Mowing snow while mulching leaves

Before the leaves fell.

This time it wasn’t my fault. Every time I went to mulch the accumulation of leaves that covered much of our yard, something or someone else thwarted my good intentions. We all know where that road leads.

First of all, I wanted to wait until all of the red maple leaves in the backyard had fallen. For some reason, they clung like flies to flypaper. The leaves of the front yard red maple had all tumbled weeks earlier.

When the weather was sunny and warmish, which wasn’t that often in the late fall of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, we were gone. When we were home, it was too wet, or other commitments kept me from doing the job.

Even with a couple of gusty windstorms, the leaves clung fast to the tree. Meanwhile, the rest of the neighborhood’s assortment of dead foliage swirled around and landed in our yard like it was a leaf magnet.

The turkey.
It was nearly Thanksgiving before the leaves finally succumbed. Even then, it took almost a week before most of them lay on the ground. The leafy blanket was so thick I could hardly see the grass in spots.

Finally, the timing and weather seemed just right. However, because of a heavy frost, I waited until after lunch to make my move. I shouldn’t have.

I had just started the leaf blower when our yardman arrived. Rain was forecast for the next day, and he wanted to get the year’s last organic fertilizer on the grass despite the carpet of leaves.

He assured me that the rain would wash the fertilizer off the leaves and into the ground. I yielded the yard to him. It rained for three days.

After the rain subsided, it turned cold, freezing the leaves in place. I continued to wait and watch the forecast. It was now early December.

A skiff of snow caused another delay. Most of it melted, except for the snow in the north-slanting shadows of our backyard neighbor’s evergreens and the front of our north-facing house.

A storm with freezing rains was approaching. It was now or never to mulch the leaves.

A few of the neighbor’s leaves.
I set the mower to its highest level so that only the tallest growth of grass would be clipped. I donned my insulated coveralls, put on my waterproof shoes, and cranked up the mulching mower.

Around and round I went, reversing course with each completed trip of the yard’s parameter. The piles of dried leaves that I had blown out of the flowerbeds and shrubbery into the grass easily shredded to bits. The backyard leaves were a different story.

A messy mix of chewed up leaves and dirt began to stick to the wheels. The messiness increased when I hit the patches of thin snow. The pulverized blend of icy moisture and leaves turned to sludge. I stubbornly mulched on.

By the time I had finally finished, the poor mower looked like it had endured a motocross mud run. Brown muck covered much of the mower’s bright red body. The wheels were caked in a sticky mixture of chopped leaves and residue of red clay that poses as Virginia topsoil.

Shreds of green grass clippings topped off the muddy mess like colorful sprinkles on an ice cream cone. It was so sad and ugly that I couldn’t even take a picture of it.

But the mulching was done, and I was a happy man. The unusually difficult task of mowing my lawn had become an existential saga. And then the sun came out.

Not this much snow.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Christmas Morning in Amish Country


This is one of my favorite Christmas morning shots. It’s also very personal and sentimental. After 37 years in the same house, December 25, 2016 was our last Christmas here before we moved to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley to be near the grandkids.

This photo shows our granddog, a Sproodle (English Springer Spaniel/Poodle mix), watching a horse-drawn Amish buggy trotting by the house. It was a familiar scene for us all those years. The clop, clop, clop of the horses’ hooves on the payment of the busy road on which we lived soothed our souls. We miss that a lot.

I suppose, in part, that is why I chose this peaceful Christmas morning photo to share. I took it in the calm of the blessed morning before the grandkids awoke one last time at our Holmes Co., Ohio, home.

“Christmas Morning in Amish Country” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Go ahead and ring those bells!


Whenever I hear those old sleigh bells, I know it’s officially the holiday season.

It’s not hyperbole in describing those silver bells as old either. My wife’s grandfather used them on his horse-drawn sleigh. Their pleasing tinkle, tinkle, tinkle conjures up all that’s good and joyous about Christmastime. Visions of Rudolph and the rest of his reindeer team pulling jolly Old Saint Nick in his gift-laden sleigh danced in my head.

That enchanting tinkling sound returns every year as Neva gets the urge to decorate the house inside and out for the holidays. That usually happens on a whim, based on our busy schedules and the weather forecast. This year it was a few days before Thanksgiving.

The jingling of the bells is her unintentional announcement that the holiday display initiative has begun. Neva often completes the jolly decorating on her own, whether I’m home or not.

The sound of the bells, however, drew me away from a writing malaise to join in the fun. With the late November weather sunny and warmish, Neva already had the exterior decorating underway.

We had earlier agreed to simplify both the outdoor and indoor displays. Even then, our previous ones were modest by comparison.

Out came holiday quilted wall hangings, seasonal books, and Christmas candles. Up went the artificial holly wreaths and our late friend Helen’s ceramic Christmas tree upon her antique oak end table. The tree’s red lights stay continuously lit against its shiny green bows all tipped with white for snow.

With each completed display, the memories flowed. Barn wood-framed antique Christmas postcards hang near the front door, welcoming all for the holidays. My late father made the frame years ago.

No room goes untouched with Neva’s artistry. A rustic steel nativity scene adorns her grandmother’s china closet.

Dashes of snipped holly and boxwood grace the front porch and family room. A garland of shiny red beads and artificial greenery accompany the sleigh bells that surround the table lamp in the front window. It’s only appropriate that that string of bells take center stage.

Holiday candles and soap caddies gussied up the bathrooms. In the dining area, Christmas tree knickknacks serve as bookends to the candy dish, where red and white peppermint candies tempt me from atop the antique dry sink.

Salt and pepper shakers disguised as Mr. and Mrs. Snowman oversee the kitchen. Holly stenciled water glasses, festively decorated serving bowls, and platters all wait their turn in the cupboards to serve their cheerful purposes.

Neva already had completed most of this by the time the sleigh bells rang. I arrived in time to decorate the tall and skinny artificial Charlie Brown Christmas tree sequestered in the corner of the open spaced living area.

I enjoyed hanging an assortment of ornaments that represent nearly every year of our togetherness. Neva completed the adorning with thin, red-striped candy canes, also an annual tradition.

Next to the tree, strings of little white lights tactfully wind through stacked books resting on the wooden bench a friend had restored. Strings of green garland and white lights and Christmas tchotchke brightened both the back porch and the utility room.

I can’t overlook the subtle but most prominent and meaningful holiday symbol of all. By night, little battery-powered candles flicker from the windowsills. Their glow is small, but mighty, brightening the darkest December nights and the starriest.

That evening I took my tea in an oversized holiday mug. It’s hand-painted smiling snowman enjoyed every sip right along with me.

When it comes to Christmas, our welcome sign is out. My wife always makes sure of that.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Happy Thanksgiving!

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What could be more appropriate than a photo of a roast turkey ready to be carved on Thanksgiving Day?

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!

“Happy Thanksgiving” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Red and Red

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I have lived long enough to know that photography is as much about timing as it is photographic skills. Had I not looked out the window at precisely the right time, I never would have seen this male northern cardinal feeding alongside this lone red maple leaf. The yellow of the scattered corn that attracted the bird served as a lovely, contrasting background for the shot.

“Red and Red” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

When the lost is found


During my morning devotions, I try to include a brief time of meditation. A recent theme focused on observing rather than reacting with anger, fear, or judgment to human interactions.

Little did I know then that before the day would end, I would personally apply that lesson.

The day was foggy in the Shenandoah Valley. Random openings in the haze allowed the morning sunshine to poke through. The Blue Ridge Mountains, however, were socked in. I wanted to go there for one last chance to capture the beauty of a Shenandoah fall.

With the hope that the sun would eventually burn off the overcast, I headed to Shenandoah National Park. By the time I arrived shortly after noontime, that is precisely what happened.

Driving along the park’s extolled Skyline Drive is a joy at any time of the year. It is an absolute privilege to experience the fantastic colors of the fall foliage.

 


The park burst with scarlet, red, yellow, orange, amber, russet, brown, and crimson. Each hue complemented the others. I drove in the fresh, moist mountain air with the moon roof open and the windows partially down, taking in the autumn’s sights, sounds, and pungent fragrances.

I made several stops to photograph the scenery and finally recognized my fatigue at Big Meadows, where I stopped for lunch. The combination of my emotional exhilaration and the numerous times of exiting and reentering my vehicle had tired me. It was a reminder that my leg still had healing to do.

I retraced my route. Fog still rolled up out of the hollows and dissipated before my eyes. I continued to pull into nearly every overlook to capture the gorgeous splendor.

At my last stop, I reached for my camera, but it wasn’t there. I quickly searched in the vehicle, but the camera was gone. I must have left it on a stone wall at the last overlook where I had paused for an afternoon snack.

 

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In the five-mile backtrack, my thoughts ticked off the options. It could still be there. Someone may have turned the camera in, or it was gone.

For most of my life, I have been my own worst critic. I berate myself when I err or let my emotions control my mood because of a negative situation. Not this time.

Remembering the morning’s meditation, I mentally weighed the consequences of my lapse of concentration by leaving the camera. I also accepted the situation without self-judgment.

Where I lost my camera.

I had captured dozens of photos of the incredible scenery. Now, they could be lost. I still had the day’s experience, however. That would be serenity enough, camera or no camera.

When I arrived at the overlook, the camera was nowhere to be found. I used my best option. I returned to the Big Meadows visitors’ center and reported my camera missing.

I headed south again, making a couple of more stops before I arrived at the Swift Run entrance station, where I access the park. I asked the ranger if anyone had turned in a camera. To my amazement, she said a young woman had given her a camera only 30 minutes ago. It was mine!

Of course, I was ecstatic to have the camera back, but not as delighted as I was with my self-control. No anger, no negative thoughts, no self-blame had arisen.

It had been a fulfilling day. A morning lesson, time in nature, a senior moment, a trustworthy person, and a personal watershed breakthrough brought deep contentment. I could not have been happier.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Recess at Mountain View School

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This Old Order Mennonite private school is aptly named. I happened to catch the students out at recess on a recent morning.

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

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019