Social distancing before it was required

Reflections at the alligator pond.

My wife and I were social distancing before we knew there was such a thing.

Before the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S., I made an all-day social distancing trip to Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. It was a mere hour’s drive from our winter hideout on Amelia Island, Florida.

I invited my lovely wife to accompany me. Having already visited there briefly with friends, Neva declined. Her aversion to snakes and reptiles made that an easy decision. However, I wanted to explore the place more thoroughly.

I didn’t mind going solo at all. We each believe that doing our own thing has contributed to the longevity and quality of our marriage. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.

You might know the refuge by its more colloquial name, Okefenokee Swamp. That is what the locals call it. Take a tour, however, and you will quickly learn that Okefenokee isn’t a swamp at all.

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Native Americans gave the sprawling area the name centuries ago. In English, Okefenokee means “land of the trembling earth.” The moniker fits. In the less disturbed marshy areas, the land beneath reverberates with each step you take.

Okefenokee has been a national wildlife refuge since 1937. It was designated a World Heritage Site in 1974.

Much more than a shallow blackwater swamp, the 403,000 acres that comprise Okefenokee are a beautiful blend of hammock forests, creeks, wetland prairies, and cypress groves. Altogether, they serve as the headwaters for both the Suwannee River and the St. Mary’s River, which marks the Florida/Georgia boundary.

My heart jumped when I saw this woodpecker land on the trunk of this longleaf pine. It was a yellow-bellied sapsucker.
I arrived mid-morning under hazy, smoky skies in early February. My main objective was to find the elusive and rare red-cockaded woodpecker. Okefenokee is one of the last remaining sanctuaries for the endangered bird.

I drove down the eerily lovely Swamp Island Drive in search of the woodpecker. I had never seen one, and after spending the morning trying, I still haven’t. I did see plenty of nest holes high up in the longleaf pine trunks.

I wasn’t disappointed. Just being among all the beauty and the sounds and earthy fragrances of nature was sufficient.

Hundreds of sandhill cranes cackled unseen in the wetlands beyond the pines that surrounded a small pond. An alligator laid like a fallen log on the pond’s far lip. A brown-headed nuthatch foraged on a tree trunk only four feet from me.

Bigger alligators rested roadside along shallow ditches. I found it surprising how much the vegetation changed at the slightest rise or dip in elevation. The scenery was stunning despite the gray overcast sky and smoke from a nearby forest fire.


Only a few feet from the boardwalk trail, alligators absorbed whatever warmth the day offered. Neva would not have approved. By the time I reached the observation tower, the sandhill cranes had quieted and were out of sight.

I learned much more about Okefenokee on the afternoon boat tour. Our guide explained that the deepest water was only four feet. The vast geologic basin was filled with peat, which is why it quivered when stepped upon.

Our small flat-bottom boat cruised between stands of cypress graciously draped with Spanish moss, which isn’t a moss at all. Huge alligators lounged along the way, while a highly venomous water moccasin soaked in the filtered sunshine. Red-shouldered hawks screeched from high perches on old snags.

As I headed back to our condo, I savored the day that had buoyed me. For Neva and me, that style of social distancing helps enrich both our individuality and our affinity.

A cypress grove along the Suwannee Canal.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Views on life while self-isolated


My wife and I have taken the stay-at-home orders quite seriously. At our age and with our medical history, we must do so.

Besides, our loving daughter keeps close tabs on us even though she lives five miles away. Our son in upstate New York checks in, too, digitally. Neva and I have no choice but to behave.

That’s life in 2020’s pandemic world. Technology keeps us connected without the ill-advised but much desired personal contact. What once seemed like an irritant of life by some is now our lifeline.

Neva and I have gotten more phone calls and texts in the last few weeks of being at home than we did in the previous several months. We, too, have made a few calls, sent texts, emails, and posted on social media.

Not to let go of our rural roots, my diligent wife sends cards and notes nearly every day. Somebody has to keep the U.S. Postal Service in business besides Amazon.

Homemade face mask by Bruce StambaughOur trips away from home are limited, which is as it should be. After ordering online, we pick up groceries curbside or deliver homemade masks to others. Neva has made more than 300 masks for others and local businesses and organizations.

Consequently, our gasoline bill has plummeted along with the prices at the pump. It’s the old supply and demand principle in action.

I have never washed my hands as often or as well as I have in the last few weeks. Our water bill may offset our reduced gasoline costs.

Since I retired three years ago, I thought every day seemed like Saturday. The quarantine orders have made it even more so universally. The days all just seem to run together.

I find myself smiling as I watch entire families walk by our house or ride by on bicycles. Youngsters on skateboards gleefully enjoy our gently sloping street. When Neva and I walk around the neighborhood, waves, nods, smiles, and hales of “Hello” greet us whether people know us or not.

Lilacs and Redbuds.

Everything seems to be blooming at once in the Shenandoah Valley. Daffodils and tulips are already fading. Dogwoods and redbuds are painting the bare forests with dabs of white and pink. Irises and lilacs are flowering much too early.

As pretty as all that is, I need to be realistic. Each of us must view the situation beyond our own living space.

With vehicle travel and entire industries shut due to the coronavirus spread, satellite images show global pollution significantly reduced. But with companies and businesses closed, millions of workers have been laid off or furloughed.

The loss of their employment, income, and benefits gives me pause. As my older brother shared in an email, we retirees with monthly pensions have nothing to whine about during this crisis.

The pandemic should serve as a great equalizer. But that isn’t quite the way it is. Statistics show that the COVID-19 epidemic affects millions of people of color and the poor medically and economically the hardest.

These are precarious, vulnerable, stressful times. But we must keep pressing on, following the guidelines, being patient, kind, grateful, and prayerful.

It’s scary trying to protect yourself against an invisible enemy. We can, however, by following the health rules, enjoying the moment at hand, praying for the safety of all, and proper decisions by our leaders.

Amid this horrid pandemic, we can, we will, we must enjoy our life, moment by moment, breath by breath. That is our only choice day by day, even if it merely means smiling as the next skateboarder whizzes past.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Holy Week emotions mirror those of COVID-19

By definition, Holy Week transitions from the jubilant high expectations on Palm Sunday to the sadness and disbelief of Good Friday to the sacred joy of Easter morning.

This year Eastertime is symbolic of the current world situation. Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, Holy Week mirrors the global state of human existence amid the coronavirus pandemic. We face the same human emotions today as that mixed crowd of humanity 2,000 years ago.

Our lives have been turned upside down in this evolving medical crisis. No one can escape the grasp of the pandemic’s ramifications, whether we contract the virus or not. We are all affected.

A migrating Pine Siskin.
We all had high hopes with the advent of spring, especially at Easter. Now, all of that has changed. Unless you are one of the few remaining skeptics, reality has hit hard.

Personnel on the frontlines of helping to stem the epidemic are stressed and very fearful for their patients, their families, and themselves. Even following all of the recommended precautions has not been enough for some.

Schooling has taken on a very different and dynamic atmosphere for students, teachers, administrators, and parents alike. Challenging doesn’t begin to describe it. Nor does frustration, especially for those denied the much-anticipated pomp and circumstance of graduation ceremonies.

For those who live alone, the elderly, those who struggle with mental issues, or live with special needs, fear invades the interactions of daily living. Coping has never been harder.

Many have lost their jobs, income, and insurance benefits. Others employed in businesses deemed essential encountered the ignorance of others. The outrage of service workers filled social media as entire families show up to buy a hammer or just browse big box stores, clearly ignoring the social distancing safety recommendations.

Misinformation stokes the fear and invites unfounded rumors, which only leads to more confusion and doubt. Opportunists who price-gouge only see personal and financial gain in this time of crisis.

Where then is the Easter joy? We must look through the numbing heartache to see it.

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The warming weather, the blooming flowers, and budding trees, the emerald green grass, the colorful migrating birds, the friendly waves, and well-wishes of walkers as they pass by are but a few expressions of hope. Springtime’s renewal parallels that of Easter morning.

We should sing prayerful praises for those who tirelessly toil to save lives and defeat this virus. First-responders, law enforcement, pharmacists, doctors, nurses, utility workers, grocery store owners and their employees, and delivery people are only a few of today’s heroes.

Globally, folks with a passion for helping have unselfishly responded. Scores of caring people are making homemade masks and donating them to local service agencies.

Here in Harrisonburg, Virginia, many people have sewn and donated thousands of masks for businesses, the hospital, medical offices, fire departments, the volunteer rescue squad, and not-for-profit groups that shelter the homeless. My wife is one such person, though I doubt she would want me to tell you that.

In a pandemic, contagion ignores race, ethnicity, politics, borders, and social status. We all are potential victims and potential helpers. Our humanness makes us vulnerable, afraid, uncertain and exposed. And yet, it is those very qualities that inspire us to join as one at this most difficult time.

Together we must use our gifts and skills for the common good to rise to this once-in-a-lifetime threat. Only then will the anguish of Good Friday transform into the gratefulness of Resurrection Sunday’s love.


© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

In like a lion, out like a lamb, or not

March snow in the mountains.

March is famous for its variable weather. After all, the familiar saying, “In like a lion, out like a lamb” references the month of March.

There’s a good reason for that. It’s easy to imagine our log cabin ancestors being more than ready for spring after enduring snowstorm after snowstorm. However, pioneer-era folklore was based more on hope than meteorological compilations.

They professed that if March began with yet more lion-like elements, then it had to end with gentler, calmer, warmer, more welcoming weather. Who could blame them?

It’s only natural to want more appealing weather than another cold spell. In animalizing weather, it’s much safer to deal with a lamb than a lion, especially if you were a 19th-century settler with a bad case of cabin fever.

Likely, there was more to it than that. Those hardy people believed in a balance of life. Aristotle’s “moderation in all things” was their mantra. So, they logically applied that theory to the weather as well. If March was harsh in the beginning, it should be mild by month’s end.

Unfortunately, the weather doesn’t work that way. We take what we get, and given what we have gotten in the past, March’s weather could be a doozy. A lot of factors come into play.


March’s normal weather, whatever normal is these days, has historically played hijinks with global societies. March is known to deliver every variety of weather in its 31 days, and not always where or when you might think.

My family has personal experience with March’s fickleness. Seven years ago, we traveled from Ohio to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley to babysit our three grandkids, then ages eight, six, and three. Their parents went on a much-needed vacation to Florida.

Shortly after we arrived, a strong cold front moved through the eastern U.S. causing chaos. While Florida froze, the storm dumped a foot of heavy, wet snow on us. Babysitting was never so much fun as we frolicked in the winter wonderland. Sled riding, building snow forts, and snowmen filled much of our time.

When we returned home a week later to Holmes County, Ohio, the weather was dreamy. Under sunny skies, Amish farmers were plowing fields with horses. Now those seem like the good old days.

When we arrived home.

It’s easy to be nostalgic about March. I always thought of the third month as the bridge between winter and spring. Hoes and rakes replaced sleds and ice skates. The snow on the daffodils never lasted long.

It’s much harder to face the reality of the Marches of the 21st century. Now, severe storms are occurring more frequently and are much stronger than in previous times.

More than a hundred years of industrialization have drastically changed global climate patterns. Tropical areas that usually receive regular rains have been drought-stricken, resulting in catastrophic wildfires. Think Australia and California.

Globally, the last 10 years have produced nine of the warmest years on record. In fact, this January was the warmest ever. That could explain in part why many skiers, ice skaters, and ice fishermen far and wide had to feel abandoned by the nearly winterless winter weather.

That said, March will still be March. It just might be wilder than in olden years. Our forebearers rhymes may have had some wishful reasoning to them. The reality in the early 21st century may deliver more dramatic climatological results.

If we are fortunate, perhaps the meteorological lion and lamb will lie down together peaceably. That might bring spring weather of biblical proportions.

The signs say it all.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Defending Momma


Looks can be deceiving. This second-year alligator appears to be warding off any potential threats to its mother and siblings. In reality, momma and her crew were merely warming themselves in the the afternoon sunshine in Egans Creek Greenway, Fernandina Beach, Florida.

Still, I thought the young alligator’s pose was worthy of being my Photo of the Week. “Defending Momma” is just that.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Technology can be a pain in the neck

The view from my Florida “office.”

For good or for ill, technology has impacted nearly every aspect of our lives.

Robots began to invade the workforce assembly lines when I was a youngster. Never could I have imagined how far they would be integrated into our daily lives. Technology is advancing so rapidly that as soon as you buy a new cell phone, for example, it becomes obsolete.

We are so dependent on technology that we become exasperated when it doesn’t always work. If the power source goes out, we are stymied. Our electronic gizmos seem to be controlling us rather than the other way around.

For all of the promises of making life simpler, easier, and more rewarding, technology can be a pain in the neck. In my case, the pain was real.

I recently took my laptop computer in for its annual checkup. I believe that it’s good to have a trained technician clean up your technology every now and then. That assumption turned problematic.

The railroad’s version of a pain in the neck.

Skipping all of the gory details, let’s just say the guy pushed the wrong buttons on my keyboard. Consequently, a newer operating system unintentionally replaced my old one. I was unaware of the far-reaching ramifications.

When I began writing in the word processor, I found myself typing in the cloud, wherever that is. Thousands of my photos disappeared along with hundreds of research bookmarks.

The techs were baffled. My mind raced, fearing all the negative possibilities. The good guys at the computer shop felt just as bad.

They said they would uninstall the new system and reinstall the old one using the info backed up on my external drive. The techs thought that would restore my lost data and photos. It didn’t quite work out that way.

Which cloud was I in?

I silently implemented my meditation breathing skills to stay calm. Apparently, I need more practice. I woke the next morning with a stiff and painful neck. I attributed the previous day’s stress as a likely cause.

I realize technology has done wonders for global societies. Thanks to solar power developments, remote third-world villages can generate power for their community water well. That ensures local residents have safe, clean drinking and cooking water.

Where would the medical field be today without the technological advances in equipment and practices that have simplified radical surgeries? Technology also allows medical personnel to communicate remotely, saving time, money, and, more importantly, lives.

Firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and police depend on high tech equipment to help them do their jobs better, more efficiently, and more safely. Thermal imagining cameras, for example, help first responders locate trapped or lost people.

Smartwatches and smartphones allow society to instantly communicate person to person or group to group. People once geographically isolated from world events now follow global news as it happens.

There are drawbacks as well. Universities have to paint warning signs on sidewalks for students to look up when they come to a crosswalk at a street corner. Why? Because nearly all of them are walking and talking on their cell phones, oblivious to their surroundings.

Don’t get me started on the misuse of social media, phone apps, or even the Houston Astros.

My world improved when the technicians were able to reinstall the new operating system and updated word processing software. I once again began typing on my computer instead of somewhere out there. Most of my photos were restored as well.

However, the irritating pain in my neck remained. I’m still working with technicians of a different sort to get that repaired.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Savoring the Sunset

2020-02-11 18.39.03

There is nothing particularly spectacular about this photo. Yes, it’s a pretty sunset, and yes, I captured two photographers snapping pictures of it.

I chose to feature this photo for personal, even sentimental reasons. It was the last colorful sunset we had before we left Florida to return to Virginia. It was also one of a handful of decent sunsets we had in the six weeks we wintered in Fernandina Beach.

The marina there is a gathering place for amateur and professional photographers to view the sunset. After a lengthy delay in repairs, it had only reopened a few days before this photo was taken. Winds and high water from Hurricane Matthew severely damaged the marina on the Amelia River in October 2016. It was great to be able to once again meet with friends and strangers and share a lovely sunset at the water’s edge.

This sunset gave us roses and yellows, and the wavy clouds added a soft, pillowy effect to the sky. The river served as a fuzzy mirror to all that unfolded.

As I was leaving, I turned back for one more shot and saw this scene. My friend Carollee had her point-and-shoot camera, while the other photographer was taking time-lapse shots of the sunset.

“Savoring the Sunset” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

It’s always good to be home

A new day dawns in Ohio’s Amish country.

Home. It’s a four-letter word that conjures up both good and sad emotions. It all depends on one’s circumstances.

I was fortunate. Returning home has always been a rewarding, meaningful experience for me.

I have no recollection of living in my first home on a channel of a lake near Akron, Ohio. But I recall many stories told to me in my adolescent years. I still get chided for grinding up coal cinders from the driveway. Apparently, I thought they tasted good.

My earliest childhood recollection was when I was about four years old. My father handed me a cold Coca Cola while I sat overhead on a rafter of the house my folks were building.

I spent my formative years in the little red-brick bungalow in Canton, Ohio. Baby boomer families like ours filled that middle-class neighborhood. Pick up Whiffle ball, baseball, and football games were commonplace, along with hide and seek sessions that went long into warm summer evenings.

That modest home was always a welcome sight returning home from college. Though the house was sometimes filled with shouting and disagreements, I always felt safe there. It was my home and my family, after all.

All of that changed once I graduated and started teaching in Killbuck, Ohio. I met and married my wife, and we built our own home just out of town next to an old cemetery. My school principal built right next to us. I loved to tell people that at least we had good neighbors on one side of our home.

We spent 10 incredible years there. It’s where our daughter and son learned to walk, talk, and play. Oh, the stories I could tell of those good old days in that hardscrabble town. For now, it’s best to let them remain dormant.

After I became a principal in East Holmes Local Schools, we moved to near Berlin, Ohio. The house we bought was on an Amish farm, and all of our neighbors spoke Pennsylvania Dutch as their primary language. That wasn’t a hindrance at all.

Just like when I grew up, our daughter and son had plenty of children to play with. They often met at the giant old black oak tree across the road from us. It was a joy to be able to watch them interact and quickly solve any squabbles without an adult having to intervene.

We lived there for 38 years, longer than any other place, including our childhood homes. Our neighbors were friendly and helpful. Amazing sunrises and sunsets enhanced the already beautiful views that we enjoyed.

Despite our deep roots in the community, we decided it was time to be nearer to our three grandchildren, who were growing all too fast. We found a home only five miles away from them in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

We bought and remodeled a little ranch house amid nearly 500 other homes. Just like their owners, each one has a personality all its own. Instead of being in the heart of Ohio’s Amish country, we now live in the heart of the beautiful Shenandoah Valley.

We can watch our high school grandson strike out batters in a baseball game. We enjoy a middle school concert in which our other grandson plays the French horn. We watch and listen with pride as our granddaughter sings in a prestigious children’s choir.

In the words of Maya Angelo, “I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.”

Indeed, it’s good to be home, wherever that is. I hope that’s true for you as well.

At home in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Trailing the Trawler


The timing couldn’t have been better. With the late afternoon sun shining brightly, this shrimping trawler headed for port to unload the day’s fresh catches. Clearly, the boat and its crew weren’t alone.

An assortment of gull species, Northern Gannets, and other sea birds followed along, hoping for an easy meal as the crew pitched unwanted catches overboard. It was unusual for the trawler to be close enough to shore to zoom in for a decent shot.

“Trailing the Trawler” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Everyone needs a sanctuary


Everyone needs a sanctuary. Recent research shows that connecting with nature helps humans in multiple ways.

Nature helps heal, soothe, and restore individuals from pain, stress, and depression. We all need a place to escape, if only temporality, from the pressures and madness of the world.

When my wife and I winter in Florida, we are fortunate to have just such a place. Egans Creek Greenway is the first spot I visit after my wife and I get settled into our rental.

Egans Creek Greenway is an island inside an island. Covering more than 300 acres, the greenway is a city-run park on the north end of the 13-mile long Amelia Island, a barrier island northeast of Jacksonville.

The greenway is not your typical sanctuary, but it’s mine for many reasons. I get needed exercise walking its grassy trails. A variety of wildlife is in abundance. I can practice my photography hobby shooting landscapes and nature’s flora and fauna.

Please click on the photos to enlarge them.

Egans Creek winds its way through the two main sections of the greenway. A saltmarsh dominates the northern half. It teems with wading birds, birds of prey, songbirds, furry mammals, and intriguing reptiles. The Atlantic Ocean tides keep its waters brackish.

The southern section is part maritime forest and part freshwater ecosystem. The creek runs along the eastern side while a grid of manmade ditches from previous farming attempts crisscrosses elsewhere.

Mixed vegetation creates a habitat for a wide variety of creatures. Pileated woodpeckers fly their noisy flight high above momma alligator and her baby brood while a barred owl hoots from a branch of a giant live oak tree.

Scores of yellow-rumped warblers dart from the underbrush to palm trees, chip-chipping all the way. A red-shouldered hawk watches for lunch from high on a dead snag. A freshly hatched monarch butterfly flaps its damp wings on a Florida holly bush.

A reunion of soft-shelled turtles suns on the steep banks of the creek. A honeybee gorges on a clump of newly blossomed marsh-pink.

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Where the creek runs along the west side of the greenway, an osprey hovers before diving for an unsuspecting fish. In the process, large shorebirds are flushed. A great egret, wood stork, and a beautiful roseate spoonbill all take flight.

I am not alone in appreciating this preserve. Students stroll through on their way home from school. Seniors ride bicycles or walk in the sunshine of gorgeous days. Middle-aged joggers hustle by. This passive recreation is part of the park’s plan.

Strangely, concentration is essential to appreciate all the greenway has to offer. Surrounded by streets, houses, and businesses, the greenway is a quarter of a mile from the ocean. Horns, sirens, and roaring engines compete with the clacking call of the clapper rails.

So, too, to do the helicopters flying back and forth to the Mayport Naval Station 20 miles to the south. Commercial airliners, private jets, and noisy single-engine planes fill the air space overhead as they approach the local airport and Jacksonville International.

Besides a sanctuary, the greenway serves as an outdoor classroom. People stop to ask what I’m looking at or to tell me of a bird they saw. I love their smiles when they spot the eastern bluebirds devouring cedar berries.

I enjoy the greenway all the more when others accompany me. Multiple pairs of eyes and ears trump singular old ones. We help each other find and admire all the greenway’s splendor.

I am grateful for this island sanctuary, and that it reinforces the scientific evidence about nature.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020