Trying to make sense of things


I could hear my wife’s sewing machine humming in the guest bedroom. Neva was piecing together yet another one of her lovely wall-hangings or comforters. She hadn’t yet decided which it would be.

I frequently darted out of the room that is my office and announced to her breaking news about the coronavirus pandemic. None of it was good.

The disturbing information flowed in like a tsunami. It arrived on the TV, the internet, text messages, emails, and social media. The latter was a jumble of emotions, some folks trying to keep comments on the lighter side of life, while others were angry, confused, hurt, disbelieving.

All of those reactions were legitimate, and through this global pandemic, we all have no doubt experienced the full range of human emotions. It feels like September 11, 2001, all over again, only in slow motion.

One of my wife’s many creations.

However, unlike that infamous day, we could see this coming. The many forms of media basically did their job. They kept and are keeping us informed with the latest updates. That’s their job. Some people openly denied the warnings of the obvious, while others tried humor to relieve the tensions. Nothing seemed appropriate. Nothing seemed right.

So much news came in so fast that my head spun. It all felt like a bad dream, only I couldn’t wake up. It just kept getting worse.

Here in Virginia’s bucolic Shenandoah Valley, the weather was spring-like. I needed to get outside, away from all of the clatter and news of economic, medical, and political calamity. I told Neva that I was going for a walk, and she eagerly joined me. She, too, needed a break.

Neva and I immediately became aware that this was no ordinary stroll. Though sound occurred, the atmosphere felt eerily strange and heavy. It was like an episode of the Twilight Zone.

As we ambled along, we saw no other people. No vehicles passed us. Social distancing was a moot point. We usually see several others as we wander around the paved streets of our sprawling neighborhood. Today, not even the usual dog walkers were out.

A thousand robins chirped with every step. Other sounds caught our attention in the eeriness. A quarter-mile away, a pile-driver pounded away at the thick blue limestone bedrock at a construction site.

A neighbor’s daffodils.

So did a single hammer at a new home going up three streets over. It drew us like two curious kids wanting to check out the action. We surveyed the house already framed and roofed, intrigued by the noises of wood against wood, metal against metal preparing for the next building stages.

When we returned home, the news continued to pour in. The NCAA canceled the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments canceled. The Major League Baseball season would be delayed. An acquaintance from our church had died. Nursing homes were quarantined. Schools were closing one state after the other.

Governors of multiple states prohibited large gatherings. No more than 25 in California. It was 500 in New York, 100 in several other places. The stock market continued to plunge in fear of the unknown.

That’s what fear does to humans. It riles us up, makes us think, do, and say crazy, unhealthy, panicky things. It’s no way to live.

That’s why we took our little walk to clear our hearts, minds, and souls of the fallout from the cascading crisis. All we could do at that moment was to breathe. Out of new habit, I washed my hands for the longest time before Neva’s sewing machine began to hum again.

It was the sweetest, most comforting sound of the day.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

The shortest month packs a punch

reading, reading to grandkids
Even in Leap Year, February is still 2020’s shortest month. That doesn’t deter it from packing a lot into its 29-day effort.

The mini month has so many designated days that I’ve had to pick and choose which ones to highlight. I apologize in advance if I fail to mention your favorite.

February 1 is Read Aloud Day. I highly support this idea, especially if you happen to have young grandchildren.

I’m pretty confident that day will be overshadowed by the events of February 2, however. February 2 just wouldn’t be complete without the human-induced appearance of Punxsutawney Phil on Ground Hog Day.

The good citizens of the little Pennsylvania town know how marketing works. The organizers get more than their 15 minutes of fame out of the annual silliness of speculating on winter’s dallying.

This year, however, Super Bowl LIV will give old Phil a run for his money since it’s on the same day. Phil will have to be exceptionally creative to grandstand the pregame football ballyhoo hoopla.

I’m not sure if there is a connection or not, but February 3 is the first primary election of the 2020 presidential campaign. Iowans take to their caucuses to express their personal preferences. The next day is World Cancer Day, an international effort to save lives and raise awareness.

I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t mention that February 5 is the annual National Weatherperson Day. It’s designed to recognize all of the professionals who forecast the weather in this crazy climate era in which we find ourselves.

Friday, February 7 is National Wear Red Day. You would think this should be a week later. However, this day is dedicated to raising awareness about heart disease, indeed a worthy reason to don the supportive color.

Sunday, February 9, marks three different occasions. Tu Bishvat is the Jewish New Year for trees and marks the day to set aside tithes for the poor. For movie buffs, it’s also Academy Awards night and conveniently National Pizza Day.

February 13 is International Friends Day and National Cheddar Day. That sounds like an opportunity to invite your friends over for toasted cheese sandwiches and tomato soup.

No reminder is needed for February 14, Valentine’s Day. But just in case, consider this your cue to order the candy and flowers and make those dinner reservations.


Of course, Monday, February 17, is Presidents Day, the day to honor our first president George Washington. His birthday was actually February 22, while Abe Lincoln’s was February 12. Once again, the madmen of marketing persuaded Congress to squish the two birthdays together into one countrywide sale event on everything from mowers to mattresses.

February 18 is National Drink Wine Day. We need a day for that?

February 20 hosts two designations: National Love Your Pet Day and World Day of Social Justice. Both are worthy causes.

International Mother Language Day is Friday, February 21. It rightly promotes linguistic and cultural diversity, along with quality education, unity, and international understanding.

It’s no coincidence that Mardi Gras falls on February 25, also known as Fat Tuesday. The day also recognizes Strove or Pancake Day, which honors the world’s oldest widespread food.

Ash Wednesday is February 26. For Christians, it marks the beginning of the liturgical season of Lent in preparation for Easter.

The shortest month is stuffed with a variety of celebrations, some fanciful, others sedate. Given that, February serves as a metaphor for life. It makes each day count. So should we.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Noteworthy news that didn’t make the headlines in 2019


Well, we made it. You and I have traveled yet one more year around the sun. True to form, 2019 was full of wonder, mistakes, successes, and a smorgasbord of conundrums and craziness.

As usual, I kept track of a few of the lesser but still extraordinary events and findings during the year.

January 20 – A meteorite was recorded striking the surface of the moon during the Super Full Blood Wolf Moon total lunar eclipse.
January 22 – According to a report from nonprofit Oxfam, the world’s 26 wealthiest people are worth the same amount of money as the world’s poorest 3.8 billion.
January 30 – The temperature dropped to -48 degrees with a wind chill of -65 in Norris Camp, Minnesota, making it the coldest place in the lower 48 states.

Early morning sky, January 31.

February 1 – The BBC reported that January was the hottest month on record in Australia and that five days were among the top 10 on record for the warmest.
February 7 – NASA reported that the last five years have been the hottest since records began being kept in 1880, with 2018 the fourth warmest year.
February 13 – NASA announced that it had declared the Mars rover dead after being unable to communicate with it following a massive dust storm on the red planet.
March 25 – A British Airways flight bound for Dusseldorf, Germany, instead accidentally landed in Edinburgh, Scotland, because the company filed the wrong flight papers.
March 26 – UPS began an experimental delivery system using drones in North Carolina.
March 27 – Airbnb, the online home-sharing site, surpassed Hilton Hotels in annual sales.
April 11 – A standup comedian in England died halfway through his comedy routine, only the audience thought it was part of his act.
April 19 – A 10-year-old Fredrick, Maryland girl born without hands won a national handwriting contest.
April 22 – The BBC reported that 23 million people use 123456 as their password for private online accounts, with 123456789 as the second most popular password.
May 22 – The last known ship to bring slaves to the U.S., the schooner Clotilda, was discovered in a remote branch of Alabama’s Mobile River.
May 23 – Longtime Marietta, Georgia, mail carrier Floyd Martin retired, and on his last route, residents decorated their mailboxes and held a block party after he finished his deliveries.
May 31 – After 20 rounds and running out of hard words, the National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., crowned an unprecedented eight co-champions.
June 5 – Tom Rice, 97, of Coronado, California, reenacted his pre-D-Day 1944 jump into Carentan, France, as part of the 75th anniversary of the Allied invasion at Normandy.
June 11 – Kraft announced that it was selling salad frosting, which was French dressing disguised in a colorful bottle to get kids to like it.
June 19 – A survey by YouGov reported that 39 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 hadn’t used deodorant in the last 30 days.
July 3 – The American Automobile Association estimated that a record 49 million people would be traveling the U.S. highways on the Fourth of July holiday.
July 12 – A report on British roadkill showed that badgers were the mammals most likely to meet their end on the highway, although pheasants led the animal roadway mortality rate.
July 22 – Officials near Sandpoint, Idaho removed turtle crossing signs because thieves kept stealing them as soon as the unique warning signs were replaced.
August 14 – A 12-year-old boy attending a family reunion found a rare Ice Age wooly mammoth tooth by a creek near the Inn at Honey Run near Millersburg, Ohio.
August 15 – A new study released by the U.S. Geological Survey showed that 90 percent of rainwater samples in Colorado included microplastic shards, beads, and fibers.
September 6 – A new international study showed that 90 percent of the time eyewitnesses would assist someone assaulted in public.
September 7 – Miami Marlins pitcher Brian Moran struck out his young brother, Colin, pinch-hitting for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
September 21 – When a car fell on his neighbor pinning him, Zac Clark, a 16-year-old high school football player from Butler, Ohio, rushed over and lifted the 3,000-pound auto, saving the neighbor’s life.
One of my proudest moments.

October 7 – After falling at his home in Plains, Georgia the previous day, former President Jimmy Carter, 95, with a bandage above his left eye and a visible welt below, still helped build a Habitat for Humanity home in Nashville, Tennessee.
October 18 – NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir performed the first all-female spacewalk when they ventured outside the International Space Station for five and a half hours to replace a faulty battery charger.
October 30 – Firefighters in Simi Valley, California successfully saved the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library from a wildfire with assistance from a herd of goats brought in earlier in the year to eat away the brush surrounding the library.
November 3 – When midnight shift workers didn’t show up at a Birmingham Waffle House restaurant, several customers jumped behind the counter to help the lone employee serve 30 other customers.
November 8 – The last survivor of the Hindenburg Disaster, Werner Gustav Doehner, died in Laconia, New Hampshire, at age 90.
November 18 – Police in Goddard, Kansas, discovered a camel, cow, and donkey wandering along a rural road.
December 9 – A New York City man removed and ate a banana from a Miami, Florida art exhibit that had sold for $120,000.
December 10 – A 43-year-old Monroe County, Louisiana man, was arrested for fixing the bingo game he was calling so his relatives could win.
December 20 – Emily Williams, a wildlife ecologist in Alaska, was late for work because a moose was licking the salt off of her car.

Here’s hoping 2020 will give us both a better year and better eyesight in all that is happening around us.

Happy New Year!

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Happy Thanksgiving!

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What could be more appropriate than a photo of a roast turkey ready to be carved on Thanksgiving Day?

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!

“Happy Thanksgiving” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

November: The contemplative month

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The fall election is over. Daylight Savings Time has come and gone, and so have most of this fall’s colorful leaves. It must be November.

We can thank the pelting rains and wicked winds of a raucous cold front for dislodging most of the leaves. We can thank Congress for the time change.

I never adjust well to this convoluted toying of time. I wake up early and am ready for bed before dark that Sunday afternoon.

When we lived in the heart of Ohio’s Amish Country, I always chuckled at the various reactions to this contrived notion of messing with clocks to supposedly save energy. The Amish had that down to a science.

Some Amish complied with the change to stay connected with the rest of society. Others compromised and moved the time back a half an hour. Some never changed time in the first place.

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I miss that kind of contrariness. I haven’t checked with local buggy-driving Old Order Mennonite farmers here in Virginia to know if they mess with time in the same manner.

With the time changed and the leaves disappearing, our attention turns to Thanksgiving preparations. At least it should if we aren’t too distracted by all the Christmas gift-giving commercials already on television.

It can be for that very reason alone that I become contemplative in November. I think it’s the colder weather though. I do appreciate the cleaner, clearer air. Thanks to a couple of killing frosts, I can breathe again.

Then, too, the early darkness readies me for bed way before bedtime. These are the days of the earliest sunsets of the year until we get to the winter solstice.

I do appreciate the clear evening skies, too. I love to watch the moon creep across the darkened sky surrounded by sparkling jewels and winking planets.

The month of November ushers in the dormant season. By month’s end, the deciduous trees will be bare. We’ll see things in the landscape we had totally forgotten about, like houses we didn’t remember were there.

cropped-dsc_0555.jpgThe longer evenings give me time to reflect on the activities of the day. I do miss my fireplace, though. There is truly nothing like warming your backside sitting on the hearth in front of a roaring, crackling fire.

I used those evenings to think and reflect on our past, present, and future. With that, we recognize November’s other holiday, Veterans Day.

November is like recess at school. It’s the needed break between all of the action of October and December.

Soon Black Friday advertisements will blitz our mailboxes, newspapers, TV commercials, and annoying social media ads. Thanksgiving will be no more than a prelude to that glorious commercial day. Too bad there’s not an app to eliminate that.

As you might have surmised by now, I’m well into my contemplative shtick. I have a brain. I try to use it every now and then. November’s dark days seem like a good time to do that.

Come to think of it, whatever happened to Indian summer? With nine of the last 10 years the warmest on record globally, maybe the weather gods decided we don’t need it anymore. It’s just a thought.

Everything seems to slow down in November. From my point of view, that’s one of the eleventh month’s purposes. Let’s all take a little time to sit back, relax, talk with your spouse, listen to your children, play with your grandchildren, and be kind to one another.

Christmas is only a few weeks away.

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© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

May is for the birds

Birders at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area.

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

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

Where the boardwalk begins.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sleepy.

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

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

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

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

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

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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