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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

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

Summer Colors

Tiger Swallowtail, Silver-spotted Skipper
Summer Colors.

The Big Meadows area of Shenandoah National Park is a big, wide-open prairie-like saddle tucked between the park’s hardwood forests. It’s about midway along the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah N.P. According to a park ranger, no one is certain why the meadow is even there. No matter. It is, and the wildlife loves it.

In the summer, Big Meadows is especially a haven for songbirds and insects. Bright and fragrant wildflowers serve as food and habitat for the beautiful butterflies. These thistle blooms were a magnet for this pair of Silver-spotted Skippers and this female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.

“Summer Colors” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

Thunderstorm at Dusk

thunderstorm, Allegheny Mountains, Shenandoah Valley
Thunderstorm at Dusk.

I have too many hobbies. Besides photography and writing, I enjoy biking, birding, wildlife, wildflowers, hiking, weather, sunrises, and sunsets, just to name a few. Every once in a while, I am fortunate to be able to combine some of those activities into one outing.

Recently I explored a new location for sunsets. Though lovely, the promise of a blazing sunset diminished as the sun sank lower and lower behind the Allegheny Mountains 17 miles away. To the north, a rogue thunderstorm drifted over northwestern Rockingham Co., Virginia. The last of the day’s light dappled the outer edges of the billowing storm cell.

Being outside in the cooling evening air on this hillside cattle farm brought me much joy. Capturing a photo of a growing thunderhead highlighted by the setting sun in this idyllic setting capped another lovely day in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

“Thunderstorm at Dusk” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

Reflections on a Farm Pond

dairy farm, Rockingham Co. VA, Shenandoah Valley
Reflections on a Farm Pond.

It’s been four months since my wife and I moved from Holmes Co., Ohio to Rockingham Co., Virginia. I’ve enjoyed exploring our new retirement location, looking for new spots to photograph sunrises and sunsets. I’m especially happy when I’m rewarded with a glorious morning or evening sky. I am grateful to be able to share the beautiful results with you.

“Reflections on a Farm Pond” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

Threaded Rainbow

fabric store, colorful threads
Threaded Rainbow.

I normally don’t accompany my wife on shopping trips, especially if she is looking for material or quilting supplies. This day was different, however. We were exploring around western Rockingham County, Virginia when we came upon a dry goods store. Of course, we had to go in. I took some shots outside, especially of the Old Order Mennonite horse and buggy tied to the hitching rail.

I soon joined my wife inside. I was stunned at both the size and cleanliness of the store. Everything sparkled. The numerous skylights allowed plenty of the bright afternoon sun to flood the retail showroom. When I caught up to my wife in the fabric section, I was stunned by the display of colorful spools of thread. The cases offered a kaleidoscope of thread colors for the store’s customers, creating an unintended work of art.

“Threaded Rainbow” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

Fun names just make a lot of sense

Mole Hill, Rockingham Co. VA
Mole Hill sunset.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’ll admit that I wasn’t too happy when Holmes County, Ohio decided to number their highways instead of using names. That occurred when the house numbering system was employed decades ago.

I maintained then and now that people remember names much better than numbers. Plus, local residents already referred to many of the rural roads by using a name. If you said French Ridge Road, Weaver Ridge Road, Cherry Ridge Road, Number Ten Road, Goose Bottom Road or the Charm Road, most folks knew where you were talking about. Even today when you throw out a number, you often get blank looks.

My logic fell on deaf ears of county officials. Instead of those practical and appropriate names, the good folks and businesses of Holmes County got stuck with numbered roadways. But if a stranger asked a local for directions to see the cabin built on a rock, they’d probably be told to turn off of Dundee Road onto Trail Bottom Road.

I was delighted to see that names triumphed over numbers in our new home in Rockingham County, Virginia. The roads are also numbered, but their names prevail. Only numbers identify the main routes like I – 81, US 33, and State Route 42. The rest use the beautifully colloquial names that make perfect sense.

rural road names, road names
This way to Sparkling Springs.

Wonderful names you couldn’t invent don street corner signposts. They’re practical and memorable, which is what a road name should be. Keezletown Road leads to Keezletown. Silver Lake Road begins at Silver Lake near Dayton. Sparkling Springs Road dead ends into Sparkling Springs. See what I mean?

I feel like I’ve landed in Utopia. Even if you’ve never been to Rockingham County, Virginia, you probably can figure out what business is on Harness Shop Road. Singers Glen Road runs right through Singers Glen. And the village got its name because of people singing in a glen. That’s about as practical as it gets.

rural road names, rural roads
Harness Shop Rd.
Mole Hill Road only takes you to one place, Mole Hill. It’s a well-known landmark that predates human history. Whether going east or traveling west on Mt. Clinton Pike, you are sure to drive through the quaint village of Mt. Clinton.

Even the parks say what they mean. Natural Chimneys State Park is home to an ancient sedimentary rock formation that highly resembles chimneys. Many even have an opening like a hearth at their base. And the road that leads you to the park? Why Natural Chimney Lane of course.

There’s also Whitmore Shop Road, Muddy Creek Road that parallels Muddy Creek, and Fog Hollow Road. No guessing where that goes. There used to be a mill on Wengers Mill Road. And yes, the view on Majestic View Road is majestic.

Now some places are intriguing but leave me wondering just how they got their names. Briery Branch, Ottobine, Clover Hill, Penn Laird, and Cross Keys are some examples. In time, I’ll likely find the answers.

It’s just that having lived in Holmes County all of my adult life, I know towns and valleys and ridges are similarly named. Killbuck, Glenmont, Nashville, Beck’s Mills, Farmerstown, and Limpytown would be a start. Spook Hollow, Panther Hollow, Shrimplin Run, and Calmoutier each have their own particular piece of Holmes County folklore.

Roads and towns with names that recall historical times are both fun and fascinating. In a way, they help solidify a sense of community. People can identify with them. Names like that connect the past with the present. That’s something a number simply can’t do.

rural road signs
The majestic view.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

The Grain Wagon

grain wagon, grain harvest
The Grain Wagon.

The Grain Wagon

The mid-morning summer sun brightly illuminated
the freshly harvested grain fields.
Alternating light and dark strips of stubble
recorded the back-and-forth path
the huge combine took to do its deed.
The culprit, however, had already left the scene.

The only hint of any harvest machinery
was the bright red grain wagon resting
quietly by a squatty silver grain silo
that glistened in the warm sunshine.
The bold wagon’s fire engine red mocked the
lush greens of the alfalfa and the shade trees.

The sun showed off the barn and family
of outbuildings with equal zest.
A herd of fluffy cumulus clouds
floated shadows that danced upon the distant
mountain slopes dappling dark splotches
across the forest canopy and fertile farm fields.
Exhausted from hauling its multitude of heavy loads,
the grain wagon took no notice.

July 12, 2017

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

Less really is more

sunrise, Holmes Co. OH
The dawning of a new day.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’m not sure what took me so long to figure it out. It’s not like I hadn’t heard the concept before. I just never seriously applied the principle that less really is more.

When my wife and I became annual Florida snowbirds, we learned to live with a lot less than we did back home. Since we hunkered down in a condo on the Atlantic Ocean northeast of Jacksonville in January and February, we had to plan for four seasons of weather. Winter weather is uncertain at best that far north in Florida.

Florida pond
Cool morning, hot afternoon.

We shared just one closet smaller than each of our own clothes closets at home. That meant taking fewer clothes to Florida, combinations that could be layered. If it was chilly in the morning and we were going out for the day, we dressed warmly in outer coats, jackets, or sweaters, shedding layers as the day warmed.

With less selection, we just got dressed for the occasion, whether it was for church, dinner out, a walk on the beach or a photo outing. Sometimes we did a combination of activities.

Clothes weren’t the only items that were less in volume than we were used to. We lived in a much smaller space and with far fewer “things.” We had less furniture, fewer dishes, cookware, and almost no storage space. And yet we always had an enjoyable time. There was a lesson to be learned there.

When we purchased a house in Virginia that was substantially smaller than the house we had lived in for nearly four decades, we had important decisions to make. We had to evaluate and prioritize everything we owned. Would we need it in Virginia? Where would we put it? We truly had to downsize. We took our time, but we started early.

We sorted mementos from our school careers. Photos, drawings, grade books, and old textbooks were tossed, given away, or donated to thrift stores. Family heirlooms were distributed to any takers. We said goodbye to travel souvenirs, photos, tools, quilts, chainsaw, and camera gear, even bird feeders.

Besides finding homes for valued family and personal items, we held a garage sale and donated items to Save and Serve Thrift Store in Millersburg, Ohio. Because we spread out this process over several months, we were able to sleep at night.

Amish farm, Ohio's Amish country
Springtime in Ohio’s Amish country.

By moving from the place where Neva and I spent the best years of our lives, we gave up everything. The familiarities that became so routine, the incredible sunrises and sunsets, the friends, neighbors, family members. We miss all of them, all of that.

painting furniture
Making old new again.
In a way, it was like starting over. Sure, we knew folks in our new setting, we knew places, but it wasn’t the same. By doing so though, we realize we have gained by living with less. We actually have more. The real benefit of living with less is that it has brought us more joy.

As we enter our retirement years, it feels good to have de-cluttered our lives. We feel alive in finding new adventures, making new friends, renewing old friendships, exploring new places, seeing new sunrises and sunsets from new locales, on new farms, and from cityscapes.

For us, less has become more. We have shed ourselves of the excess, and strive to enjoy each moment, each day, each person we encounter, whether at the hardware store, grocery store or serving at the local food pantry.

Downsizing has enriched our lives. We are ever so thankful to heartily say that less truly is more.

those blue mountains
Enjoying new sunsets.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

Under the Sycamore Tree

Bridgewater VA, North River
Under the Sycamore Tree.

In our continuing exploration of the Rockingham Co., Virginia area, we found a riverside park in Bridgewater. The shape of this old sycamore tree caught my eye. With my friend, Rick, standing beneath the sycamore, it helped demonstrate just how massive this ancient tree was. Rick is a big man.

It was directly across the river from this tree that Conferdate soldiers attended a Sunday morning worship service in the field high on the hill.

“Under the Sycamore Tree” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

Maria Vincent Robinson

Photographer Of Life and moments

° BLOG ° Gabriele Romano

The flight of tomorrow

Jennifer Murch

Art is the only way to run away without leaving home. -Twyla Tharp

Roadkill Crossing

Writing generated from the rural life

ANJOLI ROY

writer. teacher. podcast cohost.

Casa Alterna

El amor cruza fronteras / Love crosses borders

gareth brandt

reflections about God and life

church ov solitude

We are all just babes in the woods.

Run to Rebuild

A blog of Jim Smucker's run across Ohio to raise money for a house for flood victims in West Virginia

%d bloggers like this: