Greg Miller is a nice guy

By Bruce Stambaugh

Greg Miller is a nice guy. Anyone who even remotely knows Greg would easily agree with that statement.

Greg Miller by Bruce Stambaugh
Greg Miller

Though raised just a mile south of where my wife and I have lived for 32 years near Berlin, Ohio, I really never got to know him until recently. Greg had long grown up and started his own adult life before we moved here. His mother continues to live in the same house, and still meticulously adorns her property annually with a wide assortment of lovely flowers.

Others have known Greg much longer and better than I have. But just from the few conversations that I have had with him, I can attest that Greg is the kind of guy everyone would welcome as a friend.

I had heard of Greg well before I got to know him. He was one of three birders about whom Mark Obmascik wrote his 2004 book “The Big Year.” When Hollywood turned the book into a big screen movie of the same name, Greg was ecstatic, and rightly so. Not everyone has a book written or a movie made about a life accomplishment.

By his own description, Greg is a computer programming geek by trade and an avid and expert birder by desire. Greg transformed that hobby into nearly an obsession when he spent much of 1998 doing a Big Year. A Big Year is when a birder observes or hears as many North American bird species as possible.
Banner at Lakeside Ohio by Bruce Stambaugh
That year Greg surpassed the coveted 700 mark, as did two other men. The story of the extreme efforts of those three birders inspired both the book and the recently released movie.

Greg gave a touching keynote address at the Midwest Birding Symposium in Lakeside, Ohio in mid-September. He spoke to an audience of nearly 1,000 for an hour using no notes, speaking directly from his heart. Greg had the crowd spellbound relating his personal, touching story.

I was greatly moved when early in his talk Greg cited the influence of his kind parents, especially his father, in generating his interest in birding. Greg said he couldn’t remember seeing his first bird or getting his first pair of binoculars. Birding was simply a part of his heritage, thanks to the quiet, patient guidance of his late father, who himself was a man of integrity.

Kevin Cook and Greg Miller by Bruce Stambaugh
Kevin Cook and Greg Miller at the Midwest Birding Symposium held at Lakeside, Ohio in September.

Greg told the crowd how his father taught him to see the bird, and then lift his binoculars to his eyes to observe the bird’s details and to verify the species. Years later, Greg showed movie star Jack Black, who played Greg in the movie, the same birding technique.

Greg served as the birding consultant for the movie. He spent three weeks on-site with the crew. Greg couldn’t get over that the cast and crew were as enamored with him as he was in awe of them.

Greg is not perfect. He would be the first to tell you that. Greg has encountered and endured some of life’s pitfalls, like the rest of us humans. Now, however, he is basking in the glow of notoriety, racing to speaking engagements all across the country as if he were chasing after the rarest of birds.

Good for him. Through it all, Greg has remained Greg. He has not lost the sense of whom he is nor how he got to be where he is. That alone speaks volumes of just how nice a guy Greg Miller really is.

Julie Zickefoose by Bruce Stambaugh
Author and illustrator Julie Zickefoose greeted some of her admirers at the Midwest Birding Symposium at Lakeside, Ohio in September.

Ornithology is for the birds

Wood Storks by Bruce Stambaugh
These Wood Storks appeared in a marshy area in Coshocton Co., Ohio in August 2008. They normally are coastal birds in the southern U.S.

By Bruce Stambaugh

More often than not, birders take it on the chin just for being birders. Compared to football, American or Australian, it’s not exactly a contact sport, at least in the physical sense.

Birding is, however, very popular worldwide. That might be because of the many amenities that bird watching affords, and those that it avoids, like unnecessary roughness.

Why is birding so universal? Let me count the ways.

Birding is fun. Birding can be enjoyed by all ages. Birding doesn’t require a lot of expensive equipment, though you can spend big bucks if you so choose. Birding can be free. The birds come to you.

Black Vultures by Bruce Stambaugh
The owners of this camper probably didn't expect to get this friendly with these Black Vultures.

Birding can be enjoyed year round. Birding is an inclusive activity. Birding can be enjoyed by persons of any age. In fact, it is not uncommon to find entire families enjoying the sport together.

Birding is addictive, turning that usually negative word on its head. Once you learn a little about birds, you intuitively want to know more.

Birding is interactive. Birds get to know you. You get to know the birds.

Green Herons by Bruce Stambaugh
I had the luxuary of observing this pair of young Green Herons from my back porch.

Birding can be done anytime anyplace, hiking, biking, sitting, traveling, on the beach, in the woods, on vacation, or while at work. All are good times to “bird.”

Birding not only introduces you to new species. You make new friends while enjoying an outing, too.

Birding is both personal and interpersonal. You make your own sightings, but immediately share the information with other birders to verify the identification. Others do the same for you. Birding it is both a sociable and a social sport. It is a whole lot more fun done with others than alone.

Birders by Bruce Stambaugh
Birding is a social sport, best enjoyed in the company of other birders, whether novice or experts.

Believe it or not, birding can and does get competitive, but in a good way. Many birders compile a life list, an accounting of all the bird species they have ever seen, which includes when and where.

When a rare bird is spotted, birders shun selfishness. They call other birders or have it posted on a bird alert website. Soon scores of birders show up hoping to see the rarity for themselves.

White-winged Crossbill by Bruce Stambaugh
A flock of White-winged Crossbills spent a few days in the Holmes Co., Ohio area in March 2009. They migrated from pine grove to pine grove, including the one in my own backyard.

When a quartet of Wood Storks, birds usually found in Florida, appeared in Coshocton Co., Ohio awhile back, someone asked me if I had seen them. I hadn’t. They gladly gave me directions and I was ready to go. But I didn’t go alone. I filled my van with other birders, three generations who wanted to see the storks, too.

Birding leads to hospitality. You welcome birds by feeding them. You greet and meet other birders if you have a rare bird arrive, even having them sign their names and where they are from. That’s just common etiquette among birders.

Tree Sparrow by Bruce Stambaugh
This Tree Sparrow found the perfect refuge from a harsh winter's storm.

Birding invigorates your senses. The range of songs and calls of birds are often heard before the birds are seen. The amazing array of bird plumage dazzles the imagination.

Birders are polite and follow directions. Hundreds of birders from 37 states and 10 countries attended the Midwest Birding Symposium recently in Lakeside, Ohio. A Lakeside resident was impressed that the birders actually stopped for stop signs.

Birders are clean and emphasize being green, preferring reusable water bottles to disposable plastic ones. Birders are nice to others and the environment.

Birders are teachers. They are happy to share what they know and see.

For the birds by Bruce Stambaugh
This vanity plate leaves no doubt about the hobby of this driver.

Ornithology is the scientific study of birds. Given all their positive characteristics, the study of birders could be labeled “civility.” Birders clearly are their own special flock.

Harvesting more than produce from your garden

Amish garden by Bruce Stambaugh
Large vegetable gardens like this one are everpresent in Ohio's Amish country.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Lakeside rocks and flowers by Bruce Stambaugh
Creative rock sculptures mirror the Hollyhocks in a Lakeside, Ohio garden.

I’ll make my confession right up front. I am not the most authoritative person to write about gardening.

Still, I like to think that I am observant enough to recognize a good garden when I see one. Whether vegetable, rock or flower, all gardens require much manual effort to keep them manicured and productive.

Growing up in the suburbs of a northeast Ohio blue-collar city, our father loved to garden. He saw it as a way to be out in the fresh air and to simultaneously save money by growing our own food. With five children, it was the practical thing to do. For efficiency’s sake, he recruited his offspring to help cultivate, plant, nurture and reap the garden harvest.

Rock garden by Bruce Stambaugh
Rock gardens add esthetics to any property.
Bright lilies by Bruce Stambaugh
These lilies would brighten any yard.

Our lovely mother would prepare in season feasts that included sweet corn, new potatoes, green beans, cucumbers and beets. She also canned and froze food for the cold winter months ahead. If we had had a bumper crop, we would set up shop in a busy business parking lot and sell sweet corn out of the car’s trunk.

Mom also propagated lovely flower gardens around the parameters of our small piece of suburban property. Mom used her artistic eye with the floral color selection to nicely accent the cherry red brick exterior of our post-war bungalow.

Home canned goods by Bruce Stambaugh
Home canning is back in vogue in rural, suburban and urban settings.

Those pleasant memories returned with the current onslaught of the harvest season in gardens all across the country. Television shows, newspaper stories, Internet blogs and even high-end glossy magazines feature how to properly prepare and preserve your garden gleanings.

Having a plot of garden is almost assumed when you live in one of Ohio’s richest agricultural counties. Don’t be fooled though. Contrary to what some might think, gardening is not confined to rural areas. People garden in suburbs and cities, too.

Herb garden by Bruce Stambaugh
Even small backyard plot provides fresh herbs and vegetables.

With the advent of the organic, all natural craze, and the tough economy, gardening appears to have made a universal comeback. Whether you have an acre or simply a few pots of herbs sitting on an apartment balcony, gardening is good.

Caring for tender plants, watering them, protecting them from weather’s extremes and pesky insects is worthwhile work with tasty rewards. I see it as a way to get us back to our roots, reconnected to the soil from which and on which all life depends.

Lakeside community garden by Bruce Stambaugh
A community garden in Lakeside, Ohio.

If we are mindful, we will recognize that gardening provides a solid base that can lead to other returns as well. Cooperative gardens, sponsored by both church and civic organizations, have sprung up across the country. Besides those who garden, the abundant produce often helps the less fortunate, the homeless and the needy.

An acquaintance told me how his parents would load up their battered family pickup with the excess of their giant two-acre garden, head into town and end up on the wrong side of the tracks. There they would park the truck and hand out the fresh, healthy produce to whomever needed it.

They repeated the routine throughout the growing season. The thankful recipients were so moved by the family’s generosity that they offered to help plant and maintain the garden the next growing season. Their grateful offer was accepted, and new trust and friendships were born.

Flower garden by Bruce Stambaugh
If properly planned and planted, flower gardens can brighten a property throughout the growing season.

Gardens connect us to the soil that yields our sustenance. If we are proactive, they also open our lives to much more than delicious food. Gardening doesn’t get any more satisfying and splendid than gathering two crops from one planting.

Lakeside flower garden by Bruce Stambaugh
An award-winning flower garden at Lakeside, Ohio.

No sad faces allowed

Lakeside OH dock by Bruce Stambaugh
Relaxing in the shade or sunning on the dock are just some of the favorite activities at Lakeside, Ohio.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I overheard a mother tell her pouting adolescent daughter, “There are no sad faces at Lakeside. It’s a rule.”

The mother’s demonstrative point was clear. There was too much fun to be had at Lakeside, Ohio for anyone of any age to be gloomy. It’s a main reason my wife and I return year after year for a week’s vacation.

Sailing at Lakeside, Ohio by Bruce Stambaugh
Sailing is popular with children and adults alike at Lakeside, Ohio.

Indeed, Lakeside offers plenty to do. Adults and children alike can choose from a sunup to sundown selection of activities in which to participate. They range from sailing lessons to garden walks and talks to wellness classes.

The fact that the resort town is built on the shores of Lake Erie helps expand the variety. Lakesiders can pick from activities in the categories of religion, education, arts and entertainment, recreation and planned events. It’s all part of the entrance fee.

Visitors can recline with a good book under one of the many towering hardwoods that line the rocky shore and multi-task. Waves crash the hard shore, boats sail by and elations echo from playgrounds, the dock, the beach and front porches.

Lakeside’s unadorned concrete dock is the focal point for daytime fun. Swimming, fishing, tanning, strolling all are legitimate forms of relaxing.

Lakeside OH cottage by Bruce Stambaugh
Many cottages and homes in Lakeside, Ohio feature inviting front porches.

Others prefer a leisurely walk along the tree-lined streets, enjoying the appealing cottages, many with inviting floral gardens. Some cottages date back to the town’s beginning in 1873. Most are seasonal family retreats that have served as a summer getaway for generations. A few hundred hardy souls call Lakeside home year-round.

Lakeside, Ohio flower garden by Bruce Stambaugh
Flower gardens enhance picturesque cottages throughout Lakeside, Ohio.

The old-growth hardwoods that predominate the parks and properties of Lakeside bring beauty, birds and relief from stifling summer days. Flower gardens, maintained by the help of many volunteers, are a trademark of Lakeside.

The bustling but small business district offers a break from the boredom of relaxation with an assortment of various shops. Candy, homemade donuts, ice cream, refreshing drinks and toys all offer refuge from the strain of having too much fun.

In the evening, variety shows running the gamut of entertainment usually draw a nice crowd. The magnetic dock also attracts toddlers, teens and seniors to watch the nightly disappearance of the sun behind Catawba Island.

Sunset at Lakeside, OH by Bruce Stambaugh
Enjoying a gorgeous sunset is a must for visitors and residents alike at Lakeside, Ohio.

As nice as all that is, the greatest asset of Lakeside is its friendly people. Lakeside is a family-centered, safe place to be.

Merchants routinely leave goods unsecured in front of their storefronts overnight with no theft of inventory. Pedestrians, bicyclists, skateboarders, golf carts and dogs walking their owners have the right of way over motorized vehicles.

The strictest parents casually set their children free to roam inside the gated community with no fear of harm whatsoever. Passersby walk up onto a porch, ask what game is being played, and are invited to join the fun.

Lakeside rightfully bills itself as the Chautauqua on Lake Erie. However, occasional discordant human interactions will naturally occur when 6,000 in-season visitors multiply the regular population tenfold. Still, two-way radios are the closest things to weapons that outfit the town’s entire security staff.

Lakeside youth by Bruce Stambaugh
Youth groups routinely walk the streets singing to summer guests at Lakeside, Ohio.

Youth groups roam the streets serenading local residents, not ransacking their homes. At an impromptu lemonade stand, a grandfather sings and plays a Gibson to attract customers.

Whether they arrive for a day or the summer, Lakesiders all come to relax and have fun. With all there is to do in the resort town, everybody gets their way.

Like the lady said, there are no sad faces in Lakeside. That is a valuable virtue for any town.