Welcome to Autumn!

Welcome to autumn for those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere. Today is the Autumnal Equinox, where summer rolls into fall without much autumnal fanfare.

I took this photo during a partial solar eclipse. I was standing atop a hill near Charm, Ohio, in the heart of Ohio’s Amish country in late October 2014. The eclipse occurred close to sunset, which created an eerie glow in the air. If you click on the photo to get a closer look, you can see that the sun’s rays made tiny rainbows in the hundreds of spider webs blown straight out from the barbed wire fence by a strong westerly wind. The coloration of the leaves in the background accentuate the fact that fall had indeed arrived.

“Welcome to Autumn!” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Never Give Up on Hope

The first rain after weeks of drought in the Shenandoah Valley. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh.

I remember standing on our back porch watching an approaching thunderstorm. It was the middle of July 1988, and we hadn’t had any substantial rain for weeks. Ohio and adjoining states were in a severe drought.

Temperatures were consistently in the 90s, sometimes reaching 100. The humidity was oppressive, yet we had no rain.

I stood there watching the lighting in the west, hoping that the rain would reach us. But it wasn’t to be. The storm fizzled out that night, and my heart sank.

A storm that fizzled.

That exact scenario occurred here in the Shenandoah Valley this summer. June turned warm and dry after a chilly, wet spring, and July followed the same pattern. Even if it did cool down for a few days, no rain came.

Crops withered. Lush cornfields turned ugly with curled, stunted, sickly-looking cornstalks. Farmers reported small ears of corn or none at all. The times seemed desperate, hopeless even.

And then there is the awful wildfire situation out west and in some Canadian provinces. Millions of acres of land have been burned, along with hundreds of buildings that included two entire small towns. The resultant injuries and deaths only added to the catastrophe.

In these trying times, it’s easy to give up hope. People are at their wit’s ends. Emotions and frustrations can run as high as the hot temperatures.

Instead, what I have observed here is farmers making the best of a bad situation. They made fodder out of the cornstalks while some green remained. Farmers harvested the outer edges of cornfields and sometimes entire fields of standing corn, chopped it, and filled their silos for livestock feed.

A withered cornfield in the Shenandoah Valley.

What they will do for field corn remains to be seen. But from my lifetime of observations, hope is a necessary prerequisite for farming.

The dictionary defines hope as a feeling of expectation and a desire for a sure thing to happen. In other words, hope points to the future, not the past.

Hope puts us all in the present moment, observing, touching, participating, listening, learning from all around us. We absorb it all and look to tomorrow, hopeful that the life we are experiencing will improve no matter our situation.

Just like I had anticipated rain that Ohio night long ago and was disappointed, I continued to hope. Ironically, a few days later, the rains arrived in torrents.

We had over six inches in less than two hours, and flash floods ensued. In that space of time, we went from no water to too much too soon.

And just like those former Ohio days, a similar pattern happened here in Virginia this summer. It didn’t rain for weeks, and then the heavens opened up multiple times in a few days. Later came the remnants of Hurricane Ida, and we had even more rain.

For some of the crops, it was too late. Late ripening varieties drank up the moisture. Lawns went from crunchy brown to lush green. A few brown spots still linger, but hope and patience won out.

Perhaps there is a lesson here for all of us. We must hang on to hope. Hope keeps us going. Hope inspires us to focus on the future while still acknowledging our current situation, whatever that may be.

Just when you think you are at the breaking point, hope will come. Much like the rain, hope will find a way for you. Though we cannot see it on the horizon, the rain will eventually arrive, filling our hope to overflowing.

As summer yields to autumn, hope shines forth regardless of the weather.

No matter what comes your way.
There is hope on the horizon.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

September Is a Moody Month

Enjoy what comes your way

A hazy sunrise in Ohio’s Amish country.

September is underway, and she has already walked on the wild side. Hot, steamy days evolved into torrential rains and flooding, mainly thanks to the remnants of Hurricane Ida.

Cool, refreshing days immediately followed. Bright morning sunshine sparkled dew-laden lawns. Blue skies filled the day from sunrise to sunset.

The cooler evenings made for pleasant sleeping. For that reason alone, September is a favorite month for many folks. I’m a card-carrying member of that crowd.

I will confess, however, that I didn’t fully appreciate September’s many personality traits until I retired from my education career. Sure, I enjoyed the pleasantries that September offered. But I did not truly comprehend the many moods of her 30-day span.

As a youngster, September meant school, and that garnered most of my attention. It wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate the month. I just wanted to enjoy the pleasant evenings by playing after school. Homework? What homework?

I was too preoccupied during my college years to embrace September’s temperaments fully. Working full-time during the day and attending night school for two years left little leisure time. Then, it was all campus life once I became a “real” student.

After graduating, my educational career demanded my utmost attention as the school year unfolded in September. Still, I managed to roam the hills and dales of Holmes County, Ohio if only to get acquainted with my new surroundings.

Now, decades later, I am replicating that experience by exploring the Shenandoah Valley. September’s fairer weather spurs day trips to historical locales up and down the valley and into its adjoining alluring mountains.

It’s one of the blessings of being fully retired. You truly get to enjoy each day without the pressures of study or labor. September and retirees seem made for one another.

September isn’t always gracious, of course. As already noted, the damaging, drenching, and deadly consequences of Ida bear witness. Fortunately, September’s blissful days usually outnumber her unruly ones.

September serves as a monthly measuring stick. Her moods lull us while she melds summer into autumn in the northern hemisphere. The autumnal equinox occurs on September 22 at 3:20 p.m.

To fully appreciate all that September offers, it’s best to rise early. Fog-shrouded sunrises spread sunbeams across the morning sky. Like the dawn, those scenes fade quickly.

Long before that, however, September always gives us hints of things to come. The first frost, changing leaves, golden mums, plump pumpkins, and flocks of migrating birds all weave their way into September’s algorithms.

My morning walks in Holmes County verified that fact. Overnight fog dappled the landscape opaque, with millions of dewdrops revealing the once invisible spider webs intricate artistry.

Once emerald poison ivy vines blushed crimson capturing weather-worn fence posts like kudzu. Eastern bluebirds sat cooing in an already leafless walnut tree. Crunched by passing cars, trucks, and tractors, the tree’s tarry fruit stained black splotches on the rural road’s chip and seal surface.

I see similar signs of September’s power on my morning strolls here in Virginia. Vibrant succulents brim with luscious heads of pink flower heads. Pollinators squabble for their nourishing nectar.

Sensing fall’s onslaught, we humans pack artificial gatherings into our already busy days. However, street fairs, lawn parties, and backyard barbeques are no match for September’s natural wonders.

In these intermittent days that transform summer into fall, September allows us to catch our collective breath. As September days thrill us with her majestic magistery, our senses absorb her offerings.

Will we stay still enough to observe, hear and appreciate them? How we each respond to September’s opportunities reflects our joy.

A September evening in the Shenandoah Valley.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Hanging On!

This female American Goldfinch prepared to join the rest of the flock after feeding on these dried up Black-eyed Susan seedpods. The cluster of still-blooming Black-eyed Susans in the background gave depth to the photo. I was grateful that the bird hung on long enough for me to get this shot. As soon as I clicked the shutter, she flew.

“Hanging On!” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Summer Scene

Nothing says summer like children fishing on a sultry August morning. These three youngsters enjoyed a time away from farm chores to make a few casts into the pond in front of their home.

The boy reeled in his line quickly like he had caught something. A closer look (please click on the photo) shows that he has a wry smirk on his face, and for good reason. He caught a weed, which you can see flying at the end of his line.

“Summer Scene” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Starstruck at Heavenly Wonders

A mountaintop experience

The Milky Way and Perseid meteors. Photo by Michael Mancewicz on Unsplash.

When was the last time you went out and sat under the stars and just enjoyed the evening?

We used to do that as kids regularly. But as adults, not so much. Come 10 p.m. or sooner, it’s lights out for this baby boomer.

Of course, enjoying and appreciating life often occurs outside our comfort zones. When my wife and I received an invitation to view the Perseids meteor shower on its peak night, we couldn’t refuse.

Our friend Edgar asked us to accompany him to his mountaintop cabin to watch the meteoric show. We left early to take in all that nature had to offer on Shenandoah Mountain.

The 30-minute trip was worth the drive alone. We traveled U.S. 33 west through a forested tunnel of hardwoods and pines, crossing the Dry River multiple times as it winds its way down into the Shenandoah Valley.

With a moderate drought in full swing, the rocky riverbed indeed was dry. We passed parks and gated lanes into the George Washington National Forest and zigzagged our way up the mountain slope.

Before reaching the summit, we turned a hard right into the private road that led to Edgar’s cabin. He unlocked the gate, and we began our rock and roll ascent on the two-lane drive, one track for right tires and the other for the left.

Soon the incline smoothed to wave-like rolling. We stopped at Big Hill, Shenandoah Mountain’s summit. My GPS read precisely 3,800 feet in altitude.

I was surprised to find that much of the rounded old mountain top was a meadowland full of wildflowers and butterflies despite the lack of rain. The verdant views in every direction were hazy but still impressive.

The best was yet to come. After a light dinner in Edgar’s cabin, we talked the evening away. When our daughter sent a text that she had seen a meteor from the city’s high school parking lot, we hightailed it outside.

We didn’t stay long. Residue clouds from afternoon thunderstorms lingered over the mountain ridges.

We retreated inside to continue our enlightening conversation. Edgar related the cabin’s history and how his wife’s family had acquired the property and built the place. Once they became owners, Edgar and his late wife remodeled it. The view from the deck was incredible.

At 10:30, we turned out the lights and headed outside. The three of us sat in the sloping yard and looked northeast. We knew the peak time of the meteor shower was yet to come.

We hoped for some early meteors, and we weren’t disappointed. Our lively conversation quickly filled in the gaps between the intermittent flashes in the night sky.

Crickets and katydids waged a surround-sound insect symphony. Soon an out-of-tune screech owl grated their nocturnal harmony.

A singular cry interrupted the concert from the tree line that marked the Virginia/West Virginia boundary 30 yards to our west. Several meteors later, the bobcat bid farewell from much farther down the ridge.

Even if there had been no meteors, the night sky’s sparkling diamonds captivated us. The clouds had dissipated, and stars, planets, constellations, and the Milky Way served as our canopy. Both the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper shone brightly as the mountain coolness enwrapped us.

The meteors put on a splendid show for this trio of grandparents. Some streaked long and brilliant, others short and dull. Grateful for one last bright burst from the heavens, we headed home, full of grace and in awe of nature’s wonders.

My wife and I felt honored to be under the spell of the starry universe and Edgar’s gracious hospitality.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

The view to the east from the cabin as the setting sun reflected off of clouds.

Receiving the Light

Author and artist Christine Valters Paintners offers an enlightening viewpoint on photography. Instead of “taking” photos, we receive them. That concept puts photography and the photographer in an entirely different light. (Given this photograph, please excuse the pun.)

I embrace her idea. As I recalled how I merely happened upon this enchanting sunset scene, Christine’s words rang true for me. I didn’t do anything to “capture” this lovely setting. It was there for me to receive, and I am more than happy to share it with you.

“Receiving the Light” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Loving people who care for the environment

Conservation is important

A scarlet tanager sits atop a tree.

It was a double-your-pleasure moment.

We were all standing on the deck of the cabin when my wife spotted a bright red bird at the top of a tree 40 yards away. Through the binoculars, I quickly found the bird. Its jet black wings nicely contrasted with its radiant red body.

Upon hearing the description, the property owner was ecstatic. “I’ve been hoping the scarlet tanager would return,” he said with glee.

I got as much kick out of Rice’s reaction as I did seeing the distinctly marked bird. After all, this was a big, middle-aged man, not some youngster seeing this beauty for the first time.

I love it when people love nature. Their company becomes all the more enjoyable.

I shouldn’t have been surprised by our host’s excitement. My wife and I were there as guests to tour his expanse of property high on one of the seven hills of Glenmont in southwestern Holmes County, Ohio.

Our connection with this enthusiastic young man and his partner Liz goes back decades. My wife was Rice’s kindergarten teacher. We’ve known Liz since she was born and her baby boomer parents even longer.

When our children were children, they played together. We were as close as close friends can be. Neva and I felt privileged to explore this restored property that was all about conservation.

The scarlet tanager was only one of the highlights of our visit. Inside the cabin, an old property plat map hung framed on the wall. I’m a sucker for maps, and it called my name.

When I look at a map, one of the first things I do is find the legend. It tells me how to read the map. The descriptions of the property boundary markers caught my attention.

A large solid blue dot represented stone markers, which European settlers used when they claimed the land not long after Ohio became a state in 1803. Different icons identified more conventional boundary markers like standard iron pins.

Out on the large porch of the restored cabin, we spotted more than the scarlet tanager. Barn swallows swooped low over a trio of small ponds, skimming the water’s surface for a drink on the fly. A pair of young eastern bluebirds watched the show from perches on a dead ash tree. Painted turtles sunned themselves on an old snag angled into the water.

Sensing my intrigue, our hosts piled my wife and me into a Cadillac version of an all-terrain vehicle (ATV), and off we went to tour the rolling, mostly forested acreage. Of course, I wanted to find those unusual stone markers, too.

Our friends had cleared and maintained paths that wound up, down, and around the hilly landscape. We were in for a real treat.

We crossed a tree line in the ATV and spied a young buck with velvety spiked antlers. We stopped to view an open, rolling field planted explicitly with crops for the wildlife. Conservation is Rice’s practical goal.

As we continued over the undulating trails, our host pointed out trees he specified to be left by loggers who thinned the woods three years earlier. He walked with the loggers to ensure only the designated ones were cut.

High above the cabin, we came upon one of the old stone markers. It was too easy to find. A surveyor had recently spray-painted its top fluorescent red.

I appreciate people who care for the land. When they express their excitement openly at seeing the fruits of their labor, everyone is rewarded, including the wildlife.

Reflections of a painted turtle.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Living Up to its Name

The Dry River in Virginia’s Rockingham County really is dry. It isn’t always.

With heavy and persistent spring rains, the river often runs strong and bank full. When that happens, the river is not crossable. That’s because no bridge spans the waterway. Rather, a large cement slab has long been in place for vehicles to pass over the riverbed. “Road Closed” signs are posted when the water is running too high and fast over the concrete crossing. Appropriately, the road that runs across the river is named “Slab Road.”

Precipitation has been greatly lacking here in the Shenandoah Valley since early June. Consequently, the Dry River has been bone dry for quite a while.

“Living Up to its Name” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

August came early this year

The calendar didn’t change, but the weather sure did.

Wheat shocks glow in the evening sun in Holmes County, Ohio.

August came early this year. The calendar didn’t change, but the weather sure did.

The three H’s customarily associated with August, hot, humid, and hazy, have been around off and on since this June. Unfortunately, the dreaded trio has been mostly “on” all across the continent and beyond.

The results haven’t been pretty or even healthy. Record high temperatures fed massive wildfires, more typical for the fall months. The fires have been burning all across the West and in several Canadian provinces. A wildfire completely obliterated the small town of Lytton, B.C.

The wildfires have fed the brilliant sunrises and sunsets in recent days. Brisk winds aloft have spread soot particles eastward, creating that giant orange ball in the sky that we usually can’t look at directly. The August haze is extra heavy from Maine to Florida.

A wildfire-enhanced sunset.

August’s weather seemed both more predictable and tolerable a half-century ago. Global warming and climate change weren’t household phrases back then. They are now.

In those days, the school year ran from the day after Labor Day until Memorial Day weekend. The school district seldom used up the permitted allotment of snow days. So, we knew we had the whole summer season to enjoy.

As a youngster, I always welcomed August even though it was the last month of school vacation. The neighborhood gang of baby boomers took the hot, hazy, and humid weather in stride.

You are never too young to help husk corn.

We were content to sit beneath giant shade trees and play cards and board games instead of more strenuous adventures. We saved our more energetic shenanigans for cooler evenings. I’ll skip the details since the statutes of limitations haven’t expired. No harm to life or property occurred, however.

August always gave us suburban kids pause. August was our reality check. It forewarned us to use our last remaining days of freedom wisely. We usually didn’t.

A few of us, of course, had jobs associated with youth, like paper routes and mowing lawns. My older brother and I both delivered newspapers. In those days, I had ink on my fingers and not in my veins.

County fairs and street fairs began in earnest. Our county fair was always the last week of August and ended on Labor Day. When the fair closed, the schoolhouse doors opened.

Our father usually grew a garden well away from our suburban home. After supper, my siblings and I crowded into the family car, and off we would go to help hoe, weed, and hopefully pick my favorite vegetable, sweet corn.

If we had a bumper crop, we headed to a strip mall parking lot, popped the trunk, and sold our excess at a dollar a dozen. Dad usually threw in an extra ear for free, the gardener’s equivalent of a baker’s dozen.

Back home, our dear mother had the pressure cooker ready. All we had to do was husk the corn. It’s another job that I still relish. My wife says I will be applying that apt skill as soon as the bi-colored corn is ripe.

Occasionally, Dad would also load the family into the car, and we headed to Holmes County. I always admired the platoon of golden wheat shocks standing at attention in the fields of Amish farmers.

I had no idea then that I would be spending most of my adult life living there. It served as a foretaste of many good things to come for me.

I look back on my lifetime of Augusts with pleasant memories. None of the three H’s can bake, wilt, or obscure them.

An August sunrise in Ohio’s Amish country.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021