Category Archives: Ohio

Roaming around the Virginia countryside

Rockingham Co. VA

The westward view.

By Bruce Stambaugh

When I first moved to Holmes County, Ohio a month after the devastating July 4th flood in 1969, I explored the countryside to get my bearings. As a rookie teacher, I wanted to know where my students lived, and what they were dealing with in the flood’s aftermath.

We had several other rookie teachers who were also new to the area. Our principal, Paul O’Donnell, loaded us all in his Chevy station wagon and chauffeured us around the hills and dales where our students lived.

Holmes Co. OH, Killbuck Marsh

The marsh and wooded hillsides on southwestern Holmes Co., Ohio.

Being a geography geek, I greatly enjoyed the tour. I decided that was the best way for me to get to know the Holmes County area. I bought a county map and drove the dusty back roads as often as I could. I marveled at the diversity of the area’s topography and vegetation.

In a matter of minutes, I went from marshlands up steep, winding roads to the top of hills with majestic views of the valleys below. Hillsides were often densely wooded, while croplands and pastures dominated the gently rolling landscape atop the ridges. I repeated the process when I moved to the eastern section of the county.

Whether east or west, I greatly enjoyed getting to know the countryside and its inhabitants. My wife and I are trying the same approach in our new county of residence, Rockingham, Virginia. Only we often use GPS instead of a map.

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With Rockingham twice the size of Holmes County, there’s a lot of ground to cover. We’re chipping away at it as time allows. So far, we’ve explored a lot of beautiful scenery and quaint, rural towns. It didn’t take us long to discover why they are called the Blue Ridge Mountains. Even the Allegheny Mountains cast a blue hue in the day’s waning light.

The folks we’ve met so far are as friendly and polite as advertised. No one has even mentioned my Holmes County accent.

Besides sightseeing, our exploring is purposeful, whether traveling into the City of Harrisonburg, or the rural areas of the county. Running errands, going to appointments, buying fresh produce, an afternoon with the grandkids, all get us out and about, finding our way around our new home.

horse and wagon, Rockingham Co. VA

Old Order Mennonites on an afternoon ride.

We also explore with friends and relatives who visit and want a look around, too. I enjoy those trips the most. They usually involve a stop at a local restaurant to try their fare, followed by another stop at a local ice cream shop. The problem is deciding which one.

We’ve been practical about our excursions. We live in a housing development that serves as a buffer between the city to the east and the county to the west. Consequently, most of our rural exploring to date has branched out north, south, and west of our home.

We’ve especially come to love the Dayton area, where many of the Old Order Mennonites live. Old Order Mennonites drive horse and buggies just like the Amish. And like the Amish, they are deeply rooted in the soil. Most are farmers. Some are business owners, providing services that the majority of their peers could use. Harness shops, bicycle shops, and dry goods stores are typical.

Many have branched out into businesses for customers beyond their own culture. Orchards and produce stands are prominent.

We have enjoyed our junkets around the Rockingham countryside vistas. We’re looking forward to uncovering exciting new places and making additional friends and acquaintances. In Virginia, both are easy to do.

Rockingham Co. VA, sunset

Sunset from the front porch.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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

Thankful for a colorful send-off

blooming dogwood, saying goodbye

Dogwoods abloom.

By Bruce Stambaugh

We couldn’t have picked a better time to move. The lush Ohio springtime ensured a colorful goodbye for us.

When it came to flowers and blooming trees and shrubs, it was, in fact, one of the most beautiful springs in memory. We didn’t have to go far to appreciate the beauty either. The pink dogwood tree I bought for Neva for Mother’s Day several years ago burst the brightest and fullest it had ever been.

Its sister dogwoods bloomed just as showy. Their lacy white flowers opened early and stayed late. I couldn’t have been more elated. Those trees and I go way back. Before our move from Killbuck, Ohio to our home near Berlin, I transplanted several trees from the little woods behind the house we had built. Three wild dogwoods were among them.

The trees graced our place with shade in the summer and sheltered nests of American Robins, Cedar Waxwings, and Chipping Sparrows. In the fall, their berries turned fire engine red while the leaves morphed from green to crimsons before winter’s winds blew them away.

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But it was the few weeks in the spring that I always treasured when the lovely, soft pedals bloomed pure white, crisp as snow, frilly as the daintiest lace. The lilacs also joined the show. Their lavender heads were full as possible. Their fragrances perfumed the air for days and days, temporarily compromising the simultaneous barn cleanings of the local farmers.

We would miss the peak display of iris, gladiolas, coneflowers, and cosmos. We knew that was part of the cost of moving.

Besides, we found love and beauty in other places. We met with as many friends and family as we could who had played important roles in our lifetime of Ohio living. Most of those gatherings occurred in the days and weeks just before the move.

Knowing time would be short, we actually began the goodbye process nearly a year ago. I did a farewell tour of the schools where I had served as principal for 21 years. I made my rounds one last time as a township trustee, too. I bid farewell to constituents who went out of their way to make my job easier.

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Our immediate neighbors held a potluck dinner for us and gave us a generous gift. Neva and I even made one last stop at the Farmers Produce Auction near Mt. Hope. Of course, we had to patronize Dan and Anna’s food stand.

Time didn’t permit us to meet with everyone of course. But we shared meals, stories, laughs, tears, and hugs with many, many folks. Some people sent us cards. Others popped in for a few moments for a final goodbye.

All of those contacts were bouquets more beautiful, more fragrant than any flower arrangement and blooming shrubs could possibly be. We deeply inhaled those most meaningful relationships.

Millersburg Mennonite Church

Greeting us at church.

Our final send off came from our little church of 46 years, Millersburg Mennonite. Without those characters and their unswerving support, we wouldn’t be the people we have become. I had to blame somebody.

Those gatherings empowered us to accept the reality of changing locales. The love and well wishes expressed gave us the strength we needed to begin anew. We can never, ever thank them enough.

As we drove out the drive for the last time, the dogwoods were at their summit. As lovely as they were, they still couldn’t compare to the radiance of the loving, lifetime friendships we had made.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under column, family, friends, human interest, Ohio, photography, rural life, Uncategorized, Virginia, writing

Lakeside, Ohio: 30 years of renewal

Lakeside OH, Hotel Lakeside

Lakeside’s waterfront.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Lakeside, Ohio. Those back-to-back names seem too ordinary, too mundane to be considered a desired vacation destination. For our family, though, like thousands of others, that’s exactly what Lakeside, Ohio means.

We have been traveling there every year at least once a year for three decades. To other Lakesiders, that’s chunk change. Families have been returning to the Chautauqua on Lake Erie for generations.

It’s no wonder. Founded in 1873 as a church retreat, Lakeside has become so much more than that. Indeed, its Methodist roots run deep into the thin soil atop the limestone bedrock of Marblehead Peninsula.

Given its founding, religion certainly is one of the four core tenants of the seasonal programming of this summertime magnet. Arts and entertainment, recreation, and education are the other pillars that have lured thousands back to Lakeside’s comforting grounds, cottages, eateries, and camaraderie year after year.

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Our family is one of those. My parents took my brothers, sisters, and me to Lakeside only on occasion. We lived many miles away, and with no expressways, it was a time-consuming trip, to say the least. I never forgot the happy memories we shared there. We picnicked under giant shade trees only yards away from the alluring Lake Erie.

But as we grew, left home, formed our own families, Lakeside was forgotten. Then came the summer of 1987. It was the most heart-wrenching three months of my life. From Memorial Day through Labor Day, one tragedy after the other unfolded. While serving on the local rescue squad, I faced first-hand the hurt and hardship, the pain and anguish of too many folks and their kin that I knew.

After the son of a close friend and colleague had been killed in an auto accident, I’d had enough. I desperately needed a reprieve before school began in late August. The peaceful memories of Lakeside flooded my brain.

My wife, son, daughter, and I spent an extended, restful, spiritually rewarding weekend lounging in the quietness, enjoying the scenery, the relaxed pace of Lakeside, mini-golf under those even bigger shade trees, and sunsets on the dock.

Besides being renewed and refreshed, we were hooked. A summer vacation at Lakeside became a standing reservation. The kids could ride their bicycles freely and safely in the gated community. Activities for all ages abound, even if it was just sitting on a park bench watching the boats sail by. A different program finished off each evening unless we made an ice cream stop on the way back to our quarters.

As the kids grew, our vacations expanded into a full week. When we became empty nesters, Neva and I found a bed and breakfast that we called home for several consecutive summers. Besides relishing the amenities of Lakeside, we made lifetime friends with the other guests.

Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Ironically, our friendship circles expanded exponentially when that B and B closed. We found a new summer home just down the street. We’ve been enjoying the sweeping front porch of Maxwell Hospitality House on the corner of Walnut and Third for years now.

To help celebrate retirement, this year we expanded our loving Lakeside to two weeks. We enjoyed friends, dominoes, entertainment, lectures, presentations, strolling, sunsets, and, yes, exchanging greetings with strangers, an unwritten Lakeside requirement. The second week, we added shuffleboard and children’s activities since our grandchildren, and their parents joined us.

There’s only one Lakeside, Ohio. It’s gratifying to know its goodness and kindness will continue to be appreciated by family members for years to come.

sunrise photography, Lakeside OH, pink and blue

Framed pink and blue.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under architectural photography, family, friends, human interest, Lakeside, Lakeside Ohio, nature photography, Ohio, photography, travel, writing

The Silhouette’s Shadow

Lake Erie fishing, fishing at dawn

The Silhouette’s shadow.

Being at the right place at the right time can make all the difference for a photographer. When these fishermen brought their boat close to the recently risen sun one morning in Lakeside, Ohio, I couldn’t resist this shot. The boat and fishermen blocked the harshness of the reflection. Capturing a shadow from the silhouette of one of the men was a bonus.

“The Silhouette’s Shadow” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

5 Comments

Filed under human interest, Lakeside Ohio, Ohio, Photo of the Week, photography

When everything falls into place

Ohio's Amish Country sunrise

The beauty we left.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Moving is not an easy process. No matter how much you plan for it, some unknown event usually happens. We kept waiting for that shoe to drop when we moved from Holmes County, Ohio to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

There are many variables in making any move, whether down the street, across town, or across the country. We moved 350 miles southeast, beyond the Ohio River, across several mountain gaps to spend our retirement years near our grandchildren.

That process began almost on a whim. On an exploratory search to see what our money could buy in Harrisonburg’s tight housing market, we found a place that fit most of our living needs. We quickly and unexpectedly reached a fair agreement with the sellers. And we were off and running.

Holmes Co. OH, bilevel home

Where memories were made.

My wife and I are not spontaneous buyers, especially on big-ticket items like a house. We recognized, however, that if we were serious about being close to our grandchildren during their formative years, we needed to move. So we did.

It’s no easy decision to leave the place you have called home for the best part of your lives. So the way we found both a new house and sold our one in Amish country played out flawlessly. We reached an amicable deal with our Amish neighbors to purchase our home.

The transition smoothness continued with the transfers of the standard utilities, insurance, and other household necessities. The easy flow and friendly folks astounded us once again.

We slowed down the pace a bit by deciding to rent the Virginia house during our transition time. We put our daughter in charge since she lives in Harrisonburg. The house was rented in less than a day.

We took our time moving, 18 months to be exact. The renters moved out in the fall, giving us the winter months to put our own touches on the house that would be our new home. That timeline worked just fine for the contractor and landscaper, who needed a smaller project during the slower winter months. And that’s just how it worked out. That also gave us the time we needed to declutter our lives of items that we either no longer needed or could not fit into our smaller ranch home.

Where new memories await.

Friends recommended a local mover, who also offered to pack all our items going to Virginia. You should have seen the smile on my wife’s face. It was the best $800 I ever spent.

Everything was packed and loaded in one day and delivered, unloaded, and set in place two days later. Nothing was broken, though a few items were left in Ohio. Wouldn’t you know, friends from Harrisonburg offered to pick them up on a trip to Ohio? See what I mean?

Given that the entire process took a year and a half, there was plenty of opportunity for a surprise to jump up and bit us. It never happened. My wife and I are very grateful that everything, the purchase, the renting, the moving, the remodeling, the landscaping, the settling in, fell into place that way.

As I reflected on all of this, however, I was mindful of those who have had life experiences where not everything worked out for the best. A surgery that went horribly wrong; an unexpected death; a traumatic separation of family members. The list is endless.

I am exceedingly grateful that everything fell into place for us. I’ll try to use that gratitude as a reminder to be considerate and charitable to those who can’t say the same thing.

Shenandoah Valley, Rockingham Co. VA

New pastoral views.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under column, human interest, Ohio, Ohio's Amish country, photography, rural life, travel, Virginia, writing

Fun names just make a lot of sense

Mole Hill, Rockingham Co. VA

Mole Hill sunset.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’ll admit that I wasn’t too happy when Holmes County, Ohio decided to number their highways instead of using names. That occurred when the house numbering system was employed decades ago.

I maintained then and now that people remember names much better than numbers. Plus, local residents already referred to many of the rural roads by using a name. If you said French Ridge Road, Weaver Ridge Road, Cherry Ridge Road, Number Ten Road, Goose Bottom Road or the Charm Road, most folks knew where you were talking about. Even today when you throw out a number, you often get blank looks.

My logic fell on deaf ears of county officials. Instead of those practical and appropriate names, the good folks and businesses of Holmes County got stuck with numbered roadways. But if a stranger asked a local for directions to see the cabin built on a rock, they’d probably be told to turn off of Dundee Road onto Trail Bottom Road.

I was delighted to see that names triumphed over numbers in our new home in Rockingham County, Virginia. The roads are also numbered, but their names prevail. Only numbers identify the main routes like I – 81, US 33, and State Route 42. The rest use the beautifully colloquial names that make perfect sense.

rural road names, road names

This way to Sparkling Springs.

Wonderful names you couldn’t invent don street corner signposts. They’re practical and memorable, which is what a road name should be. Keezletown Road leads to Keezletown. Silver Lake Road begins at Silver Lake near Dayton. Sparkling Springs Road dead ends into Sparkling Springs. See what I mean?

I feel like I’ve landed in Utopia. Even if you’ve never been to Rockingham County, Virginia, you probably can figure out what business is on Harness Shop Road. Singers Glen Road runs right through Singers Glen. And the village got its name because of people singing in a glen. That’s about as practical as it gets.

rural road names, rural roads

Harness Shop Rd.

Mole Hill Road only takes you to one place, Mole Hill. It’s a well-known landmark that predates human history. Whether going east or traveling west on Mt. Clinton Pike, you are sure to drive through the quaint village of Mt. Clinton.

Even the parks say what they mean. Natural Chimneys State Park is home to an ancient sedimentary rock formation that highly resembles chimneys. Many even have an opening like a hearth at their base. And the road that leads you to the park? Why Natural Chimney Lane of course.

There’s also Whitmore Shop Road, Muddy Creek Road that parallels Muddy Creek, and Fog Hollow Road. No guessing where that goes. There used to be a mill on Wengers Mill Road. And yes, the view on Majestic View Road is majestic.

Now some places are intriguing but leave me wondering just how they got their names. Briery Branch, Ottobine, Clover Hill, Penn Laird, and Cross Keys are some examples. In time, I’ll likely find the answers.

It’s just that having lived in Holmes County all of my adult life, I know towns and valleys and ridges are similarly named. Killbuck, Glenmont, Nashville, Beck’s Mills, Farmerstown, and Limpytown would be a start. Spook Hollow, Panther Hollow, Shrimplin Run, and Calmoutier each have their own particular piece of Holmes County folklore.

Roads and towns with names that recall historical times are both fun and fascinating. In a way, they help solidify a sense of community. People can identify with them. Names like that connect the past with the present. That’s something a number simply can’t do.

rural road signs

The majestic view.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under column, history, human interest, Ohio, photography, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, writing

Less really is more

sunrise, Holmes Co. OH

The dawning of a new day.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’m not sure what took me so long to figure it out. It’s not like I hadn’t heard the concept before. I just never seriously applied the principle that less really is more.

When my wife and I became annual Florida snowbirds, we learned to live with a lot less than we did back home. Since we hunkered down in a condo on the Atlantic Ocean northeast of Jacksonville in January and February, we had to plan for four seasons of weather. Winter weather is uncertain at best that far north in Florida.

Florida pond

Cool morning, hot afternoon.

We shared just one closet smaller than each of our own clothes closets at home. That meant taking fewer clothes to Florida, combinations that could be layered. If it was chilly in the morning and we were going out for the day, we dressed warmly in outer coats, jackets, or sweaters, shedding layers as the day warmed.

With less selection, we just got dressed for the occasion, whether it was for church, dinner out, a walk on the beach or a photo outing. Sometimes we did a combination of activities.

Clothes weren’t the only items that were less in volume than we were used to. We lived in a much smaller space and with far fewer “things.” We had less furniture, fewer dishes, cookware, and almost no storage space. And yet we always had an enjoyable time. There was a lesson to be learned there.

When we purchased a house in Virginia that was substantially smaller than the house we had lived in for nearly four decades, we had important decisions to make. We had to evaluate and prioritize everything we owned. Would we need it in Virginia? Where would we put it? We truly had to downsize. We took our time, but we started early.

We sorted mementos from our school careers. Photos, drawings, grade books, and old textbooks were tossed, given away, or donated to thrift stores. Family heirlooms were distributed to any takers. We said goodbye to travel souvenirs, photos, tools, quilts, chainsaw, and camera gear, even bird feeders.

Besides finding homes for valued family and personal items, we held a garage sale and donated items to Save and Serve Thrift Store in Millersburg, Ohio. Because we spread out this process over several months, we were able to sleep at night.

Amish farm, Ohio's Amish country

Springtime in Ohio’s Amish country.

By moving from the place where Neva and I spent the best years of our lives, we gave up everything. The familiarities that became so routine, the incredible sunrises and sunsets, the friends, neighbors, family members. We miss all of them, all of that.

painting furniture

Making old new again.

In a way, it was like starting over. Sure, we knew folks in our new setting, we knew places, but it wasn’t the same. By doing so though, we realize we have gained by living with less. We actually have more. The real benefit of living with less is that it has brought us more joy.

As we enter our retirement years, it feels good to have de-cluttered our lives. We feel alive in finding new adventures, making new friends, renewing old friendships, exploring new places, seeing new sunrises and sunsets from new locales, on new farms, and from cityscapes.

For us, less has become more. We have shed ourselves of the excess, and strive to enjoy each moment, each day, each person we encounter, whether at the hardware store, grocery store or serving at the local food pantry.

Downsizing has enriched our lives. We are ever so thankful to heartily say that less truly is more.

those blue mountains

Enjoying new sunsets.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under column, family, friends, human interest, Ohio, Ohio's Amish country, photography, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, writing

Long days and slow sunsets

summer sunset, Holmes Co. OH

Silo sunset.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Summertime. That luscious word rolls off my tongue just as smoothly as butter melting on a steaming ear of sweet corn.

Officially, summer only recently arrived. The summer solstice just slipped by, technically ushering in the season we’ve already been enjoying. In other words, the citizens of the Northern Hemisphere have entered the sacred stretch of long days and slow sunsets.

Geneva-on-the-Lake OH, Lake Erie, sunset

Fun by the lake.

The sunsets really do linger longer than those occurring in other months of the year. Around the solstices, the farther the sun sets from due west, the shallower the angle of the setting sun. We reap the positive consequences with slower, magically glowing sunsets. How much longer? A full, beautiful minute. The same is true at December’s solstice.

That extra minute of bliss is but one of the bonuses of summer. There are plenty of others.

School children have been celebrating summer’s arrival for days. Consequently, lifeguards at swimming pools have already worn out their pool whistles. Lawn mowing, weeding, and gardening are old hat to dedicated growers. The outdoor supply inventories at big box stores and local nurseries alike have dwindled, causing latecomers to scrounge elsewhere or wait until next year.

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Big round bales, the regular rectangular ones, and even haymows prove first cutting successes. Row upon row of field corn stalks desperately tries to catch up to their sweet corn cousins. Tomato plants are simultaneously blooming and showing their first fruits in various shades of green, yellow, pink, and red.

Summer baseball, softball, and golf leagues have long been underway. Seasonal resorts are booming, welcoming newcomers and veterans alike. Multi-generations crowd miniature golf courses to enjoy the sunny days and exotic, extended evenings.

Is it just me or have the backyard bunnies multiplied exponentially this year? They’re everywhere in all sizes. I’ll let you explain that to the kids. Baby birds have long fledged, leaving the nest to begin life on their own. Several species are in the process of constructing their second nests.

It didn’t take me long to fully appreciate the shade produced by a fulsome crown of established maples in our Virginia yard. Either it’s hotter here, or the shade is thicker and cooler. Either way, I’m glad for the fully leafed trees.

scorpionfly, green raspberries

Scorpionfly on raspberries.

Lightning bugs by the billions light up lawns and fields and forests alike. It’s one of the treasures of summer to watch those signals flash while sipping the waning day’s last glass of iced tea. I’ll take decaf, please.

Folks who make their living outdoors, of course, love the summer weather. Road construction workers, farmers, carpenters, excavators, surveyors, delivery personnel, mail carriers, tree trimmers, garbage collectors, and landscapers bask in the sunshine. A rainy day or two gives them a break from the non-stop outside work that beckons to be completed before the fair days falter.

In the meantime, we all reap the benefits of those hazy, crazy days of summer. Fresh bouquets don our dinner tables, along with fresh fruit and vegetables. Shoot. There’s freshness all around.

Spaced somewhere in between all of these pleasantries are family vacations. Some go north to fish. Some go south to visit Minnie and Mickey. Others stand at the rim of the Grand Canyon and just gape.

Scientists, astronomers, and amateur sky gazers may mark these longest days of the year in mere minutes. But the rest of us know better. We count our blessings in buckets of laughter, bushels of berries, and baskets of blooms.

Summertime is here. Let’s enjoy these long days and slow sunsets while we can.

Rockingham Co. VA sunset, Shenandoah Valley VA

A majestic sunset on Majestic View Rd.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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

Similarities abound

Shenandoah Valley, fog, farm scene

Fog in The Valley.

By Bruce Stambaugh

It’s been a little more than a month since we moved from our beloved home in beautiful Holmes County, Ohio to our new place of residence in Virginia’s lovely Shenandoah Valley. We knew there would be similarities. We just didn’t know they would abound.

We learned to know the area long before we moved. Our daughter attended college at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg. She met her husband there. Now the school employs both of them, Carrie as a coach and Daryl as part of the administrative team.

In the few weeks that we’ve lived here, we have learned first-hand just how similar Holmes County is to Rockingham County. Those likenesses transcend the beauty of each locale.

former home, Holmes Co. OH

The old place.

Both have wooded rolling hills. Numerous creeks snake through luscious, productive farmland. Not surprisingly, the same staple crops are grown here, which makes sense since we are in the same growing zone. Field corn, alfalfa, wheat, oats, and soybeans create a patchwork of verdant colors. Produce stands dot the countryside here, too.

Livestock includes dairy cows and beef cattle, pigs, sheep, and goats. Long, silver poultry houses can be found high and low across the rural areas of Rockingham County. In Holmes County, they’re mostly white. My guess is that turkeys far outnumber humans in The Valley given the number of those barns I’ve seen. Agriculture is a major economic force for both locations.

Consequently, every now and then when the wind is right we get an acrid whiff that reminds us of home. However, we don’t need a breeze to inform us when the barns have been cleaned.

Just like in Ohio, our house is built on what was once farmland. Only instead of a few neighbors, we have many. We are one of nearly 500 households in our development. Mature trees and manicured lawns predominate around well-maintained homes. People take pride in their property here with equal zest.

retirement home, Rockingham Co. VA

Our new place.

In Ohio, airliners sailed regularly over our home on final approach to Akron-Canton Regional Airport. In Harrisonburg, we have the same effect only more frequently. Jets fly overhead, only higher, on approach to Dulles International Airport.

Unlike our old home, all of the utilities in our housing development are buried underground. There are no streetlights, though. On a clear night, we can actually see the stars better here than we could at our former home.

There are other obvious differences of course. Rockingham County is twice the size of Holmes County in both square miles and population. The boundaries of Rockingham County boast the Allegheny Mountains on the west and the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east.

Massanutten range, Rockingham Co. VA

Massanutten Mountain.

The Massanutten range runs north to south through the center of the county, stopping east of Harrisonburg. It should be noted that the hills of Holmes County are actually the western foothills of the Allegheny Mountains. So we are literally geologically connected.

Once outside the city, the roads of Rockingham County are as narrow, windy, and hilly as those of Holmes County. With Old Order Mennonites thriving in the fertile valley, horse and buggies are nearly as common as in Holmes County.

The culture, local mores, and values are similar as well. Our neighbors exemplify that daily with their friendliness.

Purchasing our home here foretold the familiarity. At the bank, we got our house loan from Julie Yoder. Emily Miller led the house closing. Jayne Schlabach was our realtor. There’s even a Joe Bowman car dealership. In Holmes County, he’d likely be selling buggies.

Just like home, we have the same cell phone carrier with the same quality reception. I have to go to the front porch so you can “hear me now.”

No need to feel sorry for us. We feel right at home in Virginia.

Mole Hill, Rockingham Co. VA

Allegheny sunset.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under Amish, family, friends, human interest, nature photography, Ohio, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, writing

Simple writing prompt mentally sends me back in time to the classroom

By Bruce Stambaugh

The assignment was to write about an object of our choosing located in this sterile college classroom. Typical for a writing workshop, the prompt was designed to get the participants to use sensory descriptors to illustrate the object.

I chose the pencil sharpener affixed to the wall by the only doorway in this institutional setting. The sharpener stood out for me because it seemed so out of place in this 21st century technologically driven global society of ours.

manual pencil sharpener

An old pencil sharpener.

I wondered what in the world an old-fashioned pencil sharpener was doing in this classroom in 2017? Did anyone even use pencils anymore? I thought college students recorded everything on smartphones, iPads and laptop computers.

The answer to my silent wondering became evident as I scanned this bland environment. Everything in this classroom screamed 1977.

Boring blue-gray paint covered the cement block walls on three sides. Strange, random circular insets pockmarked the poured cement west wall. Front and back white boards with telltale scribbling from previous lessons served as classroom bookends. Parallel rows of the old-style fluorescent lights emitted a familiar faint buzzing sound. The textured tile of the suspended ceiling held the lights captive. The well-worn Formica tabletops told their age. I wiggled in the uncomfortable hard plastic molded seats riveted to shiny steel supports that were the student chairs.

My eyes kept returning to the pencil sharpener. It engaged my mind, generating pleasant, personal flashbacks to my teaching days now long past. Nostalgia washed over me as I studied the sharpener and rapidly scrawled my notes. I pictured my classroom setting.

Keen, evocative thoughts flooded my brain bringing a smile to my face. This pencil sharpener was situated exactly where all of the others in my elementary classrooms had been, right by the door and hung conveniently above a wastebasket.

The sights, sounds, smell, and textures associated with sharpening a pencil mentally filled my senses. I fixated on the circular dial with holes on the sharpener’s face. It accommodated various pencil sizes, the bulbous container that held the shavings, and the crank handle. The sharpener possessed me.

elementary school

Where I was principal for 21 years.

To keep the custodian happy, I often emptied the pencil sharpeners of their spent contents myself. Students occasionally managed to somehow miss the wastebasket, spilling the shredded pencil shavings and pulverized lead and graphite residue onto the floor.

The pencil sharpener was the office water cooler of the elementary classroom. If a line formed, I instinctively knew students had more than pencil sharpening in mind.

Some students made a game out of it. They would stand quietly and crank the sharpener’s handle, grinding the poor pencil to a pulp.

Despite my obsession, the sharpener’s reservoir often overflowed its ground up contents. The intermingled woody, metallic scent of the shavings invigorated my senses. That pungent freshness helped compromise the curious blend of 30 human body odors. I’ll let your imagination fill in the details.

black and white photo of students

Some of my first students.

With the students studying at their desks, I quietly emptied the sharpener’s mutilated remains into the wastebasket with several quick shakes back-and-forth to ensure all the grindings found their mark. I replaced the sharpener’s rounded case with a metal-against-metal clink and returned to my instructional duties.

I was both surprised and elated by how this unique, unsophisticated classroom mechanism had spawned such poignant recollections for me. This writing assignment triggered treasures long forgotten, aromas and delightful textures resurrected from my 30-year career as a public school educator.

I wouldn’t trade them for anything, not even an electric pencil sharpener.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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