A Look Back on 2021

News that didn’t make the headlines.

Sunset in Shenandoah National Park. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh.

I’m glad 2021 has ended. We would all like to forget it for a million reasons. Likely, we never will, nor should we.

With politics and the coronavirus and its variants making up much of the headline news, I did my usual thing and kept track of some of the more quirky but still significant information.

Here are just a few of the newsy pieces that didn’t make the headlines or the TV news.

January 1 – The National Interagency Fire Center reported that U.S. wildfires burned 10,275,000 acres, the most ever recorded.

January 7 – Tesla CEO Elon Musk became the wealthiest person globally with a net worth of $185 billion, surpassing Jeff Bezos’s paltry $184 billion.

January 8 – A Missouri woman who married a 93-year-old Civil War Veteran when she was 17 died as the last remaining widow of the war.

January 9 – The state fire marshal announced that no child died in a fire in Massachusetts for the first time since officials kept records.

January 15 – A racing pigeon that disappeared from Oregon in October 2020 reappeared in Melbourne, Australia, where officials tried to catch and kill it due to Australia’s strict quarantine rules.

January 18 – D.C. National Guard Sgt. Jacob Kohut, a band teacher, taught students from his Humvee before a 12-hour shift to guard the Capitol Building.

January 25 – A new study showed that the earth is losing 1.2 trillion tons of ice per year through melting glaciers and polar ice caps.

Glaciers globally are melting at rapid rates.

January 26 – Stranded in a snowstorm near Hayes Hill, Oregon, Jefferson County Public Health staff administered doses of the COVID-19 vaccine that were about to expire to motorists who were also stuck.

February 12 – The U.S. had its deadliest week in a century for avalanche deaths when 15 skiers died between January 26 and February 6.

February 16 – Fran Goldman, 90, was so determined to get her first coronavirus vaccine after struggling to get an appointment that she walked six miles round-trip in a foot of snow in Seattle.

February 17 – Houston’s Gallery Furniture opened two stores to shelter people from the cold and snow after power and water supplies were lost all across Texas.

March 3 – The California Highway Patrol in Los Angeles caught a driver in the carpool lane with a realistic-looking passenger dummy wearing a face mask and a Cleveland Indians baseball hat.

March 8 – The sun shining through a crystal ball in the living room of a Delton, Wisconsin home caused a $250,000 fire.

March 9 – Shoe Zone, a foot ware retailer in Great Britain, announced that Terry Boot had replaced Peter Foot as the company’s financial boss.

March 11 – A digital artist known as Beeple sold a collage jpg image at a Christie’s auction for $69.3 million.

March 16 – Despite being closed for six weeks during the pandemic, a record 1.7 million people visited Shenandoah National Park, Luray, Virginia, in 2020.

March 19 – Iceland’s Fagradalsfjall volcano erupted for the first time in 800 years.

March 23 – Officials blamed high winds from a dust storm for the grounding of Ever Given, one of the world’s largest container ships, to be blown sideways, blocking the Suez Canal and closing the busy shipping route.

April 8 – Archeologists in Egypt announced the discovery of a 3,000-year-old lost golden city unearthed near the city of Luxor.

April 8 – On his second shot on the seventh hole of the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Georgia, professional golfer Rory McIlroy hit his spectator father with the golf ball.

April 12 – Hope Trautwine pitched a perfect game for the University of North Texas softball team by striking out all 21 batters from Arkansas Pine Bluff.

April 14 – A report in “Nature Communications” revealed that archeologists had unearthed 3,500-year-old terracotta honey pots in central Nigeria.

April 28 – Walmart restarted its pandemic delayed experiment of online ordering of groceries and having one of their employees not only deliver it to your home but also stock your shelves and refrigerator.

May 8 – Spencer Silver, the research chemist at 3M who invented the Post-It Note, died at age 80 at his home in St. Paul, Minnesota.

May 11 – A skull-head painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat sold at auction at Christie’s in New York City for $93.1 million.

May 20 – Research from Minderoo found that the average American throws away 110 pounds of plastic annually.

June 3 – Italian artist Salvatore Garau sold an invisible sculpture at auction for $18,300.

June 5 – A study revealed that, on average, Americans touch their smartphone 2,617 times per day.

June 9 – National Geographic officially recognized the body of water around Antarctica as the world’s fifth ocean, the Southern Ocean.

June 23 – A herd of 30 cows escaped from a slaughterhouse in Pico Rivera, California, and were later corralled in a cul-de-sac by police, although deputies shot one cow.

It’s not a herd, but it definitely is loose. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh.

June 28 – The New York Yankees, the team I love to hate, made Gwen Goldman’s 60-year-old dream come true by making her the team’s honorary batgirl for a game.

June 28 – Ankeny, Iowa, police arrested 42-year-old Robert Gollwitzer, Jr. for phoning in a bomb threat to a local McDonald’s restaurant because employees forgot to include dipping sauce for his chicken McNuggets.

July 8 – Zaita Avant-garde, a 14-year-old from New Orleans, became the first African-American to win the National Spelling Bee contest in Washington, D.C.

July 10 – Death Valley, California, the temperature hit a world-record high of 135 degrees Fahrenheit.

July 12 – The Copernicus Climate Exchange Center reported that June was the hottest on record in North America.

July 13 – Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission reported that 841 manatees had died between January 1 and July 2, more than any other time in the state’s history.

July 22 – The United Arab Emirates used technologies, including drones, to stimulate clouds to produce rain to counter 120 temperatures and low potable water sources.

August 6 – An unopened Super Mario Brothers video game sold for $2 million at auction.

August 10 – NASA satellite photos showed for the first time in recorded history smoke from wildfires burning in Siberia reached the North Pole.

August 12 – According to the 2020 U.S. Census, the number of White people fell for the first time since 1790.

August 13 – The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said July 2021 was the hottest on record, 1.67 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th -century average.

Amish children sledding. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh.

September 9 – France fast-tracked 12,000 frontline COVID-19 workers to citizenship for their valiant ongoing efforts to help those in need.

September 12 – Lawrence Brooks of New Orleans, Louisiana, turned 112, the oldest surviving World War II veteran. (Sadly, Mr. Brooks died January 5, 2022).

September 13 – The governor of Massachusetts mobilized 250 National Guard members to serve as school bus drivers since the state’s schools were short on employed drivers.

September 16 – Tobacco giant Philip Morris purchased Vectura, a British company that manufactures inhalers.

September 17 – Alabama’s Health Officer, Scott Harris, said that for the first time in known history, the state had more deaths than births in 2020.

September 20 – The Guinness Book of World Records named the paint developed by researchers at Purdue University as the world’s whitest.

October 4 – A Brazilian soccer player was arrested for attempted murder after kicking a referee in the head during a match.

October 16 – Elon Musk became the world’s richest person when the company’s stock soared, and his net worth grew to $209.4 billion.

October 21 – Timber the Moose, a wooden marketing sign for the Cabin Store in Mt. Hope, Ohio, got its stolen head returned by an Amish youngster who found it in a field 10 miles away.

A real bull moose in Denali National Park.

October 25 – Hertz announced that it had ordered 100,000 Tesla electric cars for its rental inventory.

October 26 – A hiker in Colorado got lost but refused to answer his cell phone because he didn’t recognize the search and rescue team’s number.

November 4 – Colin Craig-Brown of Hamilton, New Zealand, dug up what may be the world’s largest potato that weighed 17.2 pounds from his garden.

November 5 – Billy Coppersmith, a Maine lobsterman, caught a one-in-100 million blue “cotton candy” lobster and donated it to an aquarium in New Hampshire.

November 16 – Psychologists in London revealed a study showed that the perfect hug should last between five and 10 seconds.

November 24 – Roto-Rooter said that plumbers refer to the Friday after Thanksgiving Day as Brown Friday because it’s the busiest day of the year for plumbers.

December 4 – The National Weather Service issued a Blizzard Warning for the summit of Mauna Kea volcano in Hawaii.

December 7 – A report stated that turf grass is now the biggest plant crop in the U.S., collectively covering an area larger than Wisconsin.

December 9 – Davyon Johnson, 11, of Muskogee, Oklahoma, saved a fellow student from choking using the Heimlich maneuver and saved an older woman from her burning house later in the afternoon.

December 11 – The Oxford Dictionary named “vax” its word of the year for 2021.

December 26 – Kodiak, Alaska hit a record high of 67 degrees, giving the term “baked Alaska” a new meaning.

Will 2022 be as stormy as 2021?

What will 2022 bring?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

Remembering Christmases Past

It’s the gathering that counts.

Christmas morning in our Ohio home several years ago. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh.

Of all the holidays in the calendar year, Christmas is my favorite. I know I am not alone in that declaration.

I have many fond memories of Christmases past. The most memorable seem to be snippets of bigger pictures, but they are still meaningful after all these years.

Delivering Sunday’s newspaper as a teenager on a snowy Christmas Eve night is one of my favorite memories. I can still see the smiles and hear the well-wishes from many customers as I tromped through heavy, wet snow.

Christmas was my father’s favorite holiday. He was a big little kid when it came to Christmas. He and our dear mother worked hard to make each Christmas extra special on Dad’s meager salary.

Dad loved to get the last-minute shopping discounted deals. He spent part of Christmas Eve buying presents he thought were bargains. His offspring reaped the rewards early Christmas morn.

Christmas Day in the Stambaugh household was a joyous time. We woke our parents too early and tore open packages with abandon. The pile of ripped wrapping paper grew exponentially.

As my brothers and sisters and I grew, married, moved, and raised children of our own, our traditions changed, of course. However, Mom and Dad hosted us all as long as they could until the brood expanded beyond the limited capacity of their post-World War II bungalow.

My siblings who lived nearest our folks took turns hosting the annual Christmas dinner and gift exchanges. Of course, once our children grew to adults and married, those traditions changed again.

My wife’s family always opened their presents on Christmas Eve, usually after attending services at their church up the road from their farm. It was Christmas Eve with Neva’s family, Christmas Day with mine.

At my age, the calendar isn’t nearly as important as the opportunity to gather the family together whenever we can. Christmas just made it a most memorable delight.

Nostalgia only carries so much weight in celebrating the holidays. It’s the here, and now that counts. We celebrate with those we love today, creating similar meaningful memories for the younger generations.

We will cherish the season with those who can join us and connect remotely with those who can’t. It’s the best we can do in this season of holidays mixed with precautions necessitated by the pandemic.

With that, I wish you all Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!

There is nothing better than snow on Christmas Day with the grandchildren.

A special note to followers of this blog.

Much of the content of this blog comes from newspaper columns that I have written for 23 years. This is my last column, but not the last blog post. I will continue to populate Roadkill Crossing with other musings and of course my photos.

As I near the three-quarters of a century mark in age, I have other writing projects that need my attention. I want to complete them while still having my wits and enough energy to put pen to paper.

I started a memoir of living among the Amish years ago. Completion of that book is long overdue. I have other stories swirling in my head, too. I want to set them to print before the Good Lord calls my name.

In that regard, I hope to share snippets of those with you here on Roadkill Crossing. So, please don’t give up on me!

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Joy in a Time of Sorrow

Yes, it is possible.

A tornado-damaged barn in Ohio’s Amish country.

Like most everyone else, I was shocked and saddened to hear of the death, injuries, and massive destruction left by the late-season outbreak of strong tornadoes that hit the country’s midsection like a gut punch recently.

Given this and other tragic global current events, how can we be joyous now? The answer is both easy and hard.

This family of tornadoes brought sorrow to innocent people. Survivors were thankful to be alive. Many people lost everything, and dozens died.

As I viewed the video of the immediate aftermath of the tornadoes, one clip particularly caught my attention. A first responder walked into a heavily-damaged nursing home where one person died from the tornado strike.

As the firefighter waded through inches of water in the dark, he passed several elderly nursing home residents sitting in their wheelchairs waiting for help. More than one of the residents thanked the firefighter for his assistance.

I was amazed. I figured those poor folks would be in shock and confused. Some probably were. But a few chose to express their thanks and joy for help despite their dire circumstances.

Not everyone can be joyous in this holiday season. Some feel alone. Some are homeless, cold, separated from family, while others mourn the loss of loved ones.

Our family knows those feelings all too well. My wife’s father died just before Christmas in 2001, and eight years later, I lost my father on December 21.

At Dad’s memorial service, I told those in attendance not to be sad for us. Dad loved Christmas and that there was no better time for him to pass on. He would have loved the festive decorations of the church.

During calling hours before the service, friends, family, and acquaintances shared their condolences and heartfelt stories of knowing our father. I remember one young man in particular.

The youngster came with his grandparents to express both his gratitude and sorrow. The young man remembered our father because Dad had shown him his arrowhead collection. That lasting impression exemplified our father’s love for life and learning.

How could we be sad at that? We couldn’t be, of course.

We loved our quirky, gregarious father, and we loved that others had opportunities to experience our father’s wide range of interests and joy for life. The fact that so many took time out of their holiday celebrations and ventured out in the snow and cold to be with us spoke volumes.

Joy on Christmas morning.

Another recollection of joy experienced at a stressful time was at the first fire I responded to as a volunteer firefighter in Ohio’s Amish country. A chimney fire had spread into the attic of a century-old Amish farmhouse. At the end of a 30-foot ladder, I sprayed water onto the fire through a small attic window.

With the flames under control, I looked down to the front yard, and I couldn’t believe the unfolding scene. Scores of people, primarily Amish, rushed in and out of the house, hauling out precious family heirlooms, furniture, dishes, and other items.

Several ladies and teenage girls already had washed some of the family’s clothes and hung them on the laundry line. Talk about expressing joy in the face of despair.

That is the way life is, isn’t it? When we are down and out for whatever reason, joy reaches in and touches our heart and soul and gives us hope.

We can choose to be joyful even in the face of death and terror. At every opportunity, be the joy.

An Amish farmstead in December.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Why I Celebrate December

There are many reasons.

An Amish farmstead in December. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh

December has always given me plenty of reasons to embrace the 12th month despite its sometimes wicked weather.

Though not the most important, I’ll confess that the first reason is personal, perhaps even selfish. My birthday is in December. It’s always precisely three weeks before Christmas, which I believe has propelled me through to the holidays over my many years.

Like it or not, the holidays of December take center stage. Marketing gurus ensure we get their messages.

I always look forward to the four Sundays of Advent. Our lives would be a lot more pleasant if we carried the message of peace, hope, joy, and love far beyond the holidays.

A byproduct of those cherished qualities is joyous holiday music. Some of it, of course, has been absconded by the Scrooges of the world. Their tunes can be a bit corny. That aside, the musical sounds of Christmas somehow still warm the coldest day.

I also love the various stories and films created around the holiday season. Charles Dickens’ novelette “A Christmas Carol” tops my annual December reading list. When I taught elementary school, I read it every year to the delight of my students before Christmas break.

I’ll also admit that I’m a sucker for the movie “Home Alone.” In a somewhat ridiculous manner, the classic film brings home the joy and spirit of the season. Even though I have seen it multiple times, I still laugh as the left-behind youngster gets the best of the buffooning burglars.

Even though the holiday decorating seems to happen earlier each year, I still enjoy seeing the many displays of holiday cheer. It catapults me back to the 1960s when our hyperactive father piled his obedient children into the family sedan after dark. We would drive miles and miles, finding a wide variety of holiday light displays.

Of course, Dad had to join in the illuminating competition. He decorated the big pine on the corner of our suburban lot with hundreds of multi-colored lights. He kept at it for years and years, constantly adding to the glowing ostentation.

Those were the days when sending Christmas cards was in vogue. Hallmark loved our dear mother. She addressed and signed the cards in her lovely cursive while her children licked the glue of the stamps and the envelopes to seal them. It’s a wonder we’re still alive.

I always enjoyed a white Christmas. A fluffy layer of snow made it seem warmer than the actual air temperature. We would dust off our sleds and slicken the blades with paraffin to ensure good sledding.

Off we would head to a nearby hill or a local park where others had built snow-packed ramps. One teeth-shattering jump was enough for me.

Of course, we loved when it snowed well before December 25. But snow on Christmas just made that day all the more special.

The holidays always seemed to make December go too fast. In reality, it was and still is all of the activities we pack into preparing for the holidays.

Still, December awakens all of our senses. The fragrant pine wreaths, the ringing of the Salvation Army bells, the twinkling of the light displays, the yummy Christmas cookies, and especially the hugs of appreciative grandchildren fill my spirit to overflowing.

Lastly, it’s humankind’s general geniality that stitches December’s colorful quilt together. I still believe that even amid today’s global health and humanitarian crises.

I hope I am right. Only time and our intentional daily interactions with others can determine that answer. If that happens, that’s the only birthday gift I’ll need.

Advent candles. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

A Natural Combination

My old friend and Halloween

Paul Sauerbrey and Halloween just naturally went together. My late friend was born on October 31, 1915.

Whether he intended to do so or not, Sauerbrey, which was his preference, lived a trick-or-treat lifestyle. Ironically, he never wanted his birthday celebrated, nor did he particularly enjoy all the Halloween commotion.

Sauerbrey taught elementary school for 43 years and claimed never to have missed a day. He loved teaching that much.

Paul Sauerbrey

Sauerbrey also enjoyed both tricking and treating people. He either liked you, or he didn’t. There was no in-between for the Halloween baby.

Sauerbrey loved math, English, and science. He subscribed to magazines that promoted the latest scientific gismos, and he often ordered the ones that caught his fancy and that he could afford.

He would buy dozens of clickers and popup buttons that would react to changing temperatures. Once the metal reached a specific temperature, the seemingly dull device snapped loudly and popped high into the classroom air, startling students.

He also tormented his sixth-grade students with crazy word puzzles that required mathematical equations to solve. He praised the few students who figured out the correct Venn diagram and chastised those clueless as to what a Venn diagram was.

His students mirrored their teacher’s inclinations. They either liked him, or they didn’t.

I especially remember one particular prank Sauerbrey pulled on a warm summer day. Sauerbrey arrived at his favorite hangout, the village gas station.

A father and his two sons, one of whom was legally blind, owned the popular town hangout. Sauerbrey loved to pester the blind man, John, who was no saint himself. I was talking with John when Sauerbrey quietly approached from behind.

John had just poured a cup of water when Sauerbrey let loose with an air horn that he had recently purchased. John immediately turned and threw the water towards the sound and soaked our ornery friend. Sauerbrey’s trick had turned into John’s treat.

Sauerbrey loved to tell stories, especially about his younger years growing up on a farm in rural Coshocton County. Sauerbrey didn’t hesitate when a neighbor offered to take him and others to a Cleveland Indians baseball game. Sauerbrey had never been to a major league game before.

The neighbor had his passengers sit on chairs in the back of his pickup truck. Long before interstate highways, the 100-mile trip took them three hours each way through both country and city settings.

The group sat in old League Park’s leftfield bleachers. When a player hit a home run, Sauerbrey caught the ball. He promptly threw it back onto the field to the surprise and ridicule of those around him. It was a long ride home for my friend.

Sauerbrey had a soft side, though. When my family visited his three-room home in Killbuck, Ohio, he always spoiled us with Cokes and Hershey bars. Of course, we had to help ourselves.

Sauerbrey was generous, far beyond offering candy and soda. After he died in 1993, the former teacher left a majority of his estate to the Holmes County, Ohio, Education Foundation to assist future Killbuck students in attending college.

Some of the students have been the first in their families to attend university. Their majors have run the alphabetical listings of college catalogs: chemistry, education, English literature, diesel mechanics, physical therapy, speech pathology, sports management, and many others.

To date, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been awarded to students to assist with their higher education expenses. That’s quite a philanthropic trick for someone who never graduated college or earned more than $6,000 a year.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

October is for the grandchildren

At least in our family, it is.

Trick or Treating in Texas.

I recently browsed through the myriad of old photos on my computer and made a startling but joyous discovery. October and our grandchildren go hand-in-hand.

I didn’t realize how much time we had spent with our grandchildren in October. That may not seem odd, but we lived in Ohio when they were born in Austin, Texas.

That’s where the October and grandkids began. We traveled to Texas multiple times in the decade that our daughter and son-in-law lived in the Austin area.

As I scrolled through the October photos, the grandkids just popped out at me. Being their grandfather, I know I am prejudiced. But a neutral person perusing the images also would have noticed the excessive number of grandkids’ photos.

That discovery made sense for our granddaughter, the youngest of the three. She was born in October, and of course, Nana had to be there for her birth and days after. I joined them as I could since I was still working some.

There are happy shots of all of us taking turns holding Maren like a precious commodity. That’s because she was. All newborns are. So, yes, there are a lot of baby pictures of Maren. She’s still very photogenic.

The boys played soccer, and their sister soon became a real fan. Maren attended her first soccer game a week after she was born. Despite the persistent Texas wind, Maren barely made a peep, wrapped in warm coverings and coddling of her loving mother.

Near the end of that October, Maren was dedicated at the little church the family attended. You know I was there to record it all, meaning we flew to Texas twice in the same month. It was one of the perks of semi-retirement.

While in Texas, I captured their Halloween adventures. Maren’s first foray as plump baby pumpkin took the honors. Her brothers stood guard, ensuring she wouldn’t roll away. We also shot a family photo with varying results.

In subsequent years, scarecrows, spidermen, and other noted characters made their late October appearances in later photos. Who doesn’t want their pictures taken while all dressed up?

Once our daughter’s family moved to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, our connections became frequent and not always in October. We seldom missed celebrating Maren’s birthday in person, however. Her first birthday was a real bash.

Photos of doing October homework, playing video games, and Evan, Davis, and Maren watching their mother coach her women’s college volleyball teams. The three became regular gym rats.

Some of the funniest photos weren’t Halloween costumes. Capturing a mechanical bull bucking the boys to the ground ranked high on the list.

Once we also moved to Harrisonburg, Virginia, photographing the grandkids became much more accessible. Still, October seemed a photographic month.

There’s Maren in her great-grandmother’s wedding dress, enjoying treats after browsing a bookstore, and of course, more volleyball. At age nine, Maren preferred pumpkin pie to a birthday cake. To avoid craters in the filling, she blew out a single candle.

Shots of the grandkids run the gamut of their lives. Concentrating on Lego assemblies, playing with the family dog, cookouts, chopping firewood, participating in a relative’s wedding, playing in the spirit band, and baking with Nana were just a few of the grandchildren memories recalled thanks to the photos.

I also have a shot of two of the grandchildren sitting at a bar. There was no room in the restaurant, but the food was just as tasty seated on a stool.

That’s how much I love my grandchildren, especially in October.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Make October a Month to Remember

While still remembering those of the past

Fall comes to an Amish farmstead in Ohio’s Amish country.

By its very nature, October holds a storehouse of memories for people. It’s a month on nostalgia steroids.

Who doesn’t remember raking leaves into giant piles in the yard and then jumping into them? Guilty as charged.

I have fond memories of our father loading his brood into the family station wagon and heading southwest along the winding, hilly roads to Holmes County, Ohio. That was before the state eliminated the undulating curves between Berlin and Millersburg.

I distinctly remember stopping along the road on the east side of Millersburg at Briar Hill Golf Course to view the vibrant colors of the changing leaves. Dad especially loved a giant sugar maple’s warm oranges and reds.

Years later, when I found myself teaching in Holmes County, I ventured out after school to explore the backroads for scenic views myself. It was a two-fold way to enjoy the colorful landscape and learn my way around.

I always found the hills around Glenmont to be stunning when the leaves were exceptionally bright. I also found them difficult to scale as a volunteer firefighter when a passing train sparked a woods fire up a remote and steep pass.

I remember standing on schoolhouse hill overlooking Killbuck, where I taught. Billowing smoke from burning leaf piles filled the valley from one end of town to the other. My eyes watered from the fragrant stinging. Fortunately, outdoor burning like that is no longer permitted.

Once my wife and I moved to the county’s eastern end, I found the trees were just as beautiful as in the west. Rows upon rows of corn shocks enhanced the bucolic scenes all the more.

When my wife retired 15 years ago, we were freer to explore October’s natural wonders far beyond our limited Holmes County horizons. We discovered our beloved county wasn’t the only pretty place on earth.

Friends invited us to share a condominium with them in Arizona in early October. In locales like Sedona and the Grand Canyon, we discovered vibrant autumn colors in rocky ridges and spires instead of leafy trees. It was gorgeous, just the same.

Of course, October offers more than brilliant colors. I remember hayrides down Panther Hollow with our church youth groups on dark and chilly nights. Hot cider and fresh donuts at the outing’s conclusion sealed the spooky experience.

Not to let nostalgia carry us away, October often brought the first frost and the first snow. I recall embarking on a conservation field trip with a busload of underdressed fifth graders. By the end of our farm tour, we all were tromping through inches of snow.

October highlights come in so many flavors and textures. Various festivals abound celebrating harvest time, including cheese, wine, pumpkins, and apples. It’s all about socializing.

Produce stands and greenhouses hold customer appreciation days before they close for the season. Dodging the yellow jackets can be as challenging as bobbing for apples.

October is in the middle of fall migration for many birds species. Shorebirds and birds of prey use sunny day solar thermals to aid their southern journey. The last of the Monarch butterflies wing it to Mexico.

Halloween, though, seems to overshadow all of the beautiful interactions between humankind and our environment. Entire towns decorate for Halloween comparable to Christmas. I’m not against that, but I simply prefer the daily unfolding natural beauty.

October provides plenty of opportunities to get outside and enjoy the crisp air, golden sunsets, and changing foliage. Consequently, October stirs lots of emotions.

Perhaps the best October memories are the ones we make today.

October’s blue and orange.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Signs of Fall

How many can you see?

Signs of fall are everywhere in this photo of an Amish farmstead that I took five years ago while living in Ohio’s Amish country. The standing corn still waiting to be picked, either by hand or horse-drawn corn picker, is the most obvious. In the background, the tops of the deciduous trees had started to turn red and orange. In the center of the photo, the purple martin house has been lowered for the season, the birds long-parted for Central and South America.

Can you find other signs of fall in this photo?

“Signs of Fall” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Fire Prevention Is Important

For me, it’s always been personal

Fighting a barn fire in Holmes County, Ohio.

Fire Prevention Week, the first week of October, always had a special place in my heart. Belonging to the local volunteer fire department likely had a lot to do with that.

I remember, though, that that affinity began long before my firefighting days. I grew up three blocks from a fire station. When the siren sounded for the volunteers to respond, I was out our front door and at the end of our sidewalk, watching to see which way the trucks would go.

Students paid attention to when firefighters came to school for presentations in the post-World War II days before the internet, cell phones, pagers, boomboxes, and color television. We appreciated the coloring books and leaflets they gave us on what to do in case of a fire in our homes.

In response, I designed an exit plan for every room in our house. Fortunately, we never had to use it.

Ironically, the fire department mounted the fire siren on the roof of our elementary school. In the sixth grade, it was right over our classroom. When the siren rang, teaching and learning both stopped until the loud wailing subsided.

With that background, it’s no wonder I became a volunteer myself for 27 years in Holmes County, Ohio. When Fire Prevention Week rolled around, I combined my educator and firefighter knowledge with the students.

A fully involved barn fire in Holmes County, Ohio.

Other local firefighters came to the schools to share information and handouts, drawing me back to my youth. I asked my students to draw up an emergency exit plan the way I had done when I was their age.

Imagine my surprise when the house of one of my students caught fire during the night. Everyone got out exactly as Russell had planned, and the fire department extinguished the fire without extensive damage. I was proud of that young man.

I also remember a time during fire prevention week when I got another rude awakening. Wanting to surprise the students and me, the fire chief and a few firefighters held an unannounced fire drill at school.

When the fire alarm sounded, students began exiting, following their practiced routes until they couldn’t. Firefighters had blocked some of the exits, telling the students and staff that they had to use another door because a “pretend” fire blocked the way.

I remember it so well because I happened to be in the faculty lounge bathroom at the time. I got deservedly ribbed at the next fire meeting.

After I became a principal, firefighters enhanced their fire prevention lessons considerably. They brought a fire truck to school, and the students got to inspect it and even wear the firefighter’s turnout gear.

That approach greatly pleased the students. Besides the pamphlets, coloring books, and sitting in a fire truck, distributing candy to the kids didn’t hurt either.

Unfortunately, I responded to fires at the homes of some of those students, too. Besides helping douse the flames, I hoped that some of the education presented also helped minimize damage and injuries.

Of course, that wasn’t always the case. Barns, homes, shops, and outbuildings burned due to various causes. Some injuries occurred, too, along with one death that I can remember.

Perhaps that is the reason again to reemphasize the importance of fire prevention. Have a plan of evacuation with alternate routes and a prearranged reporting location outside the home. Change the batteries in smoke detectors at least twice a year and have the sensors adequately placed on all levels of your home.

I know personally that fire prevention helps to save lives, even if you’re in the bathroom.

This year’s Fire Prevention Week theme.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Behind the Preacher’s Back

Photo by Bruce Stambaugh 2021

The guy playing the piano really is a preacher. Larry is my wife’s first cousin, and while he played a church hymn, our niece planted a loving kiss on her husband’s cheek. The couple had driven down to surprise us at a long-delayed family reunion. I really went to capture Larry in action when Rachel created a cute diversion worth sharing.

“Behind the Preacher’s Back” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

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