I’ve always enjoyed finding objects in my photographs that I didn’t know where there until I viewed the shots on my computer. This photo is the perfect example.
The original focus of this capture was the striation effect created by the blooming sunflower heads, the tassels of the ripening field corn, and the rows of cumulus clouds on a late summer’s day. However, upon closer inspection, I found what appears to be someone’s lost hat hanging on a stalk of a sunflower in the foreground. It’s a tradition of this Old Order Mennonite farmer to allow folks to freely harvest as many sunflowers as they wish from this five-acre field. A little box is nailed to a utility pole for donations, which are given to a local charity.
I surmise that someone lost the hat while picking sunflowers and another kind person found it, placed it where it could be seen if the owner came looking for it.
“Striations and one lost hat” is my Photo of the Week.
We got the last space in the parking lot. My 11-year-old grandson and I were beginning a hike in nearby Shenandoah National Park.
We had trudged this trail with his entire family a couple of years ago. This time the two of us would do the trek on our own terms and in our own time. Clearly, though, we wouldn’t be alone. The warm sunshine and cool temperatures drew many others to hike in the perfect weather.
I carried snacks and water in my multi-pocketed vest I mostly used for birding and photography. I packed extra batteries for my camera given my history of digitally documenting every step of the way. Davis carried the binoculars.
Our ascent began as soon as we crossed the roadway. Soon we joined the Appalachian Trail that winds through the Blue Ridge Mountains. A stone marker with a metal band identified where our loop trail and the main trail split.
We indeed encountered other hikers, some early birds who were on their way down, and others like ourselves who were ready for the rocky trail ahead. As we climbed, we always had to watch our step. The trail consisted of dirt, stones, terraced steps formed by exposed tree roots, and huge rocks.
Ascending the summit of Bearfence Mountain is more of a rock scramble than it is a climb. For an 11-year-old, it was child’s play. For a creaky-boned, gimpy-kneed grandfather, it felt like survival.
I struggled to pull myself up the jagged boulders that served as the ridge-top trail. Undulating, rocky outcroppings intermittently protruded above the surrounding forest of oaks, maples, sassafras, wild cherry, and dogwoods.
Davis, on the other hand, bounded catlike up, down, and around the biggest boulders. Rectangular dabs of baby blue paint clearly pointed the way over the exposed bedrock and through narrow crevasses and the many trees. When I dallied, either to catch my breath or to take a photograph, Davis retreated to make sure I was keeping up.
During an easier section of the trail, Davis surprised me with a hiking theory he had developed. He said a team of hikers required five different people.
“You need a photographer,” he said, “who is last in the group because he or she is always taking pictures to document the trip.” I appreciated both his astute observation and his subtle hint at picking up the pace.
From a rock.
Taking a break.
Red Admiral sunning.
A hiking team also needed an explorer to guide the group and who usually took the lead, he continued. I think he had found his calling. The other skilled positions included a writer to record and report about the trip once it is completed, a carrier to tote the equipment, and a collector who gathers samples to research after the expedition.
I thought his comments both profound and practical. However, I quizzed him about the obvious. Weren’t the two of us already doing all of those tasks?
“Oh, yes,” he said. “I guess you’re right. But it’s still easier if you have five.”
As we enjoyed the expansive views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west and ate our snacks, other hikers joined us. Butterflies danced in the forest openings and sunbathed on lichen-covered rocks bordered by wildflowers and bright berries. Davis, of course, kept practicing his hiking team concept by being the explorer. He disappeared and reappeared at will.
I didn’t need to ask my grandson what he thought of the day. Davis’ enthusiasm spoke more ardently than any words could. He had enjoyed the outing as much as his pooped Poppy.
When I first moved to Holmes County, Ohio a month after the devastating July 4th flood in 1969, I explored the countryside to get my bearings. As a rookie teacher, I wanted to know where my students lived, and what they were dealing with in the flood’s aftermath.
We had several other rookie teachers who were also new to the area. Our principal, Paul O’Donnell, loaded us all in his Chevy station wagon and chauffeured us around the hills and dales where our students lived.
Being a geography geek, I greatly enjoyed the tour. I decided that was the best way for me to get to know the Holmes County area. I bought a county map and drove the dusty back roads as often as I could. I marveled at the diversity of the area’s topography and vegetation.
In a matter of minutes, I went from marshlands up steep, winding roads to the top of hills with majestic views of the valleys below. Hillsides were often densely wooded, while croplands and pastures dominated the gently rolling landscape atop the ridges. I repeated the process when I moved to the eastern section of the county.
Whether east or west, I greatly enjoyed getting to know the countryside and its inhabitants. My wife and I are trying the same approach in our new county of residence, Rockingham, Virginia. Only we often use GPS instead of a map.
With Rockingham twice the size of Holmes County, there’s a lot of ground to cover. We’re chipping away at it as time allows. So far, we’ve explored a lot of beautiful scenery and quaint, rural towns. It didn’t take us long to discover why they are called the Blue Ridge Mountains. Even the Allegheny Mountains cast a blue hue in the day’s waning light.
The folks we’ve met so far are as friendly and polite as advertised. No one has even mentioned my Holmes County accent.
Besides sightseeing, our exploring is purposeful, whether traveling into the City of Harrisonburg, or the rural areas of the county. Running errands, going to appointments, buying fresh produce, an afternoon with the grandkids, all get us out and about, finding our way around our new home.
We also explore with friends and relatives who visit and want a look around, too. I enjoy those trips the most. They usually involve a stop at a local restaurant to try their fare, followed by another stop at a local ice cream shop. The problem is deciding which one.
We’ve been practical about our excursions. We live in a housing development that serves as a buffer between the city to the east and the county to the west. Consequently, most of our rural exploring to date has branched out north, south, and west of our home.
We’ve especially come to love the Dayton area, where many of the Old Order Mennonites live. Old Order Mennonites drive horse and buggies just like the Amish. And like the Amish, they are deeply rooted in the soil. Most are farmers. Some are business owners, providing services that the majority of their peers could use. Harness shops, bicycle shops, and dry goods stores are typical.
Many have branched out into businesses for customers beyond their own culture. Orchards and produce stands are prominent.
We have enjoyed our junkets around the Rockingham countryside vistas. We’re looking forward to uncovering exciting new places and making additional friends and acquaintances. In Virginia, both are easy to do.
I had just finished talking to the young man about taking photographs on his father’s farm. As I started to get into my vehicle, I spotted the man at the gate to a ranging hillside pasture. This stunning pair of steeds trotted down to greet their friend. Since he had given me permission to shoot photos, I had to take this scene. I doubt that the man thought he and his beautiful horses would be my first photo.
The Big Meadows area of Shenandoah National Park is a big, wide-open prairie-like saddle tucked between the park’s hardwood forests. It’s about midway along the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah N.P. According to a park ranger, no one is certain why the meadow is even there. No matter. It is, and the wildlife loves it.
In the summer, Big Meadows is especially a haven for songbirds and insects. Bright and fragrant wildflowers serve as food and habitat for the beautiful butterflies. These thistle blooms were a magnet for this pair of Silver-spotted Skippers and this female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.
We couldn’t have picked a better time to move. The lush Ohio springtime ensured a colorful goodbye for us.
When it came to flowers and blooming trees and shrubs, it was, in fact, one of the most beautiful springs in memory. We didn’t have to go far to appreciate the beauty either. The pink dogwood tree I bought for Neva for Mother’s Day several years ago burst the brightest and fullest it had ever been.
Its sister dogwoods bloomed just as showy. Their lacy white flowers opened early and stayed late. I couldn’t have been more elated. Those trees and I go way back. Before our move from Killbuck, Ohio to our home near Berlin, I transplanted several trees from the little woods behind the house we had built. Three wild dogwoods were among them.
The trees graced our place with shade in the summer and sheltered nests of American Robins, Cedar Waxwings, and Chipping Sparrows. In the fall, their berries turned fire engine red while the leaves morphed from green to crimsons before winter’s winds blew them away.
But it was the few weeks in the spring that I always treasured when the lovely, soft pedals bloomed pure white, crisp as snow, frilly as the daintiest lace. The lilacs also joined the show. Their lavender heads were full as possible. Their fragrances perfumed the air for days and days, temporarily compromising the simultaneous barn cleanings of the local farmers.
We would miss the peak display of iris, gladiolas, coneflowers, and cosmos. We knew that was part of the cost of moving.
Besides, we found love and beauty in other places. We met with as many friends and family as we could who had played important roles in our lifetime of Ohio living. Most of those gatherings occurred in the days and weeks just before the move.
Knowing time would be short, we actually began the goodbye process nearly a year ago. I did a farewell tour of the schools where I had served as principal for 21 years. I made my rounds one last time as a township trustee, too. I bid farewell to constituents who went out of their way to make my job easier.
Our immediate neighbors held a potluck dinner for us and gave us a generous gift. Neva and I even made one last stop at the Farmers Produce Auction near Mt. Hope. Of course, we had to patronize Dan and Anna’s food stand.
Time didn’t permit us to meet with everyone of course. But we shared meals, stories, laughs, tears, and hugs with many, many folks. Some people sent us cards. Others popped in for a few moments for a final goodbye.
All of those contacts were bouquets more beautiful, more fragrant than any flower arrangement and blooming shrubs could possibly be. We deeply inhaled those most meaningful relationships.
Our final send off came from our little church of 46 years, Millersburg Mennonite. Without those characters and their unswerving support, we wouldn’t be the people we have become. I had to blame somebody.
Those gatherings empowered us to accept the reality of changing locales. The love and well wishes expressed gave us the strength we needed to begin anew. We can never, ever thank them enough.
As we drove out the drive for the last time, the dogwoods were at their summit. As lovely as they were, they still couldn’t compare to the radiance of the loving, lifetime friendships we had made.
I have too many hobbies. Besides photography and writing, I enjoy biking, birding, wildlife, wildflowers, hiking, weather, sunrises, and sunsets, just to name a few. Every once in a while, I am fortunate to be able to combine some of those activities into one outing.
Recently I explored a new location for sunsets. Though lovely, the promise of a blazing sunset diminished as the sun sank lower and lower behind the Allegheny Mountains 17 miles away. To the north, a rogue thunderstorm drifted over northwestern Rockingham Co., Virginia. The last of the day’s light dappled the outer edges of the billowing storm cell.
Being outside in the cooling evening air on this hillside cattle farm brought me much joy. Capturing a photo of a growing thunderhead highlighted by the setting sun in this idyllic setting capped another lovely day in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.
It’s been four months since my wife and I moved from Holmes Co., Ohio to Rockingham Co., Virginia. I’ve enjoyed exploring our new retirement location, looking for new spots to photograph sunrises and sunsets. I’m especially happy when I’m rewarded with a glorious morning or evening sky. I am grateful to be able to share the beautiful results with you.
“Reflections on a Farm Pond” is my Photo of the Week.
Moving is not an easy process. No matter how much you plan for it, some unknown event usually happens. We kept waiting for that shoe to drop when we moved from Holmes County, Ohio to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.
There are many variables in making any move, whether down the street, across town, or across the country. We moved 350 miles southeast, beyond the Ohio River, across several mountain gaps to spend our retirement years near our grandchildren.
That process began almost on a whim. On an exploratory search to see what our money could buy in Harrisonburg’s tight housing market, we found a place that fit most of our living needs. We quickly and unexpectedly reached a fair agreement with the sellers. And we were off and running.
My wife and I are not spontaneous buyers, especially on big-ticket items like a house. We recognized, however, that if we were serious about being close to our grandchildren during their formative years, we needed to move. So we did.
It’s no easy decision to leave the place you have called home for the best part of your lives. So the way we found both a new house and sold our one in Amish country played out flawlessly. We reached an amicable deal with our Amish neighbors to purchase our home.
The transition smoothness continued with the transfers of the standard utilities, insurance, and other household necessities. The easy flow and friendly folks astounded us once again.
We slowed down the pace a bit by deciding to rent the Virginia house during our transition time. We put our daughter in charge since she lives in Harrisonburg. The house was rented in less than a day.
We took our time moving, 18 months to be exact. The renters moved out in the fall, giving us the winter months to put our own touches on the house that would be our new home. That timeline worked just fine for the contractor and landscaper, who needed a smaller project during the slower winter months. And that’s just how it worked out. That also gave us the time we needed to declutter our lives of items that we either no longer needed or could not fit into our smaller ranch home.
Friends recommended a local mover, who also offered to pack all our items going to Virginia. You should have seen the smile on my wife’s face. It was the best $800 I ever spent.
Everything was packed and loaded in one day and delivered, unloaded, and set in place two days later. Nothing was broken, though a few items were left in Ohio. Wouldn’t you know, friends from Harrisonburg offered to pick them up on a trip to Ohio? See what I mean?
Given that the entire process took a year and a half, there was plenty of opportunity for a surprise to jump up and bit us. It never happened. My wife and I are very grateful that everything, the purchase, the renting, the moving, the remodeling, the landscaping, the settling in, fell into place that way.
As I reflected on all of this, however, I was mindful of those who have had life experiences where not everything worked out for the best. A surgery that went horribly wrong; an unexpected death; a traumatic separation of family members. The list is endless.
I am exceedingly grateful that everything fell into place for us. I’ll try to use that gratitude as a reminder to be considerate and charitable to those who can’t say the same thing.
I normally don’t accompany my wife on shopping trips, especially if she is looking for material or quilting supplies. This day was different, however. We were exploring around western Rockingham County, Virginia when we came upon a dry goods store. Of course, we had to go in. I took some shots outside, especially of the Old Order Mennonite horse and buggy tied to the hitching rail.
I soon joined my wife inside. I was stunned at both the size and cleanliness of the store. Everything sparkled. The numerous skylights allowed plenty of the bright afternoon sun to flood the retail showroom. When I caught up to my wife in the fabric section, I was stunned by the display of colorful spools of thread. The cases offered a kaleidoscope of thread colors for the store’s customers, creating an unintended work of art.
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