Category Archives: column

Why September is the golden month

September in the Shenandoah Valley.

My wife caught the moment perfectly. We sat on our back porch enjoying our usual simple Sunday supper.

“It’s really still,” Neva said. In response, I looked up. I am not sure why, because silence can’t be seen.

As usual, though, she was right. For no dogs barked, no lawnmowers purred, nor were any voices heard.

An unusual phenomenon caught my attention. A light breeze blew through the back yard, rustling the red maple leaves. Though they quivered steadily, they, too, were silent. I found that both eerie and fascinating.

I relaxed in the uplifting and refreshing quietude. Such an instance enables you to see the moment itself as it is, not as you want it to be.

Turning.

Here we were only on the first day of the month, and already September issued forth one of its many golden moments. If the ninth month kept to its course, there surely would be many more, hurricanes notwithstanding.

The stillness seemed to be the day’s crown jewel, adorning a crest of many arches already naturally appointed. I noted a few of the maple’s eastern-facing leaves had already tinged.

On my morning walk around the neighborhood, I had noticed that other trees also had begun to transform their leaves. A giant sugar maple showed reds and orange where the morning’s first light peeks over the eastern hill that separates the city from the country.

A helter-skelter pattern of blotchy brown infested the fringes of the pointy leaves of a mighty pin oak. I had to wonder if it was seasonal change, blight, insects, or a combination of those causes.

Overhead, a disorganized flock of Canada geese winged it south. I heard the honking long before I saw the birds. Someone or something must have disturbed their foraging in a nearby farmer’s field to be out of formation.

Not the usual V-pattern.

On social media, birders in Ohio and Virginia alike shared photos of western sandpipers, red knots, and other gorgeous birds visiting local mudflats and waterways on their return trip. Birds know when it’s time and September gladly greets them.

The summer’s heat had taken its toll on flowers, whether wild or cultivated. Even recent decent rains couldn’t revive them.

On the way home from church, I had noticed the once lush leaves of the soybean fields had dulled to pale green. Interspersed flecks of diluted yellow appeared randomly, much like the pin oak’s disorderly display.

In contrast, fields of sunflowers glowed golden, a living symbol for the month itself. September is notorious for being the gilded sibling among its peers. Could jealousy be why August stirs and spins its tropical trouble into its September sister?

September relishes its title. It shows off its stuff at county fairs, produce stands and in supermarkets. The honeyed tones of summer squash, cantaloupes, the last of the season’s sweet corn, and the early ripened gourds and pumpkins prove the point.

Pumpkins galore.

I suppose that is only appropriate since stores are already pushing fall sales and Halloween merchandise. If they haven’t already done so, primary classroom windows will mimic the fall colors with a run on yellow, red, and orange construction paper.

Of course, with the flip of a mental sports switch, our attention has turned from baseball to football. High school, college, and pro scores dominated the front pages of Saturday morning newspapers, at least the ones that still publish.

Crickets trading musical text messages woke me from my muse. September is here, and I intend to enjoy every moment the fair-haired month has to offer. I hope you can as well.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Filed under birding, birds, column, human interest, nature photography, photography, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, weather, writing

This picture really is worth a thousand words

Overlooking the icebergs in front of the Knik Glacier, Palmer, AK.

Of the more than 2,000 photos that I took on a recent two-week trip with my wife, one single photo stands out for me. It wouldn’t win any photo contests, but it best represents the sentiment of our journey to Alaska and Canada’s Yukon Territory.

The picture could have been of the ubiquitous and colorful fireweed blanketing a misty alpine meadow. During our visit, I captured the brilliant pink flower in every stage of blooming. But that’s not it.

I could have easily chosen one of several digital landscapes of the Knik Glacier. Our friends Doug and Rosene took us there on our very first day in the 49th state. The views were stunning, the experience exhilarating. But, no, that’s not my favorite photo.

The early morning view from Flat Top Mountain overlooking Anchorage, Alaska could certainly qualify, too. I could faintly see the grand mountain Denali through the morning haze. That wasn’t it either.

Other possibilities were the many snapshots of caribou grazing in meadows in Denali National Park and Preserve. For shooting at some distance through the window of a refurbished school bus, I thought the photos turned out pretty well. However, none of those shots could compare to my favorite.

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I had hoped to see a bull moose while on our trip. As we approached the end of our Denali tour, we spied one lumbering through the brush 100 feet from the bus. Even my first bull moose pictures couldn’t match the one that touched me most.

We much enjoyed our walk around the frontier town of Dawson City, Yukon. With its dirt streets and eclectic set of residential and commercial structures, it looked like a set right out of a John Wayne movie. As lovely as that assortment of Dawson photos was, they couldn’t measure up to my pick.

You should see Emerald Lake, a beautiful body of water worthy of its colorful name in the Yukon. Surrounded by mountains dotted with forests and meadows, the shots I got are some of my favorites, but not the favorite.

Shortly after that, we stopped at the quaint village of Carcross, built on a spit of land between two sparkling lakes. I captured a flock of ducks twisting and turning in the sky over Lake Bennett. As ecstatic as I was, those pictures can’t compare to my most precious shot.

Please click on the photos to enlarge them.

The narrow-gauge train trip down the mountain gap from the Canadian border to Skagway, Alaska was breathtaking. With a clear sky and divine mountainous scenery, the shot of the train crossing the trestle over a river is calendar-worthy. Nope. That’s not the one either.

I had high expectations for getting shots of several different glaciers in Glacier Bay National Park. Sea, air, and light conditions made for perfect shots. But as you likely have surmised, they aren’t my choice either.

I was fortunate to capture memorable photos of gorgeous scenery, thrilling wildlife, spectacular glaciers, and eye-catching architecture. Yet, none qualify as my shot of shots. What is?

My favorite photo of our dream vacation is one of the best I have ever taken of my wife. Neva is standing at the stern of our cruise ship as it slowly eases out of port to begin our brief voyage.

The smile on her face is both precious and priceless. As she looks back at the camera, Neva’s radiance lights up the dim evening setting. It wasn’t the anticipation that created that glow. It was the pure pleasure of being there together.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Filed under architectural photography, column, human interest, nature photography, photography, travel, weather, writing

Watching the grandkids grow

Times have changed, and so have the grandkids.

Our grandkids are growing in so many ways. The most apparent transformations, of course, are their physical changes.

On their last visit to Nana and Poppy’s Ohio home, we had family photos taken. That was April 2017. At 5 foot 9 inches, I was taller than all three grandchildren. Not anymore.

When we returned from a recent trip to Alaska, I could no longer make that claim. Both Evan and Davis have outgrown me. Two years makes a big difference when you are growing youngsters.

In fact, Davis is challenging his older brother for tallest sibling bragging rights. At 15 and 13, they both likely have some growing yet to do.

When Nana asked Davis if he was the tallest in his middle school, he said not by a long shot. One classmate is already 6 foot 3 inches.

When I asked what sports the tall teen plays, Davis quickly replied with one defining word: “Guitar!” That’s what I get for stereotyping.

We took the sprouting trio out for our annual before-school-begins breakfast at their favorite eatery. Since it was already going on 10 a.m. by the time we arrived, the outing was more like brunch. Growing youngsters need their sleep.

The discussion around the breakfast table revealed other sorts of growth. They each shared about their recent trip to the west coast.

Back in Ohio.

The highlights they named surprised both Nana and me. They all liked the Chihuly Art glass garden in Seattle. Riding motorbikes and four-wheelers in Oregon was a close second, followed by watching surfers at Huntington Beach, California with cousins they got to meet for the first time.

We talked about the upcoming school year. When asked about the classes they would be taking in high school and middle school, each boy pulled out a smartphone and read off their schedules. Little sister, who isn’t so little anymore, is excited to have her best friend in her fourth-grade class.

As they chattered on and we waited on the food, I couldn’t help but reflect on their younger years in Texas, where all three were born. We enjoyed those infrequent visits, although the hot Lone Star summers often kept us inside playing with Matchbox toys and changing diapers.

Now they live in the heart of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, and so do we. They are the primary reasons we moved here from the beloved Buckeye State more than two years ago. Living five miles apart is much more convenient than five hours by airplane.

Watching the grandkids change so quickly is both gratifying and a bit scary. We relish each moment, even the predictable squabbles of youth and siblings. I’m thankful that the role of grandparent is less harried than that of the parent.

Evan, Davis, and Maren all have their various likes and dislikes, gifts and abilities. It is both a joy and a challenge to keep up with their busy, young lives.

We bundle up and watch Even pitch even if it’s 40 degrees with a stiff northwest wind. I marvel at Davis’ preference for quiet, personal time, whether on a solo bike ride or being in his room. I shake my head in disbelief at Maren’s packed after-school schedule. How she manages soccer and choir practices, and piano lessons that sometimes follow one another is a mystery to me.

The grandchildren are growing. Nana and I relish the rapid changes that seem to occur daily. We anticipate with wonder all that is yet to come, thankful we’re here to help and take it all in.

Kids being kids.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Filed under column, family, human interest, photography, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, writing

Reflections on 30 years in public education

A one-room Amish private school in eastern Holmes Co., OH.

It’s been 20 years since I retired as a public school educator in Holmes County, Ohio. I began teaching fourth grade at Killbuck Elementary School only weeks after the historic and devastating July 4th flood of 1969.

It’s fair to say that neither Killbuck nor I have been the same since. I can’t speak for the town, but for me, that’s a good thing.

I have many fond memories of my time in both West Holmes and East Holmes Local School Districts. I was hired just 10 days before school started. A significant teacher shortage had hit rural areas then. West Holmes still needed 10 more teachers before school started.

I had the two most important requirements needed to teach back then. I had a college degree and a heartbeat. The only education course I was certified to teach was driver education.

I was assigned to a tiny third-floor room in the old high school part of the school complex. I had 28 fourth graders packed into that small space.

I can still name every one of those 28 students. That’s the kind of lasting impression that experience made on me.

A retirement gift from the staff.

Students in the other eight years that I taught at Killbuck were equally enjoyable. I especially appreciated the support of the parents, as well as the camaraderie of the school staff members.

To keep teaching each year, I had to complete at least two college education courses. That meant many night classes and summer school for this teacher. It didn’t take me long to realize that this was what I wanted to do for a living. I loved children, and despite some of the silly state and local requirements, I enjoyed teaching.

I liked it so much in fact that I got my Master of Education degree and became an elementary principal in East Holmes. I also worked out of the central office coordinating the expanding federal programs. But it was the kids I enjoyed the most, plus the opportunity to help teachers teach.

I served as principal of Mt. Hope and Winesburg Elementary Schools for 21 years. I also supervised Wise Elementary for three years at the same time. To complete the triangle of visiting each school each day required driving 21 miles.

For me, the best day of each school year was the first. The students were always excited, scared, and ready to learn. Once they settled into the new routines that soon changed.

I marvel at those precious years, those shinny tiled hallways that bustled with the cheerful sounds of children laughing and learning and quietly chatting. I recall trying to chase teachers out of the buildings long after the school day had ended. Sometimes teachers were still there in the evenings grading papers, displaying student work, or planning for future lessons.

I recall marvelous, heartwarming stories involving children, their parents, teachers, and administrators. There were darker times, too, but far and away, the better memories rule.

It is hard to believe that two decades have evaporated since I retired from the profession I loved with all my heart. I know I wasn’t perfect in executing my responsibilities. I simply tried my best to be an educational leader for the community that I served. After all, the schools belonged to the community, not me.

I can say without hesitation that the 30 years that I spent in the hallowed halls of public instruction in Holmes County were some of the best of my life. But for me, now and forever, school is dismissed.

My last class as an elementary teacher.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Filed under Amish, column, history, human interest, Ohio, photography, rural life, writing

The colors of August

Wheat shocks at sunset.

The colors of August captivate me. Living nearly all of my adult life in Holmes County, Ohio gave me a full range of that summer paint pallet.

The pleasing contrasting greens and golds quickly got my attention. I admired the rolling contoured rows of lush green field corn against the toasted waves of winter wheat.

In the eastern part of the county, wheat shocks stood as sentinels guarding the fattening ears of corn nearby. Unfortunately, their presence seldom deterred the deer from nibbling the outer rows to the cob.

The blooming alfalfa brought pretty butterflies, honeybees, and other vital pollinators. The swooping swallows had their own feast, especially when the farmers made their August cuttings whether by tractors or horse-drawn mowers.

August was when the vibrant green leaves of deciduous trees began to curl in the heat, humidity, and parched soil. By month’s end, a few even turned brown or began to color.

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I always enjoyed the flowers that bordered blossoming gardens or multiple flowerbeds like my wife cultivated to perfection. Hollyhocks were my favorite until the gladiolas raised their pink, red, yellow, and white flags.

I would be negligent if I failed to mention the summer birds, some of which had already begun their return flight south. Though not as vocal as earlier in the year, most still showed their breeding colors.

The flashing iridescent red on emerald of the male ruby-throated hummingbird and the flashy orange and black of Baltimore orioles spruced up any welcoming yard, if only temporarily. Sometimes the two species vied for dibs at the sugar-water feeders.

By months end, early morning coolness brought silent, silken fog that glowed bronze with the rising sun. If eyes were sharp, silver droplets dotted the dewy threads of spider webs artistically strung from one barbed wire strand to another.

Much of that changed, however, when my wife and I moved to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Like Holmes County, the Valley, as locals like to call it, is the breadbasket of the south. Agriculture still rules the rural areas.

Farming is a bit different here, however. Though the Old Order Mennonites still drive horses and buggies, they man the latest farm machinery invented. As thrifty as their Amish cousins, they often farm right up to the roadway.

Though the topography is similar, strip cropping is seldom used. No-till farming seems to be the in thing here. The result is wide swaths of wheat sown between two fields of field corn or the tallest soybeans I have ever seen. It’s still green and gold, just different species.

With soil that hardly ever freezes and being further south, the growing season is longer. Farmers and gardeners get an earlier start on planting and consequently harvesting. The colors I was used to in August begin to appear in July. Produce stands evidence that.

The produce peak, however, still seems to be August. My wife and I can attest to that thanks to the generosity of our son and daughter’s families. They gifted us a weekly produce box known as CSA, Community Supporting Agriculture.

End of August morning.

We have already enjoyed weeks’ worth of fresh, organic produce that is as tasty as it is luscious to admire. Mellow yellow summer squash, prickly green pickles, plump red tomatoes, sweet red beets, orange cantaloupe, and juicy red watermelon make our summer meals perfect.

Happy to merely admire the colors, I almost hate to have Neva slice, dice, fry, cook, and can the colorful lot. I change my mind, however, with the fresh salsa alone.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Filed under Amish, birds, column, food photography, human interest, nature photography, Ohio, Ohio's Amish country, photography, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, travel, Virginia, weather, writing

How do we respond when lightning strikes?

Storm clouds at sunset.

Recently, I received an early morning unexpected wakeup call. Others heard it, too. Neighbors and folks who live miles away got the same loud awakening.

At precisely 3:36 a.m., an extremely close lightning strike nearly knocked me out of bed. I learned later that others said the same thing.

The storm was unforeseen, not in the forecast, and as a severe weather spotter for the National Weather Service, I keep a close eye on the weather. This storm took me by surprise.

I was sound asleep, and yet I somehow remember hearing the sizzle, a loud pop, an extremely bright flash, and then a bang and thunder that rattled buildings up and down the Shenandoah Valley. All that happened in a terrifying split second.

Of course, I jumped up right away, wide-awake as if it were noon. Fearful that the lightning had struck our home, I immediately did an extensive check of the interior and then the exterior of our place.

In my office across the hall, the strike had fried our Internet modem and the Wi-Fi router. My laptop seemed saved by the surge protector.

I roamed the house sniffing for smoke and fortunately found none. I went outside and noted that it had rained, but was not now.

Lightning flashed, and thunder rumbled in the far distance. I scanned the neighbors’ homes in front and back of us. Everything seemed fine, so I went back inside and rechecked the house before settling back into bed.

We all face life moments when we need to be rescued.

I later learned that the lightning had hit two houses away. The lightning damaged electrical equipment in several homes and knocked the Internet provider offline for several hours. One lightning strike had created all this damage by following an underground cable.

This close strike was the first we have experienced in Virginia. When we lived in Holmes County, Ohio, our house was struck at least six times in the nearly 38 years we lived near Berlin. We never had a fire, but usually had to replace a variety of electrical products over the years.

I have to confess that the surprise lighting bolt immediately unnerved me. A deep, personal sensation filled me like a close encounter of the heavenly kind. I said a silent prayer of gratitude and dozed back to sleep.

Life is like that, isn’t it? Sometimes the most straightforward experience or situation suddenly brings deep, passionate meaning. I thought of others who have found themselves under ominous and personal storm clouds. For them, unfortunately, mere replacement isn’t always an option.

We all are struck by lightning in some way. It could be a sudden illness, a severe car crash, the death of a loved one, a house fire, a lost wedding ring, a lost job, or a terminal diagnosis. The list is endless. How we choose to respond can determine the intensity of the shock.

That unexpected bolt awakened me not only from my sleep but from life’s slumber, too. I know I have faults, can do better, can be kinder, listen instead of talk, share instead of desire, pray instead of complaining.

Lightning strikes the earth 100 times per second. So the close lightning strike wasn’t that unusual. The extraordinary sense of making every moment count while I still can, however, literally hit close to home.

For me, the message was simple. Time is short. Time is fleeting. I need to be kind and generous, compassionate, and considerate unconditionally. Will you join me?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Filed under column, human interest, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, weather

There’s always a pleasant surprise at Lakeside, Ohio

Cottages in early morning light along Ohio’s most beautiful mile in Lakeside, OH.

Upon our return from our most recent stay at Lakeside, Ohio, a friend who had never been there asked me what we liked. “Everything!” I replied immediately. I wasn’t facetious either.

We go for the wholesomeness of the Chautauqua town on Lake Erie. We love the renewal of friendships, the happy buzz of children playing, generations of adults relaxing on front porches of quaint cottages, inspiring sunrises and sunsets, informative presentations, and a variety of nightly entertainment that touches multiple genres in a week.

We stay in the same hospitality house every year, often with some of the same guests, who have become friends over the years. We quickly settle into the same routines.

A two-mile walk around the gated community’s parameter precedes breakfast on the spacious wrap-around front porch. As we enjoy coffee, cereal, and friendly conversation, we people watch. Many folks make donut runs to a restaurant a block away.

The OH Pops stand at the farmers market.

On Tuesdays and Fridays, the farmers’ market vendors assemble and set up their offerings of fresh fruits and vegetables, scrumptious homemade pies, and even doggie treats. The streets fill with customers from 9 a.m. to noon.

When I saw people browsing the various vendors while eating popsicles, I had to wonder where they got them. Friend Jeanne informed me that a new stand offered the cool treats for the hot weather.

Visions of creamsicles from my youth danced in my head. I went to find the source.

Beneath a rainbow-colored umbrella, a thin young man operated a stand that was nothing more than an icebox on wheels designed to be towed behind a bicycle. The young entrepreneur greeted everyone with a welcoming smile.

A sandwich chalkboard listed the luscious and unique flavors available for the day. I bought two different varieties, banana split, and apricot lavender. Of course, I shared with my wife.

One bite of the banana split pop, and I was hooked. The taste and texture of the mini-chocolate chips convinced my taste buds. I had to get the story on these OH Pops, the appropriate and official name of the young man’s business.

Storm clouds reflect sunset colors on the Lakeside dock.

I dashed back down the street and waited until other customers were served. I introduced myself and learned his name was Derek.

I identified myself as a journalist and wanted to know his story. When he told me, I was in near disbelief.

Derek was 30-years-old. His two nieces, ages seven and 12, live with him. A judge gave him custody of the girls when their mother sadly fell victim to the pandemic opioid crisis. The court decided Derek, their uncle, was the best suitable relative to care for the young girls.

The pair helps Derek make the icy treats, and even suggest the unusual flavors and ingredients. In addition to farmers markets, Derek is hired for special events and wedding receptions.

Derek got the mobile icy pop idea from seeing similar operations in large cities that he visited. He thought, “Why not here?”

Besides his business, Derek works two other jobs to make ends meet.

His vision for both the business and for the welfare of his nieces much impressed me. The combination of this young man’s work ethic and dedication shines as a model for all of us.

If this wasn’t a lesson in humility and compassion, I don’t know what is. Meeting Derek and hearing his heartwarming story was just the latest reason we love to visit Lakeside, Ohio every summer.

Dawn breaks at Lakeside Chautauqua in Ohio.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Filed under architectural photography, column, family, friends, human interest, Lakeside, Lakeside Ohio, nature photography, Ohio, photography, travel, writing

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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Filed under Amish, column, friends, human interest, nature photography, Ohio, Ohio's Amish country, photography, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, travel, Virginia, weather, writing

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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