Diamonds and Ducks

Two treasures in one photo

Bird migration is in full flight. To check for any waterfowl and shorebirds that might be passing through, I head to nearby Silver Lake in Dayton, Virginia. It’s also a favorite spot for sunrise and sunset photos.

On a recent afternoon, I found this flotilla of ducks in the sparkle of the afternoon sun at the south end of the lake. Among this group were Ring-necked and Redheaded Ducks and Greater Scaups.

“Diamonds and Ducks” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Routines dropped, added, and kept during the pandemic

Blooming Mountain Laurel in Shenandoah National Park, June 2020.

In one way, it’s hard to believe that a year has passed since we had to alter our daily routines drastically. In another, the time between then and now seems a blank.

One Sunday last March, I greeted people at the church door, welcoming them as they arrived for worship. A week later, state after state began issuing orders banning all large group assemblies, including church services. Officials directed additional guidelines as well, all for society’s well-being.

The coronavirus had instantly changed our lives. Since then, more than half a million have died of the virus in the U.S., and 2.5 million globally. That is the very definition of a pandemic. It has been an unwelcome global intrusion that affected all of us in one fashion or the other.

A change of regular routines became the norm universally. It was difficult to adjust so quickly, especially for those stricken with the virus. Given the circumstances, adjusting was all we could do to stay safe.

With our usual routines interrupted, the obvious choice was to develop new ones. So, that’s what my wife and I did.

If we went out, we wore masks that my industrious wife made. Throughout the pandemic, she sewed 1,200 and donated them to individuals, churches, non-profit organizations, schools, and medical facilities. She also knotted five comforts for a charity.

Instead of going inside to buy groceries, we ordered our staples online and picked them up curbside. We continue that process, along with ordering takeout from local restaurants. We like to support the mom-and-pop establishments as much as we can.

We took advantage of decent Virginia weather days in 2020 as much as possible, taking hikes, going birding, and meeting with family and friends in well-ventilated places. Of course, we always masked up and kept our physical distance.

Day trips to local, state, and national parks and arboretums replaced planned vacations. For the first time since 1987, we missed our annual respite at our beloved Lakeside Chautauqua.

My exercise program changed when gyms closed. I biked in the neighborhood, and I walked with Neva when the weather cooperated. We joined a twice-weekly yoga group via Zoom.

My wife and I started a new routine that we both enjoy. Nearly every morning, around 9:30, we take a coffee break and play cards. We’ve played hundreds of games, and I am exceedingly pleased that Neva hasn’t kept a running tally of wins and losses.

We loved hosting friends and family. With the necessary physical distancing guidelines still applicable, Neva magically transformed her gift of hospitality into taking food and meals to others.

Despite the sluggish snail mail, we have redoubled sending note cards to friends. We’ve also added more texts and actual phone calls to our repertoire of communication.

How we have attend church services for the last year.

Our church pastors and staff have done a yeoman’s job of keeping church services going via Zoom and YouTube. Thanks to them, we’ve only skipped that one Sunday.

We miss the joy of congregational singing. I have kept one custom, however. Despite worshiping remotely, I continue to dress for church. I felt compelled to continue that tradition if simply to confirm that it is Sunday.

When will we be able to return to our pre-pandemic routines? That question currently has no answer. Until then, we will continue to play it safe by maintaining our pandemic practices.

I do have a question about whenever we can return to worshiping safely in the church building again. Will I be allowed to take my recliner and drink my coffee during the service?

Neva made our Christmas masks.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Soft Sunrise

Heavenly pastels at their finest.

As lovely as this sunrise is, it wasn’t my objective for the morning. I had risen early to get a shot of February’s Snow Moon setting behind the Allegheny Mountains about 15 miles west of our home in Rockingham County, Virginia. The forecast said clear skies in the morning, so I headed out for the 6:47 moon-set.

A quick glance to the west and I realized that shooting the moon was out. Snow clouds had moved in over the mountains, obscuring the moon. I went for Plan B. I drove southwest to Silver Lake at the north edge of the town of Dayton. The sky to the east was clear, so I parked on the west side of the lake and waited. The sunrise wasn’t spectacular, but I loved the soft pastel colors that reflected in the small lake.

“Soft Sunrise” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Tufted Titmouse

A most attractive and affable bird.

Tufted Titmice are some of the cutest, most personable birds around. Their fairly plain coloration belies their personalities. These acrobatic birds are welcome at any backyard bird feeder. You can often hear them coming before you see them. Their variety of clarion calls are music to my ears. They whistle and call in a variety of ways, sometimes sounding as if they are scolding. Tufted Titmice are often accompanied by the local Chickadee patch.

Seen across much of the eastern United States, these active birds devour black oil sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, and peanuts. They are fun to watch and seldom sit still. I felt fortunate to be able to snap this profile of this Tufted Titmouse. It enables you to see all the bird’s identifying features: its stubby black bill, black forehead, pointy crest, its dominant gray color with rusty sides. The bird’s beady black eyes against its pale face make it easy to see where it gets its name.

“Tufted Titmouse” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

It’s an old-fashioned Ohio winter

Except we live in Virginia.

Just another snowstorm in northeast Ohio.

So far, this certainly has been an old-fashioned Ohio winter. The only problem with that statement is that we live in Virginia.

I was afraid this might happen since my wife and I decided to forgo our usual weeks-long hiatus to our beloved Amelia Island, Florida. It wasn’t always warm in our snowbird retreat there either, but at least it never snowed.

My preferred winter morning scene.

I don’t mind the snow so much. It’s the cold that gets to me. The older I get, the colder I get. My doctor blames that phenomenon on some of the medications that I take. Still, the results are the same.

My wife and I determined it best for us to stay close to home here in the Shenandoah Valley during the pandemic. We didn’t want to miss our chance at getting our virus vaccines since we were in a priority category to receive the shots.

We decided that it was better to endure the usually milder winters of Virginia than those of the Buckeye State we knew so well. This year there’s hardly been a difference.

Scenes from Ohio winters.

We have had cold, windy, wet, snowy, and often gray winter days. It hasn’t been as bad as living in the northeast Ohio Snowbelt. But we still feel those cold Arctic northwest winds nevertheless.

The Allegheny Mountains to our west help block some of the storms, and their western upslopes receive much more snow than we do here in the valley. However, if a storm tracks east of the mountains, we get our fair share of the white stuff, too. Snow and cold have been the rule, not the exception this winter for us.

So far this winter, we have had multiple measurable snowstorms. Some even lasted for a couple of days. We are used to seeing more sunny days here than we did in Ohio. Not this winter. I miss my frequent doses of vitamin D.

There is one good thing about snow in Virginia. It shuts everything down, significantly decreasing the number of drivers trying to test their macho mettle.

In Ohio, severe winter storms also closed schools, businesses, and highways. But that didn’t stop hardy souls from enjoying the snow. In extreme storms, snowmobiles ruled the roads until the snowplows ruined the fun.

Friends have teased us about all the winter storms we’ve had so far this year. “I thought you moved south,” they jest. My rational reply always is, “Yes, just not far enough south.” For the record, we are at the same latitude as Cincinnati.

Of course, we moved here for the grandkids. I’m pleased that they also have sledding hills to conquer and snow forts to build, as we did as youngsters. I’m contented to hear about their fun rather than join in.

Scenes for Virginia winters.

Snow brings more than recreation, though. The aesthetic results of valley snowstorms are a marvel. Like our former home, rolling farms dot the landscape of our expansive county. When blanketed with inches of snow, the already pastoral scenes turn majestic.

The mountainous landscapes become black and white panoramas of steeply sloped woods sprouting from white forest floors. Old Order Mennonites in buggies and on bikes don’t let the slippery stuff stop their endeavors. In that regard, it feels just like Holmes County, too.

The nice thing is that we don’t have to leave our home to enjoy the snow-sculpted scenery. Frosted branches of the neighbors’ evergreens bend low from the wet, white weight. We miss the Florida sunshine, but Neva and I are enjoying the beauty of wintertime in Virginia just as much as we did in Ohio.

Snow-covered Old Order Mennonite farms at the base of the Allegheny Mountains.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Dessert!

A Valentine’s Day surprise.

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. My wonderful wife served up a delicious noon meal. She saved the best for later. At halftime of a basketball game we were watching on TV, Neva brought out this amazing dessert: a gluten-free brownie sundae with vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup, topped with fresh red raspberries. It tasted even better than it looks. The flavors perfectly blended together.

I knew I had to photograph this lovely dish. The fire engine red table cloth as the backdrop made the red raspberries pop. It was a great way to finish off our Valentine’s Day dinner.

“Dessert!” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

The helpfulness of neighbors

When it is least expected and most appreciated

What is it about a snowstorm that brings out the best in people? Is it the commonality of being snowed-in?

Is it the down-deep desire to be helpful in any way possible? Is it the freshness of the pure white landscape plastered with inches of snow? Or is it the clean, cold, wholesome air?

Or maybe it’s out of the genuine goodness of people’s hearts, the opportunity and ability to help where help is needed that stirs folks into action. Perhaps it is all of these things rolled into one.

Whatever the motivation, the results are the same. Neighbors come together for the common good of all simply because there is a job to do.

In this case, it was to clear driveways and sidewalks.

Our National Weather Service office did an excellent job of warning the good people of the Commonwealth that a winter storm was imminent. Just the mention of snow in the forecast in Virginia, and schools, factories, and offices close.

Even if you had missed the winter storm warning announcement, the crowds at every grocery store should have raised an internal alarm. Supermarkets become jammed the day before, with folks buying enough supplies to last for weeks. I figured for this storm that the only milk left in the county belonged to the dairy cows still in the milking parlor stanchions.

So, yes, we were ready for snow, and when we woke the next morning, we weren’t disappointed. A beautiful five-inches blanketed everything animate and inanimate all around our suburban neighborhood.

The forecast was for the quick burst of heavy snow followed by a lull with more snow once the low hit the east coast. The wrap-around snow later from the nor’easter provided another three inches over a much more extended period.

After I had measured the snow depth at 7 a.m., I shoveled our front sidewalk and a path out to the street. I came back in to send in my snow report via email to the National Weather Service and eat breakfast.

Before I could return to the shoveling, Neva hollered that our neighbor Frank was snow-blowing our driveway. I hurriedly dressed for the elements and headed back outside. I thanked Frank but told him that he didn’t need to be doing our driveway.

A beautiful early morning snow.

Frank chuckled and modestly said that his snowblower needed the dust blown out of it. Given how little snow we usually receive in the Shenandoah Valley, I understood his comment. However, this winter has been different, and this was Frank’s first opportunity to use his machine.

Frank had already cleaned his driveway and that of another neighbor before doing ours. When he finished at our place, he went to Janice’s across the street.

To our surprise, our good-neighbor assistance continued. Frank had no sooner left when our next-door neighbor Wayne showed up and started shoveling the remaining snow. I tried to wave him off, but he was determined.

Then out of nowhere popped Jonathan and his mother, Deb, our across-the-street friends. They joined Wayne in clearing all the leftover snow. Of course, Neva and I helped, too.

I could hear snowblowers on other streets in our nearly 500-home development. We weren’t the only recipients of neighbors helping neighbors.

Neva and I were both thankful and humbled by the spontaneous actions of generosity. It would have taken me much longer than the few minutes that Frank and his impromptu crew needed to clear our drive.

But where were we going to go? Virginia was closed for the day and, just for good measure, the next day, too.   

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Fly Me to the Moon

I couldn’t believe my good fortune. Standing at the kitchen sink yesterday morning, I happened to notice the crescent moon hanging in the southeastern morning sky. I grabbed my camera and headed out to the patio to shoot the moon so to speak before the sun blinded it from view.

I took the photo and turned to go back inside since it was 15 degrees outside. I happened to notice a jet streaking through the sky to the left of the moon. I braced myself against the frame of our porch door and took this handheld shot just as the jet crossed in front of the moon. Immediately, the lyrics of Count Basie filled my mind. Of course, it was Frank Sinatra’s voice singing this iconic song.

“Fly Me to the Moon” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Inside Out

Always look up. You might be surprised by what you see.

I debated about how to title my Photo of the Week. Posting an apparent abstract photo is unusual for me. I even thought about holding a contest as to what the content of this photo actually is. But, I decided against it, and instead gave you a hint in the title as to where this photo was taken, which was inside my house.

I also considered titling the photograph “Winter Abstract,” but settled on “Inside Out.” Any guesses as to what this photo shows?

This my friends is actually a shot of the skylight in our great room. The crinkly pattern in the center of the photo is six-inches of snow atop the curved glass. It drew my attention when my wife and I noticed how dark it was in that portion of the room. When I investigated, I knew I had to share this beauty.

“Inside Out” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021.

Accepting reality will help us all

I’ll remember January 20, 2021, for a long time.

Yes, it the day we inaugurated a new president of the United States. It was also the day our country passed a sobering, horrid milestone. The number of deaths in the U.S. from the COVID-19 virus surpassed the total number of U.S. military personnel killed in World War II.

That stark and mournful statistic sends a message more significant than its unfathomable number. More citizens have now died of a virus in a year than a four-year-war. What does that say about us as a people?

Indeed, the rest of the world is watching us. And, I can tell you that friends who live in other countries are shocked by what is happening with the spread of the pandemic in our great nation. It shouldn’t have been this way. But it is, and we all have to do something about it cooperatively.

Scientists, medical personnel, and researchers made great strides in developing COVID-19 vaccines in a short time. Of course, they were aided by the federal government with funds and expeditious approval of the vaccines. For that, I give great thanks.

But the facts are facts. To curtail this horrible pandemic, as many people as possible need to get the vaccines. Because of supply and demand, many of us will have to be patient and wait our turn.

Because we are a democratic republic, federal, state, and local authorities must now work together to distribute the vaccines. Consequently, when you get yours will depend on where you live and to which category you belong. Each state has set its particular priority classification requirements for immunization.

In part, that is why my wife and I decided not to be snowbirds this winter. We wanted to stay home for several reasons. Safety and getting the vaccines were high on the list.

A snowbird breakfast.

Yes, we miss our friends and the crashing waves and warmer temperatures on our beloved winter paradise, Amelia Island, Florida. However, we were uncertain if non-residents would be able to be vaccinated in the Sunshine State.

This winter is our first full one in the Commonwealth, even though we moved here nearly four years ago from Ohio. It’s a lot like living in northeast Ohio, except we have more sunny days and less snow.

With all those years of living in much more severe conditions than we have in the Shenandoah Valley, Neva and I are making it through. We are also following all of the CDC guidelines as best we can.

We continue to stay close to home. We continue to do curbside grocery pick up. If we order a meal, we get it via curbside delivery. We much appreciate those services and tip accordingly to show our gratitude.

As for the coronavirus vaccine, we are still waiting.

We know that some people may be leery about being inoculated. We are not. We respect people’s rights not to, but we also expect them to follow the proper guidelines to keep the rest of the population safe.

The reality is that we must all do our part in dampening down this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic to ensure that it is quelled and does not reoccur. Getting the vaccine will go a long way to reaching that end.

We will also wash our hands, and wear masks and keep our physical distance when around others. We will continue to pray for the sick and all those who are working diligently with those infected.

Given the critical circumstances, it’s the best we can do.         

An Amish buggy.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021