was when I was about four years old. My father handed me a cold Coca Cola while I sat overhead on a rafter of the house my folks were building.

I spent my formative years in the little red-brick bungalow in Canton, Ohio. Baby boomer families like ours filled that middle-class neighborhood. Pick up Whiffle ball, baseball, and football games were commonplace, along with hide and seek sessions that went long into warm summer evenings.

That modest home was always a welcome sight returning home from college. Though the house was sometimes filled with shouting and disagreements, I always felt safe there. It was my home and my family, after all.

All of that changed once I graduated and started teaching in Killbuck, Ohio. I met and married my wife, and we built our own home just out of town next to an old cemetery. My school principal built right next to us. I loved to tell people that at least we had good neighbors on one side of our home.

We spent 10 incredible years there. It’s where our daughter and son learned to walk, talk, and play. Oh, the stories I could tell of those good old days in that hardscrabble town. For now, it’s best to let them remain dormant.

After I became a principal in East Holmes Local Schools, we moved to near Berlin, Ohio. The house we bought was on an Amish farm, and all of our neighbors spoke Pennsylvania Dutch as their primary language. That wasn’t a hindrance at all.

Just like when I grew up, our daughter and son had plenty of children to play with. They often met at the giant old black oak tree across the road from us. It was a joy to be able to watch them interact and quickly solve any squabbles without an adult having to intervene.

We lived there for 38 years, longer than any other place, including our childhood homes. Our neighbors were friendly and helpful. Amazing sunrises and sunsets enhanced the already beautiful views that we enjoyed.

Despite our deep roots in the community, we decided it was time to be nearer to our three grandchildren, who were growing all too fast. We found a home only five miles away from them in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

We bought and remodeled a little ranch house amid nearly 500 other homes. Just like their owners, each one has a personality all its own. Instead of being in the heart of Ohio’s Amish country, we now live in the heart of the beautiful Shenandoah Valley.

We can watch our high school grandson strike out batters in a baseball game. We enjoy a middle school concert in which our other grandson plays the French horn. We watch and listen with pride as our granddaughter sings in a prestigious children’s choir.

In the words of Maya Angelo, “I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.”

Indeed, it’s good to be home, wherever that is. I hope that’s true for you as well.

At home in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Christmas Morning in Amish Country


This is one of my favorite Christmas morning shots. It’s also very personal and sentimental. After 37 years in the same house, December 25, 2016 was our last Christmas here before we moved to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley to be near the grandkids.

This photo shows our granddog, a Sproodle (English Springer Spaniel/Poodle mix), watching a horse-drawn Amish buggy trotting by the house. It was a familiar scene for us all those years. The clop, clop, clop of the horses’ hooves on the payment of the busy road on which we lived soothed our souls. We miss that a lot.

I suppose, in part, that is why I chose this peaceful Christmas morning photo to share. I took it in the calm of the blessed morning before the grandkids awoke one last time at our Holmes Co., Ohio, home.

“Christmas Morning in Amish Country” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Putting mystery back in the holidays of miracles and light


December’s mainstay holidays are cloaked in mystery and miracles. Darkness to light summarizes the current holiday season theme regardless of which ones you observe.

Hanukkah, Christmas, and even the winter solstice share those common qualities. They each come with their own history, a bit of mystery, and a requisite for reverence. The three even overlap in time, traditions, and symbols.

Hanukkah and Christmas each have deep, overlapping religious roots, while the winter solstice has pagan origins. All three, however, connect winter’s darkness with some concept of light. In fact, the triumvirate celebrates light in authentic, yet distinctive practices.

Besides illuminating light in the year’s darkest time, this triune of holidays has another commonality. The celebration of all three can last for days in keeping their specific purposes.

The winter solstice occurs when the sun reaches its farthest southward point for the year. That is precisely 9:19 p.m. EST on December 21. In Universal Time, the winter solstice is December 22 at 4:49 a.m.

The winter solstice marks the latest dawn and the earliest sunset. It is the longest night and shortest day for those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere. Of course, it’s just the opposite for those south of the equator.

History and archeology show us that earth’s early peoples recognized this critical point in whatever way they marked time. They understood that the sun’s path could be predicted on a regular route across the sky.

Archeological wonders like England’s Stonehenge and Peru’s Machu Picchu stand as evidence of this. Indigenous peoples in America’s southwest also marked the end of darkness in similar light-filled ceremonies.

Historians are still unraveling the mysteries of these cultural rituals. Fire and light were essential symbols in most of these ancient celebrations. I marvel at how those two entities connect to Hanukkah and Christmas.

This year Hanukkah is celebrated by the Jewish faith from December 22 to 30. Hanukkah is the commemoration of a historic miracle involving light.

The Jewish holiday arose after the temple in Jerusalem was recaptured from cruel ruler Antiochus. Wanting to rededicate the holy temple, the Judah victors found only enough olive oil to burn sacred candles for one night. Mysteriously, the menorah candle burned for eight consecutive nights, establishing the miracle of Hanukkah.

Christmas, of course, is December 25, most likely assigned that date to coincide with the winter solstice and Hanukkah celebrations, according to some historians. They reasoned that if the shepherds were guarding the grazing sheep, the season would have been one other than winter.

Regardless, Christmastime is a celebration of another kind of light. It, too, is rooted in a miracle, that of Mary’s virgin birth of Jesus, meaning, “God with us.”

Christians begin the Yuletide season with the Advent preparation four weeks ahead of Christmas Day. Some sects of Christianity then extend the celebration to January 6 or Epiphany or Old Christmas, which the Amish humbly celebrate.

For me, in this blend of holidays, the light brings anticipation of better things to come: lighter, longer days, a hope for a better, sunnier new year, the joy of personal peace by walking with the light, and the love of all Creation.

The vibrant spirits of the season, miracle and mystery, gently weave the interconnected holiday celebrations together with the threads of hope, joy, peace, and love. Will we allow ourselves to be wrapped lovingly in this warm garment more radiant than the brightest star?

I pray that the mystery of miracle envelops you and yours in joy and light this holiday season.

Winter solstice sunset.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

November: The contemplative month

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The fall election is over. Daylight Savings Time has come and gone, and so have most of this fall’s colorful leaves. It must be November.

We can thank the pelting rains and wicked winds of a raucous cold front for dislodging most of the leaves. We can thank Congress for the time change.

I never adjust well to this convoluted toying of time. I wake up early and am ready for bed before dark that Sunday afternoon.

When we lived in the heart of Ohio’s Amish Country, I always chuckled at the various reactions to this contrived notion of messing with clocks to supposedly save energy. The Amish had that down to a science.

Some Amish complied with the change to stay connected with the rest of society. Others compromised and moved the time back a half an hour. Some never changed time in the first place.

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I miss that kind of contrariness. I haven’t checked with local buggy-driving Old Order Mennonite farmers here in Virginia to know if they mess with time in the same manner.

With the time changed and the leaves disappearing, our attention turns to Thanksgiving preparations. At least it should if we aren’t too distracted by all the Christmas gift-giving commercials already on television.

It can be for that very reason alone that I become contemplative in November. I think it’s the colder weather though. I do appreciate the cleaner, clearer air. Thanks to a couple of killing frosts, I can breathe again.

Then, too, the early darkness readies me for bed way before bedtime. These are the days of the earliest sunsets of the year until we get to the winter solstice.

I do appreciate the clear evening skies, too. I love to watch the moon creep across the darkened sky surrounded by sparkling jewels and winking planets.

The month of November ushers in the dormant season. By month’s end, the deciduous trees will be bare. We’ll see things in the landscape we had totally forgotten about, like houses we didn’t remember were there.

cropped-dsc_0555.jpgThe longer evenings give me time to reflect on the activities of the day. I do miss my fireplace, though. There is truly nothing like warming your backside sitting on the hearth in front of a roaring, crackling fire.

I used those evenings to think and reflect on our past, present, and future. With that, we recognize November’s other holiday, Veterans Day.

November is like recess at school. It’s the needed break between all of the action of October and December.

Soon Black Friday advertisements will blitz our mailboxes, newspapers, TV commercials, and annoying social media ads. Thanksgiving will be no more than a prelude to that glorious commercial day. Too bad there’s not an app to eliminate that.

As you might have surmised by now, I’m well into my contemplative shtick. I have a brain. I try to use it every now and then. November’s dark days seem like a good time to do that.

Come to think of it, whatever happened to Indian summer? With nine of the last 10 years the warmest on record globally, maybe the weather gods decided we don’t need it anymore. It’s just a thought.

Everything seems to slow down in November. From my point of view, that’s one of the eleventh month’s purposes. Let’s all take a little time to sit back, relax, talk with your spouse, listen to your children, play with your grandchildren, and be kind to one another.

Christmas is only a few weeks away.

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© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

October is the nostalgic month

A typical fall scene in eastern Holmes Co., Ohio.

If the calendar has a nostalgic month, October is it for me.

As a child, our father would load his brood of five into the old cream-colored Chevy, and we would head southwest out of our blue-collar steel town to the wonders of Holmes County, Ohio. Oh, the things we would see and encounter.

We’d stop along the windy way of U.S. 62 to sample cheese. We watched horse-drawn black buggies clop along, marvel at the corn shocks standing in rolling fields, and gape at long farm lanes that led to large white houses with big red bank barns. The real show, however, was in admiring woodlot after woodlot ablaze with every shade of orange, red, and yellow.

Dad would photograph the most colorful of the scenes. I couldn’t have imagined that as an adult that I would spend the best years of my life in that setting, among those people.

If I had to pick an ideal month and place to paint an iconic picture of our life, it would have to be October in Holmes County. My wife and I reared and raised our children there. We fulfilled our careers there and made life-long friendships.

During the first decade of our life together, my wife and I lived in the western hills of Holmes County. In October, there was no prettier drive than the road from Killbuck to Glenmont with its seven hills all dotted gold, russet, and yellow. It was a landscape artist’s paradise.

We built our first home on a bluff facing into that lovely valley. The view was always gorgeous in October.

When we moved to the eastern section of the county, our directional orientation and views changed but were equally splendid. Facing east, many gorgeous sunrises greeted us. The brilliant sunsets we enjoyed from the back yard were similarly lovely.

Our Ohio October view.

The bucolic scenes of corn shocks drying in fields surrounded by blushing sugar maples, rusting oaks, and yellowing ash and tulip poplars were commonplace, but no less appreciated. I drove back many of those long lanes to converse with the inhabitants of those white houses, and the keepers of those red barns. It was like those childhood visions had become actuality. That’s because they indeed had.

But October served as a double-edged sword of sorts for me. I didn’t mind the changeable weather. If an early-season Canadian clipper arrived, the snow seldom stuck, and if it did, the fluffy whitewash merely enhanced the already glorious countryside.

It wasn’t the weather or even the stinging scent of burning leaves that concerned me, though. Early Halloween pranks brought us volunteer firefighters out at 3 in the morning to douse some of the corn shocks that had been set on fire for pure orneriness.

On more than one occasion, town squares resembled barnyards. Temporary pens of goats and sheep were surrounded by hay bales and relocated corn shocks that blocked the traffic flow.

The good news was that the farmers usually got their livestock back safe and sound. Fortunately, that tradition has waned with the advent of security cameras and alarms.

We haven’t experienced such shenanigans during our two-year stint in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. With consecutive dry summer and fall months, the autumn leaf colorations can’t compare to those of our former home either.

I suppose that is what in part drives my pleasant autumn nostalgia for those bygone Holmes County days. October does that to me.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019