Fall in the Northern Hemisphere has officially arrived! I always welcome the fresher, cleaner air, less humidity, and cooler temperatures.
The first sunrise of autumn on September 23, 2013, brought all of that and more. As you can see, fall got off to a foggy start that day.
This photo was taken as the sun filtered through a typical September morning fog in Ohio’s Amish country, where I used to live. The wagon in the alfalfa field is a church bench wagon. It was parked there to provide seating for an Amish wedding.
“Autumnal Equinox Sunrise” is my Photo of the Week.
Just as I began to write about the colors of summer, a friend posted on social media about her visit to a local farmers market. In one digital photo, she succinctly summarized what I intended to say.
A cornucopia of vibrant colors from gardening harvests filled her photo. The variety of tomatoes alone captured nearly every hue of an artist’s paint pallet.
Ruby reds, luscious purples, warm yellows, and lime greens took center stage of their kitchen table. The light yellow of summer squash and the ribbed texture of a muskmelon represented the earthen tones.
A perfect emerald cucumber, the variegated rind of a watermelon, and a cluster of fresh basil leaves provided a generous sampling of the locally grown greens. The haul from your gardens, nearby produce stands, and farmers’ markets likely create similar still-life artistry.
Our house is no different, despite not having a garden. My wife does pamper a half dozen potted herb plants sitting on the white enamel top of an inherited old table on our patio.
Our daughter supplies us with all the plump, juicy, and tasty tomatoes that we can use from her garden. Her blackberry plants have produced an abundance of delicious tartness, too.
The half-box of organic fruits and vegetables we get each Monday from our Community Supporting Agriculture program assures that we maintain a healthy, flavorful diet. We also frequent several local produce businesses, mostly operated by the Shenandoah Valley’s Old Order Mennonites.
It that regard, we are reminded of our Ohio home, where we knew many of the Amish and Mennonite vendors personally. Somehow that seemed to make their homegrown offerings all the tastier.
My energetic wife ensures that we celebrate the summer’s colorful bounty all year long. Canning and freezing are in her farmer genes.
When it comes to preserving the downhome goodness of food, we have noticed a difference between living in Ohio versus residing in Virginia. Instead of in spurts, everything seems to come ripe at once in the valley.
One day we are canning peaches and the next day tomatoes. Those jars have barely stopped popping their lids when the sweet corn comes ready, tender, tasty, and delicious. The varieties here are as delicious as our Ohio favorite, Incredible.
We’ve also learned a few new tricks living in a new culture in a new state. We husk the sweet corn, clean it, and cut the kernels straight from the cobs. Neva fills the plastic containers, and when we want fresh corn at Thanksgiving, that’s when it gets cooked and not before.
Apples are next on the list. The sweet tartness of the ginger golds more than satisfy our family’s taste buds. Neva freezes enough for the grandkids, who usually finish off their supply long before Nana can do another batch.
Of course, canning and freezing are a lot of hard work. Sterilizing the jars and lids, cleaning the fruit and veggies, and peeling when required, all take time and effort. Then there is enduring the sauna-like heat at the height of the canning process in our tiny galley kitchen.
The vent fan works overtime, expelling the heat and steam to help cool the temporary cannery. But in the long run, it’s all well-worth every drop of sweat.
Jay Lehman was the kind of man that you might meet only once in a lifetime. He embodied the very values of the community in which he was born, lived, and worked.
Jay died recently at age 91. He was the founder of the old-time general store Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio. I was fortunate to have known him as both a friend and a business leader. Scores of others can say the same thing about Jay.
That, however, is what impressed me so much about the man. We weren’t close as friends go, and we didn’t run in the same social circles. And, yet, whenever he saw me, he always went out of his way to call me by name, say hello, shake my hand firmly, and ask how I was doing. Jay was a good listener.
I got to know Jay the best through a cooperative marketing group that I facilitated. The original group included six Amish country, family-owned and operated businesses with a single location. Lehman’s was a founding member.
Jay started his little hardware and household goods business in 1955 at the crossroads of his rural hometown village. His original purpose provided necessary lifestyle items for the Amish community that surrounded Kidron.
Over time, the store’s purpose ironically flipped, becoming more of a tourist destination in Amish country. Jay embraced that change without losing sight or letting go of his and the community’s core values.
Faith, family, community, and a strong work ethic fulfilled humbly reflected not only the area’s priorities but Jay’s, too. Jay modeled those qualities in his personal and business life. That’s what made both Jay and his company tick.
In that success, Jay honored those values. He lived his faith by supporting the church and charities that he cherished. Even in a crowd of hundreds at statewide church conferences, Jay would acknowledge people by name and ask how they were doing. It might have been years since he had seen them. He understood the worth of healthy relationships.
That, in part, is what drew folks to Jay. He possessed a quiet, confident demeanor, and yet humility formed the mantle of his character. Even Lehman’s tagline reflects that concept: “For a simpler life.”
Jay saw the future in the past. He preserved anything of locally historical value for posterity and education. A walk through the store reveals hundreds of antique relics that would have been lost were it not for Jay’s foresight. If you want, you can have lunch at Lehman’s while sitting in the old town jail.
Jay enjoyed the simple life, but he certainly was not a simple man. He loved a good “Rook” game with friends and family as much as he enjoyed traveling. Future generations were as vital to him as his Swiss ancestors, which he revered.
As the company grew and expanded, family members, friends from church and community joined in to help him run the store. When he reached retirement age, he passed the leadership on to the next generation. But he continued to be a dynamic presence at Lehman’s.
It was a joy to watch customers recognize Jay as he strolled around his much-expanded corner store. He was the living icon of Lehman’s, now an international business.
Jay’s legacy will live on through his successful entrepreneurship and his lifetime of kindness and generosity. Living those essential core values shaped that legacy.
His was a compassionate life. Jay lived not just for himself, but for all whom he so tenderly touched far beyond the little town of Kidron, Ohio.
I’ve always been a bit ambivalent about August. I’m especially so this year, given all the ramifications of the ongoing pandemic.
When my wife and I lived in Ohio, August kept us busy as career public school educators. We each geared up for the start of a new academic year. As a principal, I created schedules and rosters and attended too many meetings. The excellent teacher that she was, my wife spent many hours preparing each classroom to be an inviting learning haven.
August also ushered in the food preservation season. We froze dozens of containers of sweet corn and apple sauce. We waited for the canning lids to sound the seal of approval with satisfying “pops” for the tomatoes, grape juice, beets, and peaches. Rainbows of goodness adorned our shelves.
Of course, we weren’t alone in these endeavors. After I retired, I savored sale mornings at the local produce auction. I loved the hustle and bustle of men and women unloading their trucks and horse-drawn wagons. The rhythmical cadence of the auctioneers barking out their persuasive banter was sweet music to my ears.
The growing season here in the Shenandoah Valley where we live now is a couple of weeks ahead of Holmes County, Ohio. So, we don’t have to wait as long to enjoy our first taste of locally grown veggies.
August is more than agriculture, though. The three H’s rule the eighth month: hot, hazy, humid. That’s not the main reason for my ambivalence, however. With the coronavirus continuing to run rampant, uncertainty abounds in everyone’s life.
The city schools where our grandchildren attend here were set to open with a combination of in-person and online instruction. The latest surge in COVID-19 has altered that plan. They’ll start the year learning remotely.
Mask-wearing is the norm, especially when entering stores or buildings. Neva and I have continued to be extra cautious about keeping our physical distancing. We truly miss the close socialization of friends and family.
Some states are doing better than others at slowing the virus. States that reopened with too few restrictions or where few people followed the guidelines are unfortunately paying the price.
Since the governors have had to take the lead in issuing orders and health guidelines, rules and suggestions vary significantly from state to state. In part, that’s what has fueled our consternation.
We haven’t seen in person our son and his wife, who live in New York State, in more than a year. We have friends and relatives who have tested positive, but fortunately, they have all recovered so far. Too many others weren’t as fortunate.
County and street fairs, high school football, band shows, concerts, vacations, have all been canceled. Major League Baseball is trying to play a shortened season with no fans in attendance.
Virus or no virus, August will be August no matter what. Golden sunsets will blaze away in the hazy evening skies. Migrating birds and butterflies will begin to wing their way south.
We’ll continue to meet with friends, relatives, and worship remotely through technology.
Under the current dire circumstances, it’s the best and safest we can do. We’ll continue to do our shopping curbside.
Even given all that, I know that my August ambivalence must yield to patience, and patience to resolve. We have to see this global health crisis through for however long it takes. I’ll continue to be cautious, careful, and diligent. I am not ambivalent about COVID-19.
My challenge is not to let my melancholy deter my joy for living, for sharing, for helping others, even if it is with an altered daily lifestyle.
My wife and I have enjoyed Shenandoah National Park since we moved to Virginia three years ago. There’s a lot to love about the park, and it’s less than an hour away.
We’re not the only ones who appreciate it, of course. The estimates of annual visitors compare to those of Ohio’s Amish country, our former residence. Each location attracts millions of visitors a year.
Of course, the novel coronavirus pandemic has put a damper on tourist numbers everywhere. With the virus cases flattening out in Virginia, the park has mostly reopened.
When we want to break our stay-close-to-home routines, Neva and I head for the hills. Sometimes I will venture out alone, birding, hiking and shooting photos. It’s an enchanting place, a multi-sensory extravaganza.
I hear the beautiful song of an indigo bunting, and I raise my binoculars, scanning the area for the likely source of the melody. Novice that I am at identifying bird calls, I want to make sure I am matching the right species with the song. I’ve learned that, like human accents, bird calls of the same species vary geographically.
Once I find the bird, I switch to my camera to try to get a decent photo. With the trees in full summer canopy, that’s not easy to do. Now and then, I am fortunate to find a bird singing in the open, and I click away.
I catch a slight, silent movement out of the corner of my eye. Is it a doe with a fawn, or perhaps twins? Is it a black bear grazing before nightfall? One never knows. On warm days, keeping a lookout for a lounging timber rattler while scrambling on a rock outcropping is always a good idea.
Male Indigo Bunting.
Beauty in any season.
Gold and black.
Pink and blue.
The park is a great place to take sunset photos, too. But sunsets in the mountains can be problematic.
The expansive, rolling Shenandoah Valley is bordered on the east and west by mountain ranges. Sunsets can be as disappointing as they are stunning. Weather plus geography equals a formula for the unknown.
When we lived in Ohio, all we had to do was look out our windows to know the potential for a spectacular sunrise or sunset. We were spoiled.
Here in the breadbasket of Virginia, the rising and falling topography makes it iffy to predict what the eastern and western skies will do at dawn or dusk, respectively. You hope, pray, and go for it. Sometimes you are disappointed. Other times, you are speechless.
…to this dreamland sunset in a matter of minutes.
(Mouse over the photos for the captions)
It can be cloudy and raining in the valley. The view from the mountains of the park, however, might be spectacular if you wait long enough. Pick one of the many west-facing overlooks along the majestic Skyline Drive, and prepare yourself for come-what-may.
The elevation of the old, folded mountains ranges up to 2,500 feet higher than that of the valley. From the park, you can see the Allegheny Mountains that mark the boundary between the Commonwealth and West Virginia.
Patience, intuition, and good fortune can be the formula for bathing in a dreamland. Even with a thick cloud cover, the sun can still break through, turning drabness into beautiful in the blink of an eye.
I’ve learned to be ready for the unexpected as the sun slinks below the jagged horizon. Will the clouds refract the sun’s rays into pinks and blues, lavenders and oranges? Or will they merely steal away the sun without fanfare?
You don’t have to have a national park to enjoy heavenly landscapes. Wherever you are, just wait and watch, and let nature do the rest.
As a youngster, I remember having mixed emotions about the Fourth of July. It had nothing to do with my patriotism, and everything to do with my youth.
I joyously anticipated the fireworks displays, wherever and however we got to see them. The reality, though, was that this red, white, and blue holiday marked the halfway point of the year. More importantly, it meant in my young mind that we were already halfway through the summer. Schools would be starting before we knew it.
When my four siblings and I were young, we would gather on a starry July 4th night on the edge of the hill a block west of our brick bungalow. We would anxiously look south and wait for the sparkling pyrotechnic patterns.
On rare occasions, we talked our father into driving closer to Meyers Lake Amusement Park, where the fireworks were ignited to explode over the lake. To avoid the parking lot traffic jam, Dad chose a side street that afforded a decent view of the aerial show.
The fireworks tradition continued into my adulthood when my wife and I started our family. From our home on County Road 201, we could see fireworks from various towns north, east, and southeast.
The summer of 1988 may have been the best time for fireworks for our family of four. Flying back from a vacation in California, we left Chicago’s O’Hare airport right at dark for the last leg of our trip. We looked down from on high as multiple fireworks displays erupted until we landed an hour later at Ohio’s Akron-Canton airport.
Years later, friends built a beautiful home high on a hill overlooking Millersburg. They had the perfect view of the fireworks shot from the safety of the former county fairgrounds location. Our friends made it a grand occasion, inviting one and all. A plate of food to share was the price of admission.
I enjoyed the fellowship of friends, former students, and some people I had only just met. We oohed and awed together once the colorful and noisy celebration began.
That’s one tradition we left behind when we moved to the heart of Virginia’s lovely Shenandoah Valley. Our city launches its fireworks display from a local park. We have enjoyed the show with our grandchildren on more than one occasion. Not this year.
A local resort, Massanutten, also holds a festival that features fireworks. However, like many locations across the nation, that won’t happen this year because of the pandemic. Officials were wisely concerned about keeping physical distances, which is much harder to do with crowds of people.
Some localities canceled everything, while others like Massanutten, canceled the festival. The fireworks will fly as usual.
These are the times in which we live. We need to accept that we are in the middle of the worst pandemic in a century. The viral repercussions range far beyond silent, darkened skies on the Fourth of July.
Our Founding Fathers created the most daring democratic republic experiment ever attempted. It’s entirely up to each of us to make sure our democracy endures for all peoples to exercise each of their first amendment rights.
Whether watching fireworks live or on TV, let those symbolic rockets red glares and bombs bursting in the air be a rededication to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Can the sparks ignite a new fire of freedom for all the nation’s people regardless of race, color, creed, or religion? Isn’t that the intent of the First Amendment?
After three years, my wife and I have finally unpacked all of the boxes since we moved from Ohio’s Amish country to Virginia. It’s another coronavirus sequestering accomplishment that we can check off our “to-do” list.
We weren’t negligent or procrastinating. We knew what those heavy cardboard boxes contained. We just didn’t have a place to display or properly store them. Now that they are unpacked, we still don’t.
My late father divided his extensive Native American artifact collection among his offspring and the grandchildren. He designated who got what primarily based on geography.
Dad marked where he found each artifact he considered “good.” Consequently, Neva and I ended up with the majority of the ones discovered in Holmes County, Ohio, and those from near my wife’s home farm east of Louisville, Ohio.
I can’t tell you how many plowed fields Dad and those of us who joined him walked. With heads down and separated six-feet apart, we ambled one end of the field to the other. Yes, we socially distanced before it was even a thing. Doing so allowed us to cover an area more efficiently.
Dad delved deep into historic Native American cultures. His love for history and the near half-century he spent collecting made him a noted amateur archeologist.
As his knowledge and collection grew, Dad began to share what he learned and what he had found. He joined archeology groups. Professional archeologists even invited Dad to join digs to save Indian encampments that would be destroyed for various construction projects or by strip mining.
Dad even spent his lunchtimes on lovely days looking for surface finds near his workplace in Akron, Ohio. When his job required travel, Dad scoured fields in Arizona, California, and many other states.
Dad accompanied our mother on artists retreats to North Carolina. While the artists painted, Dad visited local farmers to inquire about hunting their fields.
The landowners often showed him what they had already found, and Dad would gladly identify and date the points and pottery shards for the farmers. For that, he gained access to their land, made new friends, and expanded his collection.
Our artist mother would occasionally return the favor by accompanying Dad on a dig. One of her paintings graced the book cover that documented one significant excavation.
Dad lectured at schools, church meetings, service organizations, presented at historical society gatherings, and at the retirement home where he died. He even won a few awards for his displays at archeology shows.
I found one of Dad’s notecards that he used in his presentations. It was an impressive list of how indigenous peoples used natural renewable resources. Dad shared how the Indians used the entire animal that they had killed. They ate the meat, fashioned clothing and shelter from hides, and used bones for tools.
Ironically, Dad privately questioned why Native Americans, as intuitive and ingenious as they were, didn’t develop the country the way European immigrants did. With his Germanic linage, I sensed it was a rhetorical question.
I found it curious, even disconcerting that Dad admired and taught about a people and their cultures, and yet he didn’t comprehend their devotion to preserving the environment they so cherished. Nor did he address the horrendous treatment of indigenous peoples that even continues today. In retrospect, I should have pressed my father on those issues.
I loved my father, and I love that he bequeathed so many of his artifacts to the family. For me, they serve as tangible reminders to universally respect all peoples, no matter their color or creeds, then and now.
I had to let the birds come to me during this year’s spring bird migration. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, I only occasionally ventured out on short excursions that often included a grocery pick up after a brief search for migrating birds.
So, I decided to look back in my photo files for a bird that I had never shared before. This Prothonotary Warbler caught my attention and sent me back to when and where I had photographed it. It was a cool, damp day at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area along Lake Erie’s shore in northwest Ohio. The boardwalk was crowded with other birders of all ages from around the world. The cameras clicked away when this bright yellow fellow appeared. Unfortunately, Magee Marsh is closed this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Prothonotary Warblers are only one of two warbler species that nest in tree cavities. They prefer marshy thickets as their habitats. They are named for Roman Catholic papal clerks known as prothonotaries who wear bright yellow robes.
My brothers and sisters and I were fortunate. Our late mother was as loving and caring as we could have ever hoped.
Mom exhibited those endearing qualities for as long as I can remember until she died eight years ago. Even in her final months as Alzheimer’s took its toll on her memory, she remained pleasant. As her adult offspring, we embraced her goodness as often as we could.
As a gang of five youngsters, I’m sure we didn’t fully understand or appreciate just how kind our mother was. Still, each of us tried to express our love and affection for our kindly mother, especially at Mother’s Day.
As I recall, our elementary school teachers spurred us on with class projects that created gifts for our mothers. The fact that most of the teachers were mothers themselves likely influenced their desire to honor our mothers.
The art teacher helped with that cause, too. She had us make cards or draw flowers or paint a landscape for our mothers.
Ironically, my only male teacher in elementary school was perhaps the most resourceful. Mr. Bartley arranged for a local greenhouse to have a variety of violets for us to choose as Mother’s Day gifts. We walked from school to the nursery, picked our flower, and handed over the dollar bill that sealed the deal.
Our mother loved flowers, so I was most pleased with the teacher’s decision. It just so happened that the lovely plant that I had selected bloomed as a double-violet. Mom’s smile doubled, too, when she saw the frilly bloom.
Mom cultivated flower gardens around the exterior of our red-brick bungalow. She loved the bright tulips, the white, yellow, and blue irises, and the showy roses.
I loved them, too. One particular red tulip stood out to me, and I wanted to share it with my teacher. Mom took time out of her busy household chores to carefully dig up the flower and place it in a terracotta flower pot for my teacher.
Not only did she grow flowers, but she also painted them, too. When my sister Claudia brought home a fragrant, bulging bouquet of lavender lilacs, Mom was moved.
She placed them in a pitcher and was so enamored by them that she also painted a stunning oil still-life that perfectly preserved that marvelous gift. Fittingly, my sister still has the painting that she inspired, “Claudia’s Bouquet.”
Mom did her best to feed her hungry flock on Dad’s meager salary. Supper was always ready by the time he arrived home from work. Her Sunday noon meals were the highlight of her culinary skills.
Besides being an artist and homemaker, Mom enjoyed sports, too. If my brothers weren’t available, Mom would take time away from her household chores and play pitch and catch with me. She threw straight and hard, too.
You can imagine with our brood that our mother’s patience could easily wear thin at times. She was never mean or harsh with her discipline, which I think made us kids feel even more guilty for whatever offense we had committed.
I’m glad there is a day designated to honor and remember mothers everywhere. I realize that not everyone had a happy and loving relationship with their mother. It’s all too easy to take a mother’s love for granted or to think that all mothers are as devoted as mine was. I wish they were.
I am glad that Marian Frith Stambaugh was a caring, loving person. And I am incredibly happy that kindness and creativity are her motherly legacies.