Category Archives: Virginia

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

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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Filed under column, human interest, nature photography, Ohio, photography, rural life, travel, Virginia, weather, writing

Spreading sunshine

Mole Hill, Shenandoah Valley

Spreading sunshine.

Though cold for early March, bright sunshine bathed the landscape in Virginia’s lovely Shenandoah Valley. This farmer took advantage of the situation and spread a different kind of sunshine.

For those of you not familiar with rural lingo, “spreading sunshine” equals spreading manure. It’s a necessary and important job on a family farm that includes horses, cows, and other livestock. Winter weather, especially this wet winter’s weather, doesn’t always allow farmers to regularly “clean out the barn.”

When the opportunity presents itself, farmers waste no time in getting the job done. When crop fields are frozen enough to support heavy farm equipment, the manure spreaders are loaded with the fertile livestock waste and spread onto the frost-firmed ground.

It can be a stinky job, but someone has to do it. In fact, it is the smell that satirically coined the phrase “spreading sunshine.” When the ground is frozen, its time to rid the barns of all the manure that can be hauled while the conditions are right.

“Spreading sunshine” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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From Switchboard Road

Harrisonburg VA, rural snow scene, street photography
It was Thursday, and I hadn’t decided on my Photo of the Week, which I normally do well ahead of time. The last few days have been hectic with family responsibilities, writing deadlines, and yet another winter storm that brought snow, sleet, freezing rain, and rain.

I was thinking about what photo to feature as I drove home from a meeting this morning. When I turned south onto Switchboard Road, this scene grabbed my attention. I looked in my rearview mirror and to the road ahead of me. The narrow, curvy road is a busy thoroughfare, but the coast was clear. Down went the window, and I quickly snapped the scene.

The morning’s sun filtered through the storm’s residual clouds and a streak of rising fog. The rays glinted off of the three inches of snow encrusted with a glaze of ice. It looks black and white with only a hint of light blue showing.

I knew right then and there that “From Switchboard Road” would be my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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How to stay warm in the winter

winter weather, Ohio's Amish country

In winter’s grasp.

The polar vortex has had its way with most of us in the U.S. again this winter. Once it sank south and east out of the Canadian Arctic area, record cold temperatures and wind chills were set all across the northern states and some far into the south.

My wife and I watched the TV news in sympathy with those freezing in the frigidness of blinding blizzards and well below zero wind chills. We even had freeze warnings in northeast Florida, where we have spent parts of the last few winters.

Thanks to the Arctic air, it was cold there, too, in relative terms of course. Amelia Island is as far north in the Sunshine State as you can get. So when massive cold fronts spawned by the polar vortex invade the eastern U.S., we often feel the effects, too.

Fernandina Beach FL, Amelia Island FL

Pretty but cold.

With an ocean breeze and air temperatures in the 30s, the beach is no place to be either. Neither is the middle of a blizzard. We watched with dismay as TV reports showed the severity of weather conditions from several different stricken areas. Unfortunately, several people died from exposure to the dangerous cold.

I always liked the winter, and mainly snow. But the blizzards of 1977 and 1978 taught me that winter’s punishing harshness better be respected. Staying warm is always paramount.

That’s a primary reason for becoming a snowbird. I’ve said it before. The older I get, the colder I get. Other senior citizens that we met in Florida concurred. It is a natural consequence of the aging process.

Living in the heart of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley isn’t quite far enough south to avoid winter’s icy blasts. So we continued our snowbird trips after moving from northeast Ohio.

We enjoyed a month’s stay at a rented condo on Amelia Island and then headed to the far south of Florida. We visited the Florida Keys for the first time for a few days and soaked up perfectly warm weather.

With high temperatures in the 70s and 80s, it didn’t take us long to sport a tan. We spent the handful of days we had on the go. We greeted the morning sun and filled each day with as much adventure as possible until well after dark.

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However, we seldom checked off all the items on our wish list of places to visit. Spontaneity overruled preparation. We took advantage of surprises and vistas we came upon, stopped to enjoy and do some birding, and moved on to the next spot.

We especially enjoyed visiting Biscayne National Park and Everglades National Park. Together they protect much of the delicate habitats of southern Florida, preserving a vast variety of wildlife, flora, fauna, and people, too.

I never thought I would ever venture out onto the open ocean waters in a pontoon boat. But we did in both beautiful parks. The combination of generous sunshine and the joy of adding new birds to my life list warmed me through and through.

However, it wasn’t until we returned home that I encountered genuine radiant warmth. The weather had nothing to do with that.

At Sunday dinner, we caught up on our oldest grandson’s basketball season. The middle grandchild chatted on about the books he read and his upcoming band concert, while the youngest seemed contented to merely enjoy her lunch. Our daughter and her husband filled in the happenings in their busy lives, too.

The Florida experiences warmed us physically. That warmth, however, paled in comparison to that of reconnecting with our family.

Everglades NP, sunset, photography

Sunset over Eco Pond, Everglades National Park, FL.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Winter’s variable paint palette

Amish farm, Holmes Co. OH, Ohio's Amish country, snowscape

No matter where you live, winter offers a wide variety of colors across its changeable landscapes.

Often, the colors transform with the weather’s latest tantrum. Given the global climate’s bipolar dysfunctions, winter’s color palette has expanded far beyond its usual earth tones and neutral hues. Wetter and warmer winters convert lawns from frosted brown to April’s greens.

Living in Ohio for nearly seven decades, I intimately learned nature’s dormant color schemes. She usually painted under steely skies, which perhaps limited her range of color options.

burnished leaves laden with snow

Growing up in a blue-collar suburb in northeast Ohio, my memory is filled with a canvas of white on white. We sledded down steep hillside paths beneath stately evergreens laden with inches of snow.

Clumps of yellowy prairie grasses waved in the icy wind as we zoomed by shouting and laughing like the kids we were. Our wind-chapped cheeks and red noses were proof of our gold, silver, and bronze successes.

Besides the fun, we relished a good snow cover that blanketed the grit and grime that most winters brought. The fluffy whiteness enlivened the quiescent landscape, the leafless trees with their non-descript brown, gray, and black trunks and branches. The pure white snow on piney coniferous bows highlighted clusters of chestnut pinecones.

eastern bluebird in winter

Heavy wet snow provided a stark color contrast of white on black. That all shifted in a flash when a wicked winter wind whipped nature’s artwork into layered snowdrifts crusty enough for adventuresome children to walk on.

Ohio winter weather being what it is and always has been, not much changed as I grew into adulthood. Browns and whites alternated dominating the lay of the land with temperature playing the role of the artisan. A mundane scene became a Currier and Ives gem with four inches of overnight snow.

A January thaw altered all that in a hurry. The snow melted into a mushy, muddy mess, and brown soon became the primary color and texture, much to my mother’s chagrin. Usually, though, our inattentive father rightly got the blame for the sticky indoor tracks.

Amish farm, Wayne Co. OH, Ohio's Amish country

Dealing with both the gooeyness and the frozen precipitation as an adult tendered an entirely different perspective than as a youngster. I hated how everything wore the dirt and grime of winter. That was especially true of driving a filthy automobile. Wash it one day, and it was dirty again the next.

Warm, attractive colors in winter did and do exist of course. Think red holly berries against glossy green leaves powdered with fresh snow.

Each new day brings opportunity. Catch a showy sunrise that may last only a few seconds before succumbing to layers of gray clouds. Sunsets are equally stunning, especially if reflected by lakes and streams, which double the orange, yellow, red, and pink pleasure.

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

Bright colors come alive literally. Is there anything prettier than northern cardinals perched on evergreens waiting their turn at the bird feeders? If eastern bluebirds also arrive, the winter day becomes all the cheerier.

Moving to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley has lessened some of the sting and bland of winter. We tend to have more sunny and warmer days than we did in Ohio. When it does snow, the aesthetic results are still the same. However, the white stuff doesn’t last as long.

Winter’s radiant sunshine enhances any locale just as it can brighten all human spirits.

January can be lackluster if you let it. Just look a little harder for any hint of color wherever you live. Like many TV commercial disclaimers, your results may vary.

white-throated sparrow, Shenandoah Valley,

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Year-end Shadows

shadows, snow, bird feeder
The end of 2018 is in sight. Given the state of the world today, perhaps we all need a fresh start in life, no matter our age, our situation, our status. A new year brings new hope.

I reflected on all of that during a recent snowstorm that blanketed much of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Shadows of the tree, its limbs, and the bird feeder they held played upon the newly fallen snow in our front yard. The contemplative scene gave pause to my birdwatching, to my reading, to my writing, to all that was happening near and far.

The long shadows cast by the late afternoon sun that had finally broken through gave hope that neither the winter’s frostiness nor the world’s cold calamities could keep us down long. For in the abrupt transition between the snowy brightness and shadowy darkness, light prevails.

Here’s hoping that light will shine warmly for the approaching New Year. “Year-end Shadows” is my Photo of the Week.

Happy New Year!

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Home for the holidays indeed

Ohio's Amish country, Holmes Co. OH

Martha’s wash line.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Last year at this time we were still settling into new surroundings, situations, and holiday opportunities as our relocation process to Virginia’s magical Shenandoah Valley continued. We had moved there to be close to our grandchildren. Celebrating the joyous season with them was paramount.

But this year was different. With Thanksgiving as early as it could be, we found an opening in our busy retirement schedules to return to our Ohio homeland.

An early winter snowstorm surprised us as we traversed roads in the higher elevations of West Virginia and Maryland. That couldn’t deter us, however. We arrived safely in the Buckeye State to celebrate personally with a few family members and friends, people we love and cherish. Some gatherings were planned while others were serendipitous.

Holmes Co. OH, Rebecca's Bistro

Fun with friends.

The frivolity began before we could even unpack our suitcases. That’s the kind of company we keep, and that is willing to host us. Our first evening meal and lively conversation with lots of laughter set the tone for our all too brief visit. We had so much fun we could have turned around and gone straight back to Virginia and been pleased with the trip. Of course, we didn’t.

The next morning we met old friends at a busy locally-owned bistro for breakfast. We discovered other friends there, too. We stayed so long it would have been more profitable if the proprietor had charged us per hour rather than per meal.

As we left for old haunts near Holmes County’s Mt. Hope, the van mysteriously pulled into the parking lot of a favorite chocolate shop. Affabile store owner Jason must sweeten his candy with his hospitality.

We made a beeline to the furniture store where I served as its chief marketer for 11 years in Mt. Hope to say hello to former fellow staff members. Fond hellos, fun memories, and new looks for the store inside and out greeted us. Their ability to create the latest styles in beautiful furniture boggles my mind.

After that enlightening encounter, we took a break at the charming Red Mug Coffee shop, an apt name if there ever was one. Of course, I drank my delicious brew from a red mug.

We hadn’t even ordered when a former student entered. Lonnie and our family go way back. He was born two hours before our daughter. Their cribs were side by side in the nursery at the hospital in Millersburg.

Then a high school friend of our son spied us and years of catching up ensued. Marlin proudly shared photos of his adopted children. Those kids couldn’t be in a more loving situation.

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Laundry on the washline told us that Martha was home. After warm, welcoming hugs, we visited with her and her youngest child until we just had to leave. Our timing couldn’t have been better. I stopped to visit briefly with my friend Dan, who mows the roadsides in the township where I served as a trustee for 20 years.

We found our former across-the-road neighbors Paul and Mary as gracious and hospitable as ever. The time ticked away here much too quickly as well.

The visiting continued at Killbuck with the doctor who brought our daughter and son into this world. As always, his spry wife considered us family. We checked in with a couple of their children and spouses, too. Of course, “children” is a relative term since they all are grandparents.

The pace of our last day in Ohio was just the opposite. Neva went shopping with her sister, and sure enough, met even more friends. I ran some necessary errands before going birding. I was thankful for the exercise, the wildlife I encountered, and many photo opportunities. The sun finally burned through the haze by late afternoon. Still, the air’s temperature couldn’t come close to matching the warmth of fellowship we had experienced.

Holidays are for gathering, reminiscing, sharing. Through both our planned and spontaneous encounters, it was indeed a joy to be home for the holidays.

white-tailed deer, Norma Johnson Wildlife Center

A young buck white-tailed deer bounded across the trail far ahead of me.


Click the photo to enlarge it.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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

Chimneys

Dayton VA, architectural photography,

Chimneys


For a small town, the buildings in downtown Dayton, Virginia have a lot of chimneys. Santa may have to work overtime in this rural village in the Shenandoah Valley.

“Chimneys” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under architectural photography, Christmas, human interest, Photo of the Week, photography, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia

Birds and trees signal inevitable change

ice storm, male cardinal

Icy red.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The annual migration of birds has been going on for some time now. Fall in the birding vernacular doesn’t equal calendar fall.

There is a logical reason for that. Different species of birds begin their migration at different times. Shorebirds and songbirds often lead the winged entourage to warmer climes. Others trail along alone or in giant flocks to the delight of avid birders. To account for these time travel variances in the birding world, fall is the most extended season, running from August through November.

backyard birds

At the suet feeder.

The same concept is valid for trees and deciduous plants. Some species begin their winter hibernation sooner than others. Their various changing colors can foretell this annual transition. Poison ivy leaves often turn bright red before September arrives, while the glossy leaves of shingle oaks fade from emerald to russet and hang on until early spring.

For me, I welcome these transitions, especially the birding varieties. As the leaves of the red maples in our yard began to fall, birds I had not seen before began to arrive.

Storms brought down many of the remaining leaves. They also blew in flocks of birds, some temporarily. Others seem here to stay.

Last fall, our first in the Shenandoah Valley, birds were scarce at the feeders. The numbers and variety of birds were well below my expectations. I longed for the many beautiful birds we had had in Ohio.

Optimist that I am, I hung the feeders again right after Labor Day and attracted a few regulars. I can always count on chatty house finches and boisterous blue jays. Once the weather cooled, the suet feeder went up in the backyard.

backyard birds

An inquisitive Carolina Wren.

I was contented with the usual suspects, happy that even the Carolina Wrens made regular appearances. But I could not have anticipated what happened next. About six weeks ago, I noticed some birds that resembled the numerous house finches that frequented our feeders. A closer inspection with the binoculars told me that we had a small flock of purple finches with a few pine siskins thrown in for good measure. I was ecstatic.

I had never had purple finches at the feeders and only had had passing pine siskins that took a break to refuel during migration. I hoped beyond hope that the birds would stay. So far they have.

These are gorgeous birds, each in their particular plumage. The reddish hues of the male purple finches appear iridescent, especially if the sun reflects off of their foreheads where the winter colors are the brightest. Though much duller and muted, the rich browns and creams of the females’ feathers are equally stunning.

backyard birds

A rare visitor, a Red-breasted Nuthatch.

The more demur pine siskins tend to feed with the purple finches and the American goldfinches. Their brown stripes and flash of yellow at the wing tips make them striking birds as well.

The departure of the leaves and arrival of the birds mimic life. We can’t do anything about the past and try as we might, we can’t predict the future. Dull leaves and the arrival of purple finches are proof positive.

To be most productive, I strive to be present in each moment regardless of what change occurs. The mystery of it all sparks a spirit of gratitude.

I’m thankful the birds and trees keep reminding me that change is inevitable. If we pay attention, we can enrich our lives by embracing each subtle transformation, seasonal or otherwise.

For good or for ill, change happens. It is the way life is.

Purple Finches, Pine Siskins, House Finches, American Goldfinches

Finches feeding.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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