Category Archives: Ohio’s Amish country

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

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

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

That old house served us well

home, fall scene

That old house in the fall.

By Bruce Stambaugh

By the time you read this, my wife and I will be settling into our new old home in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. We’re excited about the change as we enter the autumn of our lives.

We’ll do our best to keep in touch with our friends and relatives in Ohio and elsewhere. They have been the fibers that helped stitch our lives together.

Of course, we will miss our old home, too. It served us well for 38 years. That’s a long time by today’s standards where Americans move on average of 11 times.

When we bought our home in eastern Holmes County, it was as young in housing as we were in parenting. The house was unfinished and budding, like our two and four-year-olds. Neva and I had been married eight years.

That old house helped us raise our daughter and our son from toddlers into productive young adults. It served as ground zero for my amazing wife to hone her effusive hospitality skills.

Our former home holds more memories good and bad than I can recall. But it knows. The house’s walls harbor nearly four decades of our personal saga.

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The house has a beautiful setting that we so enjoyed. We had excellent views of our Amish country surroundings. We could see five miles north to Wayne County. To the east, explosive sunrises stirred our bodies and our souls into another day. To the west, sunsets often thrilled us far beyond their beauty. To the south, our road still looked like an Olympic ski slope as it curved up, then flattened out, and then quickly back down past our house.

The property itself was a sanctuary. People often complimented Neva on her annuals and perennials that kept the old place bathed in colors spring to late fall.

The many trees and shrubs I planted matured, providing habitats for wildlife I never could have imagined. The skunks and raccoons could have found other homes though. The many birds, however, were always welcome.

The old house endured many storms over all the seasons and years as Nature used her full arsenal. Deep snows, large hail, six different lightning strikes, damaging winds, earthquakes, and the severe ice storm of late December 2004 pounded away. They all altered the property but could not subdue it.

The most memorable events though weren’t earth shattering at all. They were the everyday, common occurrences. Crackling fires in the fireplace on a cold winter’s night; sleepovers; the productive, magical hum of Neva’s sewing machine; both planned and impromptu visits from friends, neighbors, and church youth groups, and the whoosh of chimney swifts that rattled the glass fireplace doors only begin the recollections.

None of those, however, can hold a candle to the memories of the grandkids. They were mesmerized by the clop, clop, clop of horse and buggies trotting by, rosy-cheeked from snowball fights and sled rides, giddy with wonder and excitement on Christmas morning.

family fun, roasting hotdogs, roasting marshmellos

Hotdog roast.

After all, the grandchildren are the main reason we uprooted ourselves from all that we have been. They are the reason we will settle into new routines, new roles, and our new home in the picturesque Shenandoah Valley.

Time is short. Neva and I have chosen to fill our elder days with the activities, joys, and disappointments, competitions and achievements of our progeny’s children.

Those will be the sights and sounds, fragrances and satisfactions of all our days ahead, however many or few they may be. Perhaps those memories will be just as sweet, if not sweeter than those generated by that old Holmes County house we called home.

They will not, they cannot replace them.

We wish the new owners well and hope their memories are as fruitful, meaningful, and lasting as ours.

Snow, Ohio

Our old house.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under family, friends, human interest, Ohio, Ohio's Amish country, photography, rural life, weather, writing

A Final Ohio Sunset

Ohio's Amish country, sunset over Amish farm

Last Ohio sunset.

I can sometimes read too much into a naturally occurring phenomenon. I think that’s the romanticist coming out in me. Nevertheless, while visiting an Amish family who had invited us for dinner before we left for life in Virginia, I couldn’t help but notice the beautiful sunset. I stepped outside and captured this photo, our last blazing sunset as Ohio residents. I took it as a warm farewell for us.

“A Final Ohio Sunset” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under Amish, family, friends, human interest, nature photography, Ohio, Ohio's Amish country, Photo of the Week, photography, rural life

Saying both thank you and goodbye

trees in blossom, spring in Ohio

Goodbye blooms.

By Bruce Stambaugh

In a couple of days, the moving truck will arrive. Men I’ve never met will pack our selected belongings into the straight bed of a box truck. A couple of days later, they’ll reverse the process, and we’ll begin life anew in our new home in Virginia.

I have looked forward to this event. I have dreaded this event. I am excited to be close to our daughter and her family. I’m sad that we’ll be six hours away from our son and other family members along with a lengthy list of lifetime friends.

That’s the dichotomy of uprooting yourself after spending all of your quality years in one geographic location. A time to dance and a time to refrain from dancing as the scripture goes.

We recognized that this major decision came with both good and bad consequences. We will spend time with our grandchildren, watch them grow from adolescence into young adults, the good Lord willing.

We’ll also help out our daughter and her husband with their hectic work and household agenda. The grandkids’ and their parent’s schedules aren’t mutually exclusive of course.

We recognize, too, the friends, neighbors, and family we leave behind, the relationships that will forever change by not being able to commune together regularly. We will dearly miss that.

We have lots of folks to thank for their faithful support for us as we worked in the local public schools and the various community service endeavors in which we participated. We know we gained far more than we were able to give.

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Church, school, fire department and rescue squad, township, thrift store, friendships, neighborhood and family activities and gatherings all pieced together the crazy quilt that formed our active lives. We can never repay them all for the kindness, patience, acceptance, and including us in their lives.

We anticipate this transplanting will take some time for our roots to take hold in our new community endeavors. Virginia friends and new acquaintances have already begun to make us feel welcomed, and we haven’t even moved yet. That’s southern hospitality for you.

I’ll continue to write and share what I encounter as we settle in, explore our new surroundings, meet new folks, and experience all that is in store for us. My words just may develop a southern accent.

Friends and family have given us an extended send-off. These last few days have been bittersweet. We have been showered with hugs and kisses, tears and celebratory well-wishes. The fellowship we have experienced added spice to the already delicious meals we’ve shared with dear friends and relatives. Close neighbors even held a carry-in and gave us an unexpected monetary gift as goodbye presents.

Even the vegetation around our house blossomed a flowery finale for us. The flowering trees, shrubs, and plants bloomed the best and brightest that they have in our 38 years of living here. As the daffodils faded, the dogwoods and lilacs burst with vibrancy. Their fragrances were intoxicating. It was as if they had conspired to ensure us a very colorful goodbye.

The backyard birds joined the party, too. The Red-headed Woodpecker, White-crowned and White-throated Sparrows, the Pileated Woodpeckers, and even the resident Bald Eagles took turns bidding us an avian adieu.

Thanks to each one of you for all of your help along the way, and for your blessings as we begin this next phase of our lives. I’ll say goodbye, but not farewell. That has too much of a final ring to it.

I’ll see ya’ll later.

blooming dogwoods

Colorful sendoff.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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David and Goliath

downy woodpecker, pileated woodpecker

David and Goliath.

The Pileated Woodpecker, 17 inches top to tail tip, is Ohio’s largest woodpecker. Conversely, the Downy Woodpecker is Ohio’s smallest at a mere 6.5 inches long.* The two are seldom seen together. If they happen to arrive in the same area, the Downy quickly knows its place. It is no physical match for the impressive Piliated.

I recently was watching and photographing a male Pileated Woodpecker feed on the peanut butter suet feeder that hangs in my backyard. Imagine my surprise when a male Downy Woodpecker suddenly dropped onto the feeder and seemingly challenged its mega-sized cousin. It was both a once-in-a-lifetime moment and a David vs. Goliath situation. I was extremely fortunate to capture this brief confrontation before the Downy decided to wait its turn.

“David and Goliath” is my Photo of the Week.

*Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2000, Kenn Kaufman, p. 214 & p. 218.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Fishing at Sunset

Amish farm pond, Amish boy fishing

Fishing at sunset.

To paraphrase Forrest Gump, sunsets are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get. The evening sky was hazy like the previous night’s when red, gold, and orange blazed long past sunset. I hoped for similar results this time.

My Amish neighbors had given me permission to photograph at their pond so I could catch the reflection of the sunset. Though still lovely, the sunset proved much more subtle with mauves and grays instead of vibrant, warm colors. The sky’s wispy textures made up for the more muted tones. With one of their grandsons fishing, I was able to catch this captivating scene that reminded me of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.

“Fishing at Sunset” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Resting

team of horses, Amish farm

Resting.

With spring well underway, this is a typical scene in Ohio’s Amish country. With each turn at both ends of the field, this wise, young farmer rested his team of workhorses. No doubt he also took a breather from cultivating the previously turned earth.

“Resting” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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