Category Archives: column

Fun names just make a lot of sense

Mole Hill, Rockingham Co. VA

Mole Hill sunset.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’ll admit that I wasn’t too happy when Holmes County, Ohio decided to number their highways instead of using names. That occurred when the house numbering system was employed decades ago.

I maintained then and now that people remember names much better than numbers. Plus, local residents already referred to many of the rural roads by using a name. If you said French Ridge Road, Weaver Ridge Road, Cherry Ridge Road, Number Ten Road, Goose Bottom Road or the Charm Road, most folks knew where you were talking about. Even today when you throw out a number, you often get blank looks.

My logic fell on deaf ears of county officials. Instead of those practical and appropriate names, the good folks and businesses of Holmes County got stuck with numbered roadways. But if a stranger asked a local for directions to see the cabin built on a rock, they’d probably be told to turn off of Dundee Road onto Trail Bottom Road.

I was delighted to see that names triumphed over numbers in our new home in Rockingham County, Virginia. The roads are also numbered, but their names prevail. Only numbers identify the main routes like I – 81, US 33, and State Route 42. The rest use the beautifully colloquial names that make perfect sense.

rural road names, road names

This way to Sparkling Springs.

Wonderful names you couldn’t invent don street corner signposts. They’re practical and memorable, which is what a road name should be. Keezletown Road leads to Keezletown. Silver Lake Road begins at Silver Lake near Dayton. Sparkling Springs Road dead ends into Sparkling Springs. See what I mean?

I feel like I’ve landed in Utopia. Even if you’ve never been to Rockingham County, Virginia, you probably can figure out what business is on Harness Shop Road. Singers Glen Road runs right through Singers Glen. And the village got its name because of people singing in a glen. That’s about as practical as it gets.

rural road names, rural roads

Harness Shop Rd.

Mole Hill Road only takes you to one place, Mole Hill. It’s a well-known landmark that predates human history. Whether going east or traveling west on Mt. Clinton Pike, you are sure to drive through the quaint village of Mt. Clinton.

Even the parks say what they mean. Natural Chimneys State Park is home to an ancient sedimentary rock formation that highly resembles chimneys. Many even have an opening like a hearth at their base. And the road that leads you to the park? Why Natural Chimney Lane of course.

There’s also Whitmore Shop Road, Muddy Creek Road that parallels Muddy Creek, and Fog Hollow Road. No guessing where that goes. There used to be a mill on Wengers Mill Road. And yes, the view on Majestic View Road is majestic.

Now some places are intriguing but leave me wondering just how they got their names. Briery Branch, Ottobine, Clover Hill, Penn Laird, and Cross Keys are some examples. In time, I’ll likely find the answers.

It’s just that having lived in Holmes County all of my adult life, I know towns and valleys and ridges are similarly named. Killbuck, Glenmont, Nashville, Beck’s Mills, Farmerstown, and Limpytown would be a start. Spook Hollow, Panther Hollow, Shrimplin Run, and Calmoutier each have their own particular piece of Holmes County folklore.

Roads and towns with names that recall historical times are both fun and fascinating. In a way, they help solidify a sense of community. People can identify with them. Names like that connect the past with the present. That’s something a number simply can’t do.

rural road signs

The majestic view.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under column, history, human interest, Ohio, photography, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, writing

Less really is more

sunrise, Holmes Co. OH

The dawning of a new day.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’m not sure what took me so long to figure it out. It’s not like I hadn’t heard the concept before. I just never seriously applied the principle that less really is more.

When my wife and I became annual Florida snowbirds, we learned to live with a lot less than we did back home. Since we hunkered down in a condo on the Atlantic Ocean northeast of Jacksonville in January and February, we had to plan for four seasons of weather. Winter weather is uncertain at best that far north in Florida.

Florida pond

Cool morning, hot afternoon.

We shared just one closet smaller than each of our own clothes closets at home. That meant taking fewer clothes to Florida, combinations that could be layered. If it was chilly in the morning and we were going out for the day, we dressed warmly in outer coats, jackets, or sweaters, shedding layers as the day warmed.

With less selection, we just got dressed for the occasion, whether it was for church, dinner out, a walk on the beach or a photo outing. Sometimes we did a combination of activities.

Clothes weren’t the only items that were less in volume than we were used to. We lived in a much smaller space and with far fewer “things.” We had less furniture, fewer dishes, cookware, and almost no storage space. And yet we always had an enjoyable time. There was a lesson to be learned there.

When we purchased a house in Virginia that was substantially smaller than the house we had lived in for nearly four decades, we had important decisions to make. We had to evaluate and prioritize everything we owned. Would we need it in Virginia? Where would we put it? We truly had to downsize. We took our time, but we started early.

We sorted mementos from our school careers. Photos, drawings, grade books, and old textbooks were tossed, given away, or donated to thrift stores. Family heirlooms were distributed to any takers. We said goodbye to travel souvenirs, photos, tools, quilts, chainsaw, and camera gear, even bird feeders.

Besides finding homes for valued family and personal items, we held a garage sale and donated items to Save and Serve Thrift Store in Millersburg, Ohio. Because we spread out this process over several months, we were able to sleep at night.

Amish farm, Ohio's Amish country

Springtime in Ohio’s Amish country.

By moving from the place where Neva and I spent the best years of our lives, we gave up everything. The familiarities that became so routine, the incredible sunrises and sunsets, the friends, neighbors, family members. We miss all of them, all of that.

painting furniture

Making old new again.

In a way, it was like starting over. Sure, we knew folks in our new setting, we knew places, but it wasn’t the same. By doing so though, we realize we have gained by living with less. We actually have more. The real benefit of living with less is that it has brought us more joy.

As we enter our retirement years, it feels good to have de-cluttered our lives. We feel alive in finding new adventures, making new friends, renewing old friendships, exploring new places, seeing new sunrises and sunsets from new locales, on new farms, and from cityscapes.

For us, less has become more. We have shed ourselves of the excess, and strive to enjoy each moment, each day, each person we encounter, whether at the hardware store, grocery store or serving at the local food pantry.

Downsizing has enriched our lives. We are ever so thankful to heartily say that less truly is more.

those blue mountains

Enjoying new sunsets.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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

Compassion and empathy in the U.S. Constitution?

By Bruce Stambaugh

Empathy and compassion are two admirable human qualities that seem to be in short supply in today’s politically polarized world. Each one of us can change that tone if we try.

Declaration of Independence, U.S. ConstitutionAs the Independence Day holiday approaches each year, I reread the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. This time I mainly focused on the First Amendment. Here’s what it says.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

When written, the freedoms of religion, speech, assembly, and petition were paramount to the effectiveness of not only the Constitution but to the life of the young Republic itself. That is why they are listed first.

In that straightforward paragraph is the recipe for freedom for the country’s population without hindrance from the government, as the founders and the people they represented had personally endured. They remembered too well the frustration of pleasing a king and conforming to a state-endorsed religion. Here, all were, are, and should be free to practice their religion or no religion, speak openly, gather freely, and petition their leaders unhindered by any authorities.

I see more than several sacred freedoms listed in these hallowed and cherished documents. I detect both empathy and compassion intentionally interwoven into the tapestry of documents that formed our great country.

Empathy is a teachable tool for compassion. If I am to be tolerant of others despite obvious differences, I have to listen to what their priorities, requests, and suggestions are. In that manner, I learn to be empathetic towards others no matter how I personally feel about the issue.

Mind you, I’m no expert on American history, the Constitution, or even empathy and compassion for that matter. I’m sharing from the viewpoint of my own personal experiences, both in receiving and giving of those two admirable traits. No more. No less.

national symbol, bald eagle

Our national emblem.

The Founding Fathers knew that this budding nation needed structure so that all who entered its borders would be treated equally. That concept wasn’t entirely accurate when the Constitution was written. Permitting slavery was an obvious exception. That’s why we have amendments, to change with the times, and like it or not, the times always bring change. Witness the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery after the Civil War.

The Founding Fathers devised our government with three separate but equal branches. The President and his appointees comprise the Executive Branch. Congress is the Legislative or law-making division. The Supreme Court is the third element of the federal government, the Judicial Branch.

hiking trail, Virginia

What path will we take?

None of the three branches has any more power over the other two branches of government. Historically, their influences tip, like a farmer milking on a three-legged stool. But when the job is finished, the stool returns to balance. That is by design.

As our country and its citizenry again approach this Fourth of July holiday in celebration of being a free democratic republic, we have important questions to answer. Can we, will we honor the wishes of our Founding Fathers by actively and intentionally living out the ideal they created? Can we be compassionate and empathetic to all persons we meet?

How we express our freedoms individually will shape the path and tenor collectively that this great nation takes. The question at hand today is this: Will compassion and empathy continue to be the thread that connects these precious First Amendment rights?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under column, history, holidays, human interest, news, writing

Humans did their part to make 2015 another goofy year

Snow, Ohio

Snow for sale.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The main headlines of this tumultuous year may have overshadowed some lesser but still noteworthy news. Here are a few I logged.

January 2 – A North Walsham, England man paid a veterinarian the equivalent of $460 U.S. to do surgery on his three-inch pet goldfish.

January 24 – The leader of a pack of Boy Scouts, ages nine and 10 on a nature hike, accidentally led his troop onto a beach of nude sunbathers near San Diego, California.

February 10 – The European Space Agency reported that the Hubble telescope spotted a galaxy that resembled a smiley face.

duck in swimming pool

Obeying pool rules.

February 24 – Kyle Waring of Manchester-by-the-sea, Massachusetts, who began selling snow from his yard, 6 pounds for $89, said he would continue doing so until people stop ordering.

March 7 – An Amish farmer in Sadsbury Township, Pennsylvania accepted a $597,000 state agricultural grant to stave runoff from what one official described as his “barnyard mud hole.”

March 10 – The Utah State Legislature reinstituted the firing squad as a means to carry out the death penalty.

April 1 – The world’s oldest person, 117-year-old Misao Okawa, died in Tokyo.

April 6 – The world’s oldest person, 116-year-old Gertrude Weaver, died in Camden, Arkansas.

bank sign, Pennsylvania Dutch sign

Money anyone?

May 2 – A 22-year-old Eastlake, Ohio woman shot a squirrel with a bow and arrow, telling police she killed the animal for dinner.

May 29 – A 17-year old Ann Arbor, Michigan teen stole a new car from a dealership by posing as an FBI agent, and was arrested when he crashed the car in Toledo.

June 16 – The typical American family throws out $1,600 worth of food every year, according to a news report.

June 25 – An updated U.S. Census report showed that the fastest growing age group in Ohio was the 85-years-old and older population.

July 14 – The last of a giant snow pile created by Boston city workers removing snow during the winter finally melted.

July 21 – Nigel Richards, the winner of the French Scrabble contest, couldn’t speak French.

August 8 – A 16-year old girl vacationing in the German Alps found a gold bar worth $17,900 at the bottom of a lake.

August 11 – For the first time in Major League Baseball history, all 15 home teams won their game.

Amish buggy, Holmes Co. OH

Holmes Co., Ohio.

September 3 – A report showed Americans used 50 billion plastic water bottles last year, and only 23 percent of them were recycled.

September 21 – A nine-year-old boy was injured when his mother jumped out of her moving car because a spider was on her shoulder, and the car crashed into a school bus.

October 14 – A report from The Chronicle of Philanthropy showed that Holmes Co. was the most generous county in Ohio in 2012 with a giving ratio of nearly six percent.

October 21 – A three-year-old Oklahoma City, Oklahoma boy took the wheel of a pickup truck and steered it safely across four lanes of traffic after his drunken mother fell out of the vehicle.

November 27 – A Georgia man standing behind a target at a shooting range in St. Augustine, Florida was accidently shot by his brother.

November 28 – Sorters at a Goodwill store in Winfield, Kansas found a live grenade among a large pile of donations.

December 3 – Seattle police arrested a 73-year old man for snorting cocaine during a routine traffic stop.

December 10 – Hazmat crews in Yarmouth, Maine responded to a suspicious liquid leaking from a tank truck and discovered the substance to be milk.

Hopefully, 2015 was a good year for you and yours. Let’s hope that 2016 will be a “sweet 16” year for all of God’s global children.

Cleveland Indians, Progressive Field

Even the Indians won.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Being vigilant reaches far beyond Christmas

nativity display, nativity scene, quilting, wall hanging

Nativity display. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Vigilance is one of the main themes of the annual Christmas story. It shines as bright as the star of Bethlehem far beyond that ancient event.

For Christians around the world, the season of waiting for the Christ child, Advent, is nearly over. It is a glorious time of hopeful expectation that is renewed each year as winter approaches.

I have always found it a mystery and an appropriate model that the first folks to see the long awaited Christ light were generous foreigners and lowly shepherds, not saintly religious leaders or puffy politicians. The kingly entourage from the East persisted in their long travels to find the meaning of the glowing light in the night sky.

nativity scene, Christmas, hope

Nativity. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

A heavenly host appeared to the shepherds, not exactly the highest class of citizens even in today’s social mores. Even as a child, I wondered why other folks never noticed what the wise men and the herders plainly saw.

Old and New Testament scriptures alike urge worshipers of God to be on their guard, to be alert, to watch for the light. Asked when that would be, even the adult Messiah said no one would know. The key was to be ready.

As a child, the holiday season meant a lot to me. First came Thanksgiving, the family gathering, and fun and amazing food. Next was my birthday, which always falls three weeks before Christmas.

Just as I knew then, I know now that Christmas is upon us. As a child, those were exciting days of expectation going from unwrapping my birthday present to the anticipation of opening too many gifts beneath the Christmas tree.

Now all those years later, the joy and excitement of Christmas remain, but hopefully for more mature reasons. As a grandfather and mostly retiree, I try to savor and share the mere moments of each day. It’s why I write. It’s why I photograph. It’s why I live.

Amish buggy, Christmas presents

Heading to Christmas.

As I have aged, I realize just how gracious life has been to me through all the experiences I have had. Best of all, most of those blessed moments have been with family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and sometimes even strangers who happen to love the same joys in life as me.

To me, the idea of Christmas is to use our senses to absorb, inhale, appreciate, touch, smile, share, and reflect the goodness given to us. Our gift to the world is simple. We are to use each and every opportunity to make the world a better, brighter place, one thought, one kindness, one word, and one person at a time.

From my perspective of living nearly seven decades, there is no higher calling than to make someone’s day, to help where help is unexpected, to give even when it’s your last dollar, to smile though you are hurting.

The first Christmas likely wasn’t December 25. Those poor sheep and their tenders would have been mighty cold. No matter. I like that we flow so smoothly from Thanksgiving to Christmas and on into a New Year in one holiday season.

My goals in life are simple. I try to awake every morning with a keen sense of the unknown. I cherish comfortable rest at night from a day well spent in service to others. Each day we renew the process all over again until our last breath.

Best of all, we know not the hour or the day or the season. We only know to live vigilantly.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Christmas, anticipation, expectation

Christmas anticipation. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Filed under Amish, Christmas, column, family, holidays, human interest, news, Ohio's Amish country, photography, writing

Breaking a long tradition for a heartfelt reason

cuttingthechristmastreebybrucestambaugh

The perfect tree.

By Bruce Stambaugh

My wife and I made an impromptu, important decision. We broke a long-standing tradition for the perfect reason.

For the last 40 years, we have always had a live Christmas tree grace our home. That won’t happen this year.

The live tree always stood centered in front of the living room windows for most of December. This year an attractive, used artificial tree retrieved from a local thrift store fills that spot.

Our first live trees weren’t cut either. They still had their roots bound in burlap. After Christmas, we transplanted the trees in the yard of our first home we built four years after our marriage. When we moved to our present home 36 years ago, we switched to live, cut trees.

Christmas tree, opening gifts, family

Christmas morning.

Both my wife and I had grown up with fresh cut trees in our homes for the holidays. My family often took excursions to select just the right tree. Dad used the saw, and us kids would help carry the piney prize back to the car.

We continued that Yuletide tradition with our children. We loved the family experience, the exhilaration of the nip in the December air in Holmes County, Ohio.

My favorite Christmas trees growing up were the Scotch pines. I loved their long, soft needs as opposed to the stiff, prickly ones of the Colorado blue spruce species.

In recent years, my wife and I tried Fraser, Douglas, and Concolor firs. They all kept their needles longer than other species and filled the house with a pleasant, conifer fragrance. Their soft, bluish-green coloration added a festive flair, too.

With all of these positive traits, why would we change now? The truth is, we hadn’t intended to switch.

We went looking for a Concolor that would serve a dual purpose. We would again get a balled tree first to serve as our Christmas tree. After the holidays, we would plant it to replace a mature blighted blue spruce removed from our side yard last summer.

Concolor, memorial tree

The Jenny tree.

We found a small, balled Concolor at our first stop. It was hardly three-feet tall, much smaller than we had in mind.

Then we got an idea. We bought the little tree and planted it where the stately blue spruce had been. We chose this lovely fir to serve as an evergreen memorial to our dear friend, Jenny Roth Wengerd, who died on Sept. 11 from a brain hemorrhage at age 47.

The tree was about the size of Jenny when we first met her at age three after her adoption from South Korea. Neva and I witnessed her naturalization as a U.S. citizen.

We often cared for Jenny and her siblings while their parents were away. She and her family stayed in our house the day their home burned down. We mourned with the family when Jenny’s brother, Steve, died of cancer at 25.

We had been through a lot together.

Jenny was as beautiful and compassionate as a human could be. She radiated love and joy to all who knew her. Planting a tree to her memory only seemed fitting.

Only a single ornament adorns this extra special Christmas tree. A simple, translucent angel watches over this dedicated evergreen.

We will celebrate Christmas with a fake tree this year just as joyfully as if it were a fragrant, beautiful fir. Outside our Jenny tree will sink its roots into the earth, a living memorial to our gregarious friend who died much too soon.

Paul Roth family

The Roth family.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Filed under Christmas, Christmas deocrations, column, family, friends, holiday decorations, holidays, human interest, photography, rural life, Uncategorized, writing

Is it the end of November already?

sunrise, November

November sunrise

By Bruce Stambaugh

I know I’m getting old. I have a birthday soon to prove it.

I thought I just wrote about what November would bring us, and here it is done and gone already. How can that be? I think I have some answers, all of them as lovely as the month itself.

Given the last two winters, we began this November with more than a little trepidation. We had good reasons for our collective unease.

snow in November

Last November’s snow.

Would we be blasted with another surprise snow in the middle of the month like last year? Could we even begin to hope that November would be half as beautiful as October was?

As you happily know, November gave her best to replicate October’s stunning weather here in Ohio’s Amish country. The eleventh month wasn’t quite as bright and pretty as October, but she sure tried hard.

Even with standard time returning and the daylight hours growing fewer by the day, November was a welcome, pleasant surprise. It exceeded all expectations.

Overall, the month turned out to be a much better than average November if only measured by weather. November charmed me with its hospitality, a welcome relief from the state of affairs on the national and international political front.

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It’s not too many Novembers in Ohio that you see a father and his young son walking along a sidewalk in short sleeves mid-month. Last year they would have been bundled up throwing snowballs.

Municipalities, stores, and homeowners took advantage of the decent days to put up their holiday decorations. It beat trying to hang banners and Christmas lights in blizzard-like conditions.

In some locales, Christmas decorations and Halloween displays stood side by side. I wasn’t going to judge. I just enjoyed the intended spirit each reflected, even if the timing was a little off.

The horses and cattle had to be enjoying the extended stay in the open pastures. Frequent November rains made the grass as fresh as after April showers. In fact, folks were mowing their lawns this November on the same day they were plowing out their driveways last year.

Pine Siskin, birding

Looking up.

I took advantage of the excellent weather, too. I cleaned and readied my multiple bird feeders. I was hardly inside when I spotted a few infrequent Pine Siskins on the cylinder feeder by the kitchen window. They feasted on the cracked sunflower hearts.

With my firewood supply tenuous, I had three pickup loads of split and seasoned hardwoods delivered. Over the space of three days, my wife and I had it all neatly stacked behind the garden shed. Remember, I said I was getting older soon.

November’s brisk winds made regular appearances. That was good news for those who hadn’t yet raked their leaves. Their eastern neighbors may have a different viewpoint on that, however.

We had days of rain and drizzle. We had clear blue-sky days, too. And we had those days of cloudy one minute and sunny the next. None required a snow shovel.

Driving around the November countryside, the landscape seemed wider, more open. Perhaps that was due to the leafless trees affording a three-dimensional illusion, no special glasses needed.

This November frequently offered amazing sunrises and sunsets for all to enjoy. Sometimes they lingered for the longest time. Mostly, though, you had to look sharp, or you would miss the colorful show, just like the month itself.

Like Thanksgiving, November has come and gone. Bring on December and hope that it learned a little kindness from its closest sibling.

November sunset, windmill

Glorious sunset.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Filed under column, holidays, Ohio's Amish country, photography, Uncategorized

Communication and relationships create vignettes of thankfulness

farm lane, farm field

Long lane.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I learned long ago if you want to celebrate you have to relate and communicate.

The designated time to do all three in the Unites States is upon us. Thanksgiving Day is a time to reflect on moments and people for which you are thankful, and to affectionately share that gratitude.

When a situation goes awry, or a snafu in a bond develops, it’s important that we communicate our feelings to maintain positive relationships. It just might help untangle the problem and any hurt feelings.

This Thanksgiving season I thought it appropriate to share some personal experiences I had this year that required communication to keep relationships strong. I call them vignettes of thankfulness.

“I’ll see you in six months,” the doctor told my friend Leroy. A few months earlier, Leroy had been diagnosed with a type of incurable cancer.

Amish farmstead

Amish homestead.

Leroy had decided to accept his fate, and forgo any treatments, which would only extend his life a couple of months. Instead, he relied on doctor approved vitamin supplements and his faith to carry him forward.

I could hear Leroy’s voice quiver when he called me with a medical update. He was ever so grateful for this good news of extended life. I teared up too. I was honored to have received Leroy’s good news call.

The call about a cement wall of all things had a similar ending. While I was away, a township resident had had a concrete wall poured for his new house. The problem was it was on the township right of way. As a township trustee, I was charged with getting the problem corrected.

I hated to tell Bert, a man I knew well, to move the wall. But move it he did, both efficiently and creatively.

crane, moving a cement wall

Relocating the wall.

My friend Bert used his foresight and imagination to recycle the wall. A craftsman sawed it into two pieces. A giant crane hoisted them into a new location, where they became a retaining wall. Bert seemed even more pleased than me.

“We don’t often get second chances in life,” he said. I heartily agreed. I expressed my thankfulness for Bert’s willingness to correct the mistake and giving the wall a new life. The error did not become a wall that would interfere with our good relationship.

My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed our extended time in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley helping out our daughter as she coached her university’s women’s volleyball team. To those who know my wife, it was no surprise Neva worked night and day completing every day, necessary chores in our daughter’s household.

granddaughter, homework

Homework help.

While I was available, I helped our kindergartener granddaughter with her homework by listening to her pronounce letters and count numbers in both English and Spanish. For me, those were precious moments.

With our travels, Neva and I made a hard decision. We needed to sell the cute cottage my folks had built 40 years ago on a fishing lake in southeast Ohio. We asked around, but no one in the family indicated an interest in taking over the cottage.

After showing the property to some prospective buyers, our son called to say he had changed his mind. He wanted to purchase the cabin.

Neva and I were thrilled. It was the first item on our downsizing list, and our son would be the new owner. I’m pretty certain I saw my folks smiling down from heaven the day the property transferred.

Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate, communicate and relate the moments and emotions for which we are grateful. These are a few of mine. What are yours?

cottage, family cottage

Our cottage.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Reflections along a mountain stream

autumn leaves, back lighting

Backlit leaves.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Recent rains made the sparkling mountain stream joyfully sing its way through the sylvan hollow to the broad valley below. The late morning sun’s reflection shimmered as the cold water rushed over and around ancient boulders.

I had driven to this little paradise on the advice of my daughter. She recently had hiked with her family a trail that crossed the creek and scaled one of the precipices of the old, rounded Blue Ridge Mountains. I wasn’t that ambitious.

I was content to drive the 22 miles out of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley to the end of Port Republic Road to enjoy a morning stroll. I took the much easier firebreak road that shadows the meandering stream.

Stepping stones across the usually placid braided stream broke the trail my daughter took. Today the stream roared rather than lapped its way into the valley.

The native brown trout had to be happy to play in other pools for once. I was happy, too.

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The temperatures warmed as the sun rose higher above the foothills. The shedding oaks, maples, dogwoods, sycamores and quaking aspens filtered the sun’s splay. Sunrays backlit the remaining colorful leaves. They glowed against the drab earth tones of tree trunks, ferns, and long shadows.

The creek drew me down from the road to its shallow banks. Sapling undergrowth made the way tricky, but not hazardous. I was surprised by both the speed of the stream’s flow and the water’s clearness, especially after recent steady rains. Weeds and reeds normally rustled by the wind swayed submerged.

In the shade, the cooler creekside temperatures chilled me. I didn’t linger there for long.

I returned to the more inviting sunny, well-maintained service road. At times, the stream ran against the narrow berm. In other places, the road curved slightly north while the creek twisted south and out of sight, but never out of earshot.

No car horns, no train rumbles, no jake brakes, no jetliner noise overhead, no boom boxes interfered with the numerous natural sounds. A fox squirrel skittered from the road to the safety of a tree trunk as I approached. It barked at me, and I shot it with my camera.

Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Up ahead, birds flew across the firebreak. To keep my load light, I had left the binoculars in the vehicle. Fortunately, the birds sat still even as I quietly approached.

I smiled at sighting my first of the year Dark-eyed Juncos, freshly arrived from the Canadian tundra. The flash of their outer white tail feathers against their slate-colored revealed their identity.

The mountain’s granite core stood exposed from time to time. Whitish-gray outcroppings reflected the morning sun both at manmade cuts and in natural talus slopes. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near the latter if the massive rock pile decided to slide.

Soon hikers a decade older than me approached from the opposite direction. We bid each other adieu, and I asked them how far the road reached.

“Ten miles,” they said, “But it’s an easy walk to the top,” referencing the mountain. The road ended at the Skyline Drive. I took their word for it.

A few trails flared off in either direction. I was content to stay the course for a while before returning to the car for lunch under the noonday sun.

The earthy fragrances, the laughing stream, the vibrant colors pleasantly seasoned my simple fare, which was only right. It had been a sumptuous morning in every aspect.

mountain stream, Shenandoah NP

Sparkling stream.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Painting stirs fond memories

autumn in Virginia, landscape

Virginia in the fall.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I haven’t been to my maternal grandmother’s family farm in southern Virginia for years and years. When I arrived in the state’s Shenandoah Valley recently to rejoin my wife, she had a pleasant surprise for me.

The watercolor landscape of Grandma’s family farm hung in the hallway of the apartment we had rented for the fall. We were in Virginia to help our daughter and her family on the home front during the fall. She had loaned the painting to decorate our temporary quarters.

My late mother had painted the landscape of the farm years ago. Dad framed it with well-weathered barn siding he scavenged and repurposed from the farm. There was nothing abstract about this rendering.

I can’t help but smile every time I pass by the farm scene. It brings back such pleasant memories for me.

Growing up in northeast Ohio, we seldom visited the Virginia homestead. It was just too far for a budding young family to travel. Back then it was a three-day drive without the expressways of today.

My grandmother’s two unmarried sisters, Evie and Gertrude, lived on the farm their entire lives. Like many in the south in the 1950s, they worked in a textile mill.

I keenly remember the one trip we did make to the farm when I was a youngster. With no air conditioning, the summer trip south was long and hot.

Signs I had never seen before confused me. As a youngster, I couldn’t fully comprehend “blacks only” notices pointing to the back entrances of businesses. Clearly and thankfully, those were different times.

The farm lane from the highway to the old homestead was little more than two tire tracks that twisted up and around the tree-lined hill to the house. We must have bounded out of the car like a bunch of freed puppies from a cardboard box.

As you can imagine, Grandma’s sisters were gracious hosts. But I could tell having children clamor about their house and property interrupted their normal life. I felt their constant gaze.

Family heirlooms filled the comely old home. Large photos of our great, great grandparents hung in antique oval frames on the living room wall.

The weathered tobacco barn stood behind the house. The two shed-like sides leaned away from the barn’s higher center where the tobacco was hung to dry.

Virginia family farm. watercolor

My mother’s watercolor of the Virginia family farm.

Mom made the barn the centerpiece in her watercolor. The white clapboard farmhouse peeked out from behind.

Mom painted from the perspective of the narrow path that ran down the hill to the spring that supplied the house with water. I had walked that very way with Dad to check the water level to assure our gracious hosts that we would not drain the cistern.

The highlight of the trip for me surely had to be the sumptuous Sunday dinner these two elderly ladies prepared for us. Of course, southern style fried chicken and mashed potatoes served as the main course.

Dessert is what I remember the most, however. It was the first time I had ever had German chocolate cake.

I can still taste that made from scratch layered masterpiece, slathered with yummy brown sugar frosting sprinkled with sweet coconut. I don’t know if it was the heat or by design, but that frosting just oozed down the cake’s sides.

My mother’s painting perfectly captured the Virginia farmstead. The watercolor is both a work of art and a precious timepiece of family history.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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