Category Archives: column

Plan ahead for rest and relaxation

Iconic summer scene in Ohio’s Amish country.

When we lived in Ohio’s Amish country, Sunday was a day of rest. It was a biblical concept that was actually put into practice.

Our house was built on an Amish farmstead. Few in our neighborhood mowed their lawns, washed their cars, or worked in their gardens. There were six other days of the week to do those tasks.

I wasn’t raised that way. Growing up, I knew nothing of Amish and Mennonite ways. Sunday was a day for worship and rest, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t wash and wax my car. I didn’t consider that activity to be work at all. In fact, I found cleaning my vehicle relaxing.

My Mennonite farm girl wife adhered to the Sunday day of rest tradition. I quickly swung to her custom of keeping the Sabbath after our marriage all those years ago. Sunday was church day and frequently involved hosting or visiting with others.

I haven’t looked back, and I haven’t been sorry.

Since we moved to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, those quiet Sundays aren’t so quiet anymore. By most standards, our neighborhood of family homes is somewhat subdued. However, the sound of lawnmowers, power washers, and weed eaters echo from street to street any day of the week, including Sundays. We clearly are not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.

Never on Sunday.

Still, several of our neighbors join Neva and me in holding to our principles. We mean no disrespect or ill will towards those who feel free to do yard work or some other Sunday chore. After all, working in the yard, garden, or flowerbeds can be therapeutic and therefore relaxing. Hiking, fishing, swimming, and other outdoor activities are equally satisfying.

It is vital that people who hold either view respect those who believe differently. It’s the only way we can successfully coexist as friends, neighbors, and viable society. In fact, others observe Sabbath on different days of the week.

That fact became clear to me while planning for our spring trip to New England. I have learned to plan ahead to avoid the stress of any kind of deadline, writing, or otherwise. That is a significant admission from a professional procrastinator. I sense great joy and accomplishment in getting things done correctly ahead of time.

I had several articles due to various publications for which I write around the time we were scheduled to leave. I made it a goal to complete them as thoroughly as possible before their due dates.

Doing so delayed much of the planning for the New England trip. Consequently, I had only done cursory research on places to visit.

Glen Ellis Falls, Jackson, NH was just one of many recommendations to visit that friends made to us.

Friends who had previously visited or lived in New England had given us excellent tips. I used those as the prologue to our itinerary. I scoured tourism websites, birding hot spot recommendations, perused multiple maps, both online and the physical hold-in-your-hand fold up kind.

Finally, I came to the realization that I only needed to compile an outline itinerary. The day-to-day details would unfold according to the notoriously wet and cool spring New England weather. We packed so we could dress in layers as the weather changed. We only set reservations for a few hotels and guided tours. We used the travel list of attractions as a guide, not an absolute must.

I felt immediate relief. It was 18 hours before we intended to leave, and everything was ready to roll. In my relaxed state, I realized just how important that was to me mentally and physically.

It felt like Sabbath Sunday, but only it was Thursday afternoon.

The view from the Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Dreaming on a dreamy day

A pleasant June afternoon.


It was only 3 in the afternoon, and I felt like taking a nap.

I had slept well, gone to physical therapy for my cranky back and my bothersome tennis elbow and had my ouchie knee taped. When I got home, I took my morning walk around the neighborhood.

After a light lunch of leftovers, I got busy writing and met my deadline. I grabbed the book I had failed to crack on vacation and headed for the sun-drenched patio adjacent to our back porch. I took a glass of clear, cold water with me and plunked down in a lawn chair with my back to the warming afternoon sun.

Earlier that day, a friend in Ontario, Canada had posted a photo of herself wearing a winter jacket. It was early June. I just chuckled and went on about my day. I was exceedingly glad that yesterday’s front had cleared out the heat and humidity from Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, giving us this glorious day.

Instead of sleeping, I wanted to take advantage of the pleasant weather. So there I was on the patio, book in hand, my focus elsewhere. The sky was the bluest blue, occasionally interrupted by fluffy cotton balls that lazily floated high overhead.

Backyard color

Given the series of recent damp days, it was nice to sit outside without getting wet. However, at my age, I mind my dermatologist. I wear sunscreen and a broad-brimmed hat in the bright sunshine.

The northwest wind that had brought the below normal temperatures also waft intoxicating floral fragrances from an unknown source in the neighborhood. I knew it wasn’t me. I hadn’t yet showered.

The high-pitched humming of lawnmowers from three different directions buzzed in my ears, grating against the loveliness of the heavens and the sweet-smelling aroma. Life isn’t perfect, I rationalized.

Besides, those necessary but annoying mechanical noises had competition. Northern cardinals sang their repertoire of melodies. I can’t prove it, but I am pretty confident sound engineers mimicked the cardinal calls when they invented electronic emergency vehicle sirens. They just gave them strange, non-avian names like yelp, warble, and power call.

Still, the birds crooned and chased one another. It was nesting season after all, and birds follow their innate instincts to protect their territories and their young. Common grackles attacked a common crow that likely tried to steal one of their babies.

On the wire.

That’s the only way I can explain why one would fly away with a baby rabbit dangling from its bill. Furthermore, the distraught mother bunny desperately hopped in feeble pursuit of the crow. I had recently witnessed the kidnapping unfold in our neighbor’s front lawn.

American robins joined the cardinal chorus as if it were dawn, not mid-afternoon. Chimney swifts twittered overhead. I wanted to reply, but unlike a certain important someone, I don’t tweet.

About then, an American goldfinch lighted briefly at the birdbath right beside me. It flew at my slightest first movement.

One by one, the lawnmowers ceased. Mourning dove coos lulled me back to my book. I read a chapter and headed back inside to take that nap.

It had been a busy day, and I didn’t even mention that I had made a morning trek to the county landfill to deposit yard clippings and recycling. While unloading the cardboard, I chatted briefly with a professional baseball player who lives in the county. He was gracious as usual, but I’ll admit to being mildly disappointed that he never mentioned my Cleveland Indians t-shirt.

It’s great to have fair weather, even if it’s only for a day or two. It’s better, however, to be retired to fully enjoy it.

A dreamy end to a dreamy day.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Spontaneity spices up every trip

I thought the scenery couldn’t get any better than this. I was wrong.

Over the years, my wife and I have found one travel tip to be uniquely useful. As much as you plan, leave room for spontaneity.

We didn’t read that any place. We learned it when traveling with our parents. Both families tended to go in the same mode. Too often, they had precious little time or money for vacations. When they did take one, they each drove from point A to point B regardless of what was in between.

When Neva and I began to travel as a couple, we tried to always leave room for the unexpected. It’s a habit we have happily maintained.

We do a lot of planning for our trips. We research places we want to see in the areas where we are traveling. That includes leaving time for discovery along the way. Of course, now that we are retired, we can really take our time. We often avoid interstates and expressways if at all possible.

Pointing the way.

On a recent trip to New England, we were traveling on U.S. 1 along the Maine coast when Neva had an idea. Friends had a summer home somewhere in Maine, so she decided to text her college friend to find out how near we were to their vacation place. It turned out we were really close.

Since I was driving, Neva read aloud the text replies. Our friend said they turn right at the Dairy Queen. I looked up and low and behold there was the DQ. We had to seize this moment that seemed meant to be.

I turned the van around and headed down the road. Meanwhile, Neva was getting the address and specific instructions to their house. They were perfect.

Even in the rain and fog, the sights along the way were breathtaking. We wound our way down the peninsula toward the sea, passing trees, houses, local businesses, streams, marshes, and estuaries.

Along the way, we found calendar-worthy real-life scenes. I noted places I wanted to photograph on the way back to the highway. Our first priority was to find their home. It wasn’t hard. Decorative homemade signs tacked to a tree got my attention, and pointed the way to Little River Road.

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We had seen photos of the lovely seaside home and its vista before. Even though fog limited our view, we were immediately entranced. Surrounded by birds singing, gulls calling, waves crashing, the mingled fragrance of pines and ocean, we were smitten.

Neva stayed on the deck while the sea drew me down the slight hill. From the rocky beach, I spotted a small flock of common eiders floating offshore. Greater and lesser black-backed gulls claimed a sandy point across the way. It was the place our friends walked to at low tide.

I couldn’t have wiped the smile off my face if I had wanted to. A sense of peace and longing overcame me, and I gladly embraced it. Standing there in person I felt like Walt Whitman.

I didn’t want to leave, but we had no other choice. I stopped several times as we headed back north. I photographed boats moored waiting for their owners, canoes cast aside long ago but resting as if their occupants had stopped for lunch. Forsythia bloomed bright against the fog and reflected mirror-like in the positively calm waters.

I was ecstatic, electrified at the surreal wonderland all around me. I was so glad we had played our hunch and made that U-turn.

Driving a scenic highway was one thing. Spending a little time surrounded by this unexpected beauty was quite another. Once again, spontaneity rewarded us with a sweet, memorable encounter.

Right where they were left.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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At long last, summer!

Breaking through the morning fog.

Summer! Having endured this seemingly eternal winter, that sunny, heart-warming word just rolls off of your tongue with glee and jubilation. It’s June, after all.

The official start of summer is still a couple of weeks away. But North American society can’t wait. Summer it is! As proof, many schools have already dismissed for the year or soon will. Family vacations are being planned.

After a long, damp spring, the weather warmed up rather quickly over a large geographic area in the U.S. In fact, the National Weather Service in two New England states issued weather statements cautioning the public about swimming in streams and ponds with water 20 degrees colder than the air temperature. Hypothermia was the primary concern.

Lawn mowing has become a regular task.

Summer’s fresh fragrances have already caressed most of us. Not only that, it looks like summer, too. Here in the Shenandoah Valley, the deciduous trees are all leafed out, their tender new shoots having turned from their infant lime green to a more vibrant, darker fullness. Shade trees can once again shelter hammocks.

Despite the wet spring, the first big round bales of hay stand rolled up in fields and ready to be hauled to storage. Farmers and suburbanites alike are planting crops and backyard gardens. We’ve already enjoyed fresh, crisp lettuce courtesy of our kind neighbors.

Given the warm days and nights and the frequent rains, lawn mowing has become a full-time profession. The grass is growing that fast.

People walking their dogs have exchanged their coats and stocking caps for shorts and t-shirts. Instead of leading their masters, the canines are lagging behind, tongues dangling.

Anglers have begun to ply their skills in rivers, ponds, lakes, and the oceans wherever and whenever they can. Don’t forget the sunscreen and mosquito spray.

The Knockouts.

Daffodils, tulips, irises, and lilacs have all had their show. Gaillardia, larkspur, coral-bells, and blue sage have taken their places. Loaded with bright, showy blossoms, the knockout roses really are knockouts.

American robin, eastern bluebird, common grackle, song sparrow, pileated woodpecker, and bald eagle chicks have all fledged their nests while other bird species are just now building theirs. The adults are doing their absolute best to protect the youngsters.

Strawberries have come and gone already in the Shenandoah Valley. Further north, folks are just now beginning to stuff themselves with the luscious redness. They are the only fruit with the seeds on the outside. My resourceful wife even made a strawberry pie for her birthday topped with real whipped cream.

Summer’s emergence doesn’t necessarily guarantee smooth sailing. Witness the frequent severe storms that have already brought death and destruction via tornadoes and flooding.

Cutting fresh strawberry pie.

Another negative is the abundant pollen filling the air from oaks, cottonwoods, and maples. Those with grass allergies have had a tough time of it as well. That being said, I can endure fits of sneezing for those rosy summer sunrises and sunsets.

Road construction zones are more numerous than dandelions. Having just driven nearly 2,700 miles on vacation, my wife and I can affirm that U.S. infrastructure definitely needs the repairs.

Summer picnics and reunions will soon occur along with organized and pickup baseball games for young and old. I can satisfyingly attest to the fact that grilling season has definitely begun.

Soon fireflies will begin their annual light display. Small town festivals and big city extravaganzas with outdoor concerts will commence. Festive parades and fundraising races have already started.

Relax on the back porch with a refreshing glass of mint tea and the first of several captivating reads. It’s summer, after all. Let’s all enjoy it together.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Sensing a bit of home wherever we go

Catskill farmstead.


My wife and I enjoy traveling.

Planning for travel sometimes takes longer than the trips themselves. We prioritize the places we want to see, activities we want to do, and connect with any friends we can visit along the way.

We leave plenty of room for flexibility. Spontaneity spices up every trip. We also try to include some downtime, opportunity to recharge and reflect. As much as we travel, I never know when and how that time will arrive.

For me, travel is a multi-task opportunity. I bird, photograph, explore, meet the locals, and record the highlights. Occasionally, like on this trip, bad weather interferes with the plans we have made. We adjust accordingly.

Steady rain and low-hanging clouds obscured the mountains around us, which kept me inside. We were in New York’s Catskill Mountains, where we caught up to spring’s emergence. Coltsfoot and lady slippers bloomed.

I birded by window watching. Five deer emerged from the newly leafing trees to graze in the grassy meadow that served as a yard around the house that we had rented. A pair of common yellow-throated warblers fed and frolicked in the dampened branches of a nearby bush.

This was so much like home, both our former Ohio home and our newer home in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Together the mountains, forests, rushing streams from too much spring rain, and the wildlife made it feel like home.

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Yet, it wasn’t home, either Ohio or Virginia. We were transients, merely passing through, seeing the sights, and taking in the grandeur of the fabled Catskills.

That afternoon, my wife and I drove around the countryside despite the dreariness and the constant rain. No cell signal rendered our GPS useless. The perpetually winding roads hugged the bases of the mountains like a child clinging to his mother’s apron. Steep wooded hillsides on one side, roiling waters raced over boulders on the other. In the summer, these would be braided streams, more rocks than water.

With the low clouds, the mountains all scrunched in around us, a myriad of curves on the rural roads. Road signs, either numbered or named, were few and far between. Priding myself on knowing directions, I had lost my bearings.

We stopped at the local post office for directions to our desired destination. Just then, a customer arrived and told us to go to the stop sign and turn right. The way he pointed and his casualness about turning at the stop sign renewed my hope. Reality set in. The stop sign was five miles away. I made the right-hand turn, and I regained my orientation.

In Holmes County, Ohio, we had rolling hills, and expansive woodlots, abundant agriculture, valleys carved by old-aged streams, and helpful people. The same was valid for Virginia, only mountains east and west dwarfed the valley hills and farmlands. In the Catskills, farmland is confined to hillside and floodplain pastures. Gardeners erect six-foot high messed wire fences in small truck patches to abate the deer.

One particular quirk became obvious. Everywhere we went scores of roadside, no trespassing signs warned people to stay away. Apparently, property owners and hunting and fishing clubs control access not only to the land but also the water flowing through. Places for public access to the alluring trout streams were far and few between.

The legalistic signs unsettled me and softened my comparison to the mores of our former and current home. However, they in no way spoiled our appreciation for all the natural beauty and genuine human kindness we encountered along the way.

Despite the dreary, wet weather, we felt right at home with scenes like this.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Seeing my baseball dreams come true

Grandson at bat.


As a kid, I always wanted to play third base for the Cleveland Indians. Bubba Phillips was my hero.

I know. I could have picked a more respectable team like the dreaded New York Yankees. But I was born in a blue-collar steel town in northeast Ohio. Cheering for any other team was tantamount to treason.

I began playing baseball at age seven. Right away I had a strong inclination that I wasn’t major league baseball material. A one-hopper hit me square in the mouth loosening a few front teeth.

Still, I kept at it until my college days where I watched the Kent State University baseball team. A couple of years later the team’s catcher, the late, great Thurman Munson and fellow Cantonian, would become an all-star backstop for the Yankees.

Thurman lived my dream, just in a different position, although I spent most of my Little League and Hot Stove baseball days behind the plate as well. I never took one in the mouth though. Wearing a catcher’s mask helped with that.

Before the pitch.

Imagine my joy when our oldest grandchild took to baseball like a duck to water. He was a natural from little on up. Now he’s 15, a high school freshman, and pitching for the varsity baseball team. Did I mention that he also plays third base, and shortstop, too?

Like other youngsters, Evan started with t-ball and kept playing until he progressed to the varsity squad. Nana and I couldn’t be more proud.

I try to let the coaches do the instruction. I do share stories with Evan from my playing days, usually some of my own baseball bloopers. With my talent, what else do I have to say? Evan always politely listens, often without comment. His parents have taught him well.

At the games, I focus on capturing photos of Evan pitching, hitting, and fielding. It’s harder to yell at the umpires with a camera in your face.

My wife and I have enjoyed this baseball journey with Evan and his family so far. We take in as many games as possible. That means huddled up in winter coats and blankets in the spring to keep warm. In the summer’s scorching Virginia sunshine, we share any available shade and try to stay hydrated.

And the pitch.

Evan goes all out in the sport he loves, sometimes much to his mother’s chagrin. I feel her pain when he slides headfirst into a base. A cloud of red dust rises around him from the powdery Virginia infields.

But the uniform always is ready for the next game, just like the young man who wears it. Win or lose, it is pure joy to watch him play. I don’t mind sharing my dreamy baseball romanticism with Evan at all.

I’m overjoyed that our grandson shares my passion for the game. I am even more grateful that he has had many opportunities to play and performs well, whether in the field, on the mound, or at bat. Sure he makes errors, gives up hits, or strikes out. But he is improving, gaining confidence, learning the game, and living his dream and mine.

Even as a grandfather, I still envision playing third base or perhaps pitching for the Cleveland Indians. Lord knows they could use some decent pitchers right now.

My dream is and was a fantasy. I knew that from the time the ball bloodied my lip decades ago. My grandson’s aspiration, however, is just now unfolding. I’ll let you know when he takes the mound for the Cleveland Indians.

Safe at third.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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May is for the birds

Birders at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area.

May is for the birds. Thousands of bird lovers young and old clearly would understand what I mean.

Birders live for spring migration. Birds large and small that headed south for warmer winter climes return north to their annual breeding grounds. May is the peak month for such movement.

Where the boardwalk begins.

Birders clamor for any and every chance to find rare birds or to compile as many species as they can see or hear in a day or week or month. There is no better place in North America to do that than a small state-managed wildlife area in northwest Ohio called Magee Marsh. Birds and birders both flock to the estuaries, marshlands, and small woodlots that abut Lake Erie’s southwestern shore.

Even if you don’t count yourself among the aviary flock, it’s worth a trip just for the experience. Cruise through the expansive parking lot, and you’ll find vehicles of all shapes and sizes with license plates from across the country and Canada. Human participants even fly in from foreign countries for the spectacular migratory happening.

Part of the draw is an organized and orchestrated event tabbed “The Biggest Week in American Birding,” sponsored by a little non-profit known as the Black Swamp Birding Observatory.

The “week” is actually multiple days in early May. This year it’s May 3-12. Many species of birds, especially warblers, use Magee Marsh and surrounding protected wetlands as rest stops before winging it over Lake Erie into Canada. The first landing spot for many is Point Pele near Leamington, Ontario, just across the lake.

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The colorful songbirds sometimes hang like Christmas tree ornaments from tree branches. Birders ogle from boardwalks that wind their way through the trees and along ponds and wetland habitats.

Workshops and lectures are also held to inform interested parties about the latest findings on bird populations, behaviors, and dwindling habitats. Guided field trips are also available. Of course, you can also buy birding supplies, books, and equipment.

But it’s the birds that matter. Youngsters and oldsters, groups and individuals ply their skills at searching for the latest arrived species. Word of a Canadian warbler, a secretive bird with a quiet call, spreads quickly among the birders. Just locate the crowd with spotting scopes and binoculars aimed in search of the prize.

If by chance a real rarity shows, like the endangered Kirtland’s warbler, the crowd suddenly shifts to add to their life list of seeing this worshiped species. Only a small number still summer in the jack pines of the Lower Michigan peninsula.

Yes, that is a Kirtland’s Warbler, and another one was spotted there yesterday, May 3, 2019.

Of course, northwest Ohio is not the only migration hotspot on the continent. Cape May, New Jersey, southern Arizona, the coastlines of Florida and California to name a few also host migrating birds and curious birders. Coastal regions and contiguous topography with natural waterways, ponds, and habitat provide flyways for the returning birds.

Sleepy.

Birds need cover, food, water, and safe spaces to rest and refuel to continue their journey and reach their destination. In the fall, they’ll repeat the process in reverse, only dressed in more camouflaged colors.

In many species, it’s the flashy colors that birders love to view, if only for a few precious seconds. Some of the species call northern Ohio home for the summer.

School groups, church groups, family groups, young birder groups, birding clubs, and just curious individuals celebrate these early spring days searching for any shorebirds, songbirds, waterfowl, and birds of prey that happen to be passing through.

It’s spring migration after all when May really is for the birds.

Kim Kaufman (right) and her dedicated staff make the Biggest Week in American Birding happen.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Enjoy each moment

The roaring stream.

Though my quirky back was acting up again, I ventured out to hike on a lovely spring morning to enjoy all the out-of-doors had to offer. I soon learned that included a few unexpected showers. Partially sheltered by the unfolding forest canopy, I managed to survive the spritzing.

Wanting to literally catch the early birds, I arrived at the trailhead an hour after sunrise. As soon as I exited my vehicle, I knew I was in trouble when it came to hearing the alluring calls of the warblers and other songbirds I sought. The nearby stream was running full force, roaring off the Blue Ridge Mountains eager to make the confluence of the majestic Shenandoah River only a couple of miles away.

The “easy” path.

I had chosen the trail for its undemanding topography. It was actually a fire and service road for the National Park Service. I knew the path would be relatively easy on my aching back unless I chose to venture off on more rugged terrain.

You can guess what happened. Though the road afforded me plenty of opportunities to view many blooming wildflowers and see and hear various birds on the wing, Madison Run called my name.

With my diminished hearing, the noisy stream drowned out most bird sounds for me. I didn’t complain. The variety and beauty of the many wildflowers more than made up for the lack of bird activity or my ability to find them.

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For eons, the stream has slowly eroded its winding path to the Shenandoah. Wearing down ancient limestone bedrock all those centuries, the watercourse relentlessly carves its way. Gravity is its master.

Madison Run has created its own flood plain, often wide, undulating lowlands laden with second growth oaks, wild cherry, maples, and tulip poplar. Mountain laurel, native hemlock, dogwoods, and redbuds predominate the undergrowth. In other spots, the rock-filled stream barely squeezes between the narrow mountain gaps it helped form long, long ago.

Pink, blue, and white phlox prettied the forest floor and outcroppings along the road. Blue and yellow violets dotted the roadside as well. The redbuds and dogwoods dabbed their lavender and white among the tender green shoots of the hardwoods below the broken gray cloud cover.

Tree swallows sailed overhead, dining on insects pollinating the incalculable blooms. Higher up, a lone raven glided silently above the treetops.

A particular birdsong again drew me off the trail towards the rushing water. Careful with my steps, I knew the bird was close, but I could not find it. The lilt of the Louisiana waterthrush more than compensated for my weak eyesight.

Further upstream, water rolled over a long-ago toppled ash, creating a mini-low-head dam. Here the generally shallow stream held pools of clear, deep water. Stones once part of the mountainside now served as river bottom and rocky shelves akin to sandbars.

I enjoyed whatever each moment brought me. In the few hours of my adventure, plenty of moments caught my attention. Therein was the secret of my success. The din of the world couldn’t reach me in this sacred place, this natural sanctuary.

Spring moments like these won’t last long. You can’t ask the spring beauties. They have already made their exit after their showy but all too brief appearance.

The great novelist P.D. James once penned: “We can experience nothing but the present moment, live in no other second of time, and to understand this is as close as we can get to eternal life.”

Standing in that forest surrounded by wildflowers, birdsong,
and the din of rushing waters, I graciously concurred.

A lovely setting.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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A different approach to Easter

Maybe after all of these years, I’m finally getting the point of Easter.

The holiest of holy days in the Christian tradition, Easter’s resurrection coincides with spring’s rejuvenating renewal. That I always understood, even as a child.

Of course, as a youngster, that spiritual message became overshadowed by other Easter traditions. Hunting for our Easter baskets loaded with chocolaty treats and boiled eggs we had previously colored was a priority.

After all the baskets and colored eggs were found, we enjoyed a breakfast with hot crossed buns. That, too, was always an Easter treat obtained from the neighborhood bakery where our grandmother worked.

Buying an Easter lily for our loving mother was also deemed a must. Of course, we all gussied up in our Sunday best and headed off to church with scores of other baby boomer families.

My wife and I continued some of those traditions as we, too, had children of our own. Helen, our children’s adopted Killbuck, Ohio grandmother, often hosted us after church. I would hide the eggs outside while Helen and Neva prepared their typical delicious meal.

We have continued that tradition with our grandchildren, although that varies according to their busy schedules. We’ll hold our own egg and Easter basket hunt, all the while recording the unfolding events with my camera. Nana usually fixes a scrumptious dinner to complete the secular celebrating.

Church, of course, is still a central element in our Easter celebration. It has to be. Without Easter, there would be no church, as we now know it. Perhaps therein lies my senior moment with this holiday.

As much as I enjoy the candy and the children’s excitement, I can’t shake loose the days that led up to this most consecrated day. In retrospect, they occur in logical succession that actually creates Easter’s real significance.

Triumphant Palm Sunday followed by the solemnity of Maundy Thursday, and the stark realization of Good Friday mirror my own ambivalence of the season. I am too much aware of personal grieving, death of loved ones and friends, injuries and unexpected illnesses of innocent little ones, the bigoted injustices of society toward the least, the last, and the lost.

Altogether, it seems too much to tolerate, too much to absorb, too much to accept amid the social and global daily inequities by those in power who twist the truth to their advantage. Bullies become victims and victims made the bullies, no matter the facts.

I struggle to reconcile a glorious day like Easter with the reality of the daily dynamics of a troubled world, of people in pain and mourning.

It is then that I remember that is the way of the world and the very reason for Easter itself. Christians are to model that self-sacrifice in their daily lives, not take advantage of those who have less or nothing at all.

Easter isn’t only a holiday. For those who believe, renewal is to be a daily way of life. That is a tall measure to live up to, but it is the only measure that matters.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, body, and soul. And love your neighbor as yourself.” That is the greatest commandment to follow, and the hardest.

That precept, that lifestyle can only be achieved if we acknowledge our own imperfections, our Creator, and our responsibility to help others moment by moment, breath by breath.

That Easter hunt doesn’t come in colored eggs or decorated baskets. It must be resurrected daily, individually, unselfishly, and unconditionally. If not, there is no Easter morning.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Spring’s colors brighten dreary days

Backlit daffodils brightened a forested hillside.

Yesterday was bright, warm, and sunny. Today it’s cooler, and a gentle rain soothes the parched landscape. Contrasting back-to-back days, yet my heart still sings.

We spent six weeks in Florida, but even felt the sting of this year’s too long winter there and in Virginia after we returned home. Spring arrived, and yet we still bundled up in layered clothing under warm coats and covered ourselves with blankets at our grandson’s high school baseball games. The north wind felt like it was straight off of Lake Erie. But this is Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, not northeast Ohio.

For the longest time, the rural and suburban landscapes wore their dull winter coats of mixed gray woodlots and wind-burned grasses. The orangey-red clay fields even looked worn and tired in their weathered muted rusty browns. That stood to reason, given all that the earth had to weather enduring storm after storm. Usually full of sunshine, The Valley lingered in cloudy, foggy, gray day after day.

All of that is now history, thanks to real spring weather’s decision to stay in the Shenandoah Valley. Blossoms of all colors have brightened landscapes far and wide. For days, folks have been posting photos of wildflowers and cultivated garden flowers blooming brightly in points south of us. Now, finally, it’s our turn.

The passage of a strong cold front seemed to do the trick for the Old Dominion. Skies cleared, and the sun ruled for several consecutive days. Petals unfolded and poked through forest leaf litter. Honeybees, wasps, flies, and even a few butterflies celebrated in unison.

Crocuses, daffodils, maples, magnolias, wildflowers galore, all awakened the sleeping landscape. Fields of winter wheat and suburban lawns laid fresh green carpets at every turn and corner.

A single hyacinth flower was the first to emerge at our place. Sequestered in a corner where the house meets the screened in back porch, a single pale pink head trumpeted forth. As it matured, the flower blushed to heart’s passion pink.

Other pinks soon arrived. The redbud tree we planted last year popped tiny frilly buttons on every branch. Across the street, our neighbor’s magnolia took days to gracefully unfold her lacy pink blossoms. The wait was well worth it.

At a local arboretum, a naturalist escorted a group on a wildflower tour of early bloomers. The first had already dropped their petals, while many others were only now showing. More beauties were yet to come.

Various varieties of daffodils brightened the forest hillside floor. Dutchman’s britches were ready to wear. Pretty bloodroot flowers speckled the decaying browns with their white petals and yellow centers.

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Ornamental weeping cherry trees fluffed their fragrant flowers to the delight of a host of pollinators. The bees also swarmed the crimson flowers of the red maples.

Rain or shine, the ubiquitous grey squirrels that came with the house romped amid the splashes of color. Were they celebrating or were the squirrels just being squirrels?

Song sparrows sat contentedly in the morning sunshine, singing their familiar, welcome melody. In our backyard, an American robin perched at a hanging seed feeder, a very unusual behavior. Below, a rusty red fox sparrow made a first-ever appearance as a yard bird.

All the color and warmth drew humans outdoors, too. Mowers hummed, mulchers mulched, pruners pruned, and gardeners gardened. It was a collaborative symphony and natural art show.

Yesterday was bright, warm, and sunny. Today it’s cooler, and a gentle rain soothes the parched landscape. Contrasting back-to-back days, yet my heart still sings.

A pair of American Robins roost in the twilight of a spring evening.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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