Category Archives: human interest

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

Maunday Thursday Sunset


Maunday Thursday is a solumn, sacred holy day in the Christian tradition. It is the Thursday before Easter, believed to be the day Christ shared His last Passover meal with the disciples.

The blood-orange tint of these clouds coupled with the dark, foreboding color of the foreground seemed an appropriate scene to set the stage for the historical trauma of Good Friday.

“Maunday Thursday Sunset” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Filed under history, holidays, human interest, nature photography, Photo of the Week, photography, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, weather

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

Black on Yellow


I just happened to see this Black Swallowtail butterfly flying in our backyard. It was the first of the spring, and I raced for my camera. Fortunately, it was still there when I returned, flitting from one dandelion to the other. When it finally landed on this one, I started snapping away from the patio 15 ft. from the butterfly.

You can judge the diminutive size of this beauty by comparing it to the dandelion blossom on which it chose to roost.

“Black on Yellow” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Filed under human interest, nature photography, Photo of the Week, photography, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia

April’s inconsistent, variable weather

weather, April, Holmes Co. OH, Ohio's Amish Country

Just another snowy, grey day in April in Ohio’s Amish country.

Compared to other months of the year, April is erratic when it comes to weather.

It’s not that the rest of the months don’t produce variable atmospheric conditions. They do, just not as consistently as April’s predictably unpredictable weather.

Our latest 10-day forecast was proof of that: Sunny, blue skies and 70-degree temperatures one day, and low 20s and snow flurries by week’s end. I’ll keep my birdbath heater going for a while.

That conjecture accurately describes April’s extremes. April uses her versatile weather wand to divulge her bipolar meteorological attributes.

In 30 days, the fourth month throws everything it has at us. Snow, sleet, glorious sunshine, pelting rain, lightning, tornadoes, flooding streams all are April possibilities, though not certainties.

Often the host for both Easter and Passover, April’s assortment of weather takes no holidays. Recall the twin tornadoes of Palm Sunday in April 1965? Do you remember the 20 inches of snow in early April three decades ago?

Silver Lake Dayton VA, Silver Lake Mill, mild weather

A puffy, white-cloud day in mid-April in Virginia.

When April arrives, we all are more than ready for spring. That is especially true after this extended winter season that ranged far beyond its usual territory.

April’s weather plays games with us, teases us, infuriates us, and beguiles us to the point of hopelessness. Nearly at the breaking point, we relent and grudgingly accept whatever she has to offer. Do we have a choice?

A conciliatory attitude allows us to engage all of our senses into whatever the weather and activities are at hand. It enables us to pause long enough to enjoy the brilliance of forsythia’s yellows before the greening leaves override them.

I watched an American robin mightily tug at the remnants of last year’s plant residue, lying spent and browned in the flowerbed from winter’s bitter harshness. The robin pulled the lifeless strands taut.

I turned away for a second, looked back, and both the robin and the ideal nesting material were gone. Had I witnessed the natural lifecycle in action, the very hope of spring?

tulips, spring flowers

Red, yellow, and green.

The increasing daylight combines with the warming earth and nourishing moistures to create rapidly changing landscapes. Rembrandt meets Van Gogh.

Deadened lawns seemingly turn dull green to emerald overnight. A heavy frost or soaking rain kills the temptation to even out the irregular grassy clumps posing as a front yard. First, however, winter’s gales and unwelcomed snows require leaf and limb removal before any lawn trimming.

The first dandelions compete with trumpeting daffodils while the last of the crocuses yield to showy tulips. Honeybees celebrate wildly at the cherry blossoms’ coming out parties. They even gorged on the crimson buds of red maples. The little creatures are a welcome sight and the constant humming a glorious symphony, especially given their recent biological life struggles.

Avid birders actually embrace April’s changeable weather. They know strong cold fronts bring more than severe storms or blinding snow squalls. Shorebirds, songbirds, and birds of prey are all on their various lists of birds to check off. They’ll brave April’s worst weather to chase a rare bird.

The good news is that April’s cold, wet weather won’t last long. That’s in keeping with its role as a transition month from winter’s dormant dullness to spring’s brimming vibrancy.

I’m always glad when April rolls around. From month’s beginning to end, she offers up a sampling of weather that’s sure to both please and disappoint most everyone. The challenge is to make the most of whatever comes our way.

Ohio's Amish country scene, Amish farms

Hopefully by month’s end, pastures will have greened up, fruit trees will be in full bloom, and farmers can once again till the earth.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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

All aglow

forsythia, aglow, Harrisonburg VA

For whatever reason, the forsythia bushes in the Shenandoah Valley this spring are brilliant. Their blossoms are plump and full. With the early evening sun shining on these bushes, the yellows and golds just popped.

“All aglow” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Filed under human interest, Photo of the Week, photography, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia

A more personal March Madness

Amelia Island FL, sunsets

One of my favorite photos, a sunset in northern Florida.

My wife and I love to watch college basketball. It’s how we often spend many quiet winter evenings together at home.

We’ll watch a college hoops game at 7 p.m. and even switch back and forth to other collegiate games that are simultaneously broadcast on TV. At 9, we start the process all over again, usually until half time when it’s lights out for this tired and retired couple.

When its tournament time, more commonly known as March Madness, we are in basketball heaven. Neva claims the love seat while I relax in the recliner. Now, it’s not like all we do is watch talented athletes run up and down the court making incredible plays and acrobatic shots.

In our 48 years of marriage, Neva has taught me to multi-task. With the game going full blast on TV, she reads or works on her iPad while I often write or edit photos to post on my online blog or social media. Of course, the game gets our full attention if it is close, especially as the game clock ticks down.

The happy couple.

Basketball isn’t the only kind of madness happening in March for us. We just celebrated our wedding anniversary. How and where we met and when we married is the rest of the remarkable story.

It was one of those “meant to be” situations. In June 1970 before we ever knew one another, Neva and I separately agreed to supervise a group of 10 energetic youth from the church I attended. It was a weeklong work-study project deep into eastern Kentucky’s coalmine region. The first time I saw her was when the group assembled to leave.

Our work involved hoeing three acres of cucumbers in the morning’s coolness. We studied and visited local sites in the afternoon when the temperatures and humidity were both off the charts.

To further learn about the Appalachian culture, we visited local homes far up those infamous hollows. We also did home repairs. Short on tools, we used large rocks to pound roofing nails into tarpaper.

It was an inspiring experience. What impressed me most, however, was Neva. Love interfered with logic. We were married the following March at the height of both college and Ohio high school basketball tournaments.

Our fathers had to wonder about our timing. They both loved basketball. We thought for sure that Neva’s father would walk her down the aisle holding a transistor radio to one ear listening to a game.

Somehow we survived that day and all the days that have followed. We haven’t lived a charmed life together, and it certainly hasn’t been perfect. But we have thrived as both a couple and as individuals. Mutual forgiveness, love, and trust will do that.

birds

Male Red-bellied Woodpecker

Our skills and interests have nicely balanced our life together. Neva is a marvelous cook and I am a grateful, hungry husband. Neva prefers reading. I write. She sews. I bird. She quilts. I take photos. You get the picture, no pun intended.

As March plays out into April, Neva and I will be watching how the college basketball playoffs turn out. Of course we each fill out a bracket, making our best guesses as to which teams will be in the final four. The chances of our winning are low. Our marriage, however, has beaten the odds.

Meanwhile, we’ll keep holding hands, and doing what we can to make this world a better place. We have celebrated another personal March Madness milestone and look forward to many more together.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Signs of Spring

daffodils, sleeping on a park bench
What more evidence is needed that Spring is finally here? Daffodils blooming in a wooded hillside and a man sleeping on a park bench in the afternoon sunshine pretty much says it all. Spring has arrived indeed.

“Signs of Spring” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Filed under human interest, nature photography, Photo of the Week, photography, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, weather

In honor of a long life well-lived and served

Dr. Paul Roth, dedicated service

Paul Roth, his wife Caroll, and daughter Linda, knotting a comforter in 2010 at Millersburg (OH) Mennonite Church.

Paul Roth was the most powerful man I ever knew. He was also the most humble.

Paul Roth died recently after a long life well lived. He was 91.

Paul viewed and lived life through very different lenses than most other mortals. Humility, kindness, compassion, service, patience, hospitality, and generosity towards others bestowed that power that he never misused or even acknowledged. Control and manipulation were never goals to which he aspired.

Devoted Christian that he was, Paul forsook attention to himself. He forewent pleasures and luxuries he rightly earned through his hard work and position as an admired and gentle physician. Instead, he always focused equally on the needs of others, family, friends, and strangers alike.

It was that strange duo of power and humility that made Paul Roth most admired and appreciated. Through compassionate service to others, his community, and his church he became one of the most respected individuals I ever knew.

Paul understood both the purpose and value of life. Giving to others gave him joy, inspiration, courage, wisdom, and personal satisfaction. That was all the reward he needed. If anyone indeed denied himself, took up his cross, and followed where the spirit led, it surely was Paul Roth.

He ventured from farm to college to med school to serving in Puerto Rico, Killbuck, Ohio, Haiti, Honduras, and many other places helping generations of appreciative folks over decades. He found joy in doing the most menial of jobs, like cutting rags for hours on end at Save and Serve Thrift Shop in Millersburg, Ohio.

family doctor, birth of a son

When Dr. Paul Roth delivered our son, he held Nathan up by the legs and proclaimed, “She’s a boy!”

Because he did all of these things for others, Paul Roth was a highly revered man by those he served with compassion, dignity, self-worth, and genuine Christian love. He was a real peacemaker, always on the lookout for common ground, respect for all persons and living things great and small.

Paul understood that taking action was a life-giving, daily practice. He salvaged discarded wood and transformed it into works of art or toys for grandkids and gifts for friends. Paul listened to his patients when no one else would. He knotted comforters simply because someone needed to do it.

Paul would not want any of this attention or these accolades. Focusing on self ran counter to his servanthood culture. But when one who put his faith into action his entire life dies, there is no shame, no harm in honoring him and the good life he lived.

At his memorial service, a granddaughter shared how she loved to go down to the garden with Paul to plant, weed, and pick the fruits of their labor. Since the garden was near the highway that connected Killbuck and Millersburg, she was impressed with how many cars honked their horns as they passed. That’s the way friends and patients recognized their favorite doctor. She said Paul always tried to wave back.

Another attendee at the service privately noted that the waving wasn’t so much for the drivers as it was for his granddaughter. Even in that familiar gesture, he modeled the importance of gratitude. Indeed, Paul was also the most grateful person I knew.

The Roths, however, were not immune to life’s perils. Paul and his ever-devoted wife Caroll knew too much sadness in their lives. A fire destroyed their home at Christmas 1978. They lost their son Steve to cancer at age 25. Their daughter Jenny, adopted from Korea as a toddler, died of an aneurysm at age 47.

Yes, they knew heartache and grief, too, but Paul and Caroll persevered, continued serving, giving of their time, talents, and hospitality whenever, wherever, however they could. It was as if tragedy had made them even more loving.

The respect and admiration for Paul stretch across many cultures, languages, social standings, and ethnicities. He was an equal opportunity servant. Shoot. He even made house calls.

Paul was also a person to imitate in how to live a productive and peaceful life in service to others, all done out of the universal love for his God, his family, and his community.

That, praise be, is Paul Roth’s lasting, golden-rule legacy.

Dr. Paul Roth, Killbuck OH, Holmes Co. OH

This photo was taken when my wife and I visited Caroll and Paul Roth last July.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Impressionistic sunset

impressionism, Allegheny Mountains, sunset
My goal was to capture the vernal equinox sunset. Instead, I came away with a shot that resembled a Claude Monet landscape.

I positioned myself on a hill in northwest Harrisonburg, Virginia in hopes of getting photos of the Super Full Worm Moon rising over the Massanutten Mountains that run north to south in the middle of the Shenandoah Valley. Unfortunately, a layer of rain clouds blocked that attempt. With that foiled, I turned my attention to the setting sun on the first day of spring.

Hazy clouds filled the western horizon as well, though the sun did its best to burn through. Residue smoke from controlled burns in the Jefferson National Forest during the day fuzzed up the view all the more. Sunsets around the equinoxes are the shortest of the year. This one merely melted away behind the blue, blue folds of the Allegheny Mountains.

“Impressionistic sunset” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Filed under human interest, nature photography, Photo of the Week, photography, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, weather