Confronting life’s unpredictable perils

wading in surf by Anna Bishop
Wading in the North Carolina surf. (Photo by Anna Bishop)

By Bruce Stambaugh

Within hours of one another, I received three divergent yet emotional messages about grandchildren.

The first came after I had changed my profile picture on Facebook to a shot of my middle grandchild celebrating his fourth birthday. The picture showed Davis heartily laughing in front of his makeshift birthday cake.

The four candles signifying his age burned as bright as his smile. The candles were securely stuck in a row in the thick, chocolate frosting of a cream stick that Nana and I had bought at a local Amish bakery before leaving Ohio.

Davis' fourth birthday by Bruce Stambaugh
A cream stick for a birthday cake.

It was a fun time, with the family finally gathered for his birthday. It was the first one we had celebrated with Davis. Texas was just too hot and we always seemed to be extra-busy in the middle of July.

But now that Davis and his family had moved to Virginia, we made sure we were there with and for him. The message about all this was from his mother, my daughter, asking for the pictures from the party. I had yet to share them with her. She loved the shot and wanted to see the rest.

When I checked my Facebook page in the morning, I found a disturbing and extremely sad posting by the son of a friend of mine. His sister’s newborn daughter had died right after birth.

I shared the sad news with my wife. We are close friends with the expectant grandparents. This baby would have been their first grandchild, one they had so longed for and had happily anticipated.

Now all expectation of playful days ahead had been dashed. I couldn’t imagine how devastated they must feel. I felt guilty for having three healthy grandchildren.

Their daughter lived in Indiana and I knew they would be with her. What could I do to offer my deepest sympathies, to reach out to them in their time of need?

While I struggled with this dilemma, I received an email containing the weekly column of a friend and writing peer in Virginia. He had written about his vacation with his grandchildren and included a picture of him wading in the ocean, a towheaded granddaughter tugging on one arm, a brown-haired grandson on the other as the foamy surf broke upon them.

It was clear that both grandchildren hung on to their grandfather in trust and love as the soft, warm waves crashed against them. I was happy for him, sad for my other friends, and conflicted about being able to reconcile these seemingly disconnected incidents.

Grandparents are supposed to be wise and loving and adored. My friend’s picture clearly revealed those dynamics. But we also know that there are times when life simply isn’t fair and there is absolutely nothing we can do about it.

I hope and pray that my three grandchildren will grow and prosper and live lives of service to humanity. I am deeply distraught that my friends Bruce and Helen cannot now say the same thing for their granddaughter.

I am sure many of their friends will reach out to this fine couple in their grief. When I get the chance, though, I will pretend we are at the shore, standing knee-deep in the churning surf, readying for life’s perilous waves to come crashing against us, Helen clasping one arm, Bruce the other, trusting and loving.

At this mournful moment, that is all I can offer.
Seaside sunrise by Bruce Stambaugh

In appreciation of Mother Earth

Oat shocks by Bruce Stambaugh
Oat shocks near Mt. Hope, Ohio.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The deep orange crescent moon sat just above the tree line on the dusky horizon. Fanned out high over its tip, Saturn, Mars and Venus sparkled in the late evening sky.

Lightening flashed suddenly and silently interrupting the cloudless scene. Radar indicated the thunderstorm 120 miles southeast near Parkersburg, West Virginia.

The next morning, this natural display of awe and beauty was enthusiastically discussed among those who know the value of such a free show. They were gathered in the shade of a vendor’s tent at the annual Family Farm Field Day event.

Storm approaches by Bruce Stambaugh
A severe thunderstorm near Mt. Hope, Ohio.

It was more than appropriate and not the least bit ironic that such talk should take place at an educational affair celebrating the goodness of the land. These were people who knew the importance of Mother Earth, who knew how to care for her, appreciate her, and affirm her, even profit from her without rendering her useless or sterile.

The venue was as uplifting as the conversation about the storm. Hundreds of black buggies stood side by side against the woods, their unhitched horses now shaded.

Buggies at a hitching rail in Mt. Hope, Ohio
Buggies lined up at a hitching rail in Mt. Hope, Ohio.

Cars, vans and pickup trucks entered at the east gate. Along the drive, dozens of bicycles leaned against chain link fencing that separated yards from right of way and kept children from wandering into the long, graveled lane.

In between these contrasting parking lots, thousands of people milled beneath several large tents searching for information on how to better care for the earth. The slight bluff on which the action took place created a symbolic subliminal significance of man and land over that of man and mobility.

Though most were dressed in homemade denim with suspenders or pastel dresses with coverings and spoke a language I should have learned long ago, I was both at home and in harmony with them. We were all there for the same reason, to learn more about caring for and nurturing the land that provides us sustenance and shelter.

Jr. Burkholder farm by Bruce Stambaugh
A farmstead in Holmes County, Ohio.

Besides the vendors’ displays, tents for keynote speakers, farmsteads and homemakers were erected in a huge horseshoe pattern around the pastured plateau. Of course, there were food tents, too. I couldn’t decide which I liked best, the sugar and cinnamon hot soft pretzel or the salty sweet kettle corn.

With the hot summer sun beating down, shade was at a premium for those seeking relief. That did not deter them from exploring the inescapable interconnection between humankind and our responsibility of caring for the environment.

To be sure, that is serious business. But it was nice to see it presented in such fun and informative ways for multiple generations. To the point, bird, butterfly and nature walks were filled to overflowing.

A billowing cloud by Bruce Stambaugh
A storm cloud builds.

But what was really special for me was the dialogue on the previous night’s celestial display. Some of us saw what is erroneously called “heat lightening.”

From the backside of the storm, which is always the safest and prettiest angle, others
saw huge, billowing columns sail through the darkening sky. The higher they rose, the more the lightening sizzled in and out of them, brightly illuminating the swelling clouds.

One in the group had actually been under the building storm and arrived home in time to also watch the stunning electrical display. To hear that enthusiasm, plus see the genuine, cross-generational interest in caring for the ecosystem by so many people stirred my soul.

I left thoroughly uplifted, and with one large bag of kettle corn to go.

That’s what friends are for

By Bruce Stambaugh

The sky was clear blue, the morning’s puffy cumulous clouds having moved on. The north wind discouraged any humidity, and helped keep the temperatures tolerable.

Earlier my Amish neighbor had tethered the hay he had mown the evening before, fluffing it up for the breeze to blow away any remnant moisture. The barn swallows that had circled his horse drawn machine still skimmed the ocean of cut hay for insects.

I imagined the next day my neighbor, his family and his circle of friends would follow their given routine of making hay. I have marveled at their consistency each and every harvest of hay, oats and wheat. Their combined labor is as affable as it is proficient.

But isn’t that what friends are for? Like the classic Dionne Warwick/Stevie Wonder song belted out, “For good times, for bad times, I’ll be on your side forever more, that’s what friends are for.”

That pretty well sums it up. Friends want the best for you no matter what. They sympathize with you, empathize with you, are honest with you and you them. That friendly formula leads to trust, understanding and compassion.

As humans, we all need that. We are social beings, and unless you are Ted Kaczynski or Lizzie Borden, friends mean the world to you.

Sitting on the porch alone, I had to think about my circle of friends. I was humbled and honored to recall how many times others had come to my rescue or reassured me or celebrated with me or mourned with me or just took time for a visit.

These may seem like ordinary occurrences. But to me, they are extraordinary events, given that they all involved friends.

Food seems to be an important ingredient in friendship. We have enjoyed many a meal around a table with friends, meaning family, neighbors and acquaintances. No matter how tasty the entrées, the fellowship is always the dessert.

A home in Lakeside, OH by Bruce Stambaugh
A home in Lakeside, Ohio. - Bruce Stambaugh

Years ago when we moved from the home we built in the western part of the county to our current home in the east end, friends clamored to help us. Thanks to them, the difficult task was made simple.

Each time we visit our beloved Lakeside, Ohio we are greeted with hugs and kisses from people we may only see there. They are our vacation friends, but from the reactions you would never know it.

When I pushed my grandsons on side-by-side swings so high they bounced out of their seats, they giggled and laughed like little girls. The bright sun wasn’t the only thing warming me that morning.

Reading the blog by the parents of a special newborn child helped me better understand their critical situation. I marveled at how calm and objective their writings were, especially given their uncertain situation.

A birder friend called to tell me about a very rare bird in the neighborhood. Without his kind gesture, I would have missed the Vermilion Flycatcher.

Butterfy on cornflower by Bruce Stambaugh
A butterfly enjoyed the wildflowers in our backyard. - Bruce Stambaugh

Which reminds me that friends are not confined to human beings either. Pets, sunsets, thousands of blinking fireflies rising from the flowering alfalfa and ripening oats, robins chirping their contentment with the day all qualify as friends by my definition.

All these people and creatures and natural events have abundantly blessed me. Isn’t that what friends are for?

Holmes County sunset by Bruce Stambaugh
A recent sunset taken from our back porch. - Bruce Stambaugh

Summer solstice sunrise and sunset

Summer solstice sunrise by Bruce Stambaugh
This picture of the summer solstice sunrise was taken at 5:13 a.m. on June 21, 2010. - Bruce Stambaugh

I have absolutely no idea why it took me so long to post these pictures of the sunrise and sunset of the summer solstice, which occurred on June 21, 2010. Nevertheless, here they are, finally.

These pictures were taken at our home in Ohio’s Amish country, four miles southwest of Mt. Hope in Saltcreek Twp. – Bruce Stambaugh

Summer solstice sunset by Bruce Stambaugh
The last look at the sun at 8:24 p.m. on June 21, 2010 as it sank behind my neighbor's barn. - Bruce Stambaugh