Category Archives: photography

The sights and sounds of summer’s end

goldenrod, rural scene

A field of goldenrod.

By Bruce Stambaugh

My wife and I sat on our back porch enjoying a light lunch. A gentle breeze sifted through the backyard as monarch and skipper butterflies flitted about, buoyed by the day’s brightness and coaxed on by instincts humans have yet to understand fully.

The rhythmical hum of neighborhood lawnmowers joined in concert to drown out the hypnotic cadence of the cicadas and katydids. As if they were following instructions, the leaves of red maples and sugar maples were beginning to blush just a tinge of their real color hidden all spring and summer by the chlorophyll.

Try as it might, Daylight Savings Time can’t delay the inevitable. The sun and the moon, the stars and the planets, work their seasonal magic, triggering an unstoppable unfolding of goodness and allergies alike.

Even in the noontime heat and humidity, senior citizens and expectant mothers walk their dogs on the broad neighborhood streets. In some cases, it’s the other way around, leashes fully extended, human arms straining to keep control and still chat on their cell phones.

Dragonflies dart here and there, somehow avoiding being lunch for some hungry migrating birds. Black and turkey vultures circle overhead, letting the convection vortexes carry them higher and higher.

White and yellow Sulphur butterflies zigzag their way past my window as if imitating fallen leaves being blown through the yard. A few grasshoppers jump from one blade of grass to another in short flights like so many commuter planes.

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Summer’s full corn moon has come and gone in one cool weekend, a pleasant relief from the storms and heat. But come Monday, the late summer swoon returned, ushering in more warm and muggy weather all across the eastern United States.

So intense was the dreaded combination of atmospheric siblings heat and humidity, some schools mercifully canceled or dismissed early. Without air conditioning, students and staff swelter, unable to conduct the proper learning processes.

That weather, however, eventually ends. Sooner or later, September’s customary, soothing elements do return. Blue-sky days precede comfortable evenings followed by starry nights. Unless infiltrated by tropical storm remnants, thunderstorms come and go without catastrophic consequences.

That’s what makes September the jewel in fall’s seasonal crown. It quietly but most assuredly melds August’s stubborn temperament into October’s Technicolor Dreamcoat landscape.

Until the first killing frost, September is the pollinators’ paradise. Squadrons of bees, flies, ants, butterflies, hummingbirds, and hummingbird moths follow the sweetness from fall bloom to fall bloom.

The mums’ warm colors have replaced the showy bubblegum petunias as the go-to domesticated floral display. Melons, gourds, pumpkins, and squash take center stage at produce stands. Thorny thistles and goldenrod populate the rural roadsides until they meet their sickled doom.

The furry critters must note the changes as well. The squirrels and chipmunks are bolder, more aggressive in their foraging, which is only appropriate. Their lives likely depend on the amount they stored if they can remember where they put their cache.

The morning and evening chatter at the backyard bird feeders is diminished to Song Sparrows and Northern Cardinals, with the Carolina wren making an occasional soliloquy. Now and then the northern mockingbird will chip in a few bars, too.

Once the winter migrants show up in a month or so, that scenario will change. Until then, we’ll enjoy the spontaneous choruses of the crickets, katydids, and cicadas. We’ll joyfully anticipate autumn’s arrival while summer’s pleasantries still linger.

Baker WV, West Virginia

A late summer thunderstorm.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under birding, birds, column, human interest, nature photography, photography, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, weather, writing

Old Truck, Old Tree

rusty truck, giant sugar maple

When I saw this scene near Mt. Storm, WV, a multitude of questions zipped through my mind. Why was this old farm truck parked under this giant sugar maple tree? What stories could it tell? What had it hauled during all those years of service? Did the farmer have a special place in his heart for this faithful old truck? Did he park it under the tree for protection? Did he park it close to the highway for others to enjoy?

I don’t know any of the answers to those questions. However, I do know that the truck and the tree caught my attention. There was something poetic about the ancient tree sheltering the old vehicle like a hen protecting its chick. Whatever the reasons, “Old Truck, Old Tree” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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A sunrise that made my day

Ohio's Amish Country, Holmes Co. OH

The sunrise at its summit.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I sat in awe at the beauty unfolding before me. What I had seen compelled me out into the dawn of the day.

I had slept restlessly despite having been emotionally and physically drained by the previous days’ activities. I had returned to Ohio to assist our son in preparing to move before the professional movers would shuffle him off beyond Buffalo to upstate New York for his new job.

For two long, hard days, we sorted and packed his items, and cleaned the house he was leaving for a smaller apartment. I would also stuff our van with family heirlooms and thrift store pieces to take back to Virginia. It was hard to see him off, he and I both in tears.

With those emotions still stirring internally, I surrendered to what lured me outdoors. The day was dawning with a broken cluster of wispy gray clouds hanging in the eastern sky. A spot of pink hue peeked at the horizon, giving me hope of a lovely sunrise.

I sat in the morning’s coolness on the patio waiting breathlessly for the show to begin. Would those clouds enhance or hinder a brilliant sunrise? The answer found itself in patience, not my best quality.

Flowers reflect first light.

Nevertheless, I remained nearly alone overlooking Millersburg, Ohio from our friends’ place high on a hill. A light, feathery mist lingered over the hardwoods, farm fields, and commercial properties that filled the Killbuck Valley.

As the sky brightened ever so slightly, a menacing caw, caw, caw punctuated the morning air. I strained in the dim light to find the source of the harshness. Suddenly, a pair of inky figures, their black wings flapping furiously, repeated their raucous call.

The two American crows were on a beeline southwest in hot pursuit of another crow far ahead of them. It was like two undercover cop cars chasing a crook.

The only other sounds were human-induced, the distant hum of a few vehicles, and a dump truck on an early run from the gravel pit down the road. Neither crickets nor katydids had awakened yet.

Then it happened. A silent burst of radiance raised me out of my chair and freed me from my stupor. I danced barefoot into the dewy lawn. I soon found myself at the southeast corner of the yard where I had a better angle to view the sunrise and could ignore the obnoxiousness of an ill-placed cell tower, its red lights annoyingly blinking.

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Ironically, the only camera in hand was the one on my cell phone. So I hypocritically began snapping photo after photo of the stunning, flowing scene changing second by second.

Those once gray clouds now glowed gold, yellow, orange, red, pink, mauve, and crimson. In the foreground, security lights and streetlights twinkled below the incredible show. One would think I was observing my first ever sunrise the way I clicked away.

Still, I continued to capture the incredible drama before me, not for myself so much as for others. In such a setting, my joy comes as much in the sharing as experiencing the splendor. When the sun finally poked above the horizon, I walked back towards the house.

This sunrise had awakened me as no other had. I felt renewed and refreshed from the emotions and exertions of the previous days. I was ready to begin my journey home.

For most folks, if they saw it, this was just another sunrise. To me, it was a blessed miracle.

Millersburg OH, Holmes Co. OH

Even the northern sky flashed radiance.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Grazing in the Sun

Booker T. Washington National Monument, Virginia

Grazing in the Sun.

As I explored the reconstructed buildings at the Booker T. Washington National Monument, I came upon this scene. The grazing horse was on the north side of the barn, and I was on the south. For fear of spooking the horse, I used my long lens to zoom past the open barn door, the horse stalls, and to the shadowed gate on the far side.

The contrast between the darkened gate and the sundrenched horse made an interesting composition. “Grazing in the Sun” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under architectural photography, history, human interest, Photo of the Week, photography, rural life, travel, Virginia

Celebrate life’s milestones as they happen

A memorable sunset.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Milestones. We all have them throughout our individual lifetimes.

These life events deserve recognition. There is no better time than the present to acknowledge and celebrate them as they occur.

The start of a new school year is such an occasion, and many of my friends on social media celebrated that event. Multiple posts of children and grandchildren heading off for the first day of school were shared.

I joined the party.

Our oldest grandchild is a child no more. Evan began his high school experience as a freshman recently. His younger brother, Davis, entered his first year in middle school as a sixth grader. Our granddaughter Maren started third grade at her elementary school.

Three students, three different schools, three different time schedules. That’s a family milestone with crisscrossing ramifications. Neva and I are glad we’re close by to help weave the way through that tangled web of unfolding activities.

granddaughter, granddog,

Observing the observers.

Disbelief overtook the significant adults in the lives of the three grandkids. How did we reach this place in time already?

Evan, Davis, and Maren just took it in stride as if it were just another day at school. Perhaps they are the wisest of the group.

With Labor Day upon us, I’m also reminded of the importance of vocational milestones. Being recognized for loyal service to a company for an extended period of time is an honor. Some businesses do a marvelous job of employee recognition while others not so much.

Knowing I had spent my first career as a public educator, a friend asked me about my favorite memories of school. Walking those school hallways for 30 years, I wasn’t sure how to answer at first. I had had so many enriching and endearing personal experiences that I hardly knew where to start.

The moon and Mars.

First of all, I loved my jobs as a teacher and then as an elementary principal. Both positions were most assuredly milestones on my timeline of life.

I remember the joy of watching my very first students file shyly into the fourth-grade classroom, unsure of how to react to their very first male teacher. Given the characters in that crowded classroom, it didn’t take long for their various personalities to emerge.

As a principal, the first day of school was a joy for me. Much of my energy and that of the support staff went into preparing for that day to ensure a smooth start to another school year.

As I reflected further, though, I realized that the most important milestones for me weren’t the first or last days of school. No, the many precious moments on particularly hectic, stressful days are what enriched my life the most. The significant memories for me were the touching ones. Gold watches can’t compete with group hugs from sweaty, sticky kindergartners returning from recess.

Anniversaries, birthdays, retirements, promotions, owning your first home, completing your first marathon race, competing in the special Olympics are but a few of society’s valued milestones. But for me, the most cherished ones can’t be memorialized in any material or monetary form.

Monarch butterfly

A Monarch butterfly making a fuel stop.

The milestones that mean the most are at hand in everyday life happenings that we all experience. A monarch butterfly refueling on a sunflower. The unexpected grasp of a child’s hand around your finger. The moment the full moon peeks over the horizon. A bright double-rainbow arched in the sky after a fierce thunderstorm.

These are but a few of the highlights that I cherish. What are yours?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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I’m Mr. Blue

I'm Mr. Blue, Smith Mountain Lake SP

I was fortunate enough to catch this male Eastern Bluebird looking over its shoulder. Like a good father, this bluebird seemed concerned about the welfare of its mate. The female was nearby, having landed on a bluebird box where all indications were that the pair had young. Both had been carrying insects into the box.

I loved how the afternoon sun accentuated the bird’s colors. For those old enough to appreciate the title, I couldn’t help but think of the 1959 song by the Fleetwoods, “Mr. Blue.”

“I’m Mr. Blue” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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I don’t know how she does it

By Bruce Stambaugh

August is rapidly coming to a close. For our family, that means that Neva is in her comfort zone doing what she does best.

Neva loves to help others. It’s in her DNA. In the fall, our daughter’s busy family becomes the center of our attention. In part, that is why we moved to the Shenandoah Valley.

Carrie is the women’s volleyball coach at Eastern Mennonite University. Her personal and professional schedules are head-spinners. Practices and meeting with players consume Carrie’s time. Once the regular season starts soon, it gets to be grueling.

canning

Neva spends much of her time in the kitchen preparing meals, frozen sweet corn, and applesauce for others.

Of course, our daughter has a family to care for as well. That’s difficult to do, even with a helpful and talented husband. That’s where we come in, especially my wife.

Before our move from Ohio’s Amish country to the Commonwealth of Virginia, Harrisonburg became our temporary home in the fall. Neva lived there August into November. I shuttled back and forth during those months as work duties called.

Now that we are retired and live just five miles away, we can quickly assist our daughter and her family. When it comes to Neva, “assist” is an understatement.

My energetic wife puts all she has into helping our daughter’s home run as smoothly as possible. It’s a must do situation with three active grandchildren and both of their parents working full-time.

creativity,

Neva added a repurposed screen door to a flowerbed.

With Neva taking the lead, my wife and I gladly step in to do what we can. Me? I do whatever I’m asked or told to do. If you are a betting person, wager on the latter.

Of course, the grandkids and our son-in-law all do their part. We fill in the gaps when work and school schedules preclude household chores being completed.

When it comes to domestic skills, I can’t hold a candle to Neva though. She plans and prepares family meals. I set the table and clean up. Occasionally, Neva prepares food for the entire volleyball team. I’m the gopher. I go for this and go for that.

While Neva is cooking or cleaning or shopping, I might be running the oldest grandchild to the gym for workouts or picking up the middle grandkid from after-school activities or accompanying the youngest to her soccer practice.

See what I mean? All that coming and going keeps us active, energized, and helps us sleep well at night.

In addition to all of this activity, our son has taken a new job in a different state seven hours away from us. With Neva leading the way, we helped him ready for this significant transition in his life, too. We were glad to do what we could.

Why does Neva do all of this? It’s all she knows how to do. It’s how she loves. Her compassion manifests into tasty, nutritious meals, quality time spent sharing her gifts and wisdom with the grandkids, and a sense of security for our son, daughter, and son-in-law.

enjoying an evening

Every now and then, Neva takes a break.

I marvel at Neva’s determination, fortitude, skills, and drive to aid others. It’s definitely that time of year again, and we all reap the benefits of Neva’s generous gift of hospitality.

Our fall schedules are hectic to be sure. Neva and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

To paraphrase the late Arthur Ashe, we do what we can with what we have right where we are. At our age, at any age really, that’s all that can be expected. In Neva’s case, she exceeds any and all expectations.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under article, column, family, food photography, human interest, photography, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, writing

Butterfly Season

butterflies

From little on up, everything about butterflies intrigued me. The sizes, shapes, colors, flight patterns, unpredictable behavior around flowers, they all got my attention. They still do.

In August, when late-summer wildflowers are in full bloom and butterflies are migrating south, I am awestruck each and every time I see one of these flying beauties.

Even though I know certain species of butterflies frequent woodland habitats, I am always amazed when I see them flitting among stands of mixed hardwood forests. Butterflies seem to be able to find blooms that we humans ignore. Perhaps that’s a lesson for us. Slow down. Take notice of your surroundings. Enjoy what you discover. Sometimes it takes a butterfly to guide you to the flowers.

That was not the case, however, when this beautiful female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly lighted on this Joe Pye weed blossom. Joe Pye weeds grow to be six-feet tall, and their multi-headed flowers are lovely, fragrant, and serve as butterfly magnets. Other pollinators love them, too.

I used my telephoto lens to capture this shot recently in southeast Ohio. “Butterfly Season” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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How retirement was meant to be

Virginia sunset, August susnet

Sunset wakes.

By Bruce Stambaugh

There we were, two couples sitting around a table at 10 o’clock on a beautiful but sultry Monday morning playing cards. Our only objective was to win the game.

Nana Neva and I had taken an extended weekend break from our part-time grand-parenting duties to explore a less-familiar area of Virginia with another retired couple.

We had worked all of our lives to reach this point. Playing cards followed by a round of dominoes seemed like the perfect way to begin a new week, especially on a hot and muggy morning.

We played until lunch and then walked down the slanting limestone driveway to a cozy eatery in a marina for some fabulous homemade ice cream. Choosing which flavor became the toughest decision we made all day.

The location had much to do with our buoyant attitude. We had rented a cottage situated on a point overlooking a man-made lake where the dam generated hydroelectricity. The lake was long and narrow, the product of a few creeks damned up to fill steep valleys in southern Virginia.

Such a project brought more natural benefits than producing power. Wildlife thrived.

Each morning and evening a resident bald eagle perched on a favorite snag, often on the same limb a quarter of a mile across the bay from us. We had a perfect view from our deck that faced the water, made murky by a series of recent heavy rains.

Osprey, Virginia

On the watch.

Before breakfast, I spotted an osprey perched on a dead pine farther up the narrow bay. The “fish hawk” stood tall and stately in the morning mist.

Pileated woodpeckers called and flew back and forth across the water, too, landing if only briefly in the sizable wild cherry tree in our front yard along the shoreline. An eastern kingbird, a much smaller species, chased the much larger woodpecker upon every approach. Fierceness is the kingbird’s nature.

The ripe fruit of the lakeside tree drew songbirds, too. The kingbird didn’t seem to be as bothered by the Carolina chickadees, tufted titmice, red-bellied woodpeckers, and even young redheaded woodpeckers. I could have stayed there all day to watch that show.

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The previous day we ventured to Rocky Mount, the county seat where my maternal grandparents were born. We researched family records in the historical society. The lilt and soft, southern accent of our hostess could have been my grandmother’s.

In the process, I was a boy again, standing in the hot Virginia sun inserting a nickel into a parking meter for my father. Dad had to finish the task because I wasn’t strong enough to turn the knob so the coin would activate the meter. The street meters have long disappeared, just like the department store where a relative had worked.

We visited the Booker T. Washington National Monument where the famous educator was born and freed as a slave. The sweltering heat and humidity made it easy to envision the slaves toiling in the parched fields.

Back at the cottage, boats rippled the reflected sunset as they headed in for the evening. Spiders devoured gnats trapped in the delicate webs on the deck just as a young eagle glided across the dusk’s burnished light.

This is what retirement was meant to be. We are grateful to be at this phase of our lives.

That said a palpable quietude subdued any thought of celebration. Too many others would not know the same joy and appreciation. Empathy should temper our golden years. Compassion must rule the way to ensure a purposeful retirement.

retirement, Smith Mountain Lake SP Virginia

A picture of retirement.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Safe at Home!

youth baseball, grandson

In today’s world of youth baseball, it’s not always easy getting shots of your grandson in action. High chainlink fences wrap around the playing fields wherever we go to watch him play. I surmised that there are practical reasons for that. They serve as barriers between the spectators and the playing field, where only the players, coaches, and umpires are permitted.

The fences are an impediment to photographers who want to get the best shot possible of their children or grandchildren. In this case, I photographed my grandson batting. I used manual focus to blur the mesh fencing. When he hit a sharp liner to center, the ball skipped by the diving outfielder and rolled all the way to the outfield fence.

Our grandson raced around the bases and slid headfirst into home. The powdery red dirt ubiquitous in Virginia went flying. He was safe by a whisker for an inside the park home run.

“Safe at Home!” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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