Social distancing before it was required

Reflections at the alligator pond.

My wife and I were social distancing before we knew there was such a thing.

Before the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S., I made an all-day social distancing trip to Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. It was a mere hour’s drive from our winter hideout on Amelia Island, Florida.

I invited my lovely wife to accompany me. Having already visited there briefly with friends, Neva declined. Her aversion to snakes and reptiles made that an easy decision. However, I wanted to explore the place more thoroughly.

I didn’t mind going solo at all. We each believe that doing our own thing has contributed to the longevity and quality of our marriage. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.

You might know the refuge by its more colloquial name, Okefenokee Swamp. That is what the locals call it. Take a tour, however, and you will quickly learn that Okefenokee isn’t a swamp at all.

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Native Americans gave the sprawling area the name centuries ago. In English, Okefenokee means “land of the trembling earth.” The moniker fits. In the less disturbed marshy areas, the land beneath reverberates with each step you take.

Okefenokee has been a national wildlife refuge since 1937. It was designated a World Heritage Site in 1974.

Much more than a shallow blackwater swamp, the 403,000 acres that comprise Okefenokee are a beautiful blend of hammock forests, creeks, wetland prairies, and cypress groves. Altogether, they serve as the headwaters for both the Suwannee River and the St. Mary’s River, which marks the Florida/Georgia boundary.

My heart jumped when I saw this woodpecker land on the trunk of this longleaf pine. It was a yellow-bellied sapsucker.
I arrived mid-morning under hazy, smoky skies in early February. My main objective was to find the elusive and rare red-cockaded woodpecker. Okefenokee is one of the last remaining sanctuaries for the endangered bird.

I drove down the eerily lovely Swamp Island Drive in search of the woodpecker. I had never seen one, and after spending the morning trying, I still haven’t. I did see plenty of nest holes high up in the longleaf pine trunks.

I wasn’t disappointed. Just being among all the beauty and the sounds and earthy fragrances of nature was sufficient.

Hundreds of sandhill cranes cackled unseen in the wetlands beyond the pines that surrounded a small pond. An alligator laid like a fallen log on the pond’s far lip. A brown-headed nuthatch foraged on a tree trunk only four feet from me.

Bigger alligators rested roadside along shallow ditches. I found it surprising how much the vegetation changed at the slightest rise or dip in elevation. The scenery was stunning despite the gray overcast sky and smoke from a nearby forest fire.


Only a few feet from the boardwalk trail, alligators absorbed whatever warmth the day offered. Neva would not have approved. By the time I reached the observation tower, the sandhill cranes had quieted and were out of sight.

I learned much more about Okefenokee on the afternoon boat tour. Our guide explained that the deepest water was only four feet. The vast geologic basin was filled with peat, which is why it quivered when stepped upon.

Our small flat-bottom boat cruised between stands of cypress graciously draped with Spanish moss, which isn’t a moss at all. Huge alligators lounged along the way, while a highly venomous water moccasin soaked in the filtered sunshine. Red-shouldered hawks screeched from high perches on old snags.

As I headed back to our condo, I savored the day that had buoyed me. For Neva and me, that style of social distancing helps enrich both our individuality and our affinity.

A cypress grove along the Suwannee Canal.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Earth Day


Today is Earth Day’s 50th Anniversary. As we celebrate this milestone, let’s remember the reason we mark the day. Together we all need to admire, enjoy, and care for Creation.

“Earth Day” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Holy Week emotions mirror those of COVID-19

By definition, Holy Week transitions from the jubilant high expectations on Palm Sunday to the sadness and disbelief of Good Friday to the sacred joy of Easter morning.

This year Eastertime is symbolic of the current world situation. Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, Holy Week mirrors the global state of human existence amid the coronavirus pandemic. We face the same human emotions today as that mixed crowd of humanity 2,000 years ago.

Our lives have been turned upside down in this evolving medical crisis. No one can escape the grasp of the pandemic’s ramifications, whether we contract the virus or not. We are all affected.

A migrating Pine Siskin.
We all had high hopes with the advent of spring, especially at Easter. Now, all of that has changed. Unless you are one of the few remaining skeptics, reality has hit hard.

Personnel on the frontlines of helping to stem the epidemic are stressed and very fearful for their patients, their families, and themselves. Even following all of the recommended precautions has not been enough for some.

Schooling has taken on a very different and dynamic atmosphere for students, teachers, administrators, and parents alike. Challenging doesn’t begin to describe it. Nor does frustration, especially for those denied the much-anticipated pomp and circumstance of graduation ceremonies.

For those who live alone, the elderly, those who struggle with mental issues, or live with special needs, fear invades the interactions of daily living. Coping has never been harder.

Many have lost their jobs, income, and insurance benefits. Others employed in businesses deemed essential encountered the ignorance of others. The outrage of service workers filled social media as entire families show up to buy a hammer or just browse big box stores, clearly ignoring the social distancing safety recommendations.

Misinformation stokes the fear and invites unfounded rumors, which only leads to more confusion and doubt. Opportunists who price-gouge only see personal and financial gain in this time of crisis.

Where then is the Easter joy? We must look through the numbing heartache to see it.

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The warming weather, the blooming flowers, and budding trees, the emerald green grass, the colorful migrating birds, the friendly waves, and well-wishes of walkers as they pass by are but a few expressions of hope. Springtime’s renewal parallels that of Easter morning.

We should sing prayerful praises for those who tirelessly toil to save lives and defeat this virus. First-responders, law enforcement, pharmacists, doctors, nurses, utility workers, grocery store owners and their employees, and delivery people are only a few of today’s heroes.

Globally, folks with a passion for helping have unselfishly responded. Scores of caring people are making homemade masks and donating them to local service agencies.

Here in Harrisonburg, Virginia, many people have sewn and donated thousands of masks for businesses, the hospital, medical offices, fire departments, the volunteer rescue squad, and not-for-profit groups that shelter the homeless. My wife is one such person, though I doubt she would want me to tell you that.

In a pandemic, contagion ignores race, ethnicity, politics, borders, and social status. We all are potential victims and potential helpers. Our humanness makes us vulnerable, afraid, uncertain and exposed. And yet, it is those very qualities that inspire us to join as one at this most difficult time.

Together we must use our gifts and skills for the common good to rise to this once-in-a-lifetime threat. Only then will the anguish of Good Friday transform into the gratefulness of Resurrection Sunday’s love.


© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Self-quarantined on our big day


My wife and I just celebrated our 49th wedding anniversary. I had planned a quiet night out at a nice restaurant with my bride to mark the momentous occasion.

Of course, we nixed those plans since we have self-quarantined during the coronavirus health emergency. You can probably relate.

Instead, we spent the day like all our other social distancing, self-quarantined days. We read a little, played games, watched some television, I wrote, Neva quilted.

Unprecedented, uncharted territory each describe the current coronavirus pandemic. We all have had to make adjustments, sacrifices, lifestyle changes, hoping against hope they will be temporary.

We hope, too, that as many people as possible will stay healthy and alive. But the numbers of casualties from this horrible contagion keep multiplying daily. The curve has yet to be flattened in too many locales.

bride and groom
Just married.
Neva and I are grateful to have lived these 49 years together. Over those nearly five decades, we each had to make adjustments and changes to ensure the partnership worked. That’s the way marriage is meant to be.

We each made those sacrifices for the benefit of the other. In marriage, you live not for yourself, but first for your spouse. However, our modifications paled in comparison to what others are having to do in the current coronavirus situation.

During our homebound times, I thought a lot about our marriage as our anniversary approached. We have much for which to be grateful. We have two marvelous children who are both successful adults in every way.

We love our energetic and talented trio of grandchildren. They keep us on our toes and fill us with joy and pride in living out their young lives. Of course, baseball, dramas, concerts, soccer, high-fives, and hugs have all been put on hold for now. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before those happenings can be renewed.

We had to get creative with our communications. Text messages, FaceTime chats, and occasional visits with them and their parents on our back porch, always keeping a safe distance, have to suffice for now.

Taking a break in Alaska.
Neva and I have traveled to many places as a couple. We have strolled on beaches, walked many trails, and climbed literal and figurative mountains together. None of them were as steep and challenging to traverse as this current global crisis.

We have many, many folks to thank for helping us along this marital march. Family, friends, churches, communities. We wouldn’t be where we are without them.

I thought it a bit ironic then that we would simply celebrate number 49 all alone. Our daughter changed that scenario by picking up carryout dinner at one of our favorite restaurants and dining with us on our back porch. Of course, we kept our distance.

Neva and I have been through a lot since that beautiful day in March 1971. But, like you, we have never endured anything like this pandemic.

In our quietude, we silently said a gracious thank you for all those strangers, friends, and family, living and dead, who have blessed and enriched our lives with joy, love, and understanding.

Neva and I are forever thankful for all that the good Lord has bestowed on us. Our gratitude is beyond measure, but continually overflowing. We’re hoping our 50th anniversary will be even more rewarding.

In these challenging, unusual times, we all need to work in harmony for the common good. Our prayers go out to each and everyone, whatever and wherever your situation may be.

Social distancing may keep us physically apart, but we are all in this together, and together, we will persevere. Blessings, and thanks to each of you.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

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