The saga of an interrupted lunchtime

sharpie, lunchtime
Lunchtime.

By Bruce Stambaugh

For years, my wife had to endure me jumping up from the table morning, noon and night to respond to emergency calls. I served as a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician in Holmes County, Ohio for 27 years.

I can’t tell you how many times I must have interrupted a meal to respond to an emergency. Neva always understood that someone else needed my assistance more than our family, at least for that critical moment.

mourning dove, Ohio
Mourning Dove.
Now we’re both mostly retired, and I no longer respond to fire and EMS calls. I look forward to her delicious cooking, salad to dessert. However, pleasant surprises still occasionally interrupt our meals. Birds are usually the cause.

Recently Neva announced from the kitchen that lunch was ready. I knew to be prompt. I hadn’t even taken the first bite when I spied through a window some commotion. A hawk had perched on a thick pine tree branch in our backyard.

I raced for my binoculars as if I were answering a fire alarm. Even without the optical aid, I could see the feathers flying as the hawk plucked its prey. The hawk was having lunch, too. I watched the small accipiter briefly and then grabbed my cameras. I clicked and filmed away.

By its size and features, this beautiful bird was either a Sharp-shinned Hawk or a Cooper’s Hawk. Both are notorious for stealth flights in search of unsuspecting songbirds at backyard birdfeeders.

Clearly, I had just missed the capture. The hawk focused its full attention on plucking the feathers from its victim. Other birds gradually returned to the feeder buffet, oblivious to the hawk’s presence.

I consulted my favorite bird guide and compared my photos with the renderings in the book. All the while I continued observing the bird of prey. The bird’s physical characteristics best fit a Sharp-shinned Hawk.

Sharp-shinned Hawks and Cooper’s Hawks are tough to identify in the field. I had the advantage of perspective, comparing the bird in the pine with the branches around it. Its size appeared too small for a Cooper’s Hawk.

I checked other identifying markers, too. The bird’s rather flat head made its eye look large. The bright yellow legs were pencil thin. The brown streaks on its breast also said juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk.

I posted one of the photos I had taken of the bird on the social media’s Facebook’s Ohio birding page. Others, including the author of my guidebook, confirmed the ID. It’s always nice to get affirmation from an expert like Kenn Kaufman.

Not surprisingly, my wife’s delicious homemade butternut squash soup had cooled. Neither of us complained. We were mesmerized by the aviary activities outside.

Satisfied with the photos that I had taken, I returned to my meal. From where I sat eating, I could still see the young hawk pulling at the meat of its capture. Though seemingly gruesome, it was an everyday act of nature, and we got to see it.

Sharp-shinned Hawk
The Sharpie returned.
I took another slurp of soup, looked up, and the hawk was gone. After I had finished eating, I went out to verify my suspicion of what the hawk had had for lunch. The feathers I found were indeed from a Mourning Dove.

Timing is everything. Had I not responded to the call for lunch when I did, I might have missed the unfolding action outside.

I didn’t mind this lunchtime interruption at all. I imagine the poor Mourning Dove would strongly disagree.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Breaking a long tradition for a heartfelt reason

cuttingthechristmastreebybrucestambaugh
The perfect tree.

By Bruce Stambaugh

My wife and I made an impromptu, important decision. We broke a long-standing tradition for the perfect reason.

For the last 40 years, we have always had a live Christmas tree grace our home. That won’t happen this year.

The live tree always stood centered in front of the living room windows for most of December. This year an attractive, used artificial tree retrieved from a local thrift store fills that spot.

Our first live trees weren’t cut either. They still had their roots bound in burlap. After Christmas, we transplanted the trees in the yard of our first home we built four years after our marriage. When we moved to our present home 36 years ago, we switched to live, cut trees.

Christmas tree, opening gifts, family
Christmas morning.

Both my wife and I had grown up with fresh cut trees in our homes for the holidays. My family often took excursions to select just the right tree. Dad used the saw, and us kids would help carry the piney prize back to the car.

We continued that Yuletide tradition with our children. We loved the family experience, the exhilaration of the nip in the December air in Holmes County, Ohio.

My favorite Christmas trees growing up were the Scotch pines. I loved their long, soft needs as opposed to the stiff, prickly ones of the Colorado blue spruce species.

In recent years, my wife and I tried Fraser, Douglas, and Concolor firs. They all kept their needles longer than other species and filled the house with a pleasant, conifer fragrance. Their soft, bluish-green coloration added a festive flair, too.

With all of these positive traits, why would we change now? The truth is, we hadn’t intended to switch.

We went looking for a Concolor that would serve a dual purpose. We would again get a balled tree first to serve as our Christmas tree. After the holidays, we would plant it to replace a mature blighted blue spruce removed from our side yard last summer.

Concolor, memorial tree
The Jenny tree.

We found a small, balled Concolor at our first stop. It was hardly three-feet tall, much smaller than we had in mind.

Then we got an idea. We bought the little tree and planted it where the stately blue spruce had been. We chose this lovely fir to serve as an evergreen memorial to our dear friend, Jenny Roth Wengerd, who died on Sept. 11 from a brain hemorrhage at age 47.

The tree was about the size of Jenny when we first met her at age three after her adoption from South Korea. Neva and I witnessed her naturalization as a U.S. citizen.

We often cared for Jenny and her siblings while their parents were away. She and her family stayed in our house the day their home burned down. We mourned with the family when Jenny’s brother, Steve, died of cancer at 25.

We had been through a lot together.

Jenny was as beautiful and compassionate as a human could be. She radiated love and joy to all who knew her. Planting a tree to her memory only seemed fitting.

Only a single ornament adorns this extra special Christmas tree. A simple, translucent angel watches over this dedicated evergreen.

We will celebrate Christmas with a fake tree this year just as joyfully as if it were a fragrant, beautiful fir. Outside our Jenny tree will sink its roots into the earth, a living memorial to our gregarious friend who died much too soon.

Paul Roth family
The Roth family.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Ribbon Clouds

2015-11-30 15.24.18

Clouds intrigue me. I know I’m not alone in that sentiment. While driving some back roads in rural Wayne Co., Ohio, I spotted this unusually shaped and colored cloud formation. To use the scientific name, these are stratus undulatus clouds.

In addition to their ribbon-like shape, the wide range of soft colors particularly caught my attention. The trees, mailbox, and fence help add perspective to my Photo of the Week, “Ribbon Clouds.”

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Reflections along a mountain stream

autumn leaves, back lighting
Backlit leaves.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Recent rains made the sparkling mountain stream joyfully sing its way through the sylvan hollow to the broad valley below. The late morning sun’s reflection shimmered as the cold water rushed over and around ancient boulders.

I had driven to this little paradise on the advice of my daughter. She recently had hiked with her family a trail that crossed the creek and scaled one of the precipices of the old, rounded Blue Ridge Mountains. I wasn’t that ambitious.

I was content to drive the 22 miles out of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley to the end of Port Republic Road to enjoy a morning stroll. I took the much easier firebreak road that shadows the meandering stream.

Stepping stones across the usually placid braided stream broke the trail my daughter took. Today the stream roared rather than lapped its way into the valley.

The native brown trout had to be happy to play in other pools for once. I was happy, too.

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The temperatures warmed as the sun rose higher above the foothills. The shedding oaks, maples, dogwoods, sycamores and quaking aspens filtered the sun’s splay. Sunrays backlit the remaining colorful leaves. They glowed against the drab earth tones of tree trunks, ferns, and long shadows.

The creek drew me down from the road to its shallow banks. Sapling undergrowth made the way tricky, but not hazardous. I was surprised by both the speed of the stream’s flow and the water’s clearness, especially after recent steady rains. Weeds and reeds normally rustled by the wind swayed submerged.

In the shade, the cooler creekside temperatures chilled me. I didn’t linger there for long.

I returned to the more inviting sunny, well-maintained service road. At times, the stream ran against the narrow berm. In other places, the road curved slightly north while the creek twisted south and out of sight, but never out of earshot.

No car horns, no train rumbles, no jake brakes, no jetliner noise overhead, no boom boxes interfered with the numerous natural sounds. A fox squirrel skittered from the road to the safety of a tree trunk as I approached. It barked at me, and I shot it with my camera.

Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Up ahead, birds flew across the firebreak. To keep my load light, I had left the binoculars in the vehicle. Fortunately, the birds sat still even as I quietly approached.

I smiled at sighting my first of the year Dark-eyed Juncos, freshly arrived from the Canadian tundra. The flash of their outer white tail feathers against their slate-colored revealed their identity.

The mountain’s granite core stood exposed from time to time. Whitish-gray outcroppings reflected the morning sun both at manmade cuts and in natural talus slopes. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near the latter if the massive rock pile decided to slide.

Soon hikers a decade older than me approached from the opposite direction. We bid each other adieu, and I asked them how far the road reached.

“Ten miles,” they said, “But it’s an easy walk to the top,” referencing the mountain. The road ended at the Skyline Drive. I took their word for it.

A few trails flared off in either direction. I was content to stay the course for a while before returning to the car for lunch under the noonday sun.

The earthy fragrances, the laughing stream, the vibrant colors pleasantly seasoned my simple fare, which was only right. It had been a sumptuous morning in every aspect.

mountain stream, Shenandoah NP
Sparkling stream.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

In search of a sunset, I found serenity, too

City sunset
View from the city.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I drove away from the city to get a country view of a Shenandoah sunset. I came away with so much more than picturesque photos.

I had taken several sunset shots near our daughter’s home in the Virginia valley that is the result of ancient geologic folding. I wanted a different backdrop. I decided to head for a friend’s childhood home.

After I had dropped off my oldest grandson at baseball practice, I drove a few miles south and west of the city that is rapidly sprawling far beyond it’s historic downtown. My friend, Ava, had moved to Ohio last year. She said she remembered people stopping to take pictures of the views opposite her home.

Veiw west
On Ava’s family farm.
Ava had given me perfect directions to her old place. I found it well before sundown, which gave me time to check out the area, and take a few photos first.

Ava was right. The panorama alone was stunning. This high spot on a gently rolling ridge opened up nicely to the west. The sun glowed above the Alleghenies miles away.

I sent her a text with a photo of the evening’s western landscape. Ava’s reply caught me by surprise.

Despite all the years she had lived there, Ava didn’t have a sunset photo from that perspective. Her family’s religion forbade owning a camera. I didn’t know that, however.

In her words, Ava said it was a precious vista that hemmed the western range of her formative years. It was the scene she saw as she walked to the school bus, gather the mail and drove the buggy to church. The foothills, valleys, and mountains served as a geographic security blanket for her.

Ava profusely thanked me for the photos that brought back so many poignant memories. Capturing and sharing that setting generated a heartwarming story that dearly warmed me far more than the fiery sunset.

Tractors whizzed in and out the long lane of the family farm. Wagonload after wagonload of chicken manure got spread on the sloping fields while the sun blazed away behind the distant foothills and aged mountains.

My senses were conflicted. What I saw thrilled me. What I smelled I just endured until dark.

Dancing sunset
Dancing rays.
As I was about to leave, a young man on one of the tractors stopped on his return trip to the barn. A young boy and younger girl flanked the ruddy driver. The farmer wanted to know if I was taking the photos for my own use.

I nodded in the affirmative. He seemed startled when I asked him if this was the old Shank place. He confirmed what I already knew.

We chatted some more, and I told him that I knew Ava. Likely cautious of a stranger, he just smiled broadly and nodded in return without saying that Ava was his aunt. She told me that later. Ava was as thrilled that I had met one of her kin as she was with the photos I had sent.

I had gone in search of a friend’s homestead and a different view of the sunset. I succeeded on both counts. But that’s not what made the evening extraordinary.

Every sunset is different of course. By making these unexpected, long distant connections between an aunt and her nephew, this sundown dazzled me with more than shimmering red and orange rays.

This serendipitous interaction brought me a personal, soothing satisfaction. It was a moving encounter no camera could ever capture.

Allegheny sunset, Shenandoah sunset
Ava’s evening view.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

A strong work ethic is a universal trait

Amish produce stand
Produce stand.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’ve been working since I was eight years old. To earn a little spending money of my own, my first job I went door-to-door selling seed packets. I’ve been working ever since, and that’s a very good thing.

There is great satisfaction in earning money through hard work. That was especially true as a youngster who grew up in a family that had pittance left over for life’s extravagances. We weren’t poor, but we weren’t rich by earthly standards either.

Rather, our wealth came in the joy of working together as a family and learning to enjoy work’s energy and accomplishments, whether we earned money or not. If it benefited others, payment was received in ways that far exceeded any monetary gain.

If my siblings and I earned money helping others at businesses or homes, you could be sure we used the profits for wise choices. The candy store was just five minutes away. Of course, our folks taught us the advantages of saving and giving, too.

I have my parents and grandparents, and likely generations before them, to thank for instilling work as a personal core value. Dad worked 43 years for the same company as a tool engineer. Mom was a household engineer before the profession was so christened.

Living in Holmes County, Ohio, all of my adult life, I have come to appreciate the community’s emphasis on exercising a robust work ethic. I marvel at seeing it played out every day.

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I only have to observe my neighbor’s family gathering crops. Three generations are often literally bringing in the sheaves.

That should be no surprise. Having a strong work ethic is common and a highly valued principle here. It’s one of the reasons our region consistently has one of the lowest monthly unemployment rates in Ohio.

County residents pride themselves on enthusiastically employing their work ethic. That’s ironic for a society that holds humility in equally high esteem. Folks manage to balance that apparent contradiction for self and others successfully.

The method to instilling the work ethic to the next generation is simple. Folks here both model and include younger generations in work. In other words, the adults give the youngsters responsibilities that result in projects completed.

Children on farms help with chores. Feeding the livestock, gathering eggs, walking the dog all count as productivity. Drive around and you’ll likely see children including work in their play.

I always get a chuckle when I see Amish children playing horse and buggy. A couple of toddlers sit in a wagon while an older sibling plays the horse. A short piece of rope serves as the reins.

Amish children playing
At play.
From time to time as a principal, I would get a note from home asking that Johnny be permitted to visit the local store to buy some grocery items needed for that evening’s supper. I usually approved the request by driving to the store and letting the sixth grader do his deed.

At the produce stand we frequent, the entire family chips in to make the business go. From time to time, a request is made for an item not available on the shelf. Junior will gladly fetch the requested item from the field to accommodate the customer.

It’s all in a day’s work. Of course, the work ethic extends far beyond our insulated world. Working and earning are universally esteemed characteristics.

I’m glad we have Labor Day to remind us of that fact.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015