A strong work ethic is a universal trait

Amish produce stand
Produce stand.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’ve been working since I was eight years old. To earn a little spending money of my own, my first job I went door-to-door selling seed packets. I’ve been working ever since, and that’s a very good thing.

There is great satisfaction in earning money through hard work. That was especially true as a youngster who grew up in a family that had pittance left over for life’s extravagances. We weren’t poor, but we weren’t rich by earthly standards either.

Rather, our wealth came in the joy of working together as a family and learning to enjoy work’s energy and accomplishments, whether we earned money or not. If it benefited others, payment was received in ways that far exceeded any monetary gain.

If my siblings and I earned money helping others at businesses or homes, you could be sure we used the profits for wise choices. The candy store was just five minutes away. Of course, our folks taught us the advantages of saving and giving, too.

I have my parents and grandparents, and likely generations before them, to thank for instilling work as a personal core value. Dad worked 43 years for the same company as a tool engineer. Mom was a household engineer before the profession was so christened.

Living in Holmes County, Ohio, all of my adult life, I have come to appreciate the community’s emphasis on exercising a robust work ethic. I marvel at seeing it played out every day.

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I only have to observe my neighbor’s family gathering crops. Three generations are often literally bringing in the sheaves.

That should be no surprise. Having a strong work ethic is common and a highly valued principle here. It’s one of the reasons our region consistently has one of the lowest monthly unemployment rates in Ohio.

County residents pride themselves on enthusiastically employing their work ethic. That’s ironic for a society that holds humility in equally high esteem. Folks manage to balance that apparent contradiction for self and others successfully.

The method to instilling the work ethic to the next generation is simple. Folks here both model and include younger generations in work. In other words, the adults give the youngsters responsibilities that result in projects completed.

Children on farms help with chores. Feeding the livestock, gathering eggs, walking the dog all count as productivity. Drive around and you’ll likely see children including work in their play.

I always get a chuckle when I see Amish children playing horse and buggy. A couple of toddlers sit in a wagon while an older sibling plays the horse. A short piece of rope serves as the reins.

Amish children playing
At play.
From time to time as a principal, I would get a note from home asking that Johnny be permitted to visit the local store to buy some grocery items needed for that evening’s supper. I usually approved the request by driving to the store and letting the sixth grader do his deed.

At the produce stand we frequent, the entire family chips in to make the business go. From time to time, a request is made for an item not available on the shelf. Junior will gladly fetch the requested item from the field to accommodate the customer.

It’s all in a day’s work. Of course, the work ethic extends far beyond our insulated world. Working and earning are universally esteemed characteristics.

I’m glad we have Labor Day to remind us of that fact.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

August’s end means new beginnings

walk to school, Amish boys
Back to school. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

A Belted Kingfisher flew furiously over the fresh mown hay towards a neighbor’s pond. Breakfast was likely on its mind.

My farmer neighbor hitched his workhorses and teddered the hay to help it dry. The Barn Swallows, Tree Swallows, and Cliff Swallows circled the productive locomotion and devoured every insect the man, the machine and his faithful team dispersed.

A refreshing north wind eased the day’s early humidity. No need for a calendar. All signs pointed to August’s end.

A few trees had already begun to transition from their chlorophyll green to their disguised shades. Even before the berries on the dogwoods blushed bright red, the trees’ leaves curled and revealed hints of crimson and lavender.

blooming hydrangea
The hydrangea. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
My energetic wife had already deadheaded the once lovely hosta blooms that adorned the leafy plants in her luscious flower gardens. The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, hummingbird moths, and various butterflies, bees, and other pollinating insects had completed their instinctive work.

The hydrangea bush bloomed full and pure against the garden shed. It demanded daily watering in August’s heat and dryness.

Juvenile birds, Red-headed Woodpeckers, Song Sparrows and Blue Jays among them, found the feeders and the birdbaths on their own. Another aviary generation will forge into fall and winter without knowing what lies ahead as if any of us do.

American Goldfinch on sunflower
Eating fresh. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
The acrobatics of the American Goldfinches provided free entertainment as they worked over the volunteer sunflowers that sprouted from bird feeder droppings. Fresh food is not just a human preference.

The big yellow school buses began carting anxious and enthusiastic children alike to and from school. I waved to the drivers as they passed me on my walk.

People often ask me if I miss those days; if I don’t have some innate longing to return to my first career. The short answer is, “No, I don’t.”

I loved the children, whether teaching or being their principal. I greatly enjoyed the interactions of parents and staff members, even when we disagreed. I have no resentments or regrets. Neither do I have any wish to reenlist.

oat shocks
Straw soldiers. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
My life has moved on. I am the same person, just at a different place in my turn at life’s cycle. I have fond, fond memories of my teaching days and principal days. But now I have neither the desire nor energy to compete in today’s educational whirlwind too often driven by politics instead of common sense.

I would rather sit on my back porch, as I am now, taking in the world as each moment flashes by. I don’t want to miss anything. I want to rise each day to enjoy the sunrise and bid farewell to the evening light that dims all too soon.

fluffing hay, teddering hay
Teddering the hay. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
Each day is an opportunity to live, to be alive, to help others, to listen, to look, to breath, to pray silently, to work diligently for peace in a troubled world. That is my challenge now.

August has come and gone, always too fast, always too hot and dry. August melds into September.

We can only embrace it, for there are marvelous days ahead. I’ll watch for them whether from my back porch or wherever I might be, knowing that too many in the world will not have the pastoral view or luxuriousness of trusting neighbors that like mine.

It’s my duty to share goodness and joy with others as my life, too, passes from August into September. Isn’t that the real responsibility of all of us at any age?

August, sunset, Holmes Co. OH
August sunset. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

August in Amish country

oat shocks, Holmes Co. OH,
Oat shocks. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Scenes such as these make iconic Amish country photographs. However, fields of shocked grain like this are less and less frequent. Rules for the Amish farmers are changing, allowing them to make use of equipment like combines to harvest oats and wheat.

Only the lower order Amish still shock wheat and oats. This method permits the grain to dry in the warm, often hot, August sun. Once the moisture content is low enough, the shocks are pitchforked onto a wagon and hauled to the barn. There a thrasher separates the grain from the chaff.

I hope this process remains, if only for its marvelous beauty.

“August in Amish country” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Western Sky

sunset, Holmes Co. OH
Western Sky. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

I never tire of taking shots of sunsets from my backyard. At first glance, one might think this photo was taken out west someplace, as in the western United States. It wasn’t. I shot this sunset recently in my backyard in Ohio’s Amish country. Windmills for pumping water on Amish farms are commonplace in Holmes Co., Ohio.

I realize that I am fortunate to live where I do. I never tire of the incredible sunsets that occur so frequently. Most of all, I enjoy sharing them with you.

“Western Sky” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Gathering hay

haying, making hay
Gathering hay. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

I was on another assignment when I saw this scene recently. I lowered the window of my vehicle and took the photo. It’s the iconic image of Amish gathering hay that most folks envision. The truth is, the way Amish farm has changed drastically in recent years. Most mainline Amish bale hay, either in rectangular bales or big round bales. Only the most conservative of the sect, the Swartzentrubers and those who belong to the Dan Church, continue to use the method pictured to gather hay.

I especially liked that the grandchildren were driving the team of horses while Grandpa properly balanced the huge stack of loose hay.

“Gathering hay” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Why I liked summer nights, and why I still do

Amish girls, Amish cart, Ohio's Amish county
Up the long lane. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

When I was a youngster growing up in a suburb of a blue-collar steel town in northeast Ohio in the 1950s and 60s, I loved summer nights.

Let me be clear that the foremost reason for my affection for summer was that school was out. But it was so much more than that, and still is.

Sure, summer days filled with warm temperatures, fluffy white clouds sailing by and gaggles of my peers running loose made for riotous times. We’d play ball, ride bikes, and explore for hours on end along the little creek that snaked through a woods down over the hill from our brick bungalow.

However, we knew when to come home for lunch and supper, or we wouldn’t eat. It was that simple.

It was a crazy, wonderful era to grow up. Times were changing. Right after supper, we watched the world unfold before us on the nightly news on black and white television. I had trouble reconciling what I saw then with what I had seen just before dinner on the Mickey Mouse Club.

Sputnik
Sputnik.
That might have something to do with why I enjoyed and enjoy summer nights so much. Things got quieter after 10 p.m. or so. The noises of life subsided. I escaped into the refreshing darkness, unafraid, in awe of creation, and in search of anything that moved in the sparkling sky.

Since we were on summer vacation from school, my siblings and I were permitted to stay up later. I loved the evening’s coolness, a respite from the daytime heat and humidity. The nighttime air was our air conditioning.

I took full advantage of those cooler opportunities. I loved to view the night sky. Streetlights were scarce in our neighborhood then, allowing us actually to see the constellations and the countless stars.

My folks must have noticed that interest, too. I got a telescope, and that allowed me to examine the heavenly hosts up close. It was the beginning of the space age, and once I even was able to follow Sputnik, the first-ever man-made satellite launched by the Soviet Union.

Sputnik, headlines
Headlines announcing Sputnik’s launch.
Satellites were still so novel that newspapers published the time and flight path of their orbits. When I saw Sputnik, I couldn’t believe its simplicity, a round ball with four protruding antennae.

I liked simpler, natural things, too, like fireflies, the flash of heat lightning in distant storms, an owl hooting. Most of all, I embraced the solitude that summer nights afforded.

Here I am decades later, a grandfather instead of a grandson. I still love the quietness of early summer nights, before the crickets and katydids begin their concerts.

half moon
Half moon. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
Living here in the country, I lie awake at night listening to distant sounds far from our home, dogs barking, horses whinnying, and jetliners cruising high overhead. It’s that calm. If I’m fortunate, a Whippoorwill will wake me from my daze, or a pair of coyotes will howl from the hilltop behind our home.

An American Robin will startle me awake long before dawn, perhaps herself startled from her nest. Was it a cat, a flying squirrel, an owl, or did one of her babies grow restless and try an early morning fledgling flight?

I still like the nights before the crickets start choir practice. I still prefer summer’s air conditioning to artificial. I am most appreciative that lightning bugs don’t crackle when they blink.

But wouldn’t it be neat if they did?

sliver moon, planets, night sky
Night sky. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Summer solstice sunset

summer solstice, sunset
Summer solstice sunset. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Each summer solstice, I stand at the northwestern corner of our property here in Ohio’s Amish country and watch the sun sink between the twin silos on our Amish neighbor’s farm. I guess it’s my version of Stonehenge. Normally, if the sky is clear, I often see a golden orange glow. Not this year.

I watched the sunset on the summer solstice again last Sunday evening. As sunsets will do, the colors in the evening sky seemed to change by the minute. I kept shooting and shooting photos. I thought the roses, violets and baby blues painted above the silhouetted farmstead in this shot created an amazing scene.

“Summer solstice sunset” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015