Ambivalent about August

August in Ohio’s Amish country.

I’ve always been a bit ambivalent about August. I’m especially so this year, given all the ramifications of the ongoing pandemic.

When my wife and I lived in Ohio, August kept us busy as career public school educators. We each geared up for the start of a new academic year. As a principal, I created schedules and rosters and attended too many meetings. The excellent teacher that she was, my wife spent many hours preparing each classroom to be an inviting learning haven.

Canned peaches.
August also ushered in the food preservation season. We froze dozens of containers of sweet corn and apple sauce. We waited for the canning lids to sound the seal of approval with satisfying “pops” for the tomatoes, grape juice, beets, and peaches. Rainbows of goodness adorned our shelves.

Of course, we weren’t alone in these endeavors. After I retired, I savored sale mornings at the local produce auction. I loved the hustle and bustle of men and women unloading their trucks and horse-drawn wagons. The rhythmical cadence of the auctioneers barking out their persuasive banter was sweet music to my ears.

The growing season here in the Shenandoah Valley where we live now is a couple of weeks ahead of Holmes County, Ohio. So, we don’t have to wait as long to enjoy our first taste of locally grown veggies.

Farmers Produce Auction, Mt. Hope OH
Auction in action.

August is more than agriculture, though. The three H’s rule the eighth month: hot, hazy, humid. That’s not the main reason for my ambivalence, however. With the coronavirus continuing to run rampant, uncertainty abounds in everyone’s life.

The city schools where our grandchildren attend here were set to open with a combination of in-person and online instruction. The latest surge in COVID-19 has altered that plan. They’ll start the year learning remotely.

Mask-wearing is the norm, especially when entering stores or buildings. Neva and I have continued to be extra cautious about keeping our physical distancing. We truly miss the close socialization of friends and family.

Some states are doing better than others at slowing the virus. States that reopened with too few restrictions or where few people followed the guidelines are unfortunately paying the price.

A migrating black tiger swallowtail butterfly.
Since the governors have had to take the lead in issuing orders and health guidelines, rules and suggestions vary significantly from state to state. In part, that’s what has fueled our consternation.

We haven’t seen in person our son and his wife, who live in New York State, in more than a year. We have friends and relatives who have tested positive, but fortunately, they have all recovered so far. Too many others weren’t as fortunate.

County and street fairs, high school football, band shows, concerts, vacations, have all been canceled. Major League Baseball is trying to play a shortened season with no fans in attendance.

Virus or no virus, August will be August no matter what. Golden sunsets will blaze away in the hazy evening skies. Migrating birds and butterflies will begin to wing their way south.
We’ll continue to meet with friends, relatives, and worship remotely through technology.

Under the current dire circumstances, it’s the best and safest we can do. We’ll continue to do our shopping curbside.

Even given all that, I know that my August ambivalence must yield to patience, and patience to resolve. We have to see this global health crisis through for however long it takes. I’ll continue to be cautious, careful, and diligent. I am not ambivalent about COVID-19.

My challenge is not to let my melancholy deter my joy for living, for sharing, for helping others, even if it is with an altered daily lifestyle.

An August sunset.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Shining Through


I was driving along the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park early in the morning when I came upon this scene. Fortunately, the fog was rolling up the side of the Blue Ridge Mountains right at an overlook.

Watching the fog rise rapidly out of the Shenandoah Valley and up over the mountains was a treat. The sun was just peeking over the eastern ridge when I turned and caught this scene. The crown of the tree scattered the sun’s rays into the eerie fog, creating this spectacular scene. The high clouds perfectly framed my Photo of the Week, “Shining Through.”

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

The Broken Shadow


I loved how the morning’s sun cast a distinctive shadow on the bright, white siding of this Old Order Mennonite farmer’s barn. When I looked closer, it seemed like the shadow didn’t precisely match the shape of the mangled windmill. The fins appear to be collapsed. The shadow shows differently, however.

The difference between my vantage point and the sun’s position in the sky created the effect. “The Broken Shadow” is my Photo fo the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Loving Shenandoah National Park

Old Rag is a popular hike in Shenandoah NP.

My wife and I have enjoyed Shenandoah National Park since we moved to Virginia three years ago. There’s a lot to love about the park, and it’s less than an hour away.

We’re not the only ones who appreciate it, of course. The estimates of annual visitors compare to those of Ohio’s Amish country, our former residence. Each location attracts millions of visitors a year.

Of course, the novel coronavirus pandemic has put a damper on tourist numbers everywhere. With the virus cases flattening out in Virginia, the park has mostly reopened.

When we want to break our stay-close-to-home routines, Neva and I head for the hills. Sometimes I will venture out alone, birding, hiking and shooting photos. It’s an enchanting place, a multi-sensory extravaganza.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


I hear the beautiful song of an indigo bunting, and I raise my binoculars, scanning the area for the likely source of the melody. Novice that I am at identifying bird calls, I want to make sure I am matching the right species with the song. I’ve learned that, like human accents, bird calls of the same species vary geographically.

Once I find the bird, I switch to my camera to try to get a decent photo. With the trees in full summer canopy, that’s not easy to do. Now and then, I am fortunate to find a bird singing in the open, and I click away.

I catch a slight, silent movement out of the corner of my eye. Is it a doe with a fawn, or perhaps twins? Is it a black bear grazing before nightfall? One never knows. On warm days, keeping a lookout for a lounging timber rattler while scrambling on a rock outcropping is always a good idea.


The park is a great place to take sunset photos, too. But sunsets in the mountains can be problematic.

The expansive, rolling Shenandoah Valley is bordered on the east and west by mountain ranges. Sunsets can be as disappointing as they are stunning. Weather plus geography equals a formula for the unknown.

When we lived in Ohio, all we had to do was look out our windows to know the potential for a spectacular sunrise or sunset. We were spoiled.

Here in the breadbasket of Virginia, the rising and falling topography makes it iffy to predict what the eastern and western skies will do at dawn or dusk, respectively. You hope, pray, and go for it. Sometimes you are disappointed. Other times, you are speechless.

(Mouse over the photos for the captions)

It can be cloudy and raining in the valley. The view from the mountains of the park, however, might be spectacular if you wait long enough. Pick one of the many west-facing overlooks along the majestic Skyline Drive, and prepare yourself for come-what-may.

The elevation of the old, folded mountains ranges up to 2,500 feet higher than that of the valley. From the park, you can see the Allegheny Mountains that mark the boundary between the Commonwealth and West Virginia.

Patience, intuition, and good fortune can be the formula for bathing in a dreamland. Even with a thick cloud cover, the sun can still break through, turning drabness into beautiful in the blink of an eye.

I’ve learned to be ready for the unexpected as the sun slinks below the jagged horizon. Will the clouds refract the sun’s rays into pinks and blues, lavenders and oranges? Or will they merely steal away the sun without fanfare?

You don’t have to have a national park to enjoy heavenly landscapes. Wherever you are, just wait and watch, and let nature do the rest.

Sunset in Ohio’s Amish country.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

That Golden Moment


Sometimes a photogenic scene comes to you. In a way, that’s what happened in this photo. I was watching my grandchildren swim on a recent summer evening when the western sky caught my attention. With other adults present, I excused myself and walked to the only open spot on the property. The sky was rapidly turning orange with the sun nearing the tip of the Allegheny Mountains, which were beyond the little ridge before me.

I was entirely satisfied to let the tree and shrubs fill the foreground and let the sky do the rest. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed two women walking towards the opening. They would provide the perfect scale for this frame if they stayed in view. Fortunately, they sat on the picnic table just as the sun disappeared below the ridge.

My subjects certainly had a better view of the sunset than I did. However, I was perfectly happy to capture this scene.

“That Golden Moment” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

The Wheat Field


It must be July! The winter wheat is ripening to a golden brown here in the Shenandoah Valley, also known as the breadbasket of Virginia. Once the moisture count in the heads of grain reaches a low enough percentage, the combines will start to roll through the fields day and night.

I loved that this Old Order Mennonite farmer left the sugar maple tree to grow and that he planted his crops around it. “The Wheat Field” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Hope


There is nothing particularly spectacular about this photo, although it is pretty. The photo’s details make for a diverse composition: The deflected sunset rays, the fog rising from the hollows of the Allegheny Mountain foothills, and the overall pastoral setting itself. Throw in the fact that this shot was taken on the 2020 summer solstice, and the landscape photo becomes even more meaningful.

So why the title “Hope?” I never expected to be able to take this shot. We had had a string of relatively chilly and cloudy days in the Shenandoah Valley. June 20, the date of this year’s summer solstice, continued that trend. However, after heavy rain moved through, pinks, yellows, and oranges began to appear in the evening sky. I grabbed my camera and headed to my favorite sunset spot, Mole Hill, an extinct volcano core that is a local landmark. It’s higher elevation affords an impressive view of the rolling valley, the foothills, and the mountains themselves.

Though this is not a particularly stunning sunset, it was one that I never thought that I would be able to capture. Consequently, “Hope” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Sunset at Mountain View School


Colorful sunsets have been far and few between this spring in the Shenandoah Valley. We have had strings of days when we hardly see the sun. It’s been that cloudy, and often chilly.

The few times the evening sky did offer hope, I headed out. I wasn’t disappointed on June 6. I felt fortunate to capture this shot long after the sun had hidden behind the Allegheny Mountains that mark the boundary between Virginia and West Virginia.

The texturing and laying of the clouds seemed to mimic that of the folded mountains below. The north face of the private two-room school reflected the heavens above.

“Sunset at Mountain View School” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

When you know it’s June

A June sunrise in Ohio’s Amish country.

No calendar is needed to know what month it is. Doors and windows are flung wide open. Summer’s pleasing sounds and pleasant aromas waft in. It must be June.

Sit by a stream where the cottonwoods grow. A summer breeze stirs, and suddenly it’s a blizzard of cottony seeds drifting everywhere. The situation can be as aggravating as it is beautiful.

Once the dew dries, a cacophony of motorized humming ensues, seemingly lasting all day. All the neighbors want to get their lawns mowed before the anticipated rain arrives. It never does. At least the yards are manicured.

To protect their precious eggs, grackles and American robins perform Kamikaze raids on the backyard squirrels who are in search of lunch. The rabbits munch the tender grass undisturbed and unknowing nearby.

The leaves of the deciduous trees appear to have fully unfurled overnight. Contented with their newfound shade, grazing livestock swish their tails, flicking flies left and right, left and right.

Dinner tables brighten with outdoor bouquets brought indoors. Red roses, pink and white peonies, blue salvia, and lavender snapdragons proudly show their colors and intermingle their delicate fragrances.

On the stove, kettles of fresh-picked mint disperse organic menthol. Thirsty throats endure the wait, knowing lunchtime will bring refreshing minty sweetness.

Even the gray catbird pauses for a sip from the birdbath, having warbled all morning from the depths and darkness of the neighbor’s dense yew. The territorial northern mockingbird cuts short that respite, however.

Balmy mornings slip quietly into steamy afternoons. Cumulous clouds build and billow, dappling the landscape with their speeding, oscillating shadows.

By late afternoon, the cooling breezes have retreated. A sultry stillness is ubiquitous. Even the birds grow quiet in anticipation of the coming storms.

A line of darkness fills the western horizon. Soon thunder rumbles the squall line’s approach. Sweaty farmhands work faster still if that is even possible. Saving the first-cutting of hay becomes the day’s primary objective.

After the storm, a double rainbow temporarily shines in the east. Thankful for the cooler air, the rectangular bales stack the haymow higher and higher. Those abandoned in the flattened field will have to wait until they dry.

In the city, waitresses hustle to dry dampened outdoor tables and chairs, all spaced safely according to coronavirus standards. Soon, the customers return, jackets in hand as a precaution for the cooling evening.

In the Allegheny, the Blue Ridge, and the Massanutten Mountain ranges, plump little Louisiana waterthrushes fill the air with luxurious songs. They serve as soliloquies to the music of the rushing mountain streams.

Mountain laurel bushes are at peak bloom, while other wildflowers are only now appearing. The valley-to-mountaintop elevations allow June’s sweetness to thrive all month long.

Honey bees and bumblebees enjoy all the blooms, whether domesticated or wild. They are not picky. Ruby-throated hummingbirds zig and zag at sugar-water feeders to the delight of bird-lovers young and old.

House wrens continue their month-long chatter of courtship, nest-building, incubation, and non-stop feeding. Once the constant rattling goes silent, the brood has fledged, and the cycle begins anew.

We humans of the northern hemisphere enjoy the extended daylight June affords. We work and play all day.

When the sun yields its daytime dominion, the moon, the stars, and the planets light up the heavens. We can enjoy the sparkling show until the neighborhood skunk sends us inside.

Given all of this, it’s no wonder this month is the favorite among brides and grooms. In every aspect, June is a welcomed date.

Cottonwood seeds at the spillway.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Whistling in June


I reached into my archives and found this lovely Eastern Meadowlark singing from an old wooden fence post. You can frequently hear these colorful robin-sized birds before you spot them.

I thought the shot was the perfect way to welcome you all to June. “Whistling in June” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020