Category Archives: rural life

Aviary Sunbathing

Shenandoah Valley, Rockingham Co.

Absorbing the sun.

At first sight, I wasn’t sure what was under the blazing maple tree. From a quarter of a mile away, I couldn’t tell if the figure was a person or a bird.

Fortunately, I found a route that paralleled the scene and drove slowly down the narrow country road. I clicked a shot with my zoom lens fully extended. A quick review of the picture confirmed my suspicions. I had captured a Great Blue Heron basking in the warmth of the late afternoon sun. But why at this exact spot? Was there water nearby?

I pulled my vehicle forward and found the answers to my questions. A small stream, which I later learned was Cub Run, meandered behind and below the bird and alongside a set of railroad tracks. This gorgeous bird couldn’t have picked a more lovely spot to absorb the welcomed sunrays.

“Aviary Sunbathing” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under birding, birds, human interest, nature photography, Photo of the Week, photography, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, weather

The Embalming House

McGaheysville VA, Rockingham Co. VA, Halloween

The Embalming House.

With Halloween season in full swing and the day itself less than a week away, I wanted to join the fun. As we continue to explore our new Virginia haunts (pun intended), we keep encountering fantastic scenery and intriguing architecture all across Rockingham Co.

On our latest exploration, we visited the burg of McGaheysville (pronounced MaGakiesville) southeast of Harrisonburg. We found a cute little shop, some Civil War era farm homes and a doctor’s office/residence combination. A historical placard indicated that the building across the road from the doctor’s place was the embalming house. I thought that was both convenient and a subtle inference of the former physician’s medical prowess.

“The Embalming House” wasn’t much to look at, but it was more than appropriate for my Halloween Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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

Nature’s Elements

Paul State Forest, Rockingham Co. VA

Rain drops and sun rays.

If I have learned one thing in my seven decades on this marvelous planet of ours, it is to go with the flow. When I left the house, pleasant temperatures and partly cloudy skies ruled the sky. I intended to drive 10 miles to Paul State Forest near the crossroads known locally as Ottobine. I planned on walking the trails of this 172-acre gem of a woods to look for birds.

I packed my binoculars, birding hat and vest, and of course my travel camera, a Canon PowerShot SX530 HS. The camera is light, easy to use, and takes excellent shots, as long as sufficient light is available. I also had my iPhone along for safety sake. You never know when an old guy like me will need to make an emergency call.

Not far from the forest, the roadway showed signs of recent rain. Indeed, the clouds that hung close to the Appalachian Mountains to the near west looked ominous. With the early evening sun occasionally peeping through, they also looked gorgeous. The billowing thunderheads showed every shade of gray. Sun rays streamed through breaks in the building cumulous clouds, creating a stunning rural scene.

When I reached the small parking lot of the forest, the bucolic view towards the mountains was surreal. I turned my attention to shooting the unfolding and rapidly changing scene. The valley played open to the west, giving me an excellent view. I snapped away with both my camera and phone. Satisfied with the shots, I returned to my original goal of walking the woods in search of any migrating birds settling in for the night.

I had only walked a short distance when the heavens opened up. I returned to my vehicle, contented with the pastoral scene of clouds, rain, and sun rays. The birds would have to wait for another day.

“Nature’s Elements.” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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

Is October the best month?

Maryland Mountain, fall color

Changing leaves.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Everybody has favorites. From favorite ice cream to a favorite sports team, we humans tend to quantify and qualify most everything.

Months of the year are no different. I’m as guilty as the next person in this category. October is far and away my favored month.

I’m likely not alone in stating the primary reason for liking October so much. The ever-changing color schemes fascinate me. Living all of my life in areas where mixed hardwoods warm the landscape with vivid, fiery colors makes that choice easy.

I hope I never take that annual beautification for granted. That’s because no two autumns are alike. So many factors go into just how colorful the trees will be. Half the fun is anticipating the intensity of the leafy rainbows.

We wonder what effect the persistent wet weather of the summer will have on the colors. Will they be bright or will they be dull? Will the leaves even last long enough to fully color, or will they succumb to gravity’s inevitable tug and prematurely tumble to the ground?

I know that may sound like a silly question. But my wife and I have already noticed that the leaves of the red maples in our yard in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley began falling days ago. Last year they hung on red and green until well after Halloween.

Holmes Co. OH, autumn leaves, sugar maple

Changing colors.

If we pay close attention, nature sometimes offers us a sneak preview. Certain sections of particular trees begin to turn long before the rest of their foliage. Sugar maples are especially prone to this phenomenon. Could it be the compounding effect of the day after day absorption of the sun’s intense first rays during September and October mornings?

Trees aren’t the only canvas on which nature paints though. Fall also displays her colors among the agricultural harvest in the waning days and weeks of the growing season. The warm hues of gourd and squash varieties rule produce stands and supermarkets everywhere.

Those yellows, oranges, and crimsons contrast nicely with their hosts’ rich greens. Mums and sunflowers testify to the validity of these facts, too. The array of fruits and vegetables available also join the splashy seasonal show.

Restaurant menus highlight the food of fall with autumn entrees and beverage offerings alike. However, I’ve not joined the pumpkin-spice-flavored-everything club. I’m happy with my wife’s homemade gluten-free apple crisp washed down with a glass of delicious and locally produced apple cider.

Milder and less humid air is a welcome change from the steady heat and humidity that filled summer and early autumn days, especially here in Virginia. As I have unfortunately discovered in my first year of living in the Commonwealth, invisible pollen particles fill the air awakening allergies I didn’t know I had. So for selfish reasons, I look forward to the first killing frost.

I realize that the end to the growing season means we are closer to the cold and dark of winter days. But the earth still turns on its axis and rotates around the sun. Without winter there can be no spring.

Perhaps I am too taken with the overall aura of October itself. Our North American society has made October a festive month with one community celebration after the other. Consequently, food truck operators work overtime to meet all the demands for their tasty treats.

All in all, October is fall’s time to shine. With the harvest in full swing, October is a celebratory time. For me, that is excuse enough to elevate the tenth month above its jealous siblings.

Corn shocks at sunset.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under food photography, human interest, nature photography, photography, rural life, weather, writing

How a pair of leaky boots sent me back in time

flooding, river in my bakcyard

A river ran through it.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Memories often materialize in the most unusual of circumstances.

It was early June, and we had endured rainstorm after rainstorm. At times, the rain pelted down at the rate of two inches an hour.

When you live between two mountain ranges and groundwater has already saturated the sticky, red-clay soil, that much precipitation spells trouble. And trouble found lots of folks throughout the picturesque Shenandoah Valley.

High water flooded roadways, keeping fire departments and rescue squads busy with multiple water rescues. It was still pouring when a river of muddy water rushed through our backyard.

I decided to check the five-foot crawl space beneath our ranch home. I slipped on my old black gumboots and jumped into eight inches of water. Instantly, cold, yucky water surrounded my right foot. The combination of old age and wear and tear had finally taken their toll on my versatile rubber boots.

I was grateful a local plumber was gracious enough to bail us out despite being swamped with other calls. Everything beneath our home seemed to have weathered the storm except my precious boots.

rubber boots, gumboots

My old friends.

Gumboots are knee-high footwear made of rubber and fabric designed for all kinds of outdoor activities. Those boots and I went way back. They had served me well in a variety of conditions over several years.

I remember where I bought them nearly three decades ago at a now-defunct shoe store in Mt. Hope, Ohio. I wore the boots often in many different situations. I had depended on them time and again, often in dire instances.

When a storm hit, I put them on to check my roads as a township trustee. I can’t tell you how many flooded streets and ditches I waded through wearing those boots. I traipsed through many snowstorms with them, too.

Once after a big snow, I spied a grizzled old opossum munching birdseed from a feeder that sat atop a picnic table in our backyard. On went my coveralls and those gumboots. I intended to shoo off the unwanted mammal. As I opened the door, our pet rat terrier Bill shot out the door ahead of me.

Charm OH, Ohio in winter, ice cycles

Scene of the rescue.

Bill’s fearless instincts immediately kicked in when he spotted the opossum. The little dog circled the unimpressed marsupial once, and on his second pass, Bill leaped for the much larger animal’s tail. The opossum hit the ground with a thud, dead on arrival.

Those boots even helped me as a volunteer firefighter and EMT. On one run, I found myself standing in the shallows of a stream holding up an elderly victim who had fallen into the rushing creek. I still remember the fire chief’s surprised expression when he saw me in the water with those black boots.

Another time, on an early subzero February morning, I spotted our Amish neighbor heading across frozen farm fields toward our house. Levi was delivering the promised fertilizer for our garden. Steam shimmered in the morning light as it rose from the hardworking draft horses and the load of manure they were pulling in the spreader.

By the time I dressed and pulled on my gumboots, I was too late. Levi and his pitchfork had already deposited a still-steaming pile of manure onto the garden plot. Standing in that frigid, fragrant morning air, I asked him how much I owed for the delivery. Levi just smiled and said wryly, “Nothing. I don’t have anything in it.”

Like I said, sometimes the strangest circumstances stir the fondest memories.

Ohio's Amish country, winter, Holmes Co. OH

Our Ohio backyard winter scene.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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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

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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