A Shocking Scene

I took this photo exactly seven years ago today while I was checking my roads as a township trustee in Holmes County, Ohio. Wheat shocks standing in fields like this one was once a common scene in Ohio’s Amish country.

Today, only the lowest order of Amish still shock their winter wheat, oats, and corn in the fall. The mainline Amish have introduced horse-drawn harvesting machines to gather their grain. Doing so was a matter of efficiency. With less than 10 percent of Amish still farming, fewer farmers are available to help in the harvesting process.

Consequently, this photo perhaps is a shocking scene in today’s terms. “A Shocking Scene” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Why does summer go so fast?

Why does summertime always seem to go so fast? It’s July already!

Once Memorial Day passes, and school dismisses, it’s on to summertime fun. With the warmer, more pleasant, consistent weather and longer daylight hours, we fill our days with the most enjoyable activities we can.

That’s easy for school children and retirees to do. We have all the time we need to enjoy each moment of each day if we so choose. However, most people who still work have to squeeze in as much outdoor time as possible.

Home improvement projects, gardening, lawn-mowing, fishing, hiking, biking, painting, and grilling are just some of the “ing” activities that fill the hours before and after work. But, from what I can tell, most folks do a fine job of making these precious days count.

Of course, critical social interactions like vacations and weddings also chip away at summer’s beck and call. But, hopefully, all of the planning time and money spent will make the events worthwhile. Usually, the smiles provide proof.

However, summer’s waning is especially noteworthy given all that we have endured during the ongoing pandemic. We here in the United States are most fortunate to have the vaccines so readily available. They allow us to shake off the doldrums of the prolonged, unexpected, and unwanted coronavirus ramifications.

Too many global citizens aren’t as fortunate, though I am glad to see that our country is coming to their aid. But the number of world’s people desiring the shots far outnumber the available vaccines at this point.

On the beach.

Still, Americans are taking to the highways and byways, packing national parks, baking on beaches, and celebrating the opportunities to do so. It’s a joyous feeling. We will continue our travel plans, but we will still be cautious.

My wife and I ventured out on our first out-of-state trip to visit her cousin and spouse in North Carolina. It was nice to be on the road again, even if the Interstates became parking lots from time to time due to accidents or construction.

We didn’t do anything special. The weather put a damper on that. But it was simply a joy to be together again, playing cards, reminiscing, watching TV shows, and enjoying dining out once again.

Another transition back to normalcy also lifted our spirits. We began to attend in-person church services, still with distancing and masks. Words alone can’t express my gratitude.

My wife and I got to see our son and his wife for the first time in nearly two years. We had watched their wedding via Zoom, but we made up for our absence by celebrating their first anniversary with them.

Last summer the pandemic interrupted our annual trip to our beloved Lakeside Chautauqua on the shores of Lake Erie. We hadn’t missed a summer there since we started going as a family in 1987.

We look forward to renewing friendships and making new ones, which is always easy to do in the summertime resort. I’ll rise to catch the break of dawn and head to the dock each evening to capture the sunset along with scores of other memory-makers.

We’ll play dominoes on the porch, stroll the shoreline sidewalks lined with lilies and hollyhocks. I’ll sit on a bench and watch the boats sail away, and enjoy the lake breezes.

I’m glad it’s summer, and I am thrilled to be able to travel again. However, the joy of reconnecting relationships far overshadows any exotic destinations.

With all of these interactions, perhaps that answers my question as to why summer seems to be already speeding along.

A summer sunset in Ohio’s Amish country.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Three in One

Pileated Woodpecker parents lead a juvenile to a feeder.

We were very fortunate to have Pileated Woodpeckers frequent our bird feeders when we lived in Ohio’s Amish country. Our home was built on an Amish farm. You can see the alfalfa in the background. That’s how close we were to the fields.

Woodlots and overgrown fence lines were also nearby, creating excellent habitat for a wide variety of birds. Our little acre and a half had many mature shrubs and trees, including this old sugar maple. The birds loved it because of its dense leaf cover, and the crinkled bark for wedging in seeds to be cracked.

I always kept a keen eye out for the birds. I often photographed them through our west-facing windows, like this shot. The Pileated Woodpeckers would announce their arrival with their loud, intimidating call that served as a warning to all other birds.

I found this photo that I took at the end of June in 2015 while sorting through my many digital photographs. Mom was at the suet feeder while Dad looked on from the other side of the tree trunk. Junior was glued to the lower level of the maple’s trunk hungry for breakfast.

Some people have told me that they have never seen Pileated Woodpeckers at backyard feeders. Well, here’s proof that they do visit feeders where they feel safe.

“Three in One” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Insights about my enigmatic father

My father at the World War II Memorial three months before he died. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh

I don’t need a designated day to remind me of my late father. I see him in many of my machinations and manners. I walk, talk, and too often behave much as he did. I’m still working on that.

Understand me, though, that I loved my father unconditionally. It just took me too long to realize that I spent too much of my adolescent and young adult life trying to earn his affection when affection wasn’t his thing. I finally realized that Dad was already sharing his love in how he lived his life.

Dad had many interests. In his nearly nine decades of living, he squeezed in an array of activities. Unfortunately, assisting our dear mother around the house wasn’t high on his list.

My father had Ichabod Crane’s physique and Rip Van Winkle’s spirit. At six foot two inches in his prime, Dad was tall for his era. But his skinny build gave him a gangly appearance.

Dad was athletic and energetic, especially when it came to having fun. He loved to tell stories of dancing with Mom at Moonlight Ballroom in Meyers Lake Park in Canton. We played “Moonlight Serenade” at his memorial service as he danced into glory.

However, the only time I ever physically saw him dance was with Mom at a niece’s wedding. Though in their 80s, they glided across the floor as if they were 20.

Top left: With our parents on Dad’s last Thanksgiving; Middle: Dad with my two brothers, sister and me before our other sister was born; Top right: Mom and Dad on their wedding day; Bottom: The home Dad helped build and where we all grew up.

Dad loved to tell stories. When we lived in Ohio, I would occasionally run into people who knew my father. Their complimentary comments often referenced Dad’s storytelling.

I always acknowledged that Dad was indeed a great storyteller and that some of those stories were actually true. I always smiled when I said it, though.

By profession, Dad was a project engineer. He helped build the red-brick bungalow where he and our mother raised their family. His pride and joy, though, was the inviting cottage he and Mom built at a lake in southeastern Ohio.

Although he couldn’t swim, Dad enlisted in the Navy in World War II. He did so because the Great Lakes Naval Base was only hours from home. However, he found himself in the engine room of the U.S.S. San Diego in the Pacific theater.

After the war, Dad worked on submarine missiles and was part of a team that designed a new gondola for the Goodyear blimp. Yet, projects around home went unfinished or were patch jobs. His favorite tool was duct tape.

Dad loved social gatherings. He took it upon himself to organize family reunions. He also once planned his high school class reunion and then forgot to go.

Dad and Mom visited us frequently in rural Holmes County, Ohio. His pretense was to see his grandchildren, but he spent his time scouring fields for arrowheads. In his excitement to show us what he had found, Dad tracked dirty footprints into the house.

Even as cancer overtook his body, Dad’s passion for life remained. He was ready to go but didn’t want to leave this life he loved.

Though unconscious, the Hospice nurse encouraged me to tell Dad that it was alright to let go. So, I did.

Dad’s reaction didn’t surprise me. Unable to speak or open his eyes, he just waved me away. I took it as an indication that he wanted to die on his terms and time. And that is what he did. Early the following morning, while the nurse left his side for five minutes, Dad took his final breath. I don’t need Father’s Day to remind me of my father, but I am thankful for the day and my dad nonetheless.

Dad gave a presentation to retirement home residents on his favorite topic, Native Americans. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

This June is a Gateway for All

We have all been waiting to exhale, especially this year, once June arrived. We had that same perspective a year ago, but we were wrong.

Last year the estimation was that summer’s warmth would lessen the spread of the coronavirus. Just the opposite happened. People gathered, and the virus spread.

This June appears to be different. The fact that nearly two-thirds of American adults have received at least one vaccination makes it so. That has resulted in the waning of the virus here in the U.S. However, other countries continue to struggle as new variants emerge, spread, sicken, and kill.

But in June 2021, a different feeling is in the air. June is that stepping stone into sunshine, smiles, and satisfaction. People in the U.S. are once again getting together, though some are doing so cautiously.

June is the gateway to summer. The summer solstice late on June 20 merely anoints the welcomed season.

June means longer and generally warmer days than previous months. With health restrictions significantly reduced or altogether eliminated, life in June just might help us all feel “normal” again.

Graduations, vacations, weddings, reunions, picnics, and Little League baseball games are a much better bet to occur with June’s arrival. Church congregations that met remotely are beginning to hold in-person services, some outside, others with controlled numbers assembled indoors.

I’ve always welcomed June from adolescence to this day. School often finished around Memorial Day, which turned us outdoor lovers loose. I still feel that way all those decades later.

But there is something sacred about this particular June. It’s more than just the freedom to move about, go swimming, fishing, hiking, or wearing T-shirts and shorts.

The pandemic isn’t over, but here in the U.S., it seems to be subsiding. Still, we are approaching 600,000 deaths in our great country and 3.5 million globally. Those are sobering figures.

I recall the wise advice of a farmer friend from the weeks-long drought that began in June 1988. Local hay crops had failed, and shipments of baled hay arrived from the Midwest. Many farmers bought the imported bales at exorbitant prices.

When they got it home, they discovered that the hay bales that looked good from the outside had more weeds than nourishment on the inside. I asked my friend if he had purchased any of the high-priced, weedy fodder.

I have never forgotten his reply. “My father once told me that when you see others running for something, you should walk.” So, no, he hadn’t.

Consequently, my wife and I will welcome June without much fanfare. We’ll follow our grandson’s traveling baseball team when we can. We will continue to be cautious about eating inside public places, preferring to dine at establishments that offer outside seating.

We have and will continue to visit vaccinated friends. We’ll use June to ease into renewing our travels, including seeing our son and his wife for the first time in two years.

I’ll continue to hike, but I will be careful to choose the days, watch the weather, and avoid weekends. I’m not a snob or prude. Crowded trails are not my thing.

When we do get out and about in June, we need to be cautious for practical reasons. Reports from many eastern states indicate that ticks are thick this year. Once back inside, check yourself, your children, and your pets. The physical effects of tick bites are devastating.

We can rightfully celebrate June’s arrival. But let’s continue to be alert and careful every step of the way.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Memorial Day is for remembering

A Virginia man prepares his Memorial Day decorations.

Memorial Day is for remembering. As a septuagenarian, the bulk of my life is behind me. Memories fill my daily life, but especially so on this solemn weekend.

In the years between ages 21 and 51, I started my career as a public school educator. I met and married my energetic and valiant wife. Our daughter and son were born. I simultaneously served 27 years as a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician.

I consider those the best years of my life. That is true, not because of anything I did, but because of the people I met and interacted with in the communities where I lived, worked, and served.

To list all the folks would surely be impossible. So, I’ll share a few meaningful examples of those who helped me along life’s way.

Of course, I have to start with my parents, Dick and Marian. In the post-World War II era, men were the breadwinners, and women were for the most part housewives, teachers, nurses, or secretaries. That’s just how it was, and I am exceedingly glad those societal expectations are no longer the norm.

Dick and Marian Stambaugh at their 65th wedding celebration.

At 6 foot 2 inches, Dad cut an imposing figure for that era. But he lived like a child turned loose in the world. He loved our mother dearly, but he never saw the need to help much around the house.

Mom always had supper ready when Dad came home from work. After we ate, Dad would often go on some adventure, whether to tend the garden we had on a friend’s property two miles away or to a church softball game.

Mom took things in stride as best she could. None of us five kids ever doubted her love, but we sure tested her limits. Mom was as kind and sweet as she was stalwart and unafraid to have a necessary word or two with Dad or us when needed.

Dad served in World War II on the U.S.S. San Diego, a Navy light cruiser that saw action in 16 major Pacific battles. They never lost a man. Dad was proud of his service but seldom talked much about it. His father, Merle, served in the Army in France in World War I.

Grandpa was gassed by German forces and treated in a field hospital that kept no medical records. He suffered from those damaged lungs until he died at age 72. He never received the financial or medical help that he needed and consequently lived a hard life.

My wife’s parents, Wayne and Esther, took me in like the son they never had. I knew Wayne liked me right away because he ushered me to the barn to see the pigs on my first visit to the farm. My wife said it usually took suitors three trips before they got that introduction.

Family members weren’t my only influencers. I boarded with Helen, a kindly woman, the first year that I taught. We became lifelong friends. Never married, Helen graciously adopted our family as her own. Our daughter and son were the grandchildren she never had.

Many others guided me through life, too: teachers, friends, other family members, even strangers. I cherish the times they spent with me. They all revered the past, never feared the future but sensibly lived in and for the moment at hand. So should we.

You have your saints, too. Remember them we must, for that is what they would want us to do. It is what we all want once we are gone. It’s why we have Memorial Day.

Dad at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., Sept. 12, 2009 as part of an Honor Flight.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Arboretums equal beauty

Now is the time to enjoy them

Edith J. Carrier Arboretum, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Now is the time to get outdoors. Nature is in all of her rejuvenated glory.

No matter where you live, there are likely plenty of opportunities to explore and enjoy the blossoming beauty. It could be the mauve of your neighbor’s crabapple tree. It could be a local park, where multiple options abound. Maybe it’s your own backyard.

The location is insignificant. All of nature is coming alive right now in the Northern Hemisphere. But as the daffodils have shown, this beauty won’t last. Enjoy it while it’s here.

When a friend invited my wife and me to see their magic garden in full bloom, we didn’t hesitate. We had been there before and knew what a treat it would be.

Our friend Mary guided us through the glorious garden filled with various vibrant flowers, all native to the Shenandoah Valley. A pastel pallet of creeping phlox that lined the sidewalk and driveway served as our greeters.

As we wound our way around the house and down into a lovely shaded area, blooming azaleas and cultivated wildflowers popped into view. Mary’s husband Glenn sat on a bench surrounded by Virginia bluebells and their smaller imitators lungworts. Their spangled leaves accented the dainty pink and blue blossoms.

The vivid colors of our friends’ personal arboretum.

Mary and Glenn made us feel at home in their little slice of paradise on earth. I’m sure that’s the case for everyone who visits. They are as welcoming as their heavenly arboretum.

The previous day Neva and I had visited the noted Edith J. Carrier Arboretum on the James Madison University campus in Harrisonburg, Virginia. A free wildflower tour happens every Wednesday when the wildflowers bloom.

Our guide led us around the pond into the woods, frequently stopping to point out the various wildflowers and blooming trees. Of course, the Virginia bluebells stole the show.

Not to be outdone, the deep burgundy of the toad trillium nicely contrasted with their white cousins nearby. Redbuds, both pink and white, provided a pretty umbrella for the gentle, steady rain.

Late-blooming spring beauties and buttery daffodils with orange trumpets caught our attention. The last of the white-petaled bloodroots had to be impressed with the Dutchman’s britches dancing in the raindrops.

The deep red pawpaw buds were still tight, waiting for warmer and sunnier days to open. Several in the group told stories of the delicious pawpaw fruit. Others had their doubts.

Wild blue phlox and lungwort tried their best to distract the visitors from admiring the rose azaleas. Warblers and woodpeckers achieved that goal for me.

We saw and learned about scores of other flowers, plants, shrubs, and trees in the conservatory. Something is always blooming there in the springtime. You can drown in wildflowers.

Back in Ohio, the Wilderness Center at Wilmot and the Secrest Arboretum at the OARDC in Wooster were always my favorite places to visit, especially in the spring. Wildflowers, ornamental trees, and birds and butterflies kept me busy for hours.

Of course, just traveling hiking and biking trails this time of year is a real treat. Different flowers seem to appear daily, along with the migrating and resident songbirds.

My friend and author Julie Zickefoose said it succinctly, “There is so much living to be done in spring when everything is so beautiful.” I couldn’t agree more.

You likely have your favorite places to visit in the spring to view the wildflowers and enjoy the colorful birds. Even if it’s your own backyard, get out and enjoy the glorious show.

A springtime floral display in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

April is a character

In a family of months

Redbuds in full bloom.

I’ve known a few characters in my lifetime. I bet you have, too.

By character, I mean a unique individual who enjoys life outside the expected societal norms. Every family, workplace, and even church seems to have at least one individual who fits the profile.

I’ve learned that you don’t have to be human to be a character either. Our long-departed rat terrier Bill fit that category.

Bill’s personality far outsized his small frame. He once jumped up to try a catch a Canada goose that flew low over our Ohio home.

Other non-human characters include our backyard blonde squirrel and a pair of mallard ducks that frequent our neighborhood.

Just being blonde and a squirrel is character enough. When other squirrels approach, Blonde rapidly flips her beautiful golden tail to defend her territory. Satisfied that all is clear, she stretches out on the cool grass in the shadow of the maple, relishing in her most recent victory.

The ducks are a different story. Even though our suburban home’s closest water sources are swimming pools, this pair flies around the neighborhood, landing on rooftops. From there, they scout out nearby birdfeeders and go house to house foraging for breakfast, lunch, and supper.

Characters, however, don’t have to be living beings or animals.

Take our Julian calendar, for example. Months have dynamic personalities, too. April earns head of the class and not necessarily for alphabetical reasons.

Among her 11 siblings, April can often be a bit obnoxious. That’s especially true when it comes to weather.

April showers bring much more than May flowers. April’s repertoire dishes out tornadoes, snow, frost, floods, 80 degree days, and more. Sometimes only hours separate those diverse conditions.

No matter where you live in the United States or Canada, April can be a stinker. She doesn’t rely only on April 1 to fool you. One day, it’s 15 degrees above average. The sun is shining in a clear blue sky, while songbirds fill the warm air with luxurious melodies. The sound of lawnmowers echoes far and wide.

The next day the fog is so thick the sun can’t even breakthrough. Soon the wind picks up, and storm clouds race across the landscape, pelting rain, hail, and producing winds that exceed the speed limit. It would be justifiable if the weather service issued an arrest warrant for April for perpetrating days like this.

It’s not that we don’t expect variety in the weather. It is spring, after all. But it would be pure pleasure to know it’s safe to store the ice scrapers and snow shovels for at least a few months.

I have anecdotal evidence of such events. One early April day, 20 inches of heavy, wet snow brought much of Ohio to a halt. Volunteer fire departments ferried medical workers to and from hospitals.

On April 3 and 4, 1974, massive and deadly tornados hit Xenia, Ohio, and many other locations in more than a dozen states. Holmes County was in the path of the storm, too.

The sky turned pea green, and everything grew still. The tornado never touched down, but instead, tattered and torn objects from Xenia drifted to earth. People found checks and personal effects from 150 miles southwest.

April continues to be a Jekyll and Hyde. Just as our redbuds were about to bloom pink and bold, back-to-back days of 20-degree mornings deadened their potential pink beauty. I hope they can recover from their frigid encounters.

April is a character, all right. She still has time to repent, however.

Creeping phlox and a lone blue anemone.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

A Sure Sign of Spring

When my wife and I lived in Ohio’s Amish country, there was one sure sign of spring that I always relished. Our Amish neighbors plowing the first furrows of soil always said spring to me.

I never tired of the witnessing the annual tradition. Powerful and beautiful workhorses pulling the farmers seated upon one-bottom plows sealed the spring deal for me.

The jingle of the horses’ harnesses, the smell of freshly turned soil, the encouraging voices of the men calling the names of the horses to keep going created a reassuring feeling. Though the vernal equinox had already passed, this scene always invigorated me. Of course, the longer days, the chorus of songbirds, the pale blue sky, and the budding flowers didn’t hurt either.

“A Sure Sign of Spring” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Why March is a favorite month

March has always been one of my favorite months for several reasons. Mind you, I don’t get as excited as youngsters on Christmas morning, but it’s close.

March is a transitional month, especially for those who live in the northern realms of the northern hemisphere. That’s especially true for March weather, though I don’t give much credence to the “in like a lion, out like a lamb” folklore.

March serves up a meteorological smorgasbord. Rain, sleet, snow, sunshine, and severe weather can all appear in the month’s 31 days.

A March day in Ohio’s Amish country.

The day I cherish most is the vernal equinox, which is March 20 this year. Let’s hope that the green of St. Patrick’s Day carries on over into April. I won’t hold my breath, however.

March marks the official transition from winter to spring. If the ground isn’t too soggy, planting vegetables and flower gardens commences, and farmers prepare their fields for sowing crops.

When we lived in Holmes County, Ohio, I always marveled at the hardiness of farmers, usually teenagers and young men, who braved the elements to plow and disk the fields. It may have been sunny when they left the barn, but somehow it always seemed to snow or rain when they hit the fields. Still, their teams of beautiful workhorses plodded on.

Here in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, it’s giant-sized tractors and the consequences of zipping in and out of fields that drivers have to watch out for on the ubiquitous narrow, winding roads. Unfortunately, the sticky, red mud is difficult to clean off of your vehicles.

Speaking of mud, I never knew about schools closing for mud days until I moved to Holmes County. Curiosity cured me on the first trip down a rural gravel road. When I became a township trustee, I positively hated when gravel roads turned to mush or hard surface roads disintegrated.

Sandhill Cranes.

March usually means the end of sugaring time. By month’s end, the tempo of warm days and cold nights that encouraged the sap to flow has ended.

Birders live for spring, and March often provides the first rush of migrants returning to nest or passing through to destinations farther north. Is there anything more exciting than hearing a flock of sandhill cranes honking overhead in the twilight?

March means color returns to the deadened landscape. Green shoots of plants and flowers push through the barren soil, even if the majority are dandelions.

A walk in the woods reveals nature at work at many levels. Look down, and patches of spring beauties carpet the ground. Listen, and choirs of spring peepers fill the warm evening air. Look up, and you might find owlets staring you down, nervously jostling on a limb.

Crocuses are some of the first blooms in flower gardens.

Photos of royal crocuses, buttery daffodils, and perhaps the season’s first tulips fill social media pages. It’s society’s 21st-century expression of joy and relief.

Of course, March means work. Winter’s litter of sticks and last fall’s leaves piled in corners far from their mother tree get recycled. Folks are eager to get outside and fuss about the appearance of their yards. They crank up their mowers even though snow is in the forecast.

I put out my hummingbird and oriole feeders in the hope of attracting any early arrivals. While I wait, I am more than content with waking to a competing chorus of robins and cardinals each morning.

Of course, I’m partial to March for personal reasons, especially this year. It’s our anniversary month. Welcoming March for 50 years together is singularly reason enough to celebrate the third month’s arrival.      

The fertile farmland of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021