Celebrating July 4th, then and now

A Fourth of July parade in Lakeside, Ohio.

As a youngster, I remember having mixed emotions about the Fourth of July. It had nothing to do with my patriotism, and everything to do with my youth.

I joyously anticipated the fireworks displays, wherever and however we got to see them. The reality, though, was that this red, white, and blue holiday marked the halfway point of the year. More importantly, it meant in my young mind that we were already halfway through the summer. Schools would be starting before we knew it.

When my four siblings and I were young, we would gather on a starry July 4th night on the edge of the hill a block west of our brick bungalow. We would anxiously look south and wait for the sparkling pyrotechnic patterns.

On rare occasions, we talked our father into driving closer to Meyers Lake Amusement Park, where the fireworks were ignited to explode over the lake. To avoid the parking lot traffic jam, Dad chose a side street that afforded a decent view of the aerial show.

The fireworks tradition continued into my adulthood when my wife and I started our family. From our home on County Road 201, we could see fireworks from various towns north, east, and southeast.

The summer of 1988 may have been the best time for fireworks for our family of four. Flying back from a vacation in California, we left Chicago’s O’Hare airport right at dark for the last leg of our trip. We looked down from on high as multiple fireworks displays erupted until we landed an hour later at Ohio’s Akron-Canton airport.

Nature’s fireworks over Holmes Co., Ohio are just as impressive.

Years later, friends built a beautiful home high on a hill overlooking Millersburg. They had the perfect view of the fireworks shot from the safety of the former county fairgrounds location. Our friends made it a grand occasion, inviting one and all. A plate of food to share was the price of admission.

I enjoyed the fellowship of friends, former students, and some people I had only just met. We oohed and awed together once the colorful and noisy celebration began.

That’s one tradition we left behind when we moved to the heart of Virginia’s lovely Shenandoah Valley. Our city launches its fireworks display from a local park. We have enjoyed the show with our grandchildren on more than one occasion. Not this year.

A local resort, Massanutten, also holds a festival that features fireworks. However, like many locations across the nation, that won’t happen this year because of the pandemic. Officials were wisely concerned about keeping physical distances, which is much harder to do with crowds of people.

Massanutten Mountain, Harrisonburg, VA.

Some localities canceled everything, while others like Massanutten, canceled the festival. The fireworks will fly as usual.

These are the times in which we live. We need to accept that we are in the middle of the worst pandemic in a century. The viral repercussions range far beyond silent, darkened skies on the Fourth of July.

Declaration of Independence, U.S. ConstitutionOur Founding Fathers created the most daring democratic republic experiment ever attempted. It’s entirely up to each of us to make sure our democracy endures for all peoples to exercise each of their first amendment rights.

Whether watching fireworks live or on TV, let those symbolic rockets red glares and bombs bursting in the air be a rededication to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Can the sparks ignite a new fire of freedom for all the nation’s people regardless of race, color, creed, or religion? Isn’t that the intent of the First Amendment?

Only then can freedom truly ring.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

The Wheat Field


It must be July! The winter wheat is ripening to a golden brown here in the Shenandoah Valley, also known as the breadbasket of Virginia. Once the moisture count in the heads of grain reaches a low enough percentage, the combines will start to roll through the fields day and night.

I loved that this Old Order Mennonite farmer left the sugar maple tree to grow and that he planted his crops around it. “The Wheat Field” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Spontaneity in a time of pandemic

The Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance mark the eastern boundary of Rockingham Co.

My wife and I have closely followed the stay-at-home coronavirus requirements since they began in mid-March. We hadn’t even been out of our county until just the other day.

Even though Rockingham is the second-largest county in square miles in Virginia, we stayed close to home nevertheless. We have taken the pandemic and the safety recommendations suggested by medical professionals seriously.

While waiting for the predicted rain to arrive, Neva and I went about our regular homebound routines. She sewed and read. I wrote and spent too much time on social media, including sorting my many daily emails. When our church’s weekly newsletter landed in my inbox, I got an idea after reading it.

Friends had recently visited Shenandoah National Park, which stretches 105-miles along the Blue Ridge Mountains. The mountains grace and mark the eastern boundary of Rockingham County. The mountain laurel bushes were in full bloom.

That’s all that I needed to read. With the afternoon half gone and the forecasted rain failing to appear, I suggested we head to the park, too. Neva gladly agreed.

Fog rolled in from the east.
We dressed for the cooler weather that we were sure to encounter in the higher elevations of the park. We were glad we did. Fearsome black clouds hovered over the mountains as we headed east.

We have lived here long enough to know that the mountain weather’s main characteristic is fickleness. The weather changes quickly in those blue mountains.

Sure enough, in the 25 miles we drove on Skyline Drive to Limberlost Trail, we dodged in and out of the sunshine, clouds, fast-moving fog, mist, and even a little rain. We kept going.

We were so glad we had. Only a couple of other cars were in the parking lot of the handicapped accessible trail. Limberlost is a 1.3-mile loop trail that is beautiful in every season.

I had never been on the trail in the spring when the mountain laurel bloomed. Neva had never been there at all. We were both in for an awe-inspiring treat.

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We only had to walk a short distance before we encountered the beautiful blooming bushes. We were glad that we had dropped what we were doing and followed our friends’ advice.

Individual bushes and thickets of blooming mountain laurel flourished all along the circular path. They overwhelmed other, more subtle wildflowers that I almost missed.

This area of the park had burned several years ago. Many of the old-growth trees were gone, replaced by patches of spindly saplings. The trail ran through them, creating a fairy-like world. Colorful fungus grew out of tree stumps, and fallen timber left lying right where they landed.

Lush Christmas ferns carpeted the forest floor. The fragrant pink and white blossoms of the mountain laurel painted a lovely contrast to the emerald of the tree canopy above and the sea of ferns below.

We noticed no bees or butterflies, however. I later learned that this variety of rhododendron is toxic to both pollinators and humans. Look, but don’t touch.

A chorus of warblers, vireos, and other woodland birds serenaded us on our enchanting stroll. We were clearly in a national park, but it felt like paradise. Our spontaneity had certainly paid off.

The trail even featured an ancient basalt columnar outcropping.
I realize not everyone has a national park to hurry off to in less than an hour. But you likely have a special place that you have meant to visit, someplace you haven’t been since a child.

So, pack up the kids, the snacks, drinks, and don’t forget the hand sanitizer, masks, gloves, and your camera. You just might find paradise, too.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Hope


There is nothing particularly spectacular about this photo, although it is pretty. The photo’s details make for a diverse composition: The deflected sunset rays, the fog rising from the hollows of the Allegheny Mountain foothills, and the overall pastoral setting itself. Throw in the fact that this shot was taken on the 2020 summer solstice, and the landscape photo becomes even more meaningful.

So why the title “Hope?” I never expected to be able to take this shot. We had had a string of relatively chilly and cloudy days in the Shenandoah Valley. June 20, the date of this year’s summer solstice, continued that trend. However, after heavy rain moved through, pinks, yellows, and oranges began to appear in the evening sky. I grabbed my camera and headed to my favorite sunset spot, Mole Hill, an extinct volcano core that is a local landmark. It’s higher elevation affords an impressive view of the rolling valley, the foothills, and the mountains themselves.

Though this is not a particularly stunning sunset, it was one that I never thought that I would be able to capture. Consequently, “Hope” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Sunset at Mountain View School


Colorful sunsets have been far and few between this spring in the Shenandoah Valley. We have had strings of days when we hardly see the sun. It’s been that cloudy, and often chilly.

The few times the evening sky did offer hope, I headed out. I wasn’t disappointed on June 6. I felt fortunate to capture this shot long after the sun had hidden behind the Allegheny Mountains that mark the boundary between Virginia and West Virginia.

The texturing and laying of the clouds seemed to mimic that of the folded mountains below. The north face of the private two-room school reflected the heavens above.

“Sunset at Mountain View School” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Unpacking boxes and memories

The kind of field my father hunted for artifacts.

After three years, my wife and I have finally unpacked all of the boxes since we moved from Ohio’s Amish country to Virginia. It’s another coronavirus sequestering accomplishment that we can check off our “to-do” list.

We weren’t negligent or procrastinating. We knew what those heavy cardboard boxes contained. We just didn’t have a place to display or properly store them. Now that they are unpacked, we still don’t.

My late father divided his extensive Native American artifact collection among his offspring and the grandchildren. He designated who got what primarily based on geography.

Dad marked where he found each artifact he considered “good.” Consequently, Neva and I ended up with the majority of the ones discovered in Holmes County, Ohio, and those from near my wife’s home farm east of Louisville, Ohio.

How Dad marked his finds.

I can’t tell you how many plowed fields Dad and those of us who joined him walked. With heads down and separated six-feet apart, we ambled one end of the field to the other. Yes, we socially distanced before it was even a thing. Doing so allowed us to cover an area more efficiently.

Dad delved deep into historic Native American cultures. His love for history and the near half-century he spent collecting made him a noted amateur archeologist.

As his knowledge and collection grew, Dad began to share what he learned and what he had found. He joined archeology groups. Professional archeologists even invited Dad to join digs to save Indian encampments that would be destroyed for various construction projects or by strip mining.

Dad even spent his lunchtimes on lovely days looking for surface finds near his workplace in Akron, Ohio. When his job required travel, Dad scoured fields in Arizona, California, and many other states.

Dad accompanied our mother on artists retreats to North Carolina. While the artists painted, Dad visited local farmers to inquire about hunting their fields.

The landowners often showed him what they had already found, and Dad would gladly identify and date the points and pottery shards for the farmers. For that, he gained access to their land, made new friends, and expanded his collection.

Our artist mother would occasionally return the favor by accompanying Dad on a dig. One of her paintings graced the book cover that documented one significant excavation.

Dad lecturing at the retirement home.

Dad lectured at schools, church meetings, service organizations, presented at historical society gatherings, and at the retirement home where he died. He even won a few awards for his displays at archeology shows.

I found one of Dad’s notecards that he used in his presentations. It was an impressive list of how indigenous peoples used natural renewable resources. Dad shared how the Indians used the entire animal that they had killed. They ate the meat, fashioned clothing and shelter from hides, and used bones for tools.

Ironically, Dad privately questioned why Native Americans, as intuitive and ingenious as they were, didn’t develop the country the way European immigrants did. With his Germanic linage, I sensed it was a rhetorical question.

I found it curious, even disconcerting that Dad admired and taught about a people and their cultures, and yet he didn’t comprehend their devotion to preserving the environment they so cherished. Nor did he address the horrendous treatment of indigenous peoples that even continues today. In retrospect, I should have pressed my father on those issues.

Marian and Dick Stambaugh. One of my mother’s paintings is on the wall behind her.
I loved my father, and I love that he bequeathed so many of his artifacts to the family. For me, they serve as tangible reminders to universally respect all peoples, no matter their color or creeds, then and now.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

The Rebel


My wife and I came upon this scene on a recent morning walk around the neighborhood. The slanting rays of the early sun perfectly highlighted this patch of Clustered Bellflowers and one lone, brave Lamb’s Ear.

“The Rebel” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

When you know it’s June

A June sunrise in Ohio’s Amish country.

No calendar is needed to know what month it is. Doors and windows are flung wide open. Summer’s pleasing sounds and pleasant aromas waft in. It must be June.

Sit by a stream where the cottonwoods grow. A summer breeze stirs, and suddenly it’s a blizzard of cottony seeds drifting everywhere. The situation can be as aggravating as it is beautiful.

Once the dew dries, a cacophony of motorized humming ensues, seemingly lasting all day. All the neighbors want to get their lawns mowed before the anticipated rain arrives. It never does. At least the yards are manicured.

To protect their precious eggs, grackles and American robins perform Kamikaze raids on the backyard squirrels who are in search of lunch. The rabbits munch the tender grass undisturbed and unknowing nearby.

The leaves of the deciduous trees appear to have fully unfurled overnight. Contented with their newfound shade, grazing livestock swish their tails, flicking flies left and right, left and right.

Dinner tables brighten with outdoor bouquets brought indoors. Red roses, pink and white peonies, blue salvia, and lavender snapdragons proudly show their colors and intermingle their delicate fragrances.

On the stove, kettles of fresh-picked mint disperse organic menthol. Thirsty throats endure the wait, knowing lunchtime will bring refreshing minty sweetness.

Even the gray catbird pauses for a sip from the birdbath, having warbled all morning from the depths and darkness of the neighbor’s dense yew. The territorial northern mockingbird cuts short that respite, however.

Balmy mornings slip quietly into steamy afternoons. Cumulous clouds build and billow, dappling the landscape with their speeding, oscillating shadows.

By late afternoon, the cooling breezes have retreated. A sultry stillness is ubiquitous. Even the birds grow quiet in anticipation of the coming storms.

A line of darkness fills the western horizon. Soon thunder rumbles the squall line’s approach. Sweaty farmhands work faster still if that is even possible. Saving the first-cutting of hay becomes the day’s primary objective.

After the storm, a double rainbow temporarily shines in the east. Thankful for the cooler air, the rectangular bales stack the haymow higher and higher. Those abandoned in the flattened field will have to wait until they dry.

In the city, waitresses hustle to dry dampened outdoor tables and chairs, all spaced safely according to coronavirus standards. Soon, the customers return, jackets in hand as a precaution for the cooling evening.

In the Allegheny, the Blue Ridge, and the Massanutten Mountain ranges, plump little Louisiana waterthrushes fill the air with luxurious songs. They serve as soliloquies to the music of the rushing mountain streams.

Mountain laurel bushes are at peak bloom, while other wildflowers are only now appearing. The valley-to-mountaintop elevations allow June’s sweetness to thrive all month long.

Honey bees and bumblebees enjoy all the blooms, whether domesticated or wild. They are not picky. Ruby-throated hummingbirds zig and zag at sugar-water feeders to the delight of bird-lovers young and old.

House wrens continue their month-long chatter of courtship, nest-building, incubation, and non-stop feeding. Once the constant rattling goes silent, the brood has fledged, and the cycle begins anew.

We humans of the northern hemisphere enjoy the extended daylight June affords. We work and play all day.

When the sun yields its daytime dominion, the moon, the stars, and the planets light up the heavens. We can enjoy the sparkling show until the neighborhood skunk sends us inside.

Given all of this, it’s no wonder this month is the favorite among brides and grooms. In every aspect, June is a welcomed date.

Cottonwood seeds at the spillway.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

The advantages of staying home


There are advantages to staying home. The obvious, of course, is it lowers your risk of acquiring the coronavirus.

There is another positive upshot of being homebound. It can stimulate our mental psyche. We just need to be observant.

Being retired for a few years now, I quickly grew used to being at home. I thought I knew how to relax and make the best use of my time. The COVID-19 crisis taught me differently.

Having to stay at home, I learned to really pay attention, to simply be thankful, even when the weather was damp and cold. We had a lot of that in April and May all across the eastern U.S. The typically sunny Shenandoah Valley didn’t escape the dullness either.

I savored the stillness and the lack of interruptions to my new sequestered routines. The steady hum of my wife’s sewing machine transfixed me at times. Altogether, she has made over 700 face masks. Others have made many more and donated them to businesses, medical facilities, agencies who assist the homeless, local institutions, and Mennonite Disaster Service.

Rather than grumble about being at home so much, I tried to appreciate each moment at hand. I would often sit at my desk where I write. I raised the Venetian blinds and observed whatever came into view.

Despite the weather, I saw kids on bicycles, people walking dogs, dogs walking people, delivery trucks, northern cardinals searching for food, American robins bobbing along, and gathering nesting material.

I couldn’t count the number of squirrels that came to dig up their buried food caches. Most of the squirrels are gray busybodies. One particular squirrel, however, stood out.

This squirrel was blond, especially its bushy tail. Its pigmentation had to be an anomaly. The squirrely rodent even acted differently, sometimes like it didn’t have a care in the world.

The sun seemed to bleach the squirrel’s tail as it bounded through neighboring backyards on its way to ours. I had seen the squirrel in late winter searching for morsels beneath our birdfeeders. “Blondie” continued to frequent our yard even after I took down the feeders.

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The blond squirrel scurried across the open backyard in the middle of the day, its tail flapping in the wind like a golden, glowing flag. The squirrel played at the birdbath, apparently happy for the opportunity to wash its paws and face. Did it somehow know about the coronavirus?

The unusual-looking squirrel felt at home in our maple trees. On the hottest day of the year so far, it stretched out on our green grass, apparently to cool off in the shade of the maple.

Showing off.

Once rested, it returned to its squirrely antics, devouring juicy maple seeds that had just twirled to the ground. Some of its repertoire of poses were almost comical. Its playful personality matched its coloration.

It’s not like the squirrel had it made, however. Other squirrels chased it, not because of its fur color, but because that’s what squirrels do.

The blond always got away unscathed. When the coast was clear, it reappeared looking for food, or another drink, or just to lounge on a crook in the maple tree, taking in the limited sunshine.

I enjoyed the squirrel’s behaviors and resilience. Unlike the gray squirrels, the blond one somehow seemed contented, satisfied, unfettered, detached from the life of the survival of the fittest of all things wild.

There are valuable lessons to be learned from watching this fantastic squirrel. No matter what life throws at you, relax, enjoy each moment, and above all, don’t worry.

“Blondie.”

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

The Jigsaw Puzzle


During these days of staying at home, my wife and I occasionally take short trips to break up our routines of being sequestered. Recently, we drove to the Edith J. Carrier Arboretum at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where we live.

We knew the many varieties of flowers and trees would be in bloom, and we wanted to take advantage of the beautiful day. We weren’t alone. Several other folks, young and old, had the same idea. So, we kept the proper social distancing as we strolled around the grounds. I was torn between birding and photographing the many beautiful flowers.

When I came to this scene, I snapped the photo based on its composition as much as its beauty. I loved the backlighting of the leaves and the lacy, delicate blossoms. I found the every-which-way intertangling of the intricate limbs striking. Plus, the tops of the tall pines and the bright blue sky in the background gave the photo the depth it needed.

Viewing the photo on my computer, I realized what a fantastic and challenging jigsaw puzzle this piece would make. So, I chose “The Jigsaw Puzzle” as my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020