Category Archives: Shenandoah Valley

Veiled beauty

June's Strawberry Moon, Harrisonburg VA

Veiled beauty.

The night sky was bright and promising, at least where I live west of Harrisonburg, Virginia. It seemed near perfect conditions for photographing June’s Strawberry Full Moon rising over the Blue Ridge and Massanutten Mountains. But it wasn’t to be.

I arrived at my prearranged position high on a hill that overlooks the city and provides an excellent view to the east. I was in for a surprise, however. A broken layer of clouds hovered over the Blue Ridge Mountains. I knew the moon was to rise at 9:05 p.m. EST. As that time came and went, I still could not see even the faintest hint of the full moon.

Finally, just before 10 p.m., the clouds lightened from the moon’s glow. It wasn’t the shot I wanted or had hoped for, but it’s the one I got. I often take photos backlit by the sun. “Veiled beauty,” my Photo of the Week, was backlit by the moon.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under human interest, Photo of the Week, photography, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, weather

Inspired by water from a rock

Rock Spring Cabin, Shenandoah NP

The view from the cabin.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Life is a mystery.

I hiked the short trail with one thing in mind. I wanted to find the old cabin and take a photo of its chimney if it indeed had one. As so often happens in life, discovering what I was looking became secondary in this trek.

I took my time on the trail, soaking in all the glorious sights and sounds that I encountered along the way. There was a lot to absorb.

Rock Spring Cabin was a short distance away from a crude hut built for hikers along the Appalachian Trail in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park. From the cabin’s covered front porch, the Page Valley played out in the patchwork patterns of fields far below.

The cabin at Rock Spring.

The primitive log cabin did indeed have a stone chimney. I snapped my picture and headed for the spring of Rock Spring Cabin nearby.

When I arrived, I was stunned at what I saw. I stood there in both amazement and disbelief. There, high in the Blue Ridge Mountains, cold, clean, crystal clear water gurgled from beneath giant boulders as old as time. Human interaction, of course, had to plumb it with a PVC pipe.

Instantly, my mind flashed back to my childhood. I thought of the Old Testament Bible story of Moses striking a rock and water gushing forth for the assembly of disgruntled, thirsty Jews wandering in the desert. That ancient story always struck me as a blend of awe, mystery, and miracle.

I contemplated the moment. I couldn’t help but wonder why here at this spot, more than 3,000 feet above sea level did water run from rocks? The earth does fantastic, mysterious things. Explanations are not always required.

Still, I reckoned the answer to my rhetorical question. Clearly, the rock strata folded long before human history began and forged a channel for the water table below.

Yet, there was something mystical about the rock spring, its waters trickling down the steep slope far into the valley below. I mentally traced its path from small stream to a creek that formed a tributary to the Shenandoah River. Farther north, it met the broad Potomac River at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, and then flowed east through rapids and placid waters alike, passing the nation’s hectic capital into the Chesapeake Bay and on into the Atlantic Ocean.

Noisy ravens awakened me from my lively daydreaming. Apparently, they viewed me as an intruder. Not wanting that title, I returned to the main trail, warblers, and thrushes flitting and singing in the leafy canopy high overhead.

I walked a short distance down the trail, and the raven followed me, swooped low, and continued its nasal banter. It was only then that I realized that I was not the target of its raucous concern.

A motion drew my eyes downward. Not 30 feet away a young black bear grazed along the forest floor. My head instinctively swiveled in search of the mother bear. I saw only trees, plants, and rocks.

black bear cub, Shenandoah NP

Young black bear.

I gingerly stepped a few feet down the trail where I could get a better view of the cub, likely in its second season given its size. One click of the camera shutter and the bear spied me and bounded down the hill towards the spring. Overflowing with wonder and joy, I headed in the opposite direction for the parking lot.

I went searching for a cabin and found so much more. An emerald forest. Water from a rock. Agitated ravens. A frightened bear cub.

Life is a mystery waiting to be solved.

Appalachian Trail, Rock Spring Trail

The emerald way to Rock Spring Cabin.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under birds, column, human interest, nature photography, photography, Shenandoah Valley, travel, Virginia, writing

Spring sunset

sunset, Shenandoah Valley

Spring Sunset.


One thing about photographing sunsets is certain. You have to be at the right place at the right time to capture the beauty.

As I was driving desperately trying to find the perfect spot to capture the quickly fading sunset, the colors suddenly brightened. I pulled in the nearest farm lane, pointed my camera and clicked away. Once was enough, as this shot shows. Seconds later, the western sky went gray over the Allegheny Mountains that create the border between Virginia and West Virginia.

“Spring Sunset” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under nature photography, Photo of the Week, photography, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, weather

Brown on Yellow and Green

Confused Cloudywing, Golden Ragwort

Brown on Yellow and Green.

Butterflies and flowers are made for one another. On a recent hike in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, many wildflowers were in full bloom, and from their joyous, creative aerial dances the butterflies couldn’t have been happier.

Little skipper butterflies were most abundant. I found this one, which I believe to be a Confused Cloudywing, flitting from bloom to bloom on this patch of Golden Ragwort, a daisy-like flower.

The afternoon sun nicely illuminated this invigorating scene. “Brown on Yellow and Green” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under human interest, nature photography, Photo of the Week, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia

When is a chimney more than a chimney?

memorial chimney, Shenandoah NP

The memorial chimney at Elkton, VA.

By Bruce Stambaugh

When is a chimney more than a chimney? I know that sounds like a strange question. The answer, however, might even be more so.

A chimney is more than a chimney when it no longer serves as a chimney. Now, I know you must be really confused. I can gladly explain.

When the Shenandoah National Park was first being conceived decades ago, hundreds of folks lived and farmed the land along the mountain ridges where the park was to be formed. They would have to move to make the park a reality. That became an issue.

In most cases, the government compensated landowners within the designated park boundaries for their property and buildings according to market value in the 1930s. Others received less than they thought they should. However, tenants operated many of the farms and received no reimbursement.

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Some of the displaced were resettled in nearby towns. Most were on their own, leaving behind fond, treasured memories and subsistent livelihoods.

Adding insult to injury, many of the abandoned homes, having been condemned, were either burned or demolished in developing the new national park. For those displaced folks, more than walls went up in smoke.

Year after year, families returned to where they used to live if only to view the ruins and pay their respects at nearby family cemeteries. In many cases, only the chimney of their former dwelling remained.

fireplace, Virginia

Where memories were made.

Memories of sitting by a warm fire in the dead of winter, of a mother preparing a family meal using the fireplace, and of looking up from working in the nearby garden and seeing smoke curling out of the chimney were all recalled. Together, the fireplace and the chimney served as the sources of survival.

Knowing that resentment still lingered in local families after all these years, grassroots efforts were begun to help quell that ire. Local non- profit organizations, community volunteers, college students, descendants of those who were displaced, city, and county officials worked collaboratively on a memorial project. They decided to establish monuments in honor of those removed from the parkland.

The chimney was chosen as the most logical symbol to memorialize those on the harsher side of the history of creating the park. To date, six memorials have been built. Two more are planned, which will complete the circuit of all eight counties that have land within the boundaries of Shenandoah National Park.

For its part, the National Park Service created an informative, inclusive and accurate exhibit of the history of Shenandoah National Park at the Byrd Visitors Center at Big Meadows. Chimneys play a prominent role in retelling that story.

The latest of the chimney memorials was just dedicated in Rockingham County’s town of Elkton at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains where the Skyline Drive snakes through the park. Volunteers built these chimney memorials using native limestone and granite rocks. I imagine a little blood, a lot of sweat, and tears of both sadness and joy flowed in the process.

With the remaining people who were displaced now in the 90s, the memorials were built to keep the story alive through education about the park’s history, including its dark side. In truth, these chimney memorials serve a more significant, more admirable purpose. These chimneys also help heal those long-held hurts of personal injustices.

When is a chimney more than a chimney? When it serves as both an emotional symbol of history’s good and evil that can’t be changed, only remembered and respected, and one that reconciles.

Ironically, this cabin, complete with a local stone chimney, was built by the National Park in 1936, after many of the original homes were destroyed.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under architectural photography, column, history, human interest, nature photography, photography, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, writing

Patterned Path

Shenandoah National Park, hiking, Virginia

Patterned Path.

When I happened upon this scene yesterday, I had to stop for practical and aesthetic reasons. Crews were working on the Limberlost Trail in Shenandoah National Park. Recent heavy rains had washed out and badly rutted sections of the handicapped accessible trail. To avoid some of the construction at the trailhead, I walked the trail loop backward.

As I rounded a curve near the trail’s end, I stopped. Because this spot was where the repair was being done, I wasn’t sure if I should proceed. No signs indicated that the trail was closed, however. The rolled, finely crushed limestone looked more like freshly-poured cement. Once my eyes adjusted to the canopy-filtered light, I realized that the speckles were nothing more than leaf shadows created by the intense afternoon sun.

I thought the dappled effect stunningly artsy. “Patterned Path” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under human interest, nature photography, Photo of the Week, photography, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia

Putting lifelong learning into practice

Old Order Mennonites, Shenandoah Valley

Sunday morning at Pleasant View Old Order Mennonite Church.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Exploring has always been in my blood. Curiosity has coursed through my veins all of my life.

The move from Ohio to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley merely whetted my appetite to become familiar with my new surroundings. A myriad of opportunities abound, either spontaneously or scheduled, to explore this beautiful, historic setting.

The view from Pleasant View Old Order Mennonite Church.

Many of my junkets have been self-started. A lazy afternoon’s drive around the rolling, scenic countryside brings new people and places into my life. The Shenandoah Valley region is rich in history, a personal favorite subject. I needed more.

I joined scores of other retirees who were also eager to still learn a few things in life. James Madison University, located in Harrisonburg, offers a Lifelong Learning Institute to that end.

I just completed my second class, an overview of Mennonites in the valley.
Phil Kniss, the pastor of Park View Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, taught the class. He is an astute student of Mennonite history, so I knew I’d learn a lot.

The first session served as a historical survey of Mennonites, tracing their beginnings to the 16th century Reformation. Because of their steadfast beliefs, many Mennonites endured persecution to the point of martyrdom.

Consequently, many moved from their European homelands to the New World, where they hoped for a new chance to live peaceably. Unfortunately, conflicts followed them right into the 18th century as they settled in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. They tried to live in peace farming the fertile soil, but war found them again.

Armed with that information, class field trips sent us into the lives and history of the many sects of Mennonites in the valley. A small choir enthralled us with their magnificent singing at the local Mennonite high school that is celebrating its 100th year.

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At the Old Order Mennonite elementary school, I flashed back to former Ohio days of living among the Amish with their own private schools. The horse and buggy Old Order Mennonites are spiritual cousins to the Amish.

At the unassuming Old Order Mennonite church, a devoted preacher succinctly explained the scriptural basis for their simple way of living. Like all other Old Order men, he was clean-shaven but spoke Pennsylvania Dutch, an anomaly among his people.

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At the buggy shop, we laughed and learned through the wisdom of the father-son combo that so efficiently ran the business so necessary to the Old Order way of life. The elder’s humor kept us on our toes.

In an Old Order Mennonite home, we gave thanks and feasted on a scrumptious home-cooked meal. The sparkle in our host’s eyes twinkled her delight in our contentment.

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At Bank Mennonite Church, we learned of an orchestrated church split with genuine intent to agreeably disagree on specific theological applications while continuing a parallel spiritual path. Congregates dressed and lived like Conservative Mennonites in Holmes County, Ohio with a notable exception. Again, the men had no beards.

At the final class at Crossroads Heritage Center, we explored a type of living museum. Guides explained pioneer life as we wound through original, relocated old houses and various other buildings.

It was a fitting location for the last class. From high on a hill, the valley played out below us. The city bustled beneath the hot morning sunshine. Yet, the farmland’s still earthy springtime fragrances enveloped us.

From that vantage point, I imagined the struggles, the heartache, the determination and the desire to live their lives in community together through productivity, and finding peace and satisfaction in weaving their daily lives together.

Strangely and marvelously, I felt right at home.

View of the valley from the garden at Crossroads.

© Bruce Stambaugh

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Filed under Amish, architectural photography, column, family, history, human interest, nature photography, Ohio, photography, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, travel, Virginia, writing

Beautiful bird, beautiful song

Dickcissel, Shenandoah Valley
When a friend posted on social media audio of Dickcissels singing at dusk, I wanted to see the birds. Dickcissels are rare here, according to birding records and range maps. Dickcissels are listed as scarce for Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley breeding maps.

With my morning and early afternoon tightly scheduled, I knew I had a small window of opportunity to find this beautiful bird with an even more beautiful song. Severe storms were forecast for the area for the early evening. I headed north 10 miles as soon as I could. When I reached the intersection where the birds’ song had been recorded, I immediately heard them upon exiting my vehicle. Finding them was a different story.

I had seen my first Dickcissels in similar habitat in Ohio. Unfortunately, they are drawn to alfalfa fields dotted with weeds like ironweed that grow taller than the legume the farmer planted. Sure enough, using my binoculars, that’s where I spotted the first male Dickcissel. I felt pressured to photograph the birds. Thunder rumbled in the distance near the Allegheny Mountains 20 miles west.

To my surprise, a Dickcissel rose out of the thick foliage and flew directly towards me, landing on a tree branch right above my head. As I raised my camera to capture the bird up close, it took flight and perched on an ironweed plant nearly a football field away. I clicked away anyhow.

I scanned the field in the direction of other Dickcissels that I heard. I found a pair about 50 yards south of my location. Just as I started to walk south, a male and female flew to the woven-wire fence that surrounded the hayfield.

I immediately stopped and found a place to brace myself to steady the camera. Even before I could get off my first shot, the female flew, leaving the male to sit along, singing eloquently. I clicked away hoping for some decent results. A light rain had already started obscuring the sun, which gave me less light to work with.

Finally, when a car approached from the south, the beautiful bird flew in the direction of its mate. I headed for the car, happy to have witnessed both the bird and its enchanting song.

“Beautiful bird, beautiful song” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under birding, birds, human interest, nature photography, Photo of the Week, photography, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, weather, writing

Singing in the sunset

Shenandoah Valley, sunset

Singing in the sunset.


One of the joys about being in the out-of-doors is experiencing the unexpected. Nature’s ways never cease to pleasantly surprise me.

Such was the case recently when I went out to photograph the sunset. Doing so is always an adventure. You never know what the results will be. When I arrived at my chosen destination not far from our home near Harrisonburg, Virginia, I had a feeling my quest would be disappointing. I was wrong, not in the sunset so much as the aura of the setting.

I parked at the entrance of a nearby farm that doubles as an event center. I could see a thick bank of clouds hovering over the Allegheny Mountains 20 miles to the west. Usually, that means that the sun’s rays will be blocked from reflecting off of the congregation of cumulus clouds hanging in the evening sky. But I’ve learned that when it comes to sunsets, patience is a valuable virtue.

So while I waited, I watched the steers grazing in the sweeping, limestone-studded pasture. Other than the lone bull, they paid me little heed.

Soon, my attention was diverted to another source. An Eastern Meadowlark was belting out its evening song. At first, I had a hard time locating the bird. Just as the sunset reached its color peak, I spotted the bird high atop a deciduous tree whose leaves were in their infancy of unfurling. The song mesmerized me. It was as if the bird were serenading the setting sun. I have included a link to give you an idea of what I heard here.

If you can’t spot the Eastern Meadowlark, please click on the photo to enlarge it. Look for the bird center-right at the very top of the tree.

“Singing in the Sunset” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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

Quilts: Works of art that tell stories

Virginia Quilt Museum

A wall of quilts.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Being career educators, my wife and I both enjoy new learning opportunities. In the year we have been residents of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, we have only put a dent in the many educational experiences that are available in the area.

Often times our discoveries are more by circumstance than planning. That makes it all the more fun and exciting.

We often seek out activities and places that pique the interests of friends and family that have come to visit. They frequently match those of our own.

Historic downtown Harrisonburg holds plenty of intriguing places to visit. The Virginia Quilt Museum is just one of them.

Located in an old but well-maintained mansion, the museum has rotating exhibits. When we recently visited there with friends, beautiful old and new quilts were on display.

The multiple galleries in the museum displayed quilts from both noted artists and early Virginia settlers. History, beauty, and even heartache awaited us on three different levels and around every corner of the museum. Each quilt told an aspect of a life we could only imagine.

Please click on the photos to enlarge them.

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The quilters’ masterful workmanship and use of vibrant colors more than captivated us. They helped us understand cultures and lifestyles we never could have experienced. I was simultaneously intrigued and awestruck at the skill, the people, and the story each quilt whispered and sometimes shouted.

Using fabric and thread, the artists stitched together tales of the strength of families and community. The use of textiles in many of the quilts represented the importance of fabric in both ancient and current African cultures.

Many quilts glowed both intimacy and joy while others were more subdued, accented with rich browns and smooth cream colors that automatically captivated viewers. You couldn’t help but admire the craftsmanship and splendor.

The exhibits represented five different presentations, three from Africa and two from Virginia. The quilts were a mix of old and new, telling historical and contemporary stories in various patterns, vivid colors, and an assortment of textures.

Nelson Mandela.

This unexpected but pleasant surprise was as much a lesson in humanity as it was quilting. One quilter spent a dozen years in several villages in West Africa living with the peoples of the land, observing, studying, living in their culture and participating in their daily activities. Her quilts vividly shared snippets of valued community life.

The older quilts were just as moving, knowing that enslaved women pieced together textiles out of necessity and for practical purposes. The women applied the skills they brought with them from their mother countries. They used their knowledge of piecing, embroidery, applique, and weaving.

Other quilts displayed were from early pioneers who settled in the Shenandoah Valley decades ago. Some of those family names continue in the valley today.

Whether from Africa or Virginia, each represented a window into a new world for me, one of courage and devotion to family, appreciation for their lives and setting in which they lived and live. Artistic creativity expressed joy and perseverance, a turbulent history, and determined survival.

Through these magnificent works, we learned that art, beauty, history, purpose, medium, skill, and storytelling transcend culture, language, location, and race. This exhibit was more than a quilt display. It was a needed and thoughtful spotlight on the human condition.

Quilts reveal colors, fabric, delicate hand stitching, creativity, and craftsmanship. They also can tell compelling stories as well. These particular quilts indeed were tales in tapestry.

Virginia Quilt Museum

Quilts replicating African life.

(Photos used by permission of the artists.)

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under column, history, human interest, photography, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, writing