Category Archives: travel

Beautiful view, horrific history

Shenandoah NP, New Hope VA
The one thing that constantly amazes me is how much I learn by taking photos. And often what I learn has more to do with the setting than photography itself. This photo is the perfect example.

Anyone would be happy to take this shot. I certainly was. The late afternoon light was perfect shining on the Blue Ridge Mountains, highlighting the ice-encrusted trees along the undulating summit. This is the southern section of Shenandoah National Park.

I noticed a historical plaque close to where I had stopped to get the shot. So I pulled up to read what the plate said. I was stunned. Here among all these rolling farm fields against the backdrop of the mesmerizing Blue Ridge Mountains a bloody, decisive Civil War battle had been fought. Known as the Battle of Piedmont, Union soldiers defeated Confederate troops. This led to the fall of Staunton and control of the railways in the Shenandoah Valley, known as the Breadbasket of Confederacy.

The combat was costly on both sides. The Union suffered 800 casualties and the South nearly twice as many with 1,500. I wondered if passersby knew of the blood spilled all those decades ago. What did the farmers think as they plowed those fields?

I took the photo with mixed emotions. The scenery was marvelous, the history humbling. Without the marker, this would be just another beautiful rural scene. In reality, it is so much more than that.

“Beautiful view, horrific history” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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

Different state, same old weather

stream in winter, Holmes Co. OH

Winter weather creates beautiful scenes, but the extended cold gets tiring.

I don’t know about you, but I’m more than ready for spring. It’s been a severe winter all around, and it’s not over yet.

Just last week on three consecutive days the National Weather Service issued Winter Weather Advisories for Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Winter assaulted us with an assortment of ammunition from her arsenal. Rain, freezing rain, sleet, and accumulating snow pelted down upon the usually lovely Shenandoah Valley. And then yet another arctic blast settled in.

It was even worse in the Deep South. Massive tornadoes marched across a broad landscape reaping incredible destruction and death. That devastation put our whining about the blustery weather into proper perspective. Still, I’m ready for spring.

When people learned my wife and I planned to move from Holmes County, Ohio to Virginia, we heard a common theme, “At least the weather will be better there.” Well, not necessarily.

ice storm, Harrisonburg VA

Results of the latest freezing rain.

We’ve lived in the central Shenandoah Valley now for nearly two years. When it comes to weather, it’s a lot like Ohio. That only stands to reason. We live near Harrisonburg, which is no further south than Cincinnati.

Of course, longitude, latitude, and altitude jointly play leading roles in the weather everywhere. Millersburg, Ohio, our former home, sits at 899 feet above sea level while Harrisonburg’s elevation is 1,325 feet despite being in The Valley.

Thanks to the dangerous combination of an El Nino and a wildly fluctuating northern jet stream, most folks in the United States share my winter weather fatigue. The El Nino off of California’s coast has incubated storm after storm that pounded the Pacific coast. With a rerouted jet stream, those storms have dumped heavy snows in places not accustomed to such stuff. Just ask the good citizens of Seattle, Washington, and Tucson, Arizona.

The jet stream speeds the storms along its southeasterly flow. That results in areas already hit by too much snow getting pounded again and again. If warm air did manage to mingle into the mess, flooding ensued. Rivers all across the country have run high most of the winter. Flood warnings have lasted days on end.

The wild weather hasn’t always been wet, either. Windstorms have caused havoc with power outages and buildings being damaged by downed trees. In Shenandoah National Park, 100 trees per mile were reported down along one section of the Skyline Drive.

Purple Finches, Harrisonburg VA

Purple Finches stopped to refuel on their way back north.

Friends in the Buckeye state have teased me that Ohio’s wintry weather seemed to follow us to The Commonwealth. Friends in Virginia have kiddingly blamed me for the lousy Virginia winter weather. I just shrug my shoulders.

Despite the miserable weather, signs of spring have made themselves known. Birders are ecstatic that migrating birds are once again on the wing. Our neighbor’s forsythia is pushing its yellow buds in competition with trumpeting daffodils. Despite the ugly weather, photos of crocuses blooming flooded social media. Tree buds are ready to unfurl their hidden life.

We take for granted another sign of spring. Daylight hours are increasing daily, although we will “lose” an hour with the return of Daylight Savings Time.

Spring is officially just days away. March’s vernal equinox can’t come soon enough.

Our neighbor’s blooming forsythia covered by snow.

Still, there is no guarantee that winter’s harsh hand will let go of its hoary grasp on us. Our only hope is to hang on as best we can until spring’s warm kisses smother us with fragrant bouquets and songbird serenades.

Why has this winter seemed never-ending? Perhaps it is so we will joyously welcome spring’s gentile weather with a renewed appreciation for its refreshing rebirth.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Filed under column, human interest, nature photography, Ohio, photography, rural life, travel, Virginia, weather, writing

Meeting friendly folks wherever we go

painted buntings, Amelia Island FL

We got to see this beautiful couple at the invitation of friends we made in Florida.

Travel and people. That’s an intriguing combination of which my wife and I never tire.

People are as interesting, unique, and varied as the places we visit. The two are intrinsically intertwined, humanity and landscape, a finely woven rainbow tapestry incarnate.

Neva and I enjoy chance encounters with others as we explore and uncover new locales, cultures, and tradition. Most folks we meet are friendly, courteous, and respectful, transcending race, religion, sect, gender, or avocation.

Everglades NP, friendly couple

The couple who told me about the hawk.

That proved true again during our latest snowbird experiences this winter. From the time we left home at December’s end until we arrived back in the Shenandoah Valley, we visited fascinating places and met kind earthly citizens wherever we went.

I couldn’t begin to list all the memorable interactions. A sampling of the kindness and hospitality shown to us will have to suffice.

We connected with Rich and Pauline, friends from Holmes County, Ohio as they visited other acquaintances on Amelia Island, Florida. Neva and I reaped the benefits of hospitality from both couples. A beautiful pair of painted buntings visited the backyard feeders of Tim and June, who retired to Fernandina Beach a few years ago.

We found gregarious guides, helpful rangers, and friendly visitors on a junket to south Florida at the end of our stay on Amelia. People offered to take our photo at landmarks. They gave us suggestions on eateries preferred by locals.

The gregarious tour guide who knew his fish.

The guide on our Everglades boat tour rattled off scores of fish species that inhabit the waters in and around the national park he so adores. He did the same for the many types of beautiful birds we encountered, too.

Fellow tour-goers we met were equally congenial. We kept running into a recently retired couple from Muncie, Indiana. Their interests in exploring Biscayne and Everglades National Parks mirrored ours. We shared conversations and leisurely walks together.

A ranger at an Everglades visitors’ center was most helpful in highlighting the best birding spots for us. We weren’t disappointed at all as we followed his suggestions.

At one location, we ran into a former college basketball coach from Newark, Ohio who knew Hiland Hawks basketball well. He couldn’t believe it when we told him our son and daughter graduated from Hiland.

At another stop, a young couple on a boardwalk in the Everglades told me about a hawk they had seen. I watched it stalk, kill, and consume its marshy meal.

key lime pie, Key West FL

A tour guide at the Ernest Hemingway House steered us to a tasty piece of Key Lime pie at a local eatery.

In Key West, our tour guide of the Ernest Hemingway House and Museum steered us to the perfect nearby restaurant. We took a leisurely lunch outdoors, enjoying our food in the luxurious Florida sunshine.

The Sunshine State couldn’t claim dibs on friendliness, however. The guides at Hunting Island State Park in South Carolina made our visit there most pleasurable. Like us, they were retired educators.

A lady from Michigan who climbed the 167 steps of the Hunting Island Lighthouse chatted away like a long lost friend. Together we watched from atop the lighthouse as dolphins plied the ocean waters for breakfast.

Nor will I forget the affable shuttle bus driver who returned us to our van from the airport. She remembered us right away though she had met hundreds of other travelers in the six days between transporting us.

I learned a lot on our winter trip, and we met many nice people. After all, humans are designed to be relational.

That relationship involves responsible interaction through stewardship, mutual respect, and affirming connectivity. Neva and I were grateful to be in the graces of folks who not only believed that, but lived it, too.

Amelia Island FL, sunset photography

Sunsets, birds, and people were the ingredients that made for an enjoyable vacation.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Filed under architectural photography, birding, birds, column, history, human interest, nature photography, photography, travel, writing

How to stay warm in the winter

winter weather, Ohio's Amish country

In winter’s grasp.

The polar vortex has had its way with most of us in the U.S. again this winter. Once it sank south and east out of the Canadian Arctic area, record cold temperatures and wind chills were set all across the northern states and some far into the south.

My wife and I watched the TV news in sympathy with those freezing in the frigidness of blinding blizzards and well below zero wind chills. We even had freeze warnings in northeast Florida, where we have spent parts of the last few winters.

Thanks to the Arctic air, it was cold there, too, in relative terms of course. Amelia Island is as far north in the Sunshine State as you can get. So when massive cold fronts spawned by the polar vortex invade the eastern U.S., we often feel the effects, too.

Fernandina Beach FL, Amelia Island FL

Pretty but cold.

With an ocean breeze and air temperatures in the 30s, the beach is no place to be either. Neither is the middle of a blizzard. We watched with dismay as TV reports showed the severity of weather conditions from several different stricken areas. Unfortunately, several people died from exposure to the dangerous cold.

I always liked the winter, and mainly snow. But the blizzards of 1977 and 1978 taught me that winter’s punishing harshness better be respected. Staying warm is always paramount.

That’s a primary reason for becoming a snowbird. I’ve said it before. The older I get, the colder I get. Other senior citizens that we met in Florida concurred. It is a natural consequence of the aging process.

Living in the heart of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley isn’t quite far enough south to avoid winter’s icy blasts. So we continued our snowbird trips after moving from northeast Ohio.

We enjoyed a month’s stay at a rented condo on Amelia Island and then headed to the far south of Florida. We visited the Florida Keys for the first time for a few days and soaked up perfectly warm weather.

With high temperatures in the 70s and 80s, it didn’t take us long to sport a tan. We spent the handful of days we had on the go. We greeted the morning sun and filled each day with as much adventure as possible until well after dark.

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However, we seldom checked off all the items on our wish list of places to visit. Spontaneity overruled preparation. We took advantage of surprises and vistas we came upon, stopped to enjoy and do some birding, and moved on to the next spot.

We especially enjoyed visiting Biscayne National Park and Everglades National Park. Together they protect much of the delicate habitats of southern Florida, preserving a vast variety of wildlife, flora, fauna, and people, too.

I never thought I would ever venture out onto the open ocean waters in a pontoon boat. But we did in both beautiful parks. The combination of generous sunshine and the joy of adding new birds to my life list warmed me through and through.

However, it wasn’t until we returned home that I encountered genuine radiant warmth. The weather had nothing to do with that.

At Sunday dinner, we caught up on our oldest grandson’s basketball season. The middle grandchild chatted on about the books he read and his upcoming band concert, while the youngest seemed contented to merely enjoy her lunch. Our daughter and her husband filled in the happenings in their busy lives, too.

The Florida experiences warmed us physically. That warmth, however, paled in comparison to that of reconnecting with our family.

Everglades NP, sunset, photography

Sunset over Eco Pond, Everglades National Park, FL.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Filed under birding, birds, column, family, human interest, nature photography, photography, travel, Virginia, weather, writing

Happy Valentines Day!

roseate spoonbill, Everglades NP
There is no better way for an avid birder to wish everyone Happy Valentines Day than to share a photo of a very special bird. This juvenile Roseate Spoonbill posed nicely for me in the wetlands of Everglades National Park near Everglades City, FL.

Like many other avian species, the prominent features of the bird give it its name. Its awkward looking bill is offset by the delicate pink feathers of this much-admired bird.

So for my Photo of the Week, I again wish you Happy Valentines Day!

© Bruce Stambaugh2019

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Butterfly Breakfast

Butterfly Conservancy, Key West FL
My wife and I visited the Key West Butterfly Conservatory and Museum in Key West, FL. It’s a magical place, full of colorful butterflies and plants and flowers on which they thrive. We arrived right after the business opened, which turned out well for both the butterflies and us.

The staff had just set out plates of over-ripe fruit sprinkled with various nutrients the butterflies needed. Whether intended or accidental, the breakfast offerings for the lovely creatures were themselves works of art.

“Butterfly Breakfast” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Filed under food photography, human interest, nature photography, Photo of the Week, photography, travel

Architectural conflict resolution

Jacksonville FL, office buildings
Squabbling for a corner office shouldn’t be a problem for this bank building in downtown Jacksonville, Florida. Given all of the off-set corners, every vice president should have an excellent view of the river and harbor below.

“Architectural conflict resolution” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Filed under architectural photography, human interest, Photo of the Week, photography, travel

Finding color in the dead of winter

Creek, marsh, and forest.

For the last few years, my wife and I have avoided winter’s harsh weather by escaping to our beloved Amelia Island, Florida. Amelia is a barrier island located as far north in the Sunshine State as you can get. It’s not balmy, but it’s never snowed there either.

We rent a condo on a beach on the Atlantic Ocean. Ideally, that setting should be retreat enough for me. I guess I’m just too fickle for such pleasantries.

Great Egret.

My favored place to commune on Amelia is Egans Creek Greenway. It’s an environmental paradise inside a paradise. Situated in the northeastern section of the 13-mile long island, Egans Creek meanders in multiple channels through a salt marsh wetland of grasses, reeds, and various plants and trees.

The greenway is a dedicated green space designed to protect the original environment for animals great and small. Part marsh, part maritime forest, part waterway, the greenway provides habitat for shorebirds, wading birds, birds of prey, songbirds, and mammals of all kinds.

Of course, it serves as a multi-purpose outdoor recreational gem for us humans as well. The greenway has dedicated paths for bikers, hikers, walkers, birders, and the just plain curious. Benches are placed every so often for people merely to rest and enjoy whatever comes along.

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The nature preserve changes character with the tides. It’s brackish waters invite gorgeous birds, like herons, egrets, ibises, and roseate spoonbills.

As you might imagine for any marshland, reptiles thrive as well. On warm January days, I search for sunbathing alligators. Families of turtles and discreet but playful river otters also are fun to watch if you are fortunate to find them. I seldom see snakes.

In all the years we have been vacationing here, this year by far has been the most colorful on the greenway. The hues, however, were a curious mix of spring and fall.

Usually in dormancy for the winter, the greenway grasses showed green, delicate flowers bloomed, and leaf buds swelled pink. Others displayed brilliant yellow and red leaves of autumn. Vivid impressionistic landscapes displayed around every turn.

Cedar waxwings trilled high in the trees, waiting on the light blue cedar berries to darken to ripeness. American robins chirped in the thickets, unable to hide their distinctive call. Eastern bluebirds decorated barren branches.

Grey catbirds and northern cardinals shuttled from one bush to another like hyperactive children. A phoebe flicked its tail on an elevated tree limb, took to the air, grabbed an insect, and returned to the same spot.

Clapper Rail.

At high tide, a clapper rail came out of hiding in the reeds and swam across the creek only to disappear again. A stately osprey hovered silently overhead before snatching a dusky female hooded merganser off the surface of the water.

Thousands of yellow-rumped warblers chipped and darted from cedar to pine to maple and back again. In the shallow waters below, pure white great egrets with their sturdy yellow bills and stick-like, coal black legs waded in search for a fishy lunch.

A red-shouldered hawk perched on a snag in the middle of the marsh, unphased by the two-legged intruders that stood in awe snapping photos or zipping along on bicycles or walking their leashed dogs. With only predatory priorities, the buteo paid no heed.

Viewed altogether, the trees, the flowers, the bushes, the birds, the reptiles, and the bikers, even the dog walkers created living exhibits in an interactive art gallery. They painted the greenway an even lovelier retreat than I had expected.

It’s why I keep going back.

Colorful alligator.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Filed under birding, birds, human interest, nature photography, photography, travel, writing

Willet at Dawn

willet, Atlantic Ocean, sunrise photography, Fernandina Beach FL
Writing, birding and photography are a few of my many interests. When I can combine a couple of them into one fabulous moment, I am more than contented.

In the process of photographing a gorgeous sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean in northern Florida, a willet wandered into the frame. I love when those unexpected opportunities arise. The shorebird was merely out on its morning breakfast stroll, probing the wetted sand for any tasty morsels along the seashore. For me, however, having the bird enter the scene right as the sun dawned provided a spot of perspective for the colorful seascape. I couldn’t have been happier.

“Willet at Dawn” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Filed under birding, human interest, nature photography, Photo of the Week, photography, travel, writing

Sunrises deserve our attention and praise

sunrise, Amish farm

A winter sunrise in Holmes Co., OH.

I’m a sunrise junkie. Spending most of my life in bucolic Holmes County, Ohio hooked me.

Sunsets can be gorgeous, too, but there is just something special about watching the blackness of night slowly transform into an explosion of shimmering radiance.

Sunrises usher in a new day, every day. No two are alike. Sunrises paint the horizon in majesty, no artificial coloring, chemicals, or preservatives added. Mornings can be brilliant, sometimes dull, and often obscured by clouds or our personal negligence. Nevertheless, sunrises persist.

Sunrises are free. They literally edify people, whether they realize it or not.

I’ll admit that I didn’t fully appreciate the power and gift of a peaceful, awe-inspiring sunrise. Living in pastoral Holmes County quickly instilled a resounding admiration for the daily occurrence. The rural settings east and west accounted for that.

Sunrises, however, enhanced those inspiring countryside scenes. I thrilled at watching a winter’s dawn filter through the little woods behind our Killbuck home. Yesterday’s snow morphed from white to pink to purple and back to fields of sparkling diamonds in a matter of minutes.

rural sunrise

Rural sunrise.

That silent, reverent beauty astounded me, readied me for the day ahead, and fortified me to proceed with whatever I encountered. Naturally, some days were better than others. If I remembered the sunrise, my burden often lightened enough to sustain me.

That existentialism increased along with my responsibilities when I became an administrator, and we moved to East Holmes. Our home was built on an Amish farm with incredible views east, north, and west. Spectacular sunrises made them more so.

I rose each day to arrive at school by 7 a.m. More often than not, a sunrise greeted me on my way. In the winter, the sun appeared as the young scholars arrived. The already rosy-cheeked faces became even more so.

Likely, I am romanticizing those long ago moments. No matter. Like the rising sun’s universal effect, the memories whitewash the darker times of anyone’s career that involves daily interacting with people of various ages, traditions, and beliefs. That doesn’t negate nor diminish the recollections.

For something so brief, sunrises serve as powerful reminders of what was, is, and can be. It’s up to the eye of the beholder to discern and employ the light’s soothing warmth with all those we encounter through justice, mercy, and humility. That’s the potential of a single sunrise.

I found it ironic then that all these ardent thoughts tumbled through my mind like crashing waves as dazzling daylight washed over the Atlantic Ocean. That’s the mysterious point of life’s cosmic magic, isn’t it?

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At first, a hint of paleness divided the dark sky from the sea as billions of celestial jewels sparkled in the heavens above. Soon a thin orange line stretched clear across the distant horizon. Cottony clouds sprinkled high and low caught invisible rays and turned them into a surreal light show that out shown any Disney artificial production.

Black skimmers winged by, flying silhouettes scooping their fishy breakfast from the salt water surface. Forster’s terns hovered, dived, and plopped into the sea for theirs, briefly breaking the glassy waters.

Everything, the sand, the water, the sky turned some shade of purple, lavender, and then pink, orange, and red. I stood frozen and silent on the shore. Awed, I observed, appreciated, absorbed, and offered unspoken words of praise.

My school days have long since passed. Yet, another day was at hand. With each sunrise, I aspire to share the light with anyone anytime I can.

I hope sunrises do the same for you.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Filed under Amish, architectural photography, birding, birds, column, human interest, nature photography, Ohio, photography, rural life, travel, weather, writing