I appreciate the simplistically specific way of naming roads in Rockingham County, Virginia. The roadways are numbered, of course, but the colloquial names are what people know. Slab Road is a prime example.
Hardly a half mile long, Slab Road connects two main county roads. Between the two is the Dry River, often devoid of water. A solid cement slab serves as the roadbed that crosses the riverbed from bank to bank. Thus, the unusual but appropriate name for a public road.
After some recent rains, the river flowed steadily over the slab, forming a mini-waterfall. I wanted to gather some rocks for a water feature I was assembling for our backyard birds. The high water limited my search to the south side of the slab. While collecting a few stones, I couldn’t help but notice the beauty of the evening sun filtering through the trees and reflecting off the smooth surface of the now not-so-dry river.
The need for a few flat rocks drew me to this inspiring scene that warmed my soul during this day’s golden hour.
My wife and I recently celebrated our 52nd anniversary. We did so quietly.
Initially, we considered driving to Washington, D.C., to view the cherry blossoms at their peak. We had never done that, and living only two hours away, we could easily view the iconic flowers and be home before dark. We weighed our options and decided instead to stay close to home, which was my wife’s preference.
That decision paid dividends we didn’t expect. First, we slept in, which is not our routine. We usually awaken at first light. It felt good to start our big day well-rested.
After a quiet, light breakfast, we continued with a habit we started during the pandemic. We played cards and drank our morning decaf coffee. With the temperature hovering slightly above freezing, we were in no hurry to head outside for a few local adventures.
Traffic was light for the 10-minute drive downtown for an early lunch at a favorite restaurant. Since it was a Monday and not yet noon, there was no wait. We enjoyed our meals and the quiet atmosphere. They even had gluten-free bread for my brisket sandwich. It was nice to sit in the serenity of the ordinarily bustling restaurant. Our waitress even took her time bringing the check.
After lunch, we drove to a local arboretum and strolled around the artificial pond. Both buttery yellow and white daffodils colored the forested hillside surrounding the murky pond. Some flowers were already fading, while others were beginning to bud.
The aptly named star magnolias were also losing their luster. We admired some snappy-looking white and orange daffodils and various wildflowers beginning to grace the forest floor.
A young man approached us as we sniffed the blooms. He was the new marketing person for the arboretum, and we enjoyed an extended conversation with him about photography. My constant snapping of the shutter gave me away.
By then, the sun had taken the chill out of the air. That meant one thing: ice cream. We drove to a local ice cream parlor in a neighboring town. A kid’s cup is suitable for us now. My wife was more adventurous and ordered a caramel salted chocolate chunk while I stuck with my tried and true chocolate. We chose a table outside where my wife sat in the shade while I preferred the sun on my back.
On the way home, we stopped at another smaller arboretum at the north end of the small town. The place is more park than a botanical garden. A small, tree-lined stream called Cooks Creek winds lazily through a green space. Cooks Creek Arboretum is sandwiched between a hillside condo complex and a farmer’s still-fallow field stretching up to a big red barn.
Once the flock of pesky common grackles flew off, we heard a barred owl calling softly from inside an owl box fastened to a giant sycamore on the creek’s bank. The harmony of the owl’s twittering and the silvery gurgling of the stream brought a smile to both of us.
Please click on the photos to enlarge them.
With the return of the noisy grackles, we detoured to Silver Lake to check for migrating waterfowl. A quartet of ring-necked ducks floated and dived, floated and dived on the shallow lake’s surface. The lake’s Civil War-era mill attracts people far and wide.
Shortly after we arrived back home, the doorbell rang. A young woman handed my wife a bouquet from her sister and her husband, who live in Ohio. We appreciated their kind and loving gesture.
We snacked for supper, and after sunset, I drove to a high point in the countryside to take photos of three planets. Venus shown bright in the night sky, but I couldn’t find the conjunction of Saturn and Mars near the horizon. An invisible haze hung over the Allegheny Mountains, obscuring any starry beauty.
When I returned home, another kind of darkness fell. We learned of the horrific mass shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville. The sad news snapped us out of our anniversary bliss into the reality of today’s life in the United States. Our peaceful, quiet, and enjoyable anniversary day with my loving wife ended with a tearful thud.
I don’t know about you, but the Common Grackles have taken over my birdfeeders and birdbaths. If you are interested, I’d gladly sell you a few or all of them.
Of course, you know I’m kidding. I couldn’t resist since April 1 is better known in the U.S. as April Fools Day. When I was a principal, the students loved to fool me on April 1 with all means of shenanigans. I was always glad when April 1 came on the weekend, like today.
So, April Fools Day! And in case you are interested in the grackles, please contact me a.s.a.p.
I had been struggling with high blood pressure for weeks. A prescription for pain set off a chain of events that has taken weeks to rectify.
The orthopedic surgeon prescribed pain medication for the discomfort in my hip, but only if my family physician approved. She did, but on the condition that I take my blood pressure morning and evening. The prescription tended to elevate people’s bp, she said.
It didn’t take long to prove my primary care doctor was correct. In a short time, my bp was sky-high. The physical symptoms I had foretold that it would be: a constant headache, lightheadedness, and my balance was off. Even though I was approaching age 75, I had always been steady on my feet. I wasn’t now.
The symptoms didn’t stop there. I was waking in the middle of the night and, occasionally, had pressure on my chest. Having served on the local volunteer rescue squad for 27 years, I knew that was a red flag. I stopped taking the pain med and returned to the doctor’s office.
Much to my chagrin, I was prescribed two more medications to help bring down my blood pressure. However, the symptoms and my elevated bp persisted.
Of course, all of this happened around the holidays. We had planned on attending a gathering of my siblings for the first time since the pandemic hit. Despite my uneasiness, we decided to go and drove the 350 miles from Virginia to Ohio. Fortunately, all went well, and we had an enjoyable time together.
That evening, good friends invited us to a soup supper at their church in Holmes County, Ohio, where we had spent most of our lives and each completed 30-year education careers. We enjoyed more fellowship with other friends and acquaintances there. The soup was delicious, too.
As we were about to leave the church, however, I felt the heaviness in my chest again. My family doctor told me to head to the emergency room if that returned. The pressure had a habit of coming and going, so I just lived with it. However, the chest discomfort felt more intense this time. And it wasn’t the soup.
We had intended to return to Virginia the next day. Driving all those miles through primarily rural, mountainous terrain, with limited cellphone service, seemed risky. I didn’t want to put that burden on my loving wife. Our lifelong friends, who knew I was uncomfortable, encouraged us to go to the local small-town hospital instead. They reasoned I would get quick attention for my issue and receive excellent care. We took their advice, and headed to the little hospital’s emergency room. As soon as I mentioned pressure on my chest, I was ushered into a room and immediately examined.
I doubt the response would have been the same at a big city hospital, especially on a Saturday night. While the nurse and an EMT doing clinical time as part of his training got me settled, my wife checked me in. Later, she told me they already had our Virginia address, health insurance, and other information in their system.
Having lived in that rural community for 46 years, this was not my first visit to this facility. I had previously been treated there for assorted ailments over the years. Our daughter and son were both born there. I had also served on the hospital board for six years, almost two decades ago. So, yes, I had a particular affinity for this medical facility.
My blood tests and EKG came back normal, but with the chest pressure and my medical history, the caring ER doctor decided to admit me. She ordered a stress test and an echocardiogram. Unfortunately, those would have to wait until Monday morning.
Sunday passed surprisingly quickly. My wife sat by my side late morning into the evening. In between, nurses, aides, and a doctor came and went. The local social grapevine went into overdrive. Relatives and close friends helped the day zoom by with brief visits. My blood pressure lessened each time it was taken.
I was awakened early Monday by a cheery lab tech for the ordered tests. I passed the stress test with ease, and the echocardiogram revealed no blockage in the arteries to my heart. I was greatly relieved.
By early afternoon, the doctor on duty added a relaxing medication and sent us on our way. She also ensured we had all the documented results of every test I had taken. My family doctor was impressed when I saw her a couple of days later.
I was so glad we had decided to let this small, rural hospital’s professional staff care for me. I am most grateful to my friends who encouraged us to vist Pomerene Memorial Hospital, and for its caring and professional personnel.
I was equally happy that I had heeded the warning signs. My blood pressure is back to normal, and so is my life.
So, if you have symptoms that don’t seem right, call your doctor or go to the nearest emergency room, no matter its size. Common sense always eclipses ego, no matter one’s age.
The Amish enjoy celebrating the holidays just as much as anyone else. However, they go about it a bit differently.
Defining how the Amish celebrate America’s most time-honored holidays deserves an introductory explanation. The Amish are divided into church groups, usually about 100 persons per church. And by “church,” they mean fellowship since they hold church in their homes, shops, or barns.
There are many different orders of Amish. The Swartzentruber Amish are considered the lowest order, with the New Order Amish the highest, since they hold Sunday school on alternate worship Sundays.
The terms “lowest” and “highest” are not intended to be derogatory or hierarchical. It simply is the way it is with the Amish. Those in between are the Old Order, the most numerous among the Amish population. The rules of the church leaders determine the orders.
Defining the Amish is a lot harder than their simple lifestyles might let on. Nevertheless, they all celebrate the holidays in one way or another.
The key to understanding how the Amish do so lies in this understanding. You can’t generalize about the Amish. Their holiday traditions and rituals vary from family to family, church to church, and sect to sect, not much different from any other culture or ethnic group.
Modesty is an essential principle in the values of the Amish. That fact can be seen in exactly how the Amish keep the holidays. In living out their faith beliefs, they do so joyously surrounded by food, family, and friends. Christmas decorations are insignificant.
Here is an overview of how any given Amish family might celebrate the holidays, save those in the Swartzentruber order.
From the Amish perspective, anyone not Amish is considered “English.” The Amish recognize and respect Christmas’s universal demarcation on December 25. For them, Christmas is a sacred day in honor of the birth of God’s only son, Jesus Christ. Many, though not all, will fast before their family gathering.
Amish celebrate Christmas twice, once on the expected date of December 25 and again on January 6, commonly referred to as Old Christmas. In higher religions, that day is known as Epiphany.
Unlike the rest of society that celebrates Christmas, the Amish do not have Christmas trees or decorations. They will, however, burn Christmas candles in honor of the day.
After the usual Christmas meal of turkey or ham and all the trimmings, the Amish will spend the afternoon and evening playing table games, board games, and cards. None of the card games would involve using face cards, however.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Christmas without gifts, and the Amish also carry out this gift-giving tradition. The gifts will be wrapped, but usually nothing elaborate. Children will receive toys. There is, however, no mention of Santa.
Perhaps the closest to celebrating Christmas in contemporary fashion is done at the private or parochial Amish schools for grades 1 – 8. There are nearly 200 such schools in the Holmes County area. All are either one or two-room schools, where students walk to school. Before taking a couple of days off for Christmas, a program is held for parents, grandparents, and friends on the evening of the last day of school. The program usually consists of Christmas songs, poetic recitations, short plays, and possibly group singing.
Old Christmas harkens back to the change from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar during the latter stages of the Reformation when Pope Gregory XIII switched Christmas to December 25. Out of tradition and reverence for their forefathers, the Amish have continued to honor Christ’s birth on January 6.
Unlike the more jovial December 25 celebrations, Old Christmas is more solemn. It begins with fasting, followed by another typical Christmas meal and more gift-giving. However, the emphasis is on reflecting and visiting as opposed to reveling.
No matter which holiday is celebrated, family is always essential in any get-together for the Amish. And that is true for any Amish order.
Yesterday, we had an ice storm in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Schools and many businesses were closed, but for the most part, little harm was done. The power surged just once in our neighborhood.
The ice coated everything from the ground up with at least a quarter inch of ice. There was more ice in some places, while others received much less. The ice accumulation depended on elevation, air temperature, and the amount and types of precipitation in any given area.
One thing was sure at our location. The layer of ice created a crystal palace appearance to all it embraced. It was joyous to look out and see nature’s beauty enhanced all the more.
I was surprised to see so few birds at our many feeders placed strategically around our front and back yards. But by mid-day, they apparently got hungry enough or felt safe enough to venture out from the security of their perches to come to the feeders.
I was ready for them with my cameras. I captured a brilliant red male Northern Cardinal sitting on a branch of a frosted evergreen. But it was his female companion that stole the show.
The female Northern Cardinal perched on an ice-incrusted limb of a young tulip poplar tree we had planted earlier this year. The photograph embodied the whole of the day.
The encasement of the ice is clearly visible, while the thin ice pellets pepper the background. With its burnished tulip-like blossoms frozen in time, the dormant tree beautifully accented the Cardinal’s lovely muted red and olive coloration.
This female Northern Cardinal earned the title “The Ice Queen.”
What a difference just a few days make. A friend told me that the colors on Shenandoah Mountain were exceptional. A man I could trust, I took his comments to heart.
Viewing the colorful leaves of autumn is a long-standing tradition for me. Of course, living most of my life in Ohio’s Amish country spoiled me. I was surrounded by brilliant colors nearly every fall without having to leave home.
I needed to satisfy that desire to participate in autumn’s color fest. The Saturday morning after my excursion on Skyline Drive, I headed west on US 33. It’s not just the main route west out of Harrisonburg, Virginia. It is the only roadway west that traverses the Allegheny Mountains into West Virginia.
The drive to the summit of Shenandoah Mountain takes about half an hour from my home. I headed out mid-morning, and as I reached where the road runs parallel to Dry River, the main waterway of Shenandoah Mountain, I changed my course. It was evident that the afternoon light would better illuminate the beauty of the leaves.
Not wanting to waste my attempt, I turned into a locally popular park, Riven Rock. In the summer, families go there to cool down from the heat and humidity by playing in the clear, placid waters of the braided stream. Here the morning sun proved me correct. Only the southernmost leaves were highlighted while I stood in the shade on the eastern bank. I decided to try again in the afternoon.
Before venturing out again, however, my wife and I attended a high school marching band concert at nearby Bridgewater College in the town from which it derives its name. We watched our second grandson and his bandmates perform a great show. So did some of the sugar maples on campus.
Our grandson after the performance, the marching band, and sugar maples.
I headed out again just after 3 p.m. I planned to drive to the top of Shenandoah Mountain, where there is a parking lot for a trailhead. On the way up the twisting road, I noted places where I could pull off to photograph nature’s glory. And I could see that the higher I went, the richer the colors. I was pumped.
Vehicles nearly filled the small parking lot. I wasn’t surprised. It was a great day for hiking and enjoying nature’s beauty in the George Washington National Forest. The trailhead leads from the parking area to the only remaining fire tower on Shenandoah Ridge. The hike up to High Knob Fire Tower is popular. The crowded parking lot said plenty of hikers were on the trail.
Please click on the photos to enlarge them.
I took a few photos at the top of the mountain and returned to my car to capture the beauty. Going down showed me just how right my friend had been. The trees along the two-lane winding road were gorgeous.
Nature was in her glory, and so was I. I stopped in the few safe places I had spotted. The afternoon sun bathed the crimsons, golds, yellows, and reds. I tread carefully along the narrow, curvy roadway as cars and trucks whizzed by.
I rejoiced in my good fortune. The colors were incredible. The leaves that the afternoon sun backlit also caught my attention. I happily snapped away.
After only a few stops going a fourth of the way down the mountain, the colors drastically faded. Just as meeting people on Skyline Drive energized me, knowing that I had reached my goal of capturing the turning of the leaves filled my spirits.
Fall is my favorite time of year, and these experiences are why.
I was hoping to see the Blue Ridge Mountains painted in shades of red, yellow, and orange in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park. What I discovered were only splashes of brilliance here and there.
Most of the mountain forests were dull in color. I was a bit early.
Of course, I wasn’t alone in my quest. Others were out and about, cruising the roadway for the same reason. I spotted vehicles from several states and even a Canadian province at the various overlooks where I stopped.
The day was bright and beautiful. The park’s early afternoon temperatures were in the 60s and high 50s. The bright sunshine warmed lower elevations in the Shenandoah Valley 10 degrees higher.
The excellent weather and a good report from a morning doctor’s appointment put me in an exceedingly good mood. The people I met wherever I stopped only increased my joy. Everyone seemed to be in a jovial mood.
Folks were snapping selfies with the coloring trees as their background. I took time out from my photography with offers to take portraits of couples, families, and a woman with her dog. Of course, engaging conversations ensued as they thanked me.
It didn’t matter what state of origin or type of vehicle they drove—Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Georgia, or Ontario; camper van, motorcycle, Mercedes, or clunker. Everyone seemed to be on the same emotional page. That connectivity made the day and the scenery even prettier than they already were.
The first family I came across was from the deep south. They were on their way to Williamsburg and wanted their two boys, 17 and eight, to experience at least a little of the storied national park.
I asked the younger one if he knew he was walking on the Appalachian Trail. Indeed, he did. I told him he could go back to his second-grade class and report that he had hiked the AT and see if they knew what that was. He just giggled.
I started at the southern entrance to the park at Rock Fish Gap. Go north, and you will be in the park. Go south, and you travel the Blue Ridge Parkway. Either direction, it’s a beautiful, leisurely drive that soothes the soul and eases the mind. The 35 miles per hour speed limit contributes to that cause.
That’s what the woman with the dog was attempting to do. She drove southeast from Philadelphia towards Charlottesville for the parkway. When she realized Shenandoah National Park was so close, she changed gears and spent a night camping in Big Meadows, nearly in the center of the park.
As we chatted, she voluntarily confessed that she had turned left out of Big Meadows without realizing she was going in the wrong direction. Reality caught up to her when she arrived at the park’s northern entrance south of Front Royal, Virginia.
Undaunted, she merely turned around and headed south. She laughed at herself for trying to rely on GPS when there was little to no cell phone service in the park. She was happy to know she could get internet at Waynesboro, her destination for the night. The next day, she could begin her journey on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
A retired couple on a motorcycle was thrilled with the photo I took of them with crimson leaves of oaks, maples, and dogwood as the backdrop. They seemed most pleased, however, that I had included their bike in the photo.
Ironically, the colors dulled as I cruised north and to higher elevations. Only patches of sunlit staghorn sumac brightened the roadside.
I had stopped at most overlooks, snapped many photos, and talked so much that it took me three hours to drive the 40 miles to Swift Run Gap. No matter. It was an afternoon well spent and one I’ll remember for a long time.
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