Category Archives: rural life

Plan ahead for rest and relaxation

Iconic summer scene in Ohio’s Amish country.

When we lived in Ohio’s Amish country, Sunday was a day of rest. It was a biblical concept that was actually put into practice.

Our house was built on an Amish farmstead. Few in our neighborhood mowed their lawns, washed their cars, or worked in their gardens. There were six other days of the week to do those tasks.

I wasn’t raised that way. Growing up, I knew nothing of Amish and Mennonite ways. Sunday was a day for worship and rest, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t wash and wax my car. I didn’t consider that activity to be work at all. In fact, I found cleaning my vehicle relaxing.

My Mennonite farm girl wife adhered to the Sunday day of rest tradition. I quickly swung to her custom of keeping the Sabbath after our marriage all those years ago. Sunday was church day and frequently involved hosting or visiting with others.

I haven’t looked back, and I haven’t been sorry.

Since we moved to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, those quiet Sundays aren’t so quiet anymore. By most standards, our neighborhood of family homes is somewhat subdued. However, the sound of lawnmowers, power washers, and weed eaters echo from street to street any day of the week, including Sundays. We clearly are not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.

Never on Sunday.

Still, several of our neighbors join Neva and me in holding to our principles. We mean no disrespect or ill will towards those who feel free to do yard work or some other Sunday chore. After all, working in the yard, garden, or flowerbeds can be therapeutic and therefore relaxing. Hiking, fishing, swimming, and other outdoor activities are equally satisfying.

It is vital that people who hold either view respect those who believe differently. It’s the only way we can successfully coexist as friends, neighbors, and viable society. In fact, others observe Sabbath on different days of the week.

That fact became clear to me while planning for our spring trip to New England. I have learned to plan ahead to avoid the stress of any kind of deadline, writing, or otherwise. That is a significant admission from a professional procrastinator. I sense great joy and accomplishment in getting things done correctly ahead of time.

I had several articles due to various publications for which I write around the time we were scheduled to leave. I made it a goal to complete them as thoroughly as possible before their due dates.

Doing so delayed much of the planning for the New England trip. Consequently, I had only done cursory research on places to visit.

Glen Ellis Falls, Jackson, NH was just one of many recommendations to visit that friends made to us.

Friends who had previously visited or lived in New England had given us excellent tips. I used those as the prologue to our itinerary. I scoured tourism websites, birding hot spot recommendations, perused multiple maps, both online and the physical hold-in-your-hand fold up kind.

Finally, I came to the realization that I only needed to compile an outline itinerary. The day-to-day details would unfold according to the notoriously wet and cool spring New England weather. We packed so we could dress in layers as the weather changed. We only set reservations for a few hotels and guided tours. We used the travel list of attractions as a guide, not an absolute must.

I felt immediate relief. It was 18 hours before we intended to leave, and everything was ready to roll. In my relaxed state, I realized just how important that was to me mentally and physically.

It felt like Sabbath Sunday, but only it was Thursday afternoon.

The view from the Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Filed under Amish, column, friends, human interest, nature photography, Ohio, Ohio's Amish country, photography, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, travel, Virginia, weather, writing

The fly fisherman


While exploring some rock formations just inside the Tennessee state line south of Damascus, Virginia, I came across this gentlemen casting his line in hopes of luring a rainbow trout. He was kind enough to let me take his photo despite the fact that his fishing expedition had been “slow” as he described it matter-of-factly.

The afternoon light highlighted this fly fisherman as he made another cast, ever the eternal optimist. “The fly fisherman” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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

Half empty and half full’s juncture

An iconic mid-summer scene in Ohio’s Amish country.

It’s July, and you know what that means. We are already halfway through the year. How can that be?

It seems like only yesterday that it was cold and rainy, and folks from Florida to Ontario were all tired of wearing winter jackets. But here we are at the beginning of July, the year half spent like a jar half full, or is it half empty?

I suppose the answer is a matter of personal perspective. Given all that has happened in 2019 so far, I could respond either way. It’s been that kind of year.

Sometimes life is a question mark.

The half emptiness comes from the loss of long-time friends, people who lived productive, generous lives of service. They meant so much to not only me but to so many others that they also touched so tenderly. Others who have passed on were much too young. Their deaths caused heavy, burdensome grief, and raised imploring questions and inquiries of the Almighty about life’s fairness.

The unruly weather caused miseries more disastrous than prolonged cold spells. Extensive record flooding indiscriminately inundated homes, businesses, fields, and overflowed the largest lakes.

Ohioans came to the aid of their waterlogged Nebraska compatriots. Weeks later, it would be the Buckeyes who watched and waited for their fields to drain. Crops that managed to be planted risked rotting in the soggy soil. Other ground may simply go fallow.

My wife and I have found that the half-fullness overflows with bounteous joys of exploring new places, meeting new people, having others reach out in friendly ways. To say we are grateful would be insufficient in expressing our appreciation for what life in the first half of 2019 has brought us.

In mid-January, a sun pillar brightened the already gorgeous sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean outside our snowbird rental. The ever-changing scene served as a reminder to breathe deeply and to embrace each moment as 2019 unfolded.

After a light late February snow, the sun strained through trailing clouds and turned the rolling Shenandoah Valley landscapes into a spectacular sparkling winter wonderland.

A pastel March sunset bid us farewell as we said our last goodbyes to the family cottage in Ohio. Generations of family and friends helped fulfill the dreams that my folks had had for their quaint lakeside-gathering place. But as that chilly sunset waned, we shed tears of gratitude and appreciation for the memories made and wished the new owners the very same.

Each spring, I had enjoyed the showy lavender blooms of redbud trees that adorned still barren forests and neighborhood landscapes. However, I had never noticed how each individual blossom so closely resembled tiny hummingbirds on the wing until a kind neighbor showed me in April.

A state bridge engineer directed us to a cascading waterfall we would have surely missed had we stayed on the main highway. In the quintessential New England town of Jackson, New Hampshire, Jackson Falls became one of the many highlights of our May vacation.

The same kind neighbor who pointed out the redbud hummingbirds brought over a couple of puffy pastries she had made using the sour cherries she had recently picked. Her tasty treats made this June day even better than it already was.

You likely have a comparable list. What challenges and surprise blessings are in store for us the rest of 2019? We really don’t know.

Like July is to the calendar, we encounter life’s happenstance experiences at the juncture of our half empty and half fullness. Our job is to be alert to explore and savor those serendipitous, joyous moments.

An end of June sunset marks a fitting demarkation for any year.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Filed under Amish, family, friends, human interest, nature photography, Ohio, Ohio's Amish country, photography, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, travel, weather, writing

June’s Strawberry Moon


Clouds hung low over the Blue Ridge Mountains dimming my hope of photographing June’s Strawberry Full Moon as it rose over Shenandoah National Park. A break in the clouds appeared as the moon rose about 30 degrees in the eastern sky. I turned my attention to other options. A farmer’s cornfield was nearby. I leaned against my vehicle and captured this hand-held shot of the moon, cornstalk leaves providing a contrasting foreground in place of old-aged mountains.

It wasn’t the shot that I had hoped for, but it is the one that I got. “June’s Strawberry Moon” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Sensing a bit of home wherever we go

Catskill farmstead.


My wife and I enjoy traveling.

Planning for travel sometimes takes longer than the trips themselves. We prioritize the places we want to see, activities we want to do, and connect with any friends we can visit along the way.

We leave plenty of room for flexibility. Spontaneity spices up every trip. We also try to include some downtime, opportunity to recharge and reflect. As much as we travel, I never know when and how that time will arrive.

For me, travel is a multi-task opportunity. I bird, photograph, explore, meet the locals, and record the highlights. Occasionally, like on this trip, bad weather interferes with the plans we have made. We adjust accordingly.

Steady rain and low-hanging clouds obscured the mountains around us, which kept me inside. We were in New York’s Catskill Mountains, where we caught up to spring’s emergence. Coltsfoot and lady slippers bloomed.

I birded by window watching. Five deer emerged from the newly leafing trees to graze in the grassy meadow that served as a yard around the house that we had rented. A pair of common yellow-throated warblers fed and frolicked in the dampened branches of a nearby bush.

This was so much like home, both our former Ohio home and our newer home in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Together the mountains, forests, rushing streams from too much spring rain, and the wildlife made it feel like home.

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Yet, it wasn’t home, either Ohio or Virginia. We were transients, merely passing through, seeing the sights, and taking in the grandeur of the fabled Catskills.

That afternoon, my wife and I drove around the countryside despite the dreariness and the constant rain. No cell signal rendered our GPS useless. The perpetually winding roads hugged the bases of the mountains like a child clinging to his mother’s apron. Steep wooded hillsides on one side, roiling waters raced over boulders on the other. In the summer, these would be braided streams, more rocks than water.

With the low clouds, the mountains all scrunched in around us, a myriad of curves on the rural roads. Road signs, either numbered or named, were few and far between. Priding myself on knowing directions, I had lost my bearings.

We stopped at the local post office for directions to our desired destination. Just then, a customer arrived and told us to go to the stop sign and turn right. The way he pointed and his casualness about turning at the stop sign renewed my hope. Reality set in. The stop sign was five miles away. I made the right-hand turn, and I regained my orientation.

In Holmes County, Ohio, we had rolling hills, and expansive woodlots, abundant agriculture, valleys carved by old-aged streams, and helpful people. The same was valid for Virginia, only mountains east and west dwarfed the valley hills and farmlands. In the Catskills, farmland is confined to hillside and floodplain pastures. Gardeners erect six-foot high messed wire fences in small truck patches to abate the deer.

One particular quirk became obvious. Everywhere we went scores of roadside, no trespassing signs warned people to stay away. Apparently, property owners and hunting and fishing clubs control access not only to the land but also the water flowing through. Places for public access to the alluring trout streams were far and few between.

The legalistic signs unsettled me and softened my comparison to the mores of our former and current home. However, they in no way spoiled our appreciation for all the natural beauty and genuine human kindness we encountered along the way.

Despite the dreary, wet weather, we felt right at home with scenes like this.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Filed under birding, birds, column, history, human interest, nature photography, Ohio, Ohio's Amish country, photography, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, travel, Virginia, weather, writing

Weathered barn


Thanks to the elements, this weathered barn is a work of art.

“Weathered barn” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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

April’s inconsistent, variable weather

weather, April, Holmes Co. OH, Ohio's Amish Country

Just another snowy, grey day in April in Ohio’s Amish country.

Compared to other months of the year, April is erratic when it comes to weather.

It’s not that the rest of the months don’t produce variable atmospheric conditions. They do, just not as consistently as April’s predictably unpredictable weather.

Our latest 10-day forecast was proof of that: Sunny, blue skies and 70-degree temperatures one day, and low 20s and snow flurries by week’s end. I’ll keep my birdbath heater going for a while.

That conjecture accurately describes April’s extremes. April uses her versatile weather wand to divulge her bipolar meteorological attributes.

In 30 days, the fourth month throws everything it has at us. Snow, sleet, glorious sunshine, pelting rain, lightning, tornadoes, flooding streams all are April possibilities, though not certainties.

Often the host for both Easter and Passover, April’s assortment of weather takes no holidays. Recall the twin tornadoes of Palm Sunday in April 1965? Do you remember the 20 inches of snow in early April three decades ago?

Silver Lake Dayton VA, Silver Lake Mill, mild weather

A puffy, white-cloud day in mid-April in Virginia.

When April arrives, we all are more than ready for spring. That is especially true after this extended winter season that ranged far beyond its usual territory.

April’s weather plays games with us, teases us, infuriates us, and beguiles us to the point of hopelessness. Nearly at the breaking point, we relent and grudgingly accept whatever she has to offer. Do we have a choice?

A conciliatory attitude allows us to engage all of our senses into whatever the weather and activities are at hand. It enables us to pause long enough to enjoy the brilliance of forsythia’s yellows before the greening leaves override them.

I watched an American robin mightily tug at the remnants of last year’s plant residue, lying spent and browned in the flowerbed from winter’s bitter harshness. The robin pulled the lifeless strands taut.

I turned away for a second, looked back, and both the robin and the ideal nesting material were gone. Had I witnessed the natural lifecycle in action, the very hope of spring?

tulips, spring flowers

Red, yellow, and green.

The increasing daylight combines with the warming earth and nourishing moistures to create rapidly changing landscapes. Rembrandt meets Van Gogh.

Deadened lawns seemingly turn dull green to emerald overnight. A heavy frost or soaking rain kills the temptation to even out the irregular grassy clumps posing as a front yard. First, however, winter’s gales and unwelcomed snows require leaf and limb removal before any lawn trimming.

The first dandelions compete with trumpeting daffodils while the last of the crocuses yield to showy tulips. Honeybees celebrate wildly at the cherry blossoms’ coming out parties. They even gorged on the crimson buds of red maples. The little creatures are a welcome sight and the constant humming a glorious symphony, especially given their recent biological life struggles.

Avid birders actually embrace April’s changeable weather. They know strong cold fronts bring more than severe storms or blinding snow squalls. Shorebirds, songbirds, and birds of prey are all on their various lists of birds to check off. They’ll brave April’s worst weather to chase a rare bird.

The good news is that April’s cold, wet weather won’t last long. That’s in keeping with its role as a transition month from winter’s dormant dullness to spring’s brimming vibrancy.

I’m always glad when April rolls around. From month’s beginning to end, she offers up a sampling of weather that’s sure to both please and disappoint most everyone. The challenge is to make the most of whatever comes our way.

Ohio's Amish country scene, Amish farms

Hopefully by month’s end, pastures will have greened up, fruit trees will be in full bloom, and farmers can once again till the earth.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Filed under Amish, birding, column, human interest, nature photography, Ohio, Ohio's Amish country, photography, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, weather, writing

In honor of a long life well-lived and served

Dr. Paul Roth, dedicated service

Paul Roth, his wife Caroll, and daughter Linda, knotting a comforter in 2010 at Millersburg (OH) Mennonite Church.

Paul Roth was the most powerful man I ever knew. He was also the most humble.

Paul Roth died recently after a long life well lived. He was 91.

Paul viewed and lived life through very different lenses than most other mortals. Humility, kindness, compassion, service, patience, hospitality, and generosity towards others bestowed that power that he never misused or even acknowledged. Control and manipulation were never goals to which he aspired.

Devoted Christian that he was, Paul forsook attention to himself. He forewent pleasures and luxuries he rightly earned through his hard work and position as an admired and gentle physician. Instead, he always focused equally on the needs of others, family, friends, and strangers alike.

It was that strange duo of power and humility that made Paul Roth most admired and appreciated. Through compassionate service to others, his community, and his church he became one of the most respected individuals I ever knew.

Paul understood both the purpose and value of life. Giving to others gave him joy, inspiration, courage, wisdom, and personal satisfaction. That was all the reward he needed. If anyone indeed denied himself, took up his cross, and followed where the spirit led, it surely was Paul Roth.

He ventured from farm to college to med school to serving in Puerto Rico, Killbuck, Ohio, Haiti, Honduras, and many other places helping generations of appreciative folks over decades. He found joy in doing the most menial of jobs, like cutting rags for hours on end at Save and Serve Thrift Shop in Millersburg, Ohio.

family doctor, birth of a son

When Dr. Paul Roth delivered our son, he held Nathan up by the legs and proclaimed, “She’s a boy!”

Because he did all of these things for others, Paul Roth was a highly revered man by those he served with compassion, dignity, self-worth, and genuine Christian love. He was a real peacemaker, always on the lookout for common ground, respect for all persons and living things great and small.

Paul understood that taking action was a life-giving, daily practice. He salvaged discarded wood and transformed it into works of art or toys for grandkids and gifts for friends. Paul listened to his patients when no one else would. He knotted comforters simply because someone needed to do it.

Paul would not want any of this attention or these accolades. Focusing on self ran counter to his servanthood culture. But when one who put his faith into action his entire life dies, there is no shame, no harm in honoring him and the good life he lived.

At his memorial service, a granddaughter shared how she loved to go down to the garden with Paul to plant, weed, and pick the fruits of their labor. Since the garden was near the highway that connected Killbuck and Millersburg, she was impressed with how many cars honked their horns as they passed. That’s the way friends and patients recognized their favorite doctor. She said Paul always tried to wave back.

Another attendee at the service privately noted that the waving wasn’t so much for the drivers as it was for his granddaughter. Even in that familiar gesture, he modeled the importance of gratitude. Indeed, Paul was also the most grateful person I knew.

The Roths, however, were not immune to life’s perils. Paul and his ever-devoted wife Caroll knew too much sadness in their lives. A fire destroyed their home at Christmas 1978. They lost their son Steve to cancer at age 25. Their daughter Jenny, adopted from Korea as a toddler, died of an aneurysm at age 47.

Yes, they knew heartache and grief, too, but Paul and Caroll persevered, continued serving, giving of their time, talents, and hospitality whenever, wherever, however they could. It was as if tragedy had made them even more loving.

The respect and admiration for Paul stretch across many cultures, languages, social standings, and ethnicities. He was an equal opportunity servant. Shoot. He even made house calls.

Paul was also a person to imitate in how to live a productive and peaceful life in service to others, all done out of the universal love for his God, his family, and his community.

That, praise be, is Paul Roth’s lasting, golden-rule legacy.

Dr. Paul Roth, Killbuck OH, Holmes Co. OH

This photo was taken when my wife and I visited Caroll and Paul Roth last July.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Impressionistic sunset

impressionism, Allegheny Mountains, sunset
My goal was to capture the vernal equinox sunset. Instead, I came away with a shot that resembled a Claude Monet landscape.

I positioned myself on a hill in northwest Harrisonburg, Virginia in hopes of getting photos of the Super Full Worm Moon rising over the Massanutten Mountains that run north to south in the middle of the Shenandoah Valley. Unfortunately, a layer of rain clouds blocked that attempt. With that foiled, I turned my attention to the setting sun on the first day of spring.

Hazy clouds filled the western horizon as well, though the sun did its best to burn through. Residue smoke from controlled burns in the Jefferson National Forest during the day fuzzed up the view all the more. Sunsets around the equinoxes are the shortest of the year. This one merely melted away behind the blue, blue folds of the Allegheny Mountains.

“Impressionistic sunset” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Beautiful view, horrific history

Shenandoah NP, New Hope VA
The one thing that constantly amazes me is how much I learn by taking photos. And often what I learn has more to do with the setting than photography itself. This photo is the perfect example.

Anyone would be happy to take this shot. I certainly was. The late afternoon light was perfect shining on the Blue Ridge Mountains, highlighting the ice-encrusted trees along the undulating summit. This is the southern section of Shenandoah National Park.

I noticed a historical plaque close to where I had stopped to get the shot. So I pulled up to read what the plate said. I was stunned. Here among all these rolling farm fields against the backdrop of the mesmerizing Blue Ridge Mountains a bloody, decisive Civil War battle had been fought. Known as the Battle of Piedmont, Union soldiers defeated Confederate troops. This led to the fall of Staunton and control of the railways in the Shenandoah Valley, known as the Breadbasket of Confederacy.

The combat was costly on both sides. The Union suffered 800 casualties and the South nearly twice as many with 1,500. I wondered if passersby knew of the blood spilled all those decades ago. What did the farmers think as they plowed those fields?

I took the photo with mixed emotions. The scenery was marvelous, the history humbling. Without the marker, this would be just another beautiful rural scene. In reality, it is so much more than that.

“Beautiful view, horrific history” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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