Category Archives: travel

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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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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A Pile of Trouble

baby alligators, Egans Creek Greenway, Fernandina Beach FL

A Pile of Trouble.

This tangle of young alligators wasn’t as menacing as it looked. After a long and cold winter in northern Florida, the pile of two-year-old babies was merely sunning themselves on the shore of a channel in Egans Creek Greenway in Fernandina Beach. Their watchful mother enjoyed the sun at the surface of the water not far away.

This group of youngsters was only a part of the dozen babies that I could find amid the thick underbrush that hid their nest. When they first emerged last winter, I counted 22 young. Clearly, several of the younger alligators fell prey to predators or perhaps were eaten by their mother, a fairly common trait.

As you can see, the alligators, each about two-feet long, appear to be more than capable of fending for themselves. As the weather warms, mom will chase them away so she can begin the reproductive cycle all over again.

“A Pile of Trouble” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Stripes

architectural photography

Stripes.

As much as I love to photograph nature, I enjoy capturing a cityscape just as well. On a walking tour of Jacksonville, FL, the reflections off of these shiny skyscrapers intrigued me. The photo was taken from the tallest building in the city. It wasn’t until I downloaded the picture that I saw all of the other lines and angles beside the more apparent rows of windows.

“Stripes” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Walking with the dolphins

Fernandina Beach FL, bottle-nosed dolphins

The walk begins.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I love it when I can walk with the dolphins.

The time of the day is insignificant. I consider the stroll up or down the beach a blessed and rare privilege. The bottlenose dolphins don’t seem to mind at all. I doubt they are even aware of my presence. The closest ones surface and resurface just beyond the breakers.

If the relentless waves would soften their drumbeat upon the sand, I might even be able to hear the dolphins’ high-pitched squeaking and chatter as they undulate north or south, feeding, playing, the young ones occasionally showing off, jumping out of the water like flying fish. The rest of the pod continues with the business of foraging in the giving sea. The youngsters circle back, never far from mother’s side.

We watch for the dolphins from sunrise to sunset. With below average air and water temperatures this winter, the walks with the dolphins have been fewer than previous snowbird ventures. That only heightened my joy at each opportunity. Once I spot the dolphins, I hurry down the steps, across the wooden walkway to the gritty beach sand and begin my stroll.

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I walk fast trying my best to stick to the wetted sand where footfalls are firm but pliable. I have learned that my natural striding equals that of the dolphins’ cruising pace unless they change course or have their routine interrupted for some reason. I assure you, if they do, it’s not because of me. I watch them more than where I am going. They, however, don’t know I exist, which is my preference.

When I pass other beachgoers, perhaps walking their dogs or also just out for a morning or afternoon stroll on the beach, I ask, “Did you see the dolphins?” There are only two possible answers, whether verbal or nonverbal. A nod or “Yes” and I smile and keep walking. A “No” often followed by “Where?” and I point and wait until they, too, see the rhythmical appearing and disappearing fins, thank me, and walk on.

dolphins, Atlantic Ocean, Florida

Dolphins playing.

Dolphins are smart. They most often appear when the weather and water agree on calmness rather than a calamity. The dolphins slip through the water silently, hardly making a ripple. We seldom see them during a nor’easter, where the waves and wind collectively and relentlessly crash the shore.

I especially enjoy the walks at low tide when the ocean and the sky join forces to show all their true colors. Even on cloudy days, blues, pinks, purples, tans, greens, and frothy whites chase one another through the never-ending cycles of ebbing and flowing.

Overhead, Forester’s terns and squawking gulls trail the pods like kites on strings. The Forester’s hover and dive to the water’s surface, grabbing breakfast or brunch that have eluded the playful dolphins.

I inhale the sea spray and salty freshness simultaneously, joyfully, though I know my glasses will need a good cleaning once I return to our winter’s nest beyond the seashore dunes.

I stop to investigate a shell or take a photo with my cell phone of some artistic designs the sea and sky have jointly sculpted. I look up, and the dolphins are gone.

I retrace my footsteps, occasionally checking beyond the folding waters for any gray fins or reflective glints of the sun off wetted backs. Seeing none, I walk on, my heart and soul both warmed by the encounter that strengthened not only my muscles but my spirit, too.

That’s why I cherish each chance I get to walk with the dolphins.

natural art, sand, seashore

Seashore art.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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