Category Archives: travel

Spontaneity spices up every trip

I thought the scenery couldn’t get any better than this. I was wrong.

Over the years, my wife and I have found one travel tip to be uniquely useful. As much as you plan, leave room for spontaneity.

We didn’t read that any place. We learned it when traveling with our parents. Both families tended to go in the same mode. Too often, they had precious little time or money for vacations. When they did take one, they each drove from point A to point B regardless of what was in between.

When Neva and I began to travel as a couple, we tried to always leave room for the unexpected. It’s a habit we have happily maintained.

We do a lot of planning for our trips. We research places we want to see in the areas where we are traveling. That includes leaving time for discovery along the way. Of course, now that we are retired, we can really take our time. We often avoid interstates and expressways if at all possible.

Pointing the way.

On a recent trip to New England, we were traveling on U.S. 1 along the Maine coast when Neva had an idea. Friends had a summer home somewhere in Maine, so she decided to text her college friend to find out how near we were to their vacation place. It turned out we were really close.

Since I was driving, Neva read aloud the text replies. Our friend said they turn right at the Dairy Queen. I looked up and low and behold there was the DQ. We had to seize this moment that seemed meant to be.

I turned the van around and headed down the road. Meanwhile, Neva was getting the address and specific instructions to their house. They were perfect.

Even in the rain and fog, the sights along the way were breathtaking. We wound our way down the peninsula toward the sea, passing trees, houses, local businesses, streams, marshes, and estuaries.

Along the way, we found calendar-worthy real-life scenes. I noted places I wanted to photograph on the way back to the highway. Our first priority was to find their home. It wasn’t hard. Decorative homemade signs tacked to a tree got my attention, and pointed the way to Little River Road.

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We had seen photos of the lovely seaside home and its vista before. Even though fog limited our view, we were immediately entranced. Surrounded by birds singing, gulls calling, waves crashing, the mingled fragrance of pines and ocean, we were smitten.

Neva stayed on the deck while the sea drew me down the slight hill. From the rocky beach, I spotted a small flock of common eiders floating offshore. Greater and lesser black-backed gulls claimed a sandy point across the way. It was the place our friends walked to at low tide.

I couldn’t have wiped the smile off my face if I had wanted to. A sense of peace and longing overcame me, and I gladly embraced it. Standing there in person I felt like Walt Whitman.

I didn’t want to leave, but we had no other choice. I stopped several times as we headed back north. I photographed boats moored waiting for their owners, canoes cast aside long ago but resting as if their occupants had stopped for lunch. Forsythia bloomed bright against the fog and reflected mirror-like in the positively calm waters.

I was ecstatic, electrified at the surreal wonderland all around me. I was so glad we had played our hunch and made that U-turn.

Driving a scenic highway was one thing. Spending a little time surrounded by this unexpected beauty was quite another. Once again, spontaneity rewarded us with a sweet, memorable encounter.

Right where they were left.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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

Unintended Art


This lobsterman in Boothbay Harbor, Maine had a good eye for design, shape, and form, even if that wasn’t the practical purpose of these colorful patterns. More than likely, the equipment’s owner was merely getting ready for the new lobster season. The traps were arranged in near perfect stacks right next to the dock in the bay. The bright yellow buoys, this lobsterman’s chosen color, seemed to be stuck into the traps simply for easy access. Nevertheless, I thought the scene made a rather artsy composition.

“Unintended Art” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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At rest


Everything in this photo seems to be at rest. The placid water, the low-hanging morning mist, the boats moored patiently waiting, the deciduous trees pushing forth their new growth, the evergreens standing stately, the limp American flag all resting.

A wondrous peace fell upon me as I surveyed all the elements of this scene along the coast of Maine. I hope it brings you the same refreshing repose.

“At rest” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Portland Head Lighthouse and Ascension Day


Today is Ascension Day. It is the day marked by Christians that Jesus ascended into Heaven 40 days after His resurrection, which is celebrated annually as Easter. For 40 days thereafter, Jesus walked and talked with his disciples until he was taken into the clouds.

There are plenty of clouds in this iconic setting, the Portland Head Lighthouse on Cape Elizabeth near Portland, Maine. It’s hard not to take a beautiful shot at this historic site, a scene often portrayed on many calendars over the years.

Ships at sea in part depend on lighthouses to keep their bearings. I envisioned the lighthouse’s beacon flashing in the overcast evening as a symbol to all of this sacred event.

“Portland Head Lighthouse and Ascension Day” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Sensing a bit of home wherever we go

Catskill farmstead.


My wife and I enjoy traveling.

Planning for travel sometimes takes longer than the trips themselves. We prioritize the places we want to see, activities we want to do, and connect with any friends we can visit along the way.

We leave plenty of room for flexibility. Spontaneity spices up every trip. We also try to include some downtime, opportunity to recharge and reflect. As much as we travel, I never know when and how that time will arrive.

For me, travel is a multi-task opportunity. I bird, photograph, explore, meet the locals, and record the highlights. Occasionally, like on this trip, bad weather interferes with the plans we have made. We adjust accordingly.

Steady rain and low-hanging clouds obscured the mountains around us, which kept me inside. We were in New York’s Catskill Mountains, where we caught up to spring’s emergence. Coltsfoot and lady slippers bloomed.

I birded by window watching. Five deer emerged from the newly leafing trees to graze in the grassy meadow that served as a yard around the house that we had rented. A pair of common yellow-throated warblers fed and frolicked in the dampened branches of a nearby bush.

This was so much like home, both our former Ohio home and our newer home in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Together the mountains, forests, rushing streams from too much spring rain, and the wildlife made it feel like home.

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Yet, it wasn’t home, either Ohio or Virginia. We were transients, merely passing through, seeing the sights, and taking in the grandeur of the fabled Catskills.

That afternoon, my wife and I drove around the countryside despite the dreariness and the constant rain. No cell signal rendered our GPS useless. The perpetually winding roads hugged the bases of the mountains like a child clinging to his mother’s apron. Steep wooded hillsides on one side, roiling waters raced over boulders on the other. In the summer, these would be braided streams, more rocks than water.

With the low clouds, the mountains all scrunched in around us, a myriad of curves on the rural roads. Road signs, either numbered or named, were few and far between. Priding myself on knowing directions, I had lost my bearings.

We stopped at the local post office for directions to our desired destination. Just then, a customer arrived and told us to go to the stop sign and turn right. The way he pointed and his casualness about turning at the stop sign renewed my hope. Reality set in. The stop sign was five miles away. I made the right-hand turn, and I regained my orientation.

In Holmes County, Ohio, we had rolling hills, and expansive woodlots, abundant agriculture, valleys carved by old-aged streams, and helpful people. The same was valid for Virginia, only mountains east and west dwarfed the valley hills and farmlands. In the Catskills, farmland is confined to hillside and floodplain pastures. Gardeners erect six-foot high messed wire fences in small truck patches to abate the deer.

One particular quirk became obvious. Everywhere we went scores of roadside, no trespassing signs warned people to stay away. Apparently, property owners and hunting and fishing clubs control access not only to the land but also the water flowing through. Places for public access to the alluring trout streams were far and few between.

The legalistic signs unsettled me and softened my comparison to the mores of our former and current home. However, they in no way spoiled our appreciation for all the natural beauty and genuine human kindness we encountered along the way.

Despite the dreary, wet weather, we felt right at home with scenes like this.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Filed under birding, birds, column, history, human interest, nature photography, Ohio, Ohio's Amish country, photography, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, travel, Virginia, weather, writing

Old glory at Ft. Ticonderoga


Located on a small peninsula at the southern end of Lake Champlain, Fort Ticonderoga played a significant role in the formation of both countries of North America. With that in mind, I chose the American Flag flying over the old fort in honor of Memorial Day and as my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Weathered barn


Thanks to the elements, this weathered barn is a work of art.

“Weathered barn” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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

May is for the birds

Birders at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area.

May is for the birds. Thousands of bird lovers young and old clearly would understand what I mean.

Birders live for spring migration. Birds large and small that headed south for warmer winter climes return north to their annual breeding grounds. May is the peak month for such movement.

Where the boardwalk begins.

Birders clamor for any and every chance to find rare birds or to compile as many species as they can see or hear in a day or week or month. There is no better place in North America to do that than a small state-managed wildlife area in northwest Ohio called Magee Marsh. Birds and birders both flock to the estuaries, marshlands, and small woodlots that abut Lake Erie’s southwestern shore.

Even if you don’t count yourself among the aviary flock, it’s worth a trip just for the experience. Cruise through the expansive parking lot, and you’ll find vehicles of all shapes and sizes with license plates from across the country and Canada. Human participants even fly in from foreign countries for the spectacular migratory happening.

Part of the draw is an organized and orchestrated event tabbed “The Biggest Week in American Birding,” sponsored by a little non-profit known as the Black Swamp Birding Observatory.

The “week” is actually multiple days in early May. This year it’s May 3-12. Many species of birds, especially warblers, use Magee Marsh and surrounding protected wetlands as rest stops before winging it over Lake Erie into Canada. The first landing spot for many is Point Pele near Leamington, Ontario, just across the lake.

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The colorful songbirds sometimes hang like Christmas tree ornaments from tree branches. Birders ogle from boardwalks that wind their way through the trees and along ponds and wetland habitats.

Workshops and lectures are also held to inform interested parties about the latest findings on bird populations, behaviors, and dwindling habitats. Guided field trips are also available. Of course, you can also buy birding supplies, books, and equipment.

But it’s the birds that matter. Youngsters and oldsters, groups and individuals ply their skills at searching for the latest arrived species. Word of a Canadian warbler, a secretive bird with a quiet call, spreads quickly among the birders. Just locate the crowd with spotting scopes and binoculars aimed in search of the prize.

If by chance a real rarity shows, like the endangered Kirtland’s warbler, the crowd suddenly shifts to add to their life list of seeing this worshiped species. Only a small number still summer in the jack pines of the Lower Michigan peninsula.

Yes, that is a Kirtland’s Warbler, and another one was spotted there yesterday, May 3, 2019.

Of course, northwest Ohio is not the only migration hotspot on the continent. Cape May, New Jersey, southern Arizona, the coastlines of Florida and California to name a few also host migrating birds and curious birders. Coastal regions and contiguous topography with natural waterways, ponds, and habitat provide flyways for the returning birds.

Sleepy.

Birds need cover, food, water, and safe spaces to rest and refuel to continue their journey and reach their destination. In the fall, they’ll repeat the process in reverse, only dressed in more camouflaged colors.

In many species, it’s the flashy colors that birders love to view, if only for a few precious seconds. Some of the species call northern Ohio home for the summer.

School groups, church groups, family groups, young birder groups, birding clubs, and just curious individuals celebrate these early spring days searching for any shorebirds, songbirds, waterfowl, and birds of prey that happen to be passing through.

It’s spring migration after all when May really is for the birds.

Kim Kaufman (right) and her dedicated staff make the Biggest Week in American Birding happen.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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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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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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