Category Archives: travel

Mountain Laurel with a view

mountain laurel, Grayson Highlands SP VA, Whitetop VA, SW VA

Mountain Laurel with a view.

Traveling with friends, we wanted to reach the overlook at Grayson Highlands State Park near Whitetop, VA, before a front moved through bringing heavy rains. We just made it.

We were pleasantly surprised to see not only a marvelous view but that the Mountain Laurel bushes were blooming. No other clumps of them were in blossom as we drove up the mountain. These beauties just made the view all the more impressive.

The mountain range far in the distance is the Blue Ridge.

“Mountain Laurel with a view” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Putting lifelong learning into practice

Old Order Mennonites, Shenandoah Valley

Sunday morning at Pleasant View Old Order Mennonite Church.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Exploring has always been in my blood. Curiosity has coursed through my veins all of my life.

The move from Ohio to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley merely whetted my appetite to become familiar with my new surroundings. A myriad of opportunities abound, either spontaneously or scheduled, to explore this beautiful, historic setting.

The view from Pleasant View Old Order Mennonite Church.

Many of my junkets have been self-started. A lazy afternoon’s drive around the rolling, scenic countryside brings new people and places into my life. The Shenandoah Valley region is rich in history, a personal favorite subject. I needed more.

I joined scores of other retirees who were also eager to still learn a few things in life. James Madison University, located in Harrisonburg, offers a Lifelong Learning Institute to that end.

I just completed my second class, an overview of Mennonites in the valley.
Phil Kniss, the pastor of Park View Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, taught the class. He is an astute student of Mennonite history, so I knew I’d learn a lot.

The first session served as a historical survey of Mennonites, tracing their beginnings to the 16th century Reformation. Because of their steadfast beliefs, many Mennonites endured persecution to the point of martyrdom.

Consequently, many moved from their European homelands to the New World, where they hoped for a new chance to live peaceably. Unfortunately, conflicts followed them right into the 18th century as they settled in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. They tried to live in peace farming the fertile soil, but war found them again.

Armed with that information, class field trips sent us into the lives and history of the many sects of Mennonites in the valley. A small choir enthralled us with their magnificent singing at the local Mennonite high school that is celebrating its 100th year.

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At the Old Order Mennonite elementary school, I flashed back to former Ohio days of living among the Amish with their own private schools. The horse and buggy Old Order Mennonites are spiritual cousins to the Amish.

At the unassuming Old Order Mennonite church, a devoted preacher succinctly explained the scriptural basis for their simple way of living. Like all other Old Order men, he was clean-shaven but spoke Pennsylvania Dutch, an anomaly among his people.

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At the buggy shop, we laughed and learned through the wisdom of the father-son combo that so efficiently ran the business so necessary to the Old Order way of life. The elder’s humor kept us on our toes.

In an Old Order Mennonite home, we gave thanks and feasted on a scrumptious home-cooked meal. The sparkle in our host’s eyes twinkled her delight in our contentment.

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At Bank Mennonite Church, we learned of an orchestrated church split with genuine intent to agreeably disagree on specific theological applications while continuing a parallel spiritual path. Congregates dressed and lived like Conservative Mennonites in Holmes County, Ohio with a notable exception. Again, the men had no beards.

At the final class at Crossroads Heritage Center, we explored a type of living museum. Guides explained pioneer life as we wound through original, relocated old houses and various other buildings.

It was a fitting location for the last class. From high on a hill, the valley played out below us. The city bustled beneath the hot morning sunshine. Yet, the farmland’s still earthy springtime fragrances enveloped us.

From that vantage point, I imagined the struggles, the heartache, the determination and the desire to live their lives in community together through productivity, and finding peace and satisfaction in weaving their daily lives together.

Strangely and marvelously, I felt right at home.

View of the valley from the garden at Crossroads.

© Bruce Stambaugh

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

Cootes Store

old general store, Rockingham Co. VA

Cootes Store.

It’s been nearly a year now that my wife and I moved from Holmes Co., Ohio to Virginia’s Rockingham Co. One way I’m learning about the area, its people, its topography, its history, its culture, is just by driving around. Of course, I usually have my camera with me to document what I see and find.

Before we moved from Ohio, we would pass through a small burg named Cootes Store on our way to visit our daughter and her family in Harrisonburg. It was hardly more than a crossroads in the northwestern part of the county. I found the name intriguing and just assumed that once upon a time a real “Cootes Store” must have existed there.

On one of my discovery runs, I found Cootes Store. Its personality jumped out at me through all of the old, eclectic merchandise visible inside and out. This likely isn’t the original building, but it is all that remains of what once must have been a thriving business to have a town named for it.

You can read more about the history of Cootes Store here. “Cootes Store” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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

Blue Moon Eclipse

blue moon, eclipse, Amelia Island FL

Blue Moon Eclipse.

Sometimes the stars do line up for you. In this case, it was the moon and the sun. On the morning of January 31 precisely at sunrise, the first blue moon of 2018 began a total lunar eclipse. You can see the beginning of the eclipse at about 11 on the moon’s face. The moon sank below the horizon before the eclipse was total.

I was fortunate to be able to capture the extended but broken reflection of the moon in the Amelia River at Fernandina Beach, FL. Dawn’s first light illuminated the sailboat moored in the river.

“Blue Moon Eclipse” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Fogbow

fogbow, Little Talbot Island SP FL

Fogbow.

I’m a weather nut, geek, groupie, whatever you want to call me. The weather has fascinated me since I was a child. My wife will verify that I get antsy in severe weather. I’ve tried to channel that excitement and energy into practical action. I’ve been a severe weather spotter for the National Weather Service since 1975.

Imagine my surprise when the fog rolled in off of the Atlantic Ocean while walking a beach near Mayport, FL one afternoon. I was surprised and thrilled to see this rare fogbow appear. I was extremely fortunate to be at the right place at the right time because fogbows don’t last long and are seldom photographed.

Fogbows are cousins to rainbows. Fogbows form from the sun reflecting in millions of tiny water droplets that make up the fog. Since it takes one million cloud droplets to make a single rain droplet, the fog droplets are too small to adequately refract the colors that create rainbows. Consequently, the fogbows shine bright white but only for a brief time. Because of their color, fogbows are also called ghost rainbows, white rainbows, or cloud bows.

You can get a feel for the size of the fogbow by comparing the people below the far left end of the weather phenomenon. “Fogbow” is my Photo of the Week.”

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Enjoying traveling in silence

St. Augustine FL

St. Augustine, FL is a favorite destination for us.

By Bruce Stambaugh

My wife and I like to travel. We’re not world travelers by any stretch of the imagination. Mostly we embark on both long and short ventures to visit friends, explore new places, and revisit old haunts.

Given today’s complexity and expense of flying, road trips are our favorite. That means Neva and I spend lots of time together in our vehicle.

Our peers, other retired couples, do the same of course. Most report that they use the road time to chat with one another, plan future activities, and discuss ongoing world events. Not us.

When we travel by motor vehicle, Neva and I have a solemn, implicit pact. We seldom talk. It’s been that way almost from day one of our marriage. I suppose it’s just a habit that we quickly fell into. But we have made it work for us.

From my experience, most folks seem uncomfortable with silence. Neva and I take it in stride, each using the quiet time in different ways. Neva reads, stitches, does word puzzles, or plays games on her iPad. Me? As I drive, I observe, think, and plan. I know that sounds a bit boring, but I find the quiet time refreshing.

We can be spontaneous, though. We don’t necessarily travel from point A to point B. We like to stop if we see something that catches our eye. That’s especially true for me. I’ve even been known to turn around just to photograph a lovely landscape scene or an attractive old building or an eagle snacking in an open field.

WV farm, cornshed

This farmstead in West Virginia is typical of the scenes I stop to photograph.

When we can, we drive the old surface routes, avoiding expressways and interstate highways, especially if we don’t have to be somewhere at a given time. Doing so makes life so much more interesting for us.

We also traveled with our son and daughter when they were young. That was before cell phones, iPads, iPods, and in-vehicle entertainment centers. We would have the typical family verbal interactions. But on long trips, Neva always had individual activities for the kids to fill the road time.

Those trips weren’t as peaceful as the ones we take now by ourselves. No one would have expected them to be, but our son and daughter weren’t rowdy either.

As we’re driving, every now and then I’ll think of something I meant to ask Neva but forgot. I seem to do that more and more these days. So I’ll ask on the go. She does the same with me. That question may lead to further discussion and a resolution to a dangling participle in our lives. Without long stretches of silence, that unresolved issue might not have even been discussed.

I also find sustained silence helpful in flushing out touchy topics I have avoided for fear of disagreement. After all these years together, we know that it’s better to lay all the cards on the table than secretly hold them to fester. Perhaps a moving vehicle keeps conversations progressing, too.

The happy couple

In my younger years, I was a bit uncomfortable with silence when others were around. I tended to fill the space with words like I loved to hear myself talk. I didn’t. Experience has taught me that listening can be more valuable than speaking.

For Neva and me, sustained silence has strengthened our relationship. It’s a nonverbal equalizer where neither dominates, and we both can participate as we choose. In our specific case, it’s been an essential part of our wedding covenant for 47 years and counting.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Snow on the Mountains

Allegheny Mountains, snowstorm, Gap WV

Snow on the Mountains.

Nature ushered in springtime with a significant snowstorm in the eastern part of the United States. We received at least seven inches of heavy, wet snow in Rockingham Co in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Though I would have preferred a warmer welcome to spring, the storm beautifully blanketed the landscape far and wide.

In this photo, the tree-studded Allegheny Mountains of eastern West Virginia show the stunning results of a substantial March snowstorm.

“Snow on the Mountains” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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There really is no place like home wherever that may be

Holmes Co. OH, sunset, Ohio's Amish country

Holmes Co. hills at sunset.

By Bruce Stambaugh

My wife and I were returning from our winter hiatus on Amelia Island, Florida when I first spotted a glimpse of familiar mountains. We were still well south of Martinsville, Virginia in the folding foothills of North Carolina’s Piedmont region.

As much as we had enjoyed our time in the Sunshine State, we were glad to see those Blue Ridge Mountains that would guide us home. They earned that name long ago with the shadowy, bluish hue they cast from a distance. Their western cousins, the Allegheny Mountains, do the same.

We wound our way through south-central Virginia. We passed my maternal grandmother’s homestead and cruised through Roanoke, a city surrounded by those ancient, rounded ridges. From that point, the primary objective was to stay alive amid the bobbing and weaving strings of traffic on the always congested and dangerous I-81, which dissects the lovely Shenandoah Valley.

Holmes Co. OH, Amish farm

Holmes Co. farmstead.

It was the last stretch that led us home. Less than a year ago, our home was among the lesser but equally charming hills of Holmes County, Ohio. Ironically, they are the westernmost foothills of the Appalachian range that includes both the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains.

Neva and I had spent all of our adult lives living in Holmes County. We had resided in both the county’s western and eastern sections. In west Holmes, the valleys were broader and hills steeper than those in the more gently rolling landscapes of the east that were dotted with Amish farms and family-owned cottage industries. We loved our times in both the east and west.

After a lifetime of arriving home in Holmes County, my emotions felt conflicted, from incongruity to tranquility as we approached our newest county of residence near our grandchildren. Still, we shared the familiar feelings of comfort and security as we approached our Virginia home.

That amalgam of thoughts flooded my mind as Massanutten Mountain came into view. It’s the geographic landmark that juts through the center of Rockingham County and looms to the east of our new hometown, Harrisonburg.

Mole Hill, Harrisonburg VA

Mole Hill.

Exiting the interstate, I pointed the van west towards an even more iconic landmark, Mole Hill. It’s alleged to be a long-dormant volcano, now sprinkled with stands of mixed hardwoods, fertile farm fields, and homey farmsteads. Mole Hill appears to be at the end our street. In reality, it’s a couple of miles west the way the crow flies. Viewing that satisfying scene brought smiles to our faces.

Because we were so deeply rooted in the Holmes County community through schools, church, and local service organizations, it has taken us a while to indeed settle into being Virginians. This return trip from Florida personally sealed the deal.

Please click the photos to enlarge.

I never thought I’d consider any place but Holmes County home. I was wrong. As much as we enjoyed our time in Florida, it was reassuring to be back in the Shenandoah Valley.

A few minor complications arose, however. I couldn’t remember where the cereal bowls were, the bathroom light switch was, and that the wastebasket was under the kitchen sink. The weather also forced us to wear winter coats again.

I have a friend Ava who was born and raised just a few miles from our suburban Virginia home. She now lives in Ohio, and always celebrates returning to these “blue, blue mountains,” as Ava refers to them.

Neva and I now know that same exhilarating feeling. With no disrespect to Holmes County, it was good to be home.

Allegheny Mountains, sunset, Shenandoah Valley VA

Blue at sunset, too.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

bullfrog, St. Patrick's Day

Kiss me. I’m green!

I’ve never been one to engage in the all-out celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. However, since March 17 is upon us, I thought I would dedicate my Photo of the Week to highlight that universal holiday.

I took this shot of what I believe to be a bullfrog sunning itself in a wildlife reserve section of a park in Albany, Oregon last August. It was the photo with the most green in it that I could find in my files. In keeping with the tradition of the day, the frog was likely singing, “Kiss me. I’m green.”

“Happy St. Patrick’s Day!” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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

Why the beach has gone to the dogs

dogs on the beach, Fernandina Beach FL

Dogs on the beach.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Never mind the weather. The dogs must have their way. Rain, sunshine, fog or full on gales, owners walked their dogs on the Florida beach where we holed up for the winter.

Depending on the degree of training, sometimes it was hard to tell if the owner was walking the dog or the other way around. Most were on leashes, the dogs I mean. Taut, loose, stretched, harnessed, or sometimes no tether at all, the dogs were right at home on the beach.

The canines did more than walk, of course. Like their human masters, they liked to play. An older man heaved a bright orange tennis ball as far down the beach as he could several times. In anticipation, his hybrid-mix furry companion sprung and bounced in timing with each cock of her master’s arm. In seconds, the golden doodle returned, dropped the ball at the man’s feet and sat waiting for more. In each of our snowbird years, my wife and I observed similar scenes replicated scores of times.

dogs on the beach, Fernandina Beach FL

The game.

We love dogs. We both had dogs as pets growing up and from time to time during our marriage. Now we just travel too much to own a pet. Instead, we get our personal dog fix by hosting our granddog from time to time.

I fully understand, then, the desire, the human need to have a pet dog. People love dogs as long as they are friendly and not too rambunctious. Research has shown that dogs make excellent companions, especially for the elderly.

Folks regularly walked their canine companions on the beach morning, noon, and evening. They did so, of course, for exercise and to take care of the unpleasant necessaries. I should have invested years ago in the stock of companies that manufacture those little plastic cleanup bags.

Big dogs, little dogs, in-between dogs pulled their masters up and down the beach. Others walked along obediently at the same pace. Still, others ran freely, returning when called. Only on rare occasion did we witness any doggy misbehavior. When you’re on the beach, there’s plenty of opportunities for bird dogs to be bird dogs. The shorebirds just seem to tolerate and toy with them anyhow.

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A pleasant side effect of dog walking on the beach was the socialization that occurred. Dogs are naturally attracted to other dogs and more often than not the owners are just as cordial to each other.

Sometimes the humans got so involved they failed to notice the incoming tide. An astute pedigree might take advantage of this opportunity to remind its owner of the encroaching sea in hopes of a reward in the form of a treat. With that, the conversations ended, and all parties moved on, up and down the beach stepping in time to the soothing breakers.

On weekends and holidays, teenagers joined the parade. I can’t prove this, but I suspect that both pretty girls and handsome boys use their beloved dogs as bait to lure in some new friends. If true, who can blame them? The results are the same. Both the dogs and the teens get the attention they need and desire.

So did we. I can’t count how many times we stopped on the beach to admire a lovely dog, ask its name, breed, age, or whatever questions came to mind. I’m happy to report that so far during our snowbird stays that only their masters provided the answers.

dog under umbrella, Fernandina Beach FL

Smart dog.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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