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

Welcome to Autumn!

Welcome to autumn for those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere. Today is the Autumnal Equinox, where summer rolls into fall without much autumnal fanfare.

I took this photo during a partial solar eclipse. I was standing atop a hill near Charm, Ohio, in the heart of Ohio’s Amish country in late October 2014. The eclipse occurred close to sunset, which created an eerie glow in the air. If you click on the photo to get a closer look, you can see that the sun’s rays made tiny rainbows in the hundreds of spider webs blown straight out from the barbed wire fence by a strong westerly wind. The coloration of the leaves in the background accentuate the fact that fall had indeed arrived.

“Welcome to Autumn!” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Never Give Up on Hope

The first rain after weeks of drought in the Shenandoah Valley. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh.

I remember standing on our back porch watching an approaching thunderstorm. It was the middle of July 1988, and we hadn’t had any substantial rain for weeks. Ohio and adjoining states were in a severe drought.

Temperatures were consistently in the 90s, sometimes reaching 100. The humidity was oppressive, yet we had no rain.

I stood there watching the lighting in the west, hoping that the rain would reach us. But it wasn’t to be. The storm fizzled out that night, and my heart sank.

A storm that fizzled.

That exact scenario occurred here in the Shenandoah Valley this summer. June turned warm and dry after a chilly, wet spring, and July followed the same pattern. Even if it did cool down for a few days, no rain came.

Crops withered. Lush cornfields turned ugly with curled, stunted, sickly-looking cornstalks. Farmers reported small ears of corn or none at all. The times seemed desperate, hopeless even.

And then there is the awful wildfire situation out west and in some Canadian provinces. Millions of acres of land have been burned, along with hundreds of buildings that included two entire small towns. The resultant injuries and deaths only added to the catastrophe.

In these trying times, it’s easy to give up hope. People are at their wit’s ends. Emotions and frustrations can run as high as the hot temperatures.

Instead, what I have observed here is farmers making the best of a bad situation. They made fodder out of the cornstalks while some green remained. Farmers harvested the outer edges of cornfields and sometimes entire fields of standing corn, chopped it, and filled their silos for livestock feed.

A withered cornfield in the Shenandoah Valley.

What they will do for field corn remains to be seen. But from my lifetime of observations, hope is a necessary prerequisite for farming.

The dictionary defines hope as a feeling of expectation and a desire for a sure thing to happen. In other words, hope points to the future, not the past.

Hope puts us all in the present moment, observing, touching, participating, listening, learning from all around us. We absorb it all and look to tomorrow, hopeful that the life we are experiencing will improve no matter our situation.

Just like I had anticipated rain that Ohio night long ago and was disappointed, I continued to hope. Ironically, a few days later, the rains arrived in torrents.

We had over six inches in less than two hours, and flash floods ensued. In that space of time, we went from no water to too much too soon.

And just like those former Ohio days, a similar pattern happened here in Virginia this summer. It didn’t rain for weeks, and then the heavens opened up multiple times in a few days. Later came the remnants of Hurricane Ida, and we had even more rain.

For some of the crops, it was too late. Late ripening varieties drank up the moisture. Lawns went from crunchy brown to lush green. A few brown spots still linger, but hope and patience won out.

Perhaps there is a lesson here for all of us. We must hang on to hope. Hope keeps us going. Hope inspires us to focus on the future while still acknowledging our current situation, whatever that may be.

Just when you think you are at the breaking point, hope will come. Much like the rain, hope will find a way for you. Though we cannot see it on the horizon, the rain will eventually arrive, filling our hope to overflowing.

As summer yields to autumn, hope shines forth regardless of the weather.

No matter what comes your way.
There is hope on the horizon.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

September Is a Moody Month

Enjoy what comes your way

A hazy sunrise in Ohio’s Amish country.

September is underway, and she has already walked on the wild side. Hot, steamy days evolved into torrential rains and flooding, mainly thanks to the remnants of Hurricane Ida.

Cool, refreshing days immediately followed. Bright morning sunshine sparkled dew-laden lawns. Blue skies filled the day from sunrise to sunset.

The cooler evenings made for pleasant sleeping. For that reason alone, September is a favorite month for many folks. I’m a card-carrying member of that crowd.

I will confess, however, that I didn’t fully appreciate September’s many personality traits until I retired from my education career. Sure, I enjoyed the pleasantries that September offered. But I did not truly comprehend the many moods of her 30-day span.

As a youngster, September meant school, and that garnered most of my attention. It wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate the month. I just wanted to enjoy the pleasant evenings by playing after school. Homework? What homework?

I was too preoccupied during my college years to embrace September’s temperaments fully. Working full-time during the day and attending night school for two years left little leisure time. Then, it was all campus life once I became a “real” student.

After graduating, my educational career demanded my utmost attention as the school year unfolded in September. Still, I managed to roam the hills and dales of Holmes County, Ohio if only to get acquainted with my new surroundings.

Now, decades later, I am replicating that experience by exploring the Shenandoah Valley. September’s fairer weather spurs day trips to historical locales up and down the valley and into its adjoining alluring mountains.

It’s one of the blessings of being fully retired. You truly get to enjoy each day without the pressures of study or labor. September and retirees seem made for one another.

September isn’t always gracious, of course. As already noted, the damaging, drenching, and deadly consequences of Ida bear witness. Fortunately, September’s blissful days usually outnumber her unruly ones.

September serves as a monthly measuring stick. Her moods lull us while she melds summer into autumn in the northern hemisphere. The autumnal equinox occurs on September 22 at 3:20 p.m.

To fully appreciate all that September offers, it’s best to rise early. Fog-shrouded sunrises spread sunbeams across the morning sky. Like the dawn, those scenes fade quickly.

Long before that, however, September always gives us hints of things to come. The first frost, changing leaves, golden mums, plump pumpkins, and flocks of migrating birds all weave their way into September’s algorithms.

My morning walks in Holmes County verified that fact. Overnight fog dappled the landscape opaque, with millions of dewdrops revealing the once invisible spider webs intricate artistry.

Once emerald poison ivy vines blushed crimson capturing weather-worn fence posts like kudzu. Eastern bluebirds sat cooing in an already leafless walnut tree. Crunched by passing cars, trucks, and tractors, the tree’s tarry fruit stained black splotches on the rural road’s chip and seal surface.

I see similar signs of September’s power on my morning strolls here in Virginia. Vibrant succulents brim with luscious heads of pink flower heads. Pollinators squabble for their nourishing nectar.

Sensing fall’s onslaught, we humans pack artificial gatherings into our already busy days. However, street fairs, lawn parties, and backyard barbeques are no match for September’s natural wonders.

In these intermittent days that transform summer into fall, September allows us to catch our collective breath. As September days thrill us with her majestic magistery, our senses absorb her offerings.

Will we stay still enough to observe, hear and appreciate them? How we each respond to September’s opportunities reflects our joy.

A September evening in the Shenandoah Valley.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

August came early this year

The calendar didn’t change, but the weather sure did.

Wheat shocks glow in the evening sun in Holmes County, Ohio.

August came early this year. The calendar didn’t change, but the weather sure did.

The three H’s customarily associated with August, hot, humid, and hazy, have been around off and on since this June. Unfortunately, the dreaded trio has been mostly “on” all across the continent and beyond.

The results haven’t been pretty or even healthy. Record high temperatures fed massive wildfires, more typical for the fall months. The fires have been burning all across the West and in several Canadian provinces. A wildfire completely obliterated the small town of Lytton, B.C.

The wildfires have fed the brilliant sunrises and sunsets in recent days. Brisk winds aloft have spread soot particles eastward, creating that giant orange ball in the sky that we usually can’t look at directly. The August haze is extra heavy from Maine to Florida.

A wildfire-enhanced sunset.

August’s weather seemed both more predictable and tolerable a half-century ago. Global warming and climate change weren’t household phrases back then. They are now.

In those days, the school year ran from the day after Labor Day until Memorial Day weekend. The school district seldom used up the permitted allotment of snow days. So, we knew we had the whole summer season to enjoy.

As a youngster, I always welcomed August even though it was the last month of school vacation. The neighborhood gang of baby boomers took the hot, hazy, and humid weather in stride.

You are never too young to help husk corn.

We were content to sit beneath giant shade trees and play cards and board games instead of more strenuous adventures. We saved our more energetic shenanigans for cooler evenings. I’ll skip the details since the statutes of limitations haven’t expired. No harm to life or property occurred, however.

August always gave us suburban kids pause. August was our reality check. It forewarned us to use our last remaining days of freedom wisely. We usually didn’t.

A few of us, of course, had jobs associated with youth, like paper routes and mowing lawns. My older brother and I both delivered newspapers. In those days, I had ink on my fingers and not in my veins.

County fairs and street fairs began in earnest. Our county fair was always the last week of August and ended on Labor Day. When the fair closed, the schoolhouse doors opened.

Our father usually grew a garden well away from our suburban home. After supper, my siblings and I crowded into the family car, and off we would go to help hoe, weed, and hopefully pick my favorite vegetable, sweet corn.

If we had a bumper crop, we headed to a strip mall parking lot, popped the trunk, and sold our excess at a dollar a dozen. Dad usually threw in an extra ear for free, the gardener’s equivalent of a baker’s dozen.

Back home, our dear mother had the pressure cooker ready. All we had to do was husk the corn. It’s another job that I still relish. My wife says I will be applying that apt skill as soon as the bi-colored corn is ripe.

Occasionally, Dad would also load the family into the car, and we headed to Holmes County. I always admired the platoon of golden wheat shocks standing at attention in the fields of Amish farmers.

I had no idea then that I would be spending most of my adult life living there. It served as a foretaste of many good things to come for me.

I look back on my lifetime of Augusts with pleasant memories. None of the three H’s can bake, wilt, or obscure them.

An August sunrise in Ohio’s Amish country.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Family and friends overshadow any vacation destination

Beauty and exercise go hand-in-hand at Lakeside, Ohio.

My wife and I could hardly wait for our Ohio vacation to arrive. It wasn’t so much the destination as it was the people we would see.

After 50 years of marriage, relationships are everything to us. With all of the interruptions caused by the pandemic restrictions and safety measures, the sheer desire to see friends and family members drew us back to our home state.

Sure, we wanted to visit our old rural Ohio stomping grounds, Holmes County. Before that, though, would come a much anticipated week at our beloved Lakeside, Ohio. It’s the Buckeye State’s most beautiful mile.

We have relaxed there each July since 1987, minus last year’s pandemic summer-sequestering. We looked forward to enjoying all of the resort town’s amenities.

We longed to stroll along the Lake Erie shoreline to view the colorful collage of flowers. We looked forward to playing dominoes with other baby boomer friends on the porch of our hospitality house. Most of all, we anticipated reuniting with fellow Lakesiders.

First, we connected with a couple of my siblings on the way. My youngest brother and his wife greeted us with their new Britney Spaniel puppy in tow. Our sister soon joined us, and we caught up with news of children and grandchildren around a table of finger foods.

To help further break up the long drive from Virginia, we stayed overnight with a lifelong friend. Glad for our company, she went overboard to accommodate us, sharing deep conversations that resulted in laughter, tears, and lots of delicious food. Our reunion holiday was off to a good start.

Beautiful summer weather welcomed us to the Chautauqua on Lake Erie. Lakeside was still Lakeside.

However, a powerful night-time cold front arrived, drowning out many of our outdoor Lakeside plans. The weather remained wet and chilly, more so than the forecasts had foretold.

Still, we were at our favorite family resort, and that was all that mattered. The on-again-off-again rain couldn’t dampen our reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones.

As a photographer, I always enjoyed rising early for gorgeous sunrises over the lake. Clouds and fog foiled that, too. The sun still rose. We just couldn’t see it.

The traditional stroll to the dock for sunsets even became iffy. A bagpiper serenaded the sundown to the joy and amazement of the adoring crowd at one of the few sunsets that we did see.

Summer flowers brightened cottages, homes, and even businesses thanks to the dedication of the hardworking Lakeside staff and volunteers. We enjoyed the many flashy floral displays.

Despite the weather, the Lakeside days slipped away. Saturday came too soon, and we bid farewell to our Lakeside friends. We headed southeast for dinner with my two brothers and their spouses.

Then it was off to the heart of Ohio’s Amish country, Holmes County, where we had spent most of our adult lives until moving to the Shenandoah Valley to be close to our grandchildren four years ago. We were amazed at the continued new construction, primarily commercial buildings.

On Sunday, we returned to the church where we worshiped for 46 years. More friends shared hugs and smiles both before and after the service.

We stayed with dear friends and watched the sun glint off of the newly restored courthouse dome. It was hard to believe the many changes of the last four years as our gracious hosts drove us around the county.

As we headed back home, we made one more important stop. Breakfast with my wife’s sister and husband and a close cousin and his wife, all baby boomers, too, served as an appropriate send-off.

Spirited conversations and genuine fellowship with family and friends marked the pinnacle of our Ohio vacation. Soggy weather couldn’t swamp that.

A friend’s house adorned by daisies.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

A Shocking Scene

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

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

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

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Why does summer go so fast?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the beach.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A summer sunset in Ohio’s Amish country.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021