Category Archives: Shenandoah Valley

Seasons of Gaillardia

gaillardia, blanket flower, great spangled fritillaary

Seasons of Gaillardia.

When I asked my wife to identify the flower the butterfly was enjoying, her reaction surprised and inspired me. “Wow,” she said, “seasons of Gaillardia!” Then I saw it. As the growing season winds down, this meadow of wildflowers held the blanket flower nearly in every stage of growth. The Variegated Fritillary butterfly, which just happened to be in the shadow of a taller flower, fed on one of the remaining Gaillardia heads still in full bloom.

“Seasons of Gaillardia” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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

Embracing October’s sensory qualities

changing leaves, Holmes Co. OH

Autumn’s glory.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’ve always loved October. The month never seems to fail in its sensory-sensitive offerings that surprise, frustrate, and elate you. October in Ohio has that much variety. Halfway through the tenth month, I’ve learned that’s even true in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, where we now live.

Fall’s first frost ushered in the new month on October’s very first morning. Light as it was, the chill still stung the tomato and pepper plants in our daughter’s garden. Overall, the days have been balmy and very dry. I haven’t mowed the lawn in a month. No worries. I’ve found other ways to spend my time.

I chauffeured our granddaughter to 5 p.m. soccer practice on her eighth birthday. She took along a sweet treat to share with her teammates, which the college-student coaches wisely kept until after practice. A refreshing breeze blew through a crystal clear, early October sky while the youngsters jostled back and forth on emerald grass bordered by stands of patient trees waiting for the signal to paint their leaves.

sugar maple, Shenandoah Valley

Sugar Maple.

After an afternoon of volunteering at a local thrift store, my wife shared a touching story with me. A customer came in from Florida. She and her husband had evacuated to a relative’s home in Harrisonburg to escape the wrath of Hurricane Irma. The lady’s husband was gravely ill with cancer. She was gathering clothes for their return trip home. The man wanted to die in his own bed. The store manager and Neva donated the clothing to the grieving woman. As she was leaving, the lady turned at the door and said, “You don’t know how much this means to me.”

Loyalist that I am, I wear my Cleveland Indians gear wherever I go. As I walked across the campus of Eastern Mennonite University to the school’s library, a student stopped me. “I noticed your Indians shirt,” he explained. Turned out, he had graduated from the same small, rural Ohio high school as our son and daughter. I had a brief chat with Aaron Weaver, now a college senior. The connection brought me as much joy as an Indians postseason win.

harvest moon

Harvest Moon.

Soon after that encounter, October’s Harvest Moon bathed the earth in creamy nocturnal colors, enabling the skunks to waddle their way around with ease. You could follow their trails with your nose.

Of course, this October brought more human-induced and unnecessary horror that just cannot be understood. Innocents in Las Vegas fell dead or injured faster than autumn’s leaves. I shudder at such horrid, incomprehensible, and inexplicable violence.

Even with that sad news, if you asked me to pick one month out of the year as my absolute favorite, it would be October. My October memory bank is overflowing.

One particular Ohio scene is indelibly etched in my mind as if it were yesterday. In reality, my regular morning walk on my favorite township road was actually four years ago.

Typical for an Ohio October morning, the air was crisp, embroidered with lacy fog that snaked across the landscape indiscriminately, propelled by the rising sun that warmed the country air. My stroll was nearly half completed when a young boy quietly passed me on his bicycle near an Amish parochial school. The sun’s defused rays colored everything a luminous, eerie monochrome on the hazy landscape canvas.

That’s an October memory I’ll always recall for its vividness, its sensory invigoration, and its blessed setting. It’s helped me to continually be alert for unfolding comparable moments. They are everywhere for everyone, especially in October.

Amish boy on bike, foggy morning

Into the fog.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under Amish, column, human interest, nature photography, news, Ohio's Amish country, photography, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, weather, writing

Zigzag Chilling

sister and brother, resting in the shade

Zigzag Chilling.

It would have been easy to title this photo “Relaxing in the Shade.” That is precisely what our granddaughter and her brother were doing while their big brother played baseball in the hot sunshine. However, it was the patterns that caught my eye as much as their shoulder-to-shoulder sharing of a video in the coolness. The black and white tread patterns of their shoes enhanced the multi-blue zigzag pattern of their blanket pad.

“Zigzag Chilling” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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

Welcome to the Center of the Universe

Center of the Universe, Wallace ID

Looking east on Bank St., Wallace, ID.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I never met Ron Garitone, the late mayor of Wallace, Idaho. I’m sure I would have liked him if only based on one creative decision he made for his small mining and timber town located in Idaho’s panhandle.

Pushed on an environmental issue by the EPA in 2004, the mayor was told, “If a thing cannot be disproven, it is thereby proven.” The incredulous but affable mayor called the government’s bluff. He proclaimed his beloved Wallace the Center of the Universe because his claim could not be disproven, he said. His proclamation gained international attention. Wise town leaders seized on the idea and installed a fancy manhole cover that doubles as a marker in the middle of the main intersection declaring Wallace as the center of the universe. Blue and white tourist signs mark the spot.

Wallace ID, humor

The proof is in the manhole cover.

As I stood there admiring the designation with no fear of the typically light traffic, I flashed back to my early Holmes County, Ohio days. Impressed with its rural location and horse and buggy prominence, people who visited us, including several of my family members, asked me why we lived there. I had a ready answer for them.

“We live here because Holmes County is the center of the universe.” That usually brought puzzling, blank looks. So I’d clarify. “If I want to see anything else in the world, I have to leave here.”

I was joking of course, much like the good-humored mayor. However, there was a grain of truth to the statement. Rural counties universally can’t offer all that their citizens need. Folks travel to more urban areas for entertainment, sporting events, doctors, shopping, and fine dining to name just a few.

Sometimes everyday items can’t even be bought in the heart of Ohio’s Amish country. Specifically, it’s a fact that neither gasoline or alcohol can be purchased in either Saltcreek, Holmes County or Salt Creek, Wayne County. That point carries far beyond those two commodities.

colorful leaves, Holmes Co. OH

Autumn in Ohio’s Amish Country.

Nevertheless, the faithful residences of the greater Holmes County area still love where they live. In my nearly seven decades of living, I’ve found that most folks feel the same way about where they reside no matter where they call home. Home is home. It’s all they need, sometimes all they know. As far as they are concerned, it is indeed the center of their universe.

If we all feel that way, we can’t all be right. The truth is we all have bragging rights to that claim. Each of us is entitled to make that statement. But that does not diminish the other towns or peoples.

I know that is true from having lived all of my adult life in Holmes County, Ohio, where I spent my most precious and productive years. To me, it was the center of the universe. It must have been. It attracted three to four million visitors a year.

Now my view has changed, right along with my life’s purpose and priorities. I have a new center of the universe from which to operate. I can see it every time I walk to the mailbox, every time I travel down Pin Oak Dr. Mole Hill greets me, calls me, as it does so many others.

Mole Hill is an ancient volcano now covered with dense woodlots, lovely homes, and fertile farm fields. Mole Hill is simply unmistakable and is the landmark by which all folks within its eyeshot navigate. In western Rockingham County, Virginia, Mole Hill is the center of the universe. I dare you to prove otherwise.

center of the universe, Rockingham Co. VA

Mole Hill, Rockingham Co., VA.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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

Sanctuary!

DC 3, keeping cool, shade

Sanctuary!

Record-breaking heat has affected Americans all across the United States this late summer and early autumn seasons. Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley was no exception. The shadow of the left wing of a restored and fully functioning DC 3 airplane brought at least temporary relief from the hot sun for this mother and her young daughter attending a recent air show near Bridgewater, Virginia. In the shade of the hanger in the photo’s background is the first Air Force One, Columbine II, used by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

“Sanctuary!” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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

Say goodbye to summer, hello to fall

Silver Lake, Dayton VA

On Silver Lake.

By Bruce Stambaugh

It’s another quiet morning in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. The warming sun has climbed high above Massanutten Mountain to begin evaporating the valley fog and mist wisp by wisp.

The leaves of the red maples in our yard have started their annual process of revealing their true colors and the reason for their designated nomenclature. Even before they fully blush, a few tumble one by one onto the still luscious grass beneath.

red maple tree, turning leaves

Green to red.

The school buses have already made their morning rounds. It’s quiet now, with only the sound of blue jays squawking in the distance. My wife is her busy self, the washing machine already spinning its first load. Still, I can hear the soft sound of the dry mop gliding over the oak floor. Neva is in her realm.

Orange and brown wreaths have replaced the sunny summer ones on neighbors’ front doors. Pumpkins and pots of yellow and scarlet mums beckon visitors from their sidewalk setting.

The signs of autumn’s arrival have been overlapping with those of summer’s waning for weeks now. The outer rows of massive cornfields have long been cut and chopped into harvest bins. The rest will soon follow until the silos are full. The Old Order Mennonites drive horse and buggies to church. They wheel huge tractors down narrow country roads into their sprawling farm fields with no thought of contradiction.

Shenandoah Valley farm, large farm equipment

Old Order Mennonite farm.

It was a pleasant summer, our first as residents of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Folks kept saying that this wasn’t a normal one for Virginia. With intense hurricanes brewing and massive wildfires sweeping the west, is there such a thing as normal weather anymore?

The chimney swifts that called our neighbor’s flue home for the summer disappeared days ago. Ohio friends have reported flocks of common nighthawks winging south. Shorebirds, some rather rare, made pit stops in the Funk Wildlife Area, Killbuck Marsh, and Beach City backwaters to the delight of novice and hardcore birders alike. Those, too, are sure signs of fall’s arrival.

Starlings, northern cardinals, and cedar waxwings have already obliterated the bright red dogwood berries even before the trees’ curling leaves have completely transitioned from green to crimson. The Carolina wrens provided the soundtrack to the feeding frenzies.

Old Order Mennonite horse and buggy, Dayton VA

Down the road.

Just as we did the summer, we anticipate with wonder whatever our first Virginia fall delivers. Neva will continue to play chief cook and bottle washer for our daughter’s household until the volleyball season subsides in early November. Just like all the other seasons, I’ll continue to do whatever I’m asked or told to do. Usually, it’s the latter.

Seasons come and seasons go. Life marches on. We embrace each moment of each day with joy no matter the silliness, pettiness, and egotistical disposition of those in more powerful positions than the rest of us.

That, my friends, is the way it is. We must keep on keeping on no matter the season, the situation, and the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Rake leaves with a smile on your face. Stop and talk with your neighbors who are likely doing the same chore. Share your abundant tomato harvest or a freshly baked apple pie with others. The results will be delicious.

Enjoy the pleasant fall weather, the changing of the leaves, the foggy mornings, the brilliant sunrises, the stunning sunsets, and each moment in between. In the process, autumn will fall most graciously upon you and yours.

Rockingham Co. VA, sunset

September Shenandoah sunset.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under birding, birds, column, family, food photography, human interest, nature photography, photography, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, weather, writing

Striations and one lost hat

sunflowers, field corn, cumulous clouds

Striations.

I’ve always enjoyed finding objects in my photographs that I didn’t know where there until I viewed the shots on my computer. This photo is the perfect example.

The original focus of this capture was the striation effect created by the blooming sunflower heads, the tassels of the ripening field corn, and the rows of cumulus clouds on a late summer’s day. However, upon closer inspection, I found what appears to be someone’s lost hat hanging on a stalk of a sunflower in the foreground. It’s a tradition of this Old Order Mennonite farmer to allow folks to freely harvest as many sunflowers as they wish from this five-acre field. A little box is nailed to a utility pole for donations, which are given to a local charity.

I surmise that someone lost the hat while picking sunflowers and another kind person found it, placed it where it could be seen if the owner came looking for it.

“Striations and one lost hat” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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

Lessons learned from an 11-year-old

Bearfence Mountain, Shenandoah NP

Atop Bearfence Mountain.

By Bruce Stambaugh

We got the last space in the parking lot. My 11-year-old grandson and I were beginning a hike in nearby Shenandoah National Park.

We had trudged this trail with his entire family a couple of years ago. This time the two of us would do the trek on our own terms and in our own time. Clearly, though, we wouldn’t be alone. The warm sunshine and cool temperatures drew many others to hike in the perfect weather.

I carried snacks and water in my multi-pocketed vest I mostly used for birding and photography. I packed extra batteries for my camera given my history of digitally documenting every step of the way. Davis carried the binoculars.

Our ascent began as soon as we crossed the roadway. Soon we joined the Appalachian Trail that winds through the Blue Ridge Mountains. A stone marker with a metal band identified where our loop trail and the main trail split.

We indeed encountered other hikers, some early birds who were on their way down, and others like ourselves who were ready for the rocky trail ahead. As we climbed, we always had to watch our step. The trail consisted of dirt, stones, terraced steps formed by exposed tree roots, and huge rocks.

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Ascending the summit of Bearfence Mountain is more of a rock scramble than it is a climb. For an 11-year-old, it was child’s play. For a creaky-boned, gimpy-kneed grandfather, it felt like survival.

I struggled to pull myself up the jagged boulders that served as the ridge-top trail. Undulating, rocky outcroppings intermittently protruded above the surrounding forest of oaks, maples, sassafras, wild cherry, and dogwoods.

Davis, on the other hand, bounded catlike up, down, and around the biggest boulders. Rectangular dabs of baby blue paint clearly pointed the way over the exposed bedrock and through narrow crevasses and the many trees. When I dallied, either to catch my breath or to take a photograph, Davis retreated to make sure I was keeping up.

During an easier section of the trail, Davis surprised me with a hiking theory he had developed. He said a team of hikers required five different people.

“You need a photographer,” he said, “who is last in the group because he or she is always taking pictures to document the trip.” I appreciated both his astute observation and his subtle hint at picking up the pace.

A hiking team also needed an explorer to guide the group and who usually took the lead, he continued. I think he had found his calling. The other skilled positions included a writer to record and report about the trip once it is completed, a carrier to tote the equipment, and a collector who gathers samples to research after the expedition.

I thought his comments both profound and practical. However, I quizzed him about the obvious. Weren’t the two of us already doing all of those tasks?

“Oh, yes,” he said. “I guess you’re right. But it’s still easier if you have five.”

As we enjoyed the expansive views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west and ate our snacks, other hikers joined us. Butterflies danced in the forest openings and sunbathed on lichen-covered rocks bordered by wildflowers and bright berries. Davis, of course, kept practicing his hiking team concept by being the explorer. He disappeared and reappeared at will.

I didn’t need to ask my grandson what he thought of the day. Davis’ enthusiasm spoke more ardently than any words could. He had enjoyed the outing as much as his pooped Poppy.

Bearfence Mt., Shenandoah NP

The explorer and the photographer.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under column, family, human interest, nature photography, photography, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, travel, Virginia, weather, writing

Roaming around the Virginia countryside

Rockingham Co. VA

The westward view.

By Bruce Stambaugh

When I first moved to Holmes County, Ohio a month after the devastating July 4th flood in 1969, I explored the countryside to get my bearings. As a rookie teacher, I wanted to know where my students lived, and what they were dealing with in the flood’s aftermath.

We had several other rookie teachers who were also new to the area. Our principal, Paul O’Donnell, loaded us all in his Chevy station wagon and chauffeured us around the hills and dales where our students lived.

Holmes Co. OH, Killbuck Marsh

The marsh and wooded hillsides on southwestern Holmes Co., Ohio.

Being a geography geek, I greatly enjoyed the tour. I decided that was the best way for me to get to know the Holmes County area. I bought a county map and drove the dusty back roads as often as I could. I marveled at the diversity of the area’s topography and vegetation.

In a matter of minutes, I went from marshlands up steep, winding roads to the top of hills with majestic views of the valleys below. Hillsides were often densely wooded, while croplands and pastures dominated the gently rolling landscape atop the ridges. I repeated the process when I moved to the eastern section of the county.

Whether east or west, I greatly enjoyed getting to know the countryside and its inhabitants. My wife and I are trying the same approach in our new county of residence, Rockingham, Virginia. Only we often use GPS instead of a map.

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With Rockingham twice the size of Holmes County, there’s a lot of ground to cover. We’re chipping away at it as time allows. So far, we’ve explored a lot of beautiful scenery and quaint, rural towns. It didn’t take us long to discover why they are called the Blue Ridge Mountains. Even the Allegheny Mountains cast a blue hue in the day’s waning light.

The folks we’ve met so far are as friendly and polite as advertised. No one has even mentioned my Holmes County accent.

Besides sightseeing, our exploring is purposeful, whether traveling into the City of Harrisonburg, or the rural areas of the county. Running errands, going to appointments, buying fresh produce, an afternoon with the grandkids, all get us out and about, finding our way around our new home.

horse and wagon, Rockingham Co. VA

Old Order Mennonites on an afternoon ride.

We also explore with friends and relatives who visit and want a look around, too. I enjoy those trips the most. They usually involve a stop at a local restaurant to try their fare, followed by another stop at a local ice cream shop. The problem is deciding which one.

We’ve been practical about our excursions. We live in a housing development that serves as a buffer between the city to the east and the county to the west. Consequently, most of our rural exploring to date has branched out north, south, and west of our home.

We’ve especially come to love the Dayton area, where many of the Old Order Mennonites live. Old Order Mennonites drive horse and buggies just like the Amish. And like the Amish, they are deeply rooted in the soil. Most are farmers. Some are business owners, providing services that the majority of their peers could use. Harness shops, bicycle shops, and dry goods stores are typical.

Many have branched out into businesses for customers beyond their own culture. Orchards and produce stands are prominent.

We have enjoyed our junkets around the Rockingham countryside vistas. We’re looking forward to uncovering exciting new places and making additional friends and acquaintances. In Virginia, both are easy to do.

Rockingham Co. VA, sunset

Sunset from the front porch.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under Amish, human interest, nature photography, Ohio, Ohio's Amish country, photography, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, travel, Virginia, writing

At the Gate

horses, pasture

At the Gate.

I had just finished talking to the young man about taking photographs on his father’s farm. As I started to get into my vehicle, I spotted the man at the gate to a ranging hillside pasture. This stunning pair of steeds trotted down to greet their friend. Since he had given me permission to shoot photos, I had to take this scene. I doubt that the man thought he and his beautiful horses would be my first photo.

“At the Gate” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under Photo of the Week, photography, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia