Mirror Image

Silver Lake, Dayton, VA.

I frequent Silver Lake in Dayton, Virginia for a number of reasons. Birding and taking sunsets top the list.

I never know what I will find. Sometimes the sunsets are a bust. Sometimes few birds are present, not counting the ubiquitous resident Mallards.

Like most photographers, I look around for unexpected scenes. I couldn’t miss this one.

The clouds over the mountains to the west had moved east. Consequently, the sun sank behind the Allegheny Mountains without much color or fanfare.

The day’s last rays tinted the remanent clouds that lingered over the nearly still lake. This mirror-image perspective spoke volumes without saying a word.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

It Was a Sugary Kind of Afternoon

The initial stop on the Sugar Trail at New York’s Genesee Country Village and Museum.

I didn’t really know what to expect when our son and his wife informed us that we were going to a maple sugar festival. I knew that our daughter-in-law was super excited, which was enough incentive for me. Besides, what choice did I have? They had already purchased tickets, and it was a rain or shine event.

So, off we drove southwest from Rochester, New York, to the Genesee Country Village and Museum. We arrived in less than an hour, and it was clear from the crowded parking lot that we weren’t alone on this adventure.

We checked in and were directed to the Sugar Shack, where the modern method of boiling maple sap down to create maple syrup was explained. In New York, it takes about 39 gallons of sap to make a gallon of maple syrup. I thought back to my Ohio days when I visited various sugaring operations. The general rule there was 52 gallons of sap to create a gallon of maple syrup. I wondered if the latitude had anything to do with the difference.

From there, it was on to sugar snow. That’s where maple syrup is poured over snow for a special tasty treat. In the absence of snow, crushed iced served the same purpose. We enjoyed it just the same.

Soon, we were on the Sugar Trail, where volunteers in period costume explained the maple sugaring evolution one station at a time. Our umbrellas went up before we even stepped foot on the trail.

The wet weather didn’t dampen the spirits of either our gang of six or the knowledgeable folks at each stop. They knew their stuff and shared how both Native Americans and white settlers took advantage of the sap run during February and March.

We learned a lot along the way. The walk was equally a figurative and literal stroll through the woods dominated by sugar maple trees. We followed the signs from stop to stop, ending up at how maple sap is currently gathered by most successful sugaring operations.

Plastic tubing is strung from tree to tree with plastic inserts that are tapped into the tree. Gravity carries the sap to the main collecting barrel instead of going from tree to tree emptying individual buckets full of the sweet stuff. In truth, only 2% of the water collected is sugar, thus the boiling of the water. Workers have to gauge the proper heat to avoid burning the syrup. Despite the mechanization, it’s still a tedious process.

By trail’s end, we were ready for lunch. A brief stop at an on-sight eatery got us going again. That’s when the real surprise came.

Genesee Country Village and Museum is a collection of historical buildings brought to the site for educational purposes. George Eastman’s boyhood home is in the village. Eastman was the founder of Eastman Kodak Company.

The village is divided into sections to represent the various architectural structures of the late 18th century into the early 20th century. Some of the buildings, like the Hosmer’s Inn and its smokehouse and the Jones Farm had guides in period outfits to give a brief description of the way life used to be in those particular times. We also enjoyed maple flavored goodies from the bakery.

The sun came out, and the temperature warmed, making our afternoon even more delightful. Most of all, it was a joy to spend these precious moments with family.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

A Photo Essay for an Old Friend

The backyard red maple saw a lot of lovely sunsets.

I said goodbye to an old friend recently. I had the utilitarian red maple tree in our backyard cut down. I didn’t really want to, but it was the right thing to do.

The tree has served us well year-round in the short time my wife and I have lived in the Shenandoah Valley. We moved here from Ohio’s Amish country to be near our grandchildren.

In the summer, the backyard tree provided much-needed shade for us and the wildlife. The tree reached far above the peak of our home, helping to block the hot afternoon sun. Birds and squirrels were often seen lounging in the coolness.

Our grandchildren scaled the alluring tree with her low, sweeping branches. She oversaw their croquet games, soccer kicking, and baseball tossing. American Robins and Blue Jays nested high in her tender branches.

The red maple glowed most gloriously in the fall, of course. Her red leaves brightened chilly, gray autumn days. But the healthier front yard red maple always outshone her sister’s beauty.

In the winter, she cradled the various backyard bird feeders I hung from her lower limbs and placed beneath her silver trunk. White-throated Sparrows, House Finches, Purple Finches, Carolina Chickadees, Carolina Wrens, and American Goldfinches were just some of the species that rested on her branches.

Woodpeckers especially loved her. Downey, Red-bellied, Northern Flickers, and even a Pileated Woodpecker graced her offerings. American Robins roosted high in her crown as days drew to a close.

In the spring, her dainty, concealed blossoms attracted pollinators before I even realized they were there. In addition to her budding lime leaves, she sprouted her precious, life-giving seeds. Unfortunately, they were so numerous not even the horde of neighborhood squirrels could devour them all. The twirling seeds clogged our spouting and downspouts until we had gutter guards installed. More personally, they activated my allergies. I alone kept Keenex® in business.

Neither of those negativities led to her demise, though. No, I knew the tree was sick from the time we moved in nearly five years ago. Even a casual glance would have told any passerby that the tree had an issue.

The red maple was only one of two mature trees on our third of an acre. A second red maple frames the front yard. Even from the street, you could see that the color of the leaves of the two trees was different. The front yard maple’s leaves shown glossy and vibrant. The leaves of the backyard tree appeared dull, even sickly.

I knew that one large east-facing branch of the backyard red maple struggled to produce leaves. But last summer, when the region was in a moderate drought, the leaves suddenly turned brown and shriveled up.

A certified arborist showed me the reasons for the beloved tree’s demise. Insects had girdled the limb in question near the trunk, and the bark had flacked off. In fact, the bugs had burrowed into the trunk as well. No wonder woodpeckers loved the tree.

The arborist said the tree would live no longer than five years. We made the difficult decision to have the tree taken down, and replace it with another that hopefully will produce a crown that will mirror the qualities of the red maple.

My wife and I won’t likely live long enough to watch the replacement tree grow to maturity. We are resigned to watching the young sweet gum grow the way we have enjoyed watching our grandchildren morph from joyous youngsters into achieving and helpful youth.

Even when dormant, the red maple looked grand.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

Remembering Christmases Past

It’s the gathering that counts.

Christmas morning in our Ohio home several years ago. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh.

Of all the holidays in the calendar year, Christmas is my favorite. I know I am not alone in that declaration.

I have many fond memories of Christmases past. The most memorable seem to be snippets of bigger pictures, but they are still meaningful after all these years.

Delivering Sunday’s newspaper as a teenager on a snowy Christmas Eve night is one of my favorite memories. I can still see the smiles and hear the well-wishes from many customers as I tromped through heavy, wet snow.

Christmas was my father’s favorite holiday. He was a big little kid when it came to Christmas. He and our dear mother worked hard to make each Christmas extra special on Dad’s meager salary.

Dad loved to get the last-minute shopping discounted deals. He spent part of Christmas Eve buying presents he thought were bargains. His offspring reaped the rewards early Christmas morn.

Christmas Day in the Stambaugh household was a joyous time. We woke our parents too early and tore open packages with abandon. The pile of ripped wrapping paper grew exponentially.

As my brothers and sisters and I grew, married, moved, and raised children of our own, our traditions changed, of course. However, Mom and Dad hosted us all as long as they could until the brood expanded beyond the limited capacity of their post-World War II bungalow.

My siblings who lived nearest our folks took turns hosting the annual Christmas dinner and gift exchanges. Of course, once our children grew to adults and married, those traditions changed again.

My wife’s family always opened their presents on Christmas Eve, usually after attending services at their church up the road from their farm. It was Christmas Eve with Neva’s family, Christmas Day with mine.

At my age, the calendar isn’t nearly as important as the opportunity to gather the family together whenever we can. Christmas just made it a most memorable delight.

Nostalgia only carries so much weight in celebrating the holidays. It’s the here, and now that counts. We celebrate with those we love today, creating similar meaningful memories for the younger generations.

We will cherish the season with those who can join us and connect remotely with those who can’t. It’s the best we can do in this season of holidays mixed with precautions necessitated by the pandemic.

With that, I wish you all Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!

There is nothing better than snow on Christmas Day with the grandchildren.

A special note to followers of this blog.

Much of the content of this blog comes from newspaper columns that I have written for 23 years. This is my last column, but not the last blog post. I will continue to populate Roadkill Crossing with other musings and of course my photos.

As I near the three-quarters of a century mark in age, I have other writing projects that need my attention. I want to complete them while still having my wits and enough energy to put pen to paper.

I started a memoir of living among the Amish years ago. Completion of that book is long overdue. I have other stories swirling in my head, too. I want to set them to print before the Good Lord calls my name.

In that regard, I hope to share snippets of those with you here on Roadkill Crossing. So, please don’t give up on me!

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Joy in a Time of Sorrow

Yes, it is possible.

A tornado-damaged barn in Ohio’s Amish country.

Like most everyone else, I was shocked and saddened to hear of the death, injuries, and massive destruction left by the late-season outbreak of strong tornadoes that hit the country’s midsection like a gut punch recently.

Given this and other tragic global current events, how can we be joyous now? The answer is both easy and hard.

This family of tornadoes brought sorrow to innocent people. Survivors were thankful to be alive. Many people lost everything, and dozens died.

As I viewed the video of the immediate aftermath of the tornadoes, one clip particularly caught my attention. A first responder walked into a heavily-damaged nursing home where one person died from the tornado strike.

As the firefighter waded through inches of water in the dark, he passed several elderly nursing home residents sitting in their wheelchairs waiting for help. More than one of the residents thanked the firefighter for his assistance.

I was amazed. I figured those poor folks would be in shock and confused. Some probably were. But a few chose to express their thanks and joy for help despite their dire circumstances.

Not everyone can be joyous in this holiday season. Some feel alone. Some are homeless, cold, separated from family, while others mourn the loss of loved ones.

Our family knows those feelings all too well. My wife’s father died just before Christmas in 2001, and eight years later, I lost my father on December 21.

At Dad’s memorial service, I told those in attendance not to be sad for us. Dad loved Christmas and that there was no better time for him to pass on. He would have loved the festive decorations of the church.

During calling hours before the service, friends, family, and acquaintances shared their condolences and heartfelt stories of knowing our father. I remember one young man in particular.

The youngster came with his grandparents to express both his gratitude and sorrow. The young man remembered our father because Dad had shown him his arrowhead collection. That lasting impression exemplified our father’s love for life and learning.

How could we be sad at that? We couldn’t be, of course.

We loved our quirky, gregarious father, and we loved that others had opportunities to experience our father’s wide range of interests and joy for life. The fact that so many took time out of their holiday celebrations and ventured out in the snow and cold to be with us spoke volumes.

Joy on Christmas morning.

Another recollection of joy experienced at a stressful time was at the first fire I responded to as a volunteer firefighter in Ohio’s Amish country. A chimney fire had spread into the attic of a century-old Amish farmhouse. At the end of a 30-foot ladder, I sprayed water onto the fire through a small attic window.

With the flames under control, I looked down to the front yard, and I couldn’t believe the unfolding scene. Scores of people, primarily Amish, rushed in and out of the house, hauling out precious family heirlooms, furniture, dishes, and other items.

Several ladies and teenage girls already had washed some of the family’s clothes and hung them on the laundry line. Talk about expressing joy in the face of despair.

That is the way life is, isn’t it? When we are down and out for whatever reason, joy reaches in and touches our heart and soul and gives us hope.

We can choose to be joyful even in the face of death and terror. At every opportunity, be the joy.

An Amish farmstead in December.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Festive Calla Lilies

My wife and I and another couple toured a greenhouse in the Shenandoah Valley for their Christmas Open House. I was expecting Christmas wreaths and lots of poinsettias. They had those, but these festive calla lilies dressed in their many holiday colors really caught my eye.

I thought you might enjoy them, too.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Why I Celebrate December

There are many reasons.

An Amish farmstead in December. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh

December has always given me plenty of reasons to embrace the 12th month despite its sometimes wicked weather.

Though not the most important, I’ll confess that the first reason is personal, perhaps even selfish. My birthday is in December. It’s always precisely three weeks before Christmas, which I believe has propelled me through to the holidays over my many years.

Like it or not, the holidays of December take center stage. Marketing gurus ensure we get their messages.

I always look forward to the four Sundays of Advent. Our lives would be a lot more pleasant if we carried the message of peace, hope, joy, and love far beyond the holidays.

A byproduct of those cherished qualities is joyous holiday music. Some of it, of course, has been absconded by the Scrooges of the world. Their tunes can be a bit corny. That aside, the musical sounds of Christmas somehow still warm the coldest day.

I also love the various stories and films created around the holiday season. Charles Dickens’ novelette “A Christmas Carol” tops my annual December reading list. When I taught elementary school, I read it every year to the delight of my students before Christmas break.

I’ll also admit that I’m a sucker for the movie “Home Alone.” In a somewhat ridiculous manner, the classic film brings home the joy and spirit of the season. Even though I have seen it multiple times, I still laugh as the left-behind youngster gets the best of the buffooning burglars.

Even though the holiday decorating seems to happen earlier each year, I still enjoy seeing the many displays of holiday cheer. It catapults me back to the 1960s when our hyperactive father piled his obedient children into the family sedan after dark. We would drive miles and miles, finding a wide variety of holiday light displays.

Of course, Dad had to join in the illuminating competition. He decorated the big pine on the corner of our suburban lot with hundreds of multi-colored lights. He kept at it for years and years, constantly adding to the glowing ostentation.

Those were the days when sending Christmas cards was in vogue. Hallmark loved our dear mother. She addressed and signed the cards in her lovely cursive while her children licked the glue of the stamps and the envelopes to seal them. It’s a wonder we’re still alive.

I always enjoyed a white Christmas. A fluffy layer of snow made it seem warmer than the actual air temperature. We would dust off our sleds and slicken the blades with paraffin to ensure good sledding.

Off we would head to a nearby hill or a local park where others had built snow-packed ramps. One teeth-shattering jump was enough for me.

Of course, we loved when it snowed well before December 25. But snow on Christmas just made that day all the more special.

The holidays always seemed to make December go too fast. In reality, it was and still is all of the activities we pack into preparing for the holidays.

Still, December awakens all of our senses. The fragrant pine wreaths, the ringing of the Salvation Army bells, the twinkling of the light displays, the yummy Christmas cookies, and especially the hugs of appreciative grandchildren fill my spirit to overflowing.

Lastly, it’s humankind’s general geniality that stitches December’s colorful quilt together. I still believe that even amid today’s global health and humanitarian crises.

I hope I am right. Only time and our intentional daily interactions with others can determine that answer. If that happens, that’s the only birthday gift I’ll need.

Advent candles. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Burnt Orange

Bathed by the setting sun.

One basic principle in photography is to “look the other way.” In other words, when everyone else is looking at the obvious photo opp, look around. You just might find something even more enjoyable.

That’s precisely what happened on a recent outing to photograph another glorious sunset. Before the sun disappeared behind the Allegheny Mountains that mark the Virginia/West Virginia boundary line, I turned to look east to find this lovely scene.

The sharply slanting rays of photography’s golden hour bathed the already russet leaves of the stand of oaks around this home. This photo is the way I shot it, with no tweaking needed.

Whether alone or in a crowd, it always pays for a photographer to look the other way.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Winter is waiting in the wings

When November wanes.

Like the last sliver of the moon, November is waning. December is upon us as if we needed a reminder.

After our crazy hot and dry summer and warm and pleasant October, November serves as a buffer between those golden memories and the chilly days ahead. She is readying us for whatever winter brings.

November likes to use her weather arsenal at every opportunity. The recent early blasts of cold weather have already been a one-two punch signaling that winter will soon officially be here.

November clearly understands her convoluted purpose. I recall summer-like weather early in the eleventh month. I sweated on a modest hike in a nearby state park.

Silver Lake, Dayton, Virginia, lived up to its name in November.

A few days later, I was photographing horses romping in the snow. November loves to tease us that way intermittently.

I have fond memories of family Thanksgiving gatherings where the football team of cousins played outside after we stuffed ourselves. I’m sure our parents gladly traded the precious peace for grass-stained blue jeans. Then again, I recall scurrying our young son and daughter from the car to the safety of grandma and grandpa’s farmhouse to avoid cold, stinging raindrops.

Weather, of course, isn’t the only transition from fall’s fairer days to winter’s worst. Every avenue of communication assaults us with seasonal offerings.

TV commercials full of holiday cheer and gift suggestions have aired for weeks. Radio stations blend in secular Christmas songs with hip-hop.

Don’t even get me started on the mail. Sales flyers, myriads of requests for year-end donations, and open enrollment options for us Medicare folks fill our mailboxes. Social media ads and email blasts join the sales conspiracies.

Every time my wife and I head out, we notice more Christmas trees set up in homes along our various routes. A few folks have even jumped the season and decorated their outdoor trees and shrubs with holiday lights. Stringing them up in fair weather is one thing. Turning them on well before Christmas is another.

My energetic wife has joined the efforts. Our battery-operated candles already adorn the windows of our modest ranch home.

November’s gradual trend towards crisp, cold air clears the atmosphere, allowing the stars, planets, and constellations to sparkle. Of course, you have to bundle up to enjoy the celestial show, but it is more than worth it.

I’ve had my birdfeeders up for weeks now, and I am still waiting on that first rarity. Until the purple finches, pine siskins, or evening grosbeaks appear, I’m content with the regulars, but not the pesky, intruding squirrels.

I still enjoy the house finches, Carolina wrens, blue jays, white-breasted nuthatches, Carolina chickadees, tufted titmice, and pairs of northern cardinals. I do keep a sharp eye out for a few stray cats that aim for a carryout feathered meal.

A small flock of American robins recently began to start each day at the heated backyard birdbaths. With the steam rising from the warmed water into the cold air, all the splashing resembles an avian spa.

Soon we will flip the wall calendar to its last page. We’ll scramble to find the 2022 calendars that we bought or that arrived in one of those large manilla fundraising envelopes.

As much as I love the rebirth of spring, the warm days of summer, and October’s many golden hours, I accept November’s transitional role. Dormancy is a necessary part of life.

As an Amish farmer friend of mine recently told me, “Winter is waiting in the wings.” Indeed it is.

The sun sets on November.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Happy Thanksgiving!

From my family to yours.

Beneath the russet oaks and the bright blue sky in the Shenandoah Valley, Happy Thanksgiving to one and all.

I am grateful for those who faithfully follow this blog from around the globe. I especially appreciate your kind comments and continued readership.

Blessings to each of you as we celebrate Thanksgiving in the U.S.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

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