My wife and I are on our winter vacation on Florida’s Amelia Island northeast of Jacksonville. We try to retreat here during winter’s coldest time. Though it’s not balmy here like southern Florida, we don’t have all that snow folks do up north right now.
There are a great many things to like about Amelia Island. The sunrises and sunsets top my list, closely followed by the wildlife, especially the many species of birds.
Our rented condo is right on Main Beach in Fernandina Beach. Unless it’s cloudy, sunrises are a daily treat. No two are alike.
We don’t have far to go for sunsets either. We drive to various spots along the Amelia River that afford marvelous views of the setting sun. Of course, not every evening offers up a golden sky, but we have seen many glorious sunsets in our several visits to this unique isle.
I enjoy photographing as many sunrises and sunsets as possible. I love sharing them with you all the more.
My wife and I wanted to wrap up our 50th anniversary year with the entire family in someplace warm. It didn’t quite work out that way.
Since our son’s career is in hospitality, we let him make the reservations. He found a family-friendly, eco-friendly resort south of Cancun, Mexico. However, it ended up that he and his wife couldn’t join us after all. Their doctor wouldn’t let her travel out of the country due to her high-risk pregnancy.
So, our daughter and her family, and my wife and I headed to Cancun without them with their blessings. We left Christmas Eve and returned on New Year’s Eve.
It was great to lounge in 85-degree weather on the beach with our three grandchildren and their mother and father. They enjoyed the waterpark, too, since the shoreline was rocky and uneven. We relaxed with them, chatting and teaching them card games.
Our reservations were made in early October, well before the omicron variant reared its ugly head. We double-checked with the airlines and the resort regarding their COVID-19 protocols. We were assured that all precautions would be taken, and that is what we experienced. We always felt very safe.
Here are some representative photos of our week-long experience at Sandos Caracol Eco Resort, Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
Palm trees provided plenty of shade for us, non-sun worshipers. The beach was lovely, but there were more rocks than sand under the water, which required water shoes to be worn to stay safe.
We spent Christmas Day getting acquainted with the resort. One of our grandsons and I explored the Mayan ruins on the resort property. We saw several giant iguanas, enjoyed a meal at one of the resort’s restaurants, saw the sunset, and watched a reenactment of a Mayan fire ceremony.
Of course, our oldest grandson and his dad had to try the jet skis while the rest of us watched from the shore. We also enjoyed the beautiful flowers and greenery that were all around us.
Because the resort is built in a jungle, we didn’t have to go far to find wildlife. Often, the critters came to us, mainly because people ignored the “Do Not Feed the Animals” signs. So, it was prudent to not leave anything on your balcony or your sliding door open. As a birder, I was pleased to see a variety of bird species. Some were life birds for me.
We enjoyed our time at the resort. Patience was paramount given that, like most everyplace else, the resort was short-staffed due to COVID-19. Being flexible enhanced our overall enjoyment of the Sandos Caracol Eco Resort.
My wife and I and another couple toured a greenhouse in the Shenandoah Valley for their Christmas Open House. I was expecting Christmas wreaths and lots of poinsettias. They had those, but these festive calla lilies dressed in their many holiday colors really caught my eye.
For a while, we thought summer would never end with the oppressive heat and humidity and the lack of sufficient rain in many regions of the U.S. and globally. But clearly, autumn has now settled in for the duration.
The first widespread frosts and snows for the northern climes have yet to occur. Tinder dry conditions in the western U.S. began early in the summer and continued far into fall. Thankfully, a record-breaking rainstorm helped put an end to much of the drought.
The primary anticipated autumn event for us humans is the changing of the leaves, which has turned out to be much later than usual. In many places, it has also been much shorter in duration than in previous years.
Fall is a favorite season for us photographers. The migrating birds, the changing leaves, the glorious sunsets and sunrises, and the autumn bounty of flowers create plenty of photographic opportunities. Plus, the weather is cooler and generally more pleasant.
I watched weekly updates from the qualified rangers at Shenandoah National Park, my go-to place for taking pictures. The reports kept saying the peak had yet to arrive.
Fall foliage maps created by tourist bureaus offered hope even though green seemed to be the dominant color within my range of vision. When one such map showed the adjacent counties west of us in West Virginia to be near peak color for leaves, I headed out.
Once over the first range of the Allegheny Mountains, I could see that the map and reality didn’t jibe. That didn’t deter me. It was a beautiful day, so I headed to Dolly Sods Wilderness, a noted photographer’s spot. I had never been there, and I wanted to get a lay of the place, if nothing else.
I was pleasantly surprised that the mountaintop wilderness preserve provided many colors, despite the lack of large deciduous trees. I snapped away and enjoyed my short stay.
A few days later, my wife and I drove north to upstate New York to visit our son and his wife and then turned east to the Adirondack Mountains, another new venue for me. We took four days on mostly state routes through Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and the Empire State.
Though it was typical peak leaf-peeping time, the colors on the maples, ash, hickories, and others mainly remained green or dull in color. In the Adirondacks, we were a bit late but saw splashes of brightness between multiple rainstorms.
On our trip home, only in central Pennsylvania did we see the expected reds, yellows, golds, crimsons, and oranges of the fall. Since we were on the interstate, we enjoyed the views without being able to stop for photos.
The leaves have finally begun to turn here in the Shenandoah Valley. Spots of colors dot cityscapes, landscapes, hillsides, and mountain forests. But as multiple cold fronts moved through with winds and rains, many leaves came tumbling down.
Like usual, nature had some life lessons to teach us. Natural wonders happen in their own time.
We learned or were reminded to be patient. The leaves did turn like we knew they would, just not when we had expected.
We learned to look for the beauty in whatever we found. It could be a single speckled leaf lying on the ground or a spider’s web adorned with morning dew drops like dazzling pearls on lacy strings.
We learned, too, to be grateful for all the beauty around us, not just in colorful leaves.
After visiting the mountains of West Virginia, and traversing the highways and byways through West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York in search of brilliant fall colors, I finally found some. This in-transition soybean field is a mile from our home in the Shenandoah Valley.
As you can see, the trees still aren’t very colorful, but the various shades of yellow intermixed with the verdant green of the soybean leaves caught my attention. Set beneath the cottony clouds and the cerulean sky, the scene nicely framed the farmstead.
I recently browsed through the myriad of old photos on my computer and made a startling but joyous discovery. October and our grandchildren go hand-in-hand.
I didn’t realize how much time we had spent with our grandchildren in October. That may not seem odd, but we lived in Ohio when they were born in Austin, Texas.
That’s where the October and grandkids began. We traveled to Texas multiple times in the decade that our daughter and son-in-law lived in the Austin area.
As I scrolled through the October photos, the grandkids just popped out at me. Being their grandfather, I know I am prejudiced. But a neutral person perusing the images also would have noticed the excessive number of grandkids’ photos.
That discovery made sense for our granddaughter, the youngest of the three. She was born in October, and of course, Nana had to be there for her birth and days after. I joined them as I could since I was still working some.
There are happy shots of all of us taking turns holding Maren like a precious commodity. That’s because she was. All newborns are. So, yes, there are a lot of baby pictures of Maren. She’s still very photogenic.
The boys played soccer, and their sister soon became a real fan. Maren attended her first soccer game a week after she was born. Despite the persistent Texas wind, Maren barely made a peep, wrapped in warm coverings and coddling of her loving mother.
Near the end of that October, Maren was dedicated at the little church the family attended. You know I was there to record it all, meaning we flew to Texas twice in the same month. It was one of the perks of semi-retirement.
While in Texas, I captured their Halloween adventures. Maren’s first foray as plump baby pumpkin took the honors. Her brothers stood guard, ensuring she wouldn’t roll away. We also shot a family photo with varying results.
In subsequent years, scarecrows, spidermen, and other noted characters made their late October appearances in later photos. Who doesn’t want their pictures taken while all dressed up?
Once our daughter’s family moved to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, our connections became frequent and not always in October. We seldom missed celebrating Maren’s birthday in person, however. Her first birthday was a real bash.
Photos of doing October homework, playing video games, and Evan, Davis, and Maren watching their mother coach her women’s college volleyball teams. The three became regular gym rats.
Some of the funniest photos weren’t Halloween costumes. Capturing a mechanical bull bucking the boys to the ground ranked high on the list.
Once we also moved to Harrisonburg, Virginia, photographing the grandkids became much more accessible. Still, October seemed a photographic month.
There’s Maren in her great-grandmother’s wedding dress, enjoying treats after browsing a bookstore, and of course, more volleyball. At age nine, Maren preferred pumpkin pie to a birthday cake. To avoid craters in the filling, she blew out a single candle.
Shots of the grandkids run the gamut of their lives. Concentrating on Lego assemblies, playing with the family dog, cookouts, chopping firewood, participating in a relative’s wedding, playing in the spirit band, and baking with Nana were just a few of the grandchildren memories recalled thanks to the photos.
I also have a shot of two of the grandchildren sitting at a bar. There was no room in the restaurant, but the food was just as tasty seated on a stool.
That’s how much I love my grandchildren, especially in October.
My wife and I went on a leaf peeping tour of the central Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York. As you can see from the trees on the mountainsides, we were a little late.
It rained most of the time we were there, and I felt fortunate to capture this scene during a brief break in the cloud cover. They weren’t the fall colors I was looking for, but it was pretty nonetheless.
To look at this photo, you would never suspect that this is the top of a mountain. But it is.
This beautiful landscape is at Bear Rocks Preserve in the Dolly Sods Wilderness in West Virginia. Dolly Sods is managed by the U.S. Forest Service, and they describe this preserve as “a diverse and complex ecosystem of windswept heath barrens.” Heath barrens are vast areas of uncultivated land, and are consider by some as wasteland because they cannot be used for agricultural purposes.
High above the Canaan Valley, this amazing preserve is a mix of giant rocks, stunted red spruce, mountain laurel, bogs, and blueberry bushes with their brilliant crimson leaves. Such landscape is usually found much further north in Canada.
Bear Rocks is a much-photographed area because of it stunning vistas. “Heath Barren Beauty” is my Photo of the Week.
By its very nature, October holds a storehouse of memories for people. It’s a month on nostalgia steroids.
Who doesn’t remember raking leaves into giant piles in the yard and then jumping into them? Guilty as charged.
I have fond memories of our father loading his brood into the family station wagon and heading southwest along the winding, hilly roads to Holmes County, Ohio. That was before the state eliminated the undulating curves between Berlin and Millersburg.
I distinctly remember stopping along the road on the east side of Millersburg at Briar Hill Golf Course to view the vibrant colors of the changing leaves. Dad especially loved a giant sugar maple’s warm oranges and reds.
Years later, when I found myself teaching in Holmes County, I ventured out after school to explore the backroads for scenic views myself. It was a two-fold way to enjoy the colorful landscape and learn my way around.
I always found the hills around Glenmont to be stunning when the leaves were exceptionally bright. I also found them difficult to scale as a volunteer firefighter when a passing train sparked a woods fire up a remote and steep pass.
I remember standing on schoolhouse hill overlooking Killbuck, where I taught. Billowing smoke from burning leaf piles filled the valley from one end of town to the other. My eyes watered from the fragrant stinging. Fortunately, outdoor burning like that is no longer permitted.
Once my wife and I moved to the county’s eastern end, I found the trees were just as beautiful as in the west. Rows upon rows of corn shocks enhanced the bucolic scenes all the more.
When my wife retired 15 years ago, we were freer to explore October’s natural wonders far beyond our limited Holmes County horizons. We discovered our beloved county wasn’t the only pretty place on earth.
Friends invited us to share a condominium with them in Arizona in early October. In locales like Sedona and the Grand Canyon, we discovered vibrant autumn colors in rocky ridges and spires instead of leafy trees. It was gorgeous, just the same.
Of course, October offers more than brilliant colors. I remember hayrides down Panther Hollow with our church youth groups on dark and chilly nights. Hot cider and fresh donuts at the outing’s conclusion sealed the spooky experience.
Not to let nostalgia carry us away, October often brought the first frost and the first snow. I recall embarking on a conservation field trip with a busload of underdressed fifth graders. By the end of our farm tour, we all were tromping through inches of snow.
October highlights come in so many flavors and textures. Various festivals abound celebrating harvest time, including cheese, wine, pumpkins, and apples. It’s all about socializing.
Produce stands and greenhouses hold customer appreciation days before they close for the season. Dodging the yellow jackets can be as challenging as bobbing for apples.
October is in the middle of fall migration for many birds species. Shorebirds and birds of prey use sunny day solar thermals to aid their southern journey. The last of the Monarch butterflies wing it to Mexico.
Halloween, though, seems to overshadow all of the beautiful interactions between humankind and our environment. Entire towns decorate for Halloween comparable to Christmas. I’m not against that, but I simply prefer the daily unfolding natural beauty.
October provides plenty of opportunities to get outside and enjoy the crisp air, golden sunsets, and changing foliage. Consequently, October stirs lots of emotions.
Perhaps the best October memories are the ones we make today.
We were all standing on the deck of the cabin when my wife spotted a bright red bird at the top of a tree 40 yards away. Through the binoculars, I quickly found the bird. Its jet black wings nicely contrasted with its radiant red body.
Upon hearing the description, the property owner was ecstatic. “I’ve been hoping the scarlet tanager would return,” he said with glee.
I got as much kick out of Rice’s reaction as I did seeing the distinctly marked bird. After all, this was a big, middle-aged man, not some youngster seeing this beauty for the first time.
I love it when people love nature. Their company becomes all the more enjoyable.
I shouldn’t have been surprised by our host’s excitement. My wife and I were there as guests to tour his expanse of property high on one of the seven hills of Glenmont in southwestern Holmes County, Ohio.
Our connection with this enthusiastic young man and his partner Liz goes back decades. My wife was Rice’s kindergarten teacher. We’ve known Liz since she was born and her baby boomer parents even longer.
When our children were children, they played together. We were as close as close friends can be. Neva and I felt privileged to explore this restored property that was all about conservation.
The scarlet tanager was only one of the highlights of our visit. Inside the cabin, an old property plat map hung framed on the wall. I’m a sucker for maps, and it called my name.
When I look at a map, one of the first things I do is find the legend. It tells me how to read the map. The descriptions of the property boundary markers caught my attention.
A large solid blue dot represented stone markers, which European settlers used when they claimed the land not long after Ohio became a state in 1803. Different icons identified more conventional boundary markers like standard iron pins.
Out on the large porch of the restored cabin, we spotted more than the scarlet tanager. Barn swallows swooped low over a trio of small ponds, skimming the water’s surface for a drink on the fly. A pair of young eastern bluebirds watched the show from perches on a dead ash tree. Painted turtles sunned themselves on an old snag angled into the water.
Sensing my intrigue, our hosts piled my wife and me into a Cadillac version of an all-terrain vehicle (ATV), and off we went to tour the rolling, mostly forested acreage. Of course, I wanted to find those unusual stone markers, too.
Our friends had cleared and maintained paths that wound up, down, and around the hilly landscape. We were in for a real treat.
We crossed a tree line in the ATV and spied a young buck with velvety spiked antlers. We stopped to view an open, rolling field planted explicitly with crops for the wildlife. Conservation is Rice’s practical goal.
As we continued over the undulating trails, our host pointed out trees he specified to be left by loggers who thinned the woods three years earlier. He walked with the loggers to ensure only the designated ones were cut.
High above the cabin, we came upon one of the old stone markers. It was too easy to find. A surveyor had recently spray-painted its top fluorescent red.
I appreciate people who care for the land. When they express their excitement openly at seeing the fruits of their labor, everyone is rewarded, including the wildlife.