Our European Adventure – Day 8

Frescos and gardens were a common occurrence in Oberammergau, Germany.

As we neared the end of our tour of Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, we finally had a good part of a day free. We chose to walk the streets of the beautifully adorned buildings of Oberammergau, Germany.

According to the tour company, the day’s highlight would be the Passion Play, held every 10 years since its inception in 1634. Even before seeing the lengthy play, my wife and I found marvels of our own.

After a hearty breakfast in our quaint hotel, we strolled around the picturesque village admiring the architecture, many frescos, lovely gardens, and personable town folks. The blue sky and warm weather made it even more enjoyable.

In Bavaria, it’s common for shopkeepers and farmers alike to live in the same building as their businesses and animals. The shops in Oberammergau were no exception.

The homes are tidy and most designed around the pride of being located where they were, at the base of the Alps. They decorated their buildings with themed frescoes and flowers, potted and planted.

Their gardens were as lovely as they were productive. Artistic patterns of hedges surrounded flower and vegetable gardens while many roofs donned solar panels. These were more examples of how green Europe is.

St. Peter and St. Paul Catholic Church was as beautiful as any others we had seen on the trip. The graves in the cemetery surrounding the old church were well-maintained and decorated with flowers to remember lost loved ones.

Even though our seats were reserved, we were advised to arrive an hour ahead of the 2:30 p.m. start time. Long lines had already formed as we passed through security.

The Oberammergau Passion Play began when villagers prayed that if no more people in the village died from the plague, they would perform a play of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, now known as Holy Week. Their prayers were answered, and they kept their promise. The 2020 play was canceled because of the pandemic and rescheduled for May into October this year.

Of course, the play is in German, but English booklets are provided to follow the dialogue as long as there is light. The original text has been revised over the years, and with the addition of the poignant musical score, the play is performed more as an oratory.

The Oberammergau auditorium and two of the young actors who also worked at a restaurant during the dinner break.

Most of the actors and vocalists are local residents. Their performance and singing were equally outstanding. Since no video or cameras were permitted, I didn’t take any photos during the five-hour play.

That’s right, five hours! The play is broken into two parts. The first two and a half hours are presented in the afternoon with a three-hour break for dinner. The play began again at 8 p.m. and ran until 10:30 p.m.

Our tour company arranged for meals between acts at a restaurant close to the Oberammergau Playhouse. Ironically, the man who played Pilot owns the restaurant where we ate. His son, who plays John, also is part owner. He actually worked between the two acts that evening. We were impressed with their acting and their hospitality.

It had been another inspiring yet long day for us senior citizens. We couldn’t imagine what the next couple of days would bring.

The morning view from our hotel room.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

Our European Adventure – Day 4

The 13,642 ft. peak of Jungfrau, as viewed from Interlaken, Switzerland.

We knew that the fourth day of our tour would be jam-packed. We couldn’t imagine just how filled the day would be with one wonder after the other.

The day dawned with a bright blue sky and high expectations. We left our hotel in Lucerne and headed into the Swiss Alps. The lovely weather made the incredible scenery all the more amazing.

My wife and I chose seats close to the front of the bus to get a good view of where we were headed. We weren’t disappointed. Snow-capped mountains soon came into view as we traveled along the well-maintained highway system that included several long tunnels.

The view from the front of the bus.

The scenery was green in more than one way. Farmers made hay and cattle grazed on slanting pastures that ran far up the mountainsides. Hiking and biking paths led away from cities and towns far into the country and highlands. The efficient train systems did as well.

I secretly wanted the bus to stop multiple times so I could take photos without window glare. Of course, that wasn’t going to happen. The bus did stop at one pull out to view the valley and Lungernersee below. As beautiful as that was, the best was yet to come.

We stopped at Interlaken for long enough to know that I want to return someday. I could breathe in that fresh mountain air and those incredible sights for a long time. Skydivers entertained us as they swooped overhead beneath their colorful parachutes, landing in a field right in front of us.

Jungfrau’s 13,642 ft. peak shown brightly in the morning sun. It was all I could do to board the bus. Still, even more fantastic scenery awaited.

Our glorious journey continued as we wound our way through the breathtaking Lauterbrunnen Valley. Unfortunately, we had to absorb all we could from the bus as it passed through the charming village. I was able to get a few shots of the famous Staubbach Waterfalls. It was a scene I had seen many times, and now we were passing right by it.

Soon our very capable bus driver turned onto a more narrow road, and up we climbed to Grindelwald at the foot of Eiger Mountain. It was lunchtime, and while most of the others on our bus opted for a restaurant or cafe, my wife and I grabbed some munchies at a grocery store and sat on a bench that overlooked the famous mountain. The blaze away, but the air was cool, the Swiss goodies tasty, and the company at my side couldn’t have been more pleasing to me.

All too soon, we again boarded the bus and headed for the lovely Emmental Valley to visit the oldest operating Mennonite Church in Langnau. Our hosts shared about their growing church and then invited us to wander the cemetery across the street. Familiar last names appeared on the headstones. Many American Mennonite families can trace their family tree to this location.

From Langnau, the bus navigated more narrow country roads to the Trachselwald Castle, where Anabaptists were imprisoned in the 16th and 17th centuries. The view from the castle was likely more appealing for us than it was for those early martyrs.

We wound our way to the farm of a descendent of Hans Hasselbacker, who was imprisoned in the old castle. His namesake relative greeted us and showed us his farmstead, which has the house and barn connected in true Swiss fashion.

The view from the castle.

With the sun nearing the horizon, we drove country roads back to our hotel in Lucerne. It had been a great day, made even better by the news that we had a new grandson born late May 14 in Rochester, New York. Welcome to the world, Teddy!

Our newest grandchild, Teddy!

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

Bluebells on the Bluebell Trail

Virginia Bluebells beautified the space between the Bluebell Trail and the South Forth of the Shenandoah River in Shenandoah River State Park.

Friends told me that the Virginia Bluebells were at peak bloom along the Bluebell Trail in Shenandoah River State Park. I had to go see for myself.

The weather was perfect. Sunny skies and warm temperatures dominated the day. Both had been recent rarities in the Shenandoah Valley.

So, off I went, down what the Confederates called the Middle Road, to Timberville. From there, I took U.S. 211 east through New Market, up and across the Massanutten Mountain Range, and around the quaint town of Luray to U.S. 340.

A dozen miles later, I entered the park to find the empty entrance station. Due to staffing shortages, it’s an honor system to enter. You grab an envelope, place $10 in it, and deposit the fee into the slot. Hang the receipt from your rearview mirror, and you’re good to go.

And what a splendid day it was. First, I stopped at Cullers Overlook for a fantastic view of the South Fork of the Shenandoah River, snaking its way north. Only a few more miles, and it converges with its twin, the North Fork of the Shenandoah River, at Front Royal. The majestic and historic Shenandoah River flows north to meet the Potomac River at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia.

The South Fork of the Shenandoah River from Cullers Overlook, Shenandoah River State Park, Bentonville, Virginia.

As glorious as that view was, I didn’t linger long. I wanted to see the Bluebells. It was all downhill from there to the trailhead a half-mile away.

With camera and binoculars in hand, I eagerly set out on the mile-long trail. A swarm of insects greeted me only a few steps onto the earthen path. I had forgotten to pack the bug spray, so I raised my tolerance level and soldiered on.

Soon I began to pass folks who had a head start on me. They assured me that I couldn’t miss the lovely flowers as they headed to their vehicles. They were right.

Once the trail straightened out, patches large and small of Virginia Bluebells spread across the forest floor like a blue and green carpet. They even lined the riverbank much of the time.

I had an ample selection of flower photo ops. Since I also enjoy birds, calls from high above told me that warblers and other songbirds were foraging for insects among the emerging leaves.

The hungry little birds moved fast and furious, fueling up for their continued flight north. To my surprise, my attention focused on more obvious winged creatures.

Several butterflies flitted all around the trees and flowers in irregular patterns. I soon learned to stay still and let the beautiful insects come to me. Several were puddling on the path wear they found damp spots. They extracted nutrients from the moistened soil. A few stayed in place long enough for me to get a few decent shots.

Of course, I kept passing other hikers, and a few bikers who surprised me from behind. The butterflies flew but often returned within camera range.

I didn’t see as many birds as I had hoped, but I counted the trip a success. Communing intimately with nature tends to fill you with joy and appreciation. By the time I left, my cup overflowed

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

It Was a Sugary Kind of Afternoon

The initial stop on the Sugar Trail at New York’s Genesee Country Village and Museum.

I didn’t really know what to expect when our son and his wife informed us that we were going to a maple sugar festival. I knew that our daughter-in-law was super excited, which was enough incentive for me. Besides, what choice did I have? They had already purchased tickets, and it was a rain or shine event.

So, off we drove southwest from Rochester, New York, to the Genesee Country Village and Museum. We arrived in less than an hour, and it was clear from the crowded parking lot that we weren’t alone on this adventure.

We checked in and were directed to the Sugar Shack, where the modern method of boiling maple sap down to create maple syrup was explained. In New York, it takes about 39 gallons of sap to make a gallon of maple syrup. I thought back to my Ohio days when I visited various sugaring operations. The general rule there was 52 gallons of sap to create a gallon of maple syrup. I wondered if the latitude had anything to do with the difference.

From there, it was on to sugar snow. That’s where maple syrup is poured over snow for a special tasty treat. In the absence of snow, crushed iced served the same purpose. We enjoyed it just the same.

Soon, we were on the Sugar Trail, where volunteers in period costume explained the maple sugaring evolution one station at a time. Our umbrellas went up before we even stepped foot on the trail.

The wet weather didn’t dampen the spirits of either our gang of six or the knowledgeable folks at each stop. They knew their stuff and shared how both Native Americans and white settlers took advantage of the sap run during February and March.

We learned a lot along the way. The walk was equally a figurative and literal stroll through the woods dominated by sugar maple trees. We followed the signs from stop to stop, ending up at how maple sap is currently gathered by most successful sugaring operations.

Plastic tubing is strung from tree to tree with plastic inserts that are tapped into the tree. Gravity carries the sap to the main collecting barrel instead of going from tree to tree emptying individual buckets full of the sweet stuff. In truth, only 2% of the water collected is sugar, thus the boiling of the water. Workers have to gauge the proper heat to avoid burning the syrup. Despite the mechanization, it’s still a tedious process.

By trail’s end, we were ready for lunch. A brief stop at an on-sight eatery got us going again. That’s when the real surprise came.

Genesee Country Village and Museum is a collection of historical buildings brought to the site for educational purposes. George Eastman’s boyhood home is in the village. Eastman was the founder of Eastman Kodak Company.

The village is divided into sections to represent the various architectural structures of the late 18th century into the early 20th century. Some of the buildings, like the Hosmer’s Inn and its smokehouse and the Jones Farm had guides in period outfits to give a brief description of the way life used to be in those particular times. We also enjoyed maple flavored goodies from the bakery.

The sun came out, and the temperature warmed, making our afternoon even more delightful. Most of all, it was a joy to spend these precious moments with family.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

A Photo Essay for an Old Friend

The backyard red maple saw a lot of lovely sunsets.

I said goodbye to an old friend recently. I had the utilitarian red maple tree in our backyard cut down. I didn’t really want to, but it was the right thing to do.

The tree has served us well year-round in the short time my wife and I have lived in the Shenandoah Valley. We moved here from Ohio’s Amish country to be near our grandchildren.

In the summer, the backyard tree provided much-needed shade for us and the wildlife. The tree reached far above the peak of our home, helping to block the hot afternoon sun. Birds and squirrels were often seen lounging in the coolness.

Our grandchildren scaled the alluring tree with her low, sweeping branches. She oversaw their croquet games, soccer kicking, and baseball tossing. American Robins and Blue Jays nested high in her tender branches.

The red maple glowed most gloriously in the fall, of course. Her red leaves brightened chilly, gray autumn days. But the healthier front yard red maple always outshone her sister’s beauty.

In the winter, she cradled the various backyard bird feeders I hung from her lower limbs and placed beneath her silver trunk. White-throated Sparrows, House Finches, Purple Finches, Carolina Chickadees, Carolina Wrens, and American Goldfinches were just some of the species that rested on her branches.

Woodpeckers especially loved her. Downey, Red-bellied, Northern Flickers, and even a Pileated Woodpecker graced her offerings. American Robins roosted high in her crown as days drew to a close.

In the spring, her dainty, concealed blossoms attracted pollinators before I even realized they were there. In addition to her budding lime leaves, she sprouted her precious, life-giving seeds. Unfortunately, they were so numerous not even the horde of neighborhood squirrels could devour them all. The twirling seeds clogged our spouting and downspouts until we had gutter guards installed. More personally, they activated my allergies. I alone kept Keenex® in business.

Neither of those negativities led to her demise, though. No, I knew the tree was sick from the time we moved in nearly five years ago. Even a casual glance would have told any passerby that the tree had an issue.

The red maple was only one of two mature trees on our third of an acre. A second red maple frames the front yard. Even from the street, you could see that the color of the leaves of the two trees was different. The front yard maple’s leaves shown glossy and vibrant. The leaves of the backyard tree appeared dull, even sickly.

I knew that one large east-facing branch of the backyard red maple struggled to produce leaves. But last summer, when the region was in a moderate drought, the leaves suddenly turned brown and shriveled up.

A certified arborist showed me the reasons for the beloved tree’s demise. Insects had girdled the limb in question near the trunk, and the bark had flacked off. In fact, the bugs had burrowed into the trunk as well. No wonder woodpeckers loved the tree.

The arborist said the tree would live no longer than five years. We made the difficult decision to have the tree taken down, and replace it with another that hopefully will produce a crown that will mirror the qualities of the red maple.

My wife and I won’t likely live long enough to watch the replacement tree grow to maturity. We are resigned to watching the young sweet gum grow the way we have enjoyed watching our grandchildren morph from joyous youngsters into achieving and helpful youth.

Even when dormant, the red maple looked grand.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

January’s Full Wolf Moon

A pictorial series of the moon’s rising above the Atlantic Ocean.

January’s Full Wolf Moon rises into the Belt of Venus at sunset on January 17, 2022, at Fernandina Beach, Florida. I took this photo from the porch of our rented condo.

I was hoping to photograph January’s Full Wolf Moon as it rose above the horizon of the Atlantic Ocean. However, the timing would occur before sunset, making the moon hard to see. I gave it a try anyhow.

Fortunately, a cargo ship was moored offshore, and I hoped it would provide a bit of perspective once the moon came into view. What happened was even better than I could have imagined.

In the slideshow below, you will see a sequence of photos showing the rising moon, first very faintly right behind the freighter. Then as the moon arched higher into the evening sky, the ship provided a perfect marker on the very calm ocean waters. (Please click the right arrow to move to the next photo.)

@ Bruce Stambaugh 2022

Sunrise, Sunset

Sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean, Fernandina Beach, FL.

My wife and I are on our winter vacation on Florida’s Amelia Island northeast of Jacksonville. We try to retreat here during winter’s coldest time. Though it’s not balmy here like southern Florida, we don’t have all that snow folks do up north right now.

There are a great many things to like about Amelia Island. The sunrises and sunsets top my list, closely followed by the wildlife, especially the many species of birds.

Our rented condo is right on Main Beach in Fernandina Beach. Unless it’s cloudy, sunrises are a daily treat. No two are alike.

We don’t have far to go for sunsets either. We drive to various spots along the Amelia River that afford marvelous views of the setting sun. Of course, not every evening offers up a golden sky, but we have seen many glorious sunsets in our several visits to this unique isle.

I enjoy photographing as many sunrises and sunsets as possible. I love sharing them with you all the more.

Sunset on the Amelia River, Fernandina Beach, FL.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

Christmas in Canun

A celebration with family.

The beach along the Gulf of Mexico at the resort where we stayed.

My wife and I wanted to wrap up our 50th anniversary year with the entire family in someplace warm. It didn’t quite work out that way.

Since our son’s career is in hospitality, we let him make the reservations. He found a family-friendly, eco-friendly resort south of Cancun, Mexico. However, it ended up that he and his wife couldn’t join us after all. Their doctor wouldn’t let her travel out of the country due to her high-risk pregnancy.

So, our daughter and her family, and my wife and I headed to Cancun without them with their blessings. We left Christmas Eve and returned on New Year’s Eve.

It was great to lounge in 85-degree weather on the beach with our three grandchildren and their mother and father. They enjoyed the waterpark, too, since the shoreline was rocky and uneven. We relaxed with them, chatting and teaching them card games.

Our reservations were made in early October, well before the omicron variant reared its ugly head. We double-checked with the airlines and the resort regarding their COVID-19 protocols. We were assured that all precautions would be taken, and that is what we experienced. We always felt very safe.

Here are some representative photos of our week-long experience at Sandos Caracol Eco Resort, Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

We traded Christmas trees for palm trees.

Palm trees provided plenty of shade for us, non-sun worshipers. The beach was lovely, but there were more rocks than sand under the water, which required water shoes to be worn to stay safe.

We spent Christmas Day getting acquainted with the resort. One of our grandsons and I explored the Mayan ruins on the resort property. We saw several giant iguanas, enjoyed a meal at one of the resort’s restaurants, saw the sunset, and watched a reenactment of a Mayan fire ceremony.

Of course, our oldest grandson and his dad had to try the jet skis while the rest of us watched from the shore. We also enjoyed the beautiful flowers and greenery that were all around us.

Because the resort is built in a jungle, we didn’t have to go far to find wildlife. Often, the critters came to us, mainly because people ignored the “Do Not Feed the Animals” signs. So, it was prudent to not leave anything on your balcony or your sliding door open. As a birder, I was pleased to see a variety of bird species. Some were life birds for me.

We enjoyed our time at the resort. Patience was paramount given that, like most everyplace else, the resort was short-staffed due to COVID-19. Being flexible enhanced our overall enjoyment of the Sandos Caracol Eco Resort.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

Remembering Christmases Past

It’s the gathering that counts.

Christmas morning in our Ohio home several years ago. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh.

Of all the holidays in the calendar year, Christmas is my favorite. I know I am not alone in that declaration.

I have many fond memories of Christmases past. The most memorable seem to be snippets of bigger pictures, but they are still meaningful after all these years.

Delivering Sunday’s newspaper as a teenager on a snowy Christmas Eve night is one of my favorite memories. I can still see the smiles and hear the well-wishes from many customers as I tromped through heavy, wet snow.

Christmas was my father’s favorite holiday. He was a big little kid when it came to Christmas. He and our dear mother worked hard to make each Christmas extra special on Dad’s meager salary.

Dad loved to get the last-minute shopping discounted deals. He spent part of Christmas Eve buying presents he thought were bargains. His offspring reaped the rewards early Christmas morn.

Christmas Day in the Stambaugh household was a joyous time. We woke our parents too early and tore open packages with abandon. The pile of ripped wrapping paper grew exponentially.

As my brothers and sisters and I grew, married, moved, and raised children of our own, our traditions changed, of course. However, Mom and Dad hosted us all as long as they could until the brood expanded beyond the limited capacity of their post-World War II bungalow.

My siblings who lived nearest our folks took turns hosting the annual Christmas dinner and gift exchanges. Of course, once our children grew to adults and married, those traditions changed again.

My wife’s family always opened their presents on Christmas Eve, usually after attending services at their church up the road from their farm. It was Christmas Eve with Neva’s family, Christmas Day with mine.

At my age, the calendar isn’t nearly as important as the opportunity to gather the family together whenever we can. Christmas just made it a most memorable delight.

Nostalgia only carries so much weight in celebrating the holidays. It’s the here, and now that counts. We celebrate with those we love today, creating similar meaningful memories for the younger generations.

We will cherish the season with those who can join us and connect remotely with those who can’t. It’s the best we can do in this season of holidays mixed with precautions necessitated by the pandemic.

With that, I wish you all Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!

There is nothing better than snow on Christmas Day with the grandchildren.

A special note to followers of this blog.

Much of the content of this blog comes from newspaper columns that I have written for 23 years. This is my last column, but not the last blog post. I will continue to populate Roadkill Crossing with other musings and of course my photos.

As I near the three-quarters of a century mark in age, I have other writing projects that need my attention. I want to complete them while still having my wits and enough energy to put pen to paper.

I started a memoir of living among the Amish years ago. Completion of that book is long overdue. I have other stories swirling in my head, too. I want to set them to print before the Good Lord calls my name.

In that regard, I hope to share snippets of those with you here on Roadkill Crossing. So, please don’t give up on me!

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Joy in a Time of Sorrow

Yes, it is possible.

A tornado-damaged barn in Ohio’s Amish country.

Like most everyone else, I was shocked and saddened to hear of the death, injuries, and massive destruction left by the late-season outbreak of strong tornadoes that hit the country’s midsection like a gut punch recently.

Given this and other tragic global current events, how can we be joyous now? The answer is both easy and hard.

This family of tornadoes brought sorrow to innocent people. Survivors were thankful to be alive. Many people lost everything, and dozens died.

As I viewed the video of the immediate aftermath of the tornadoes, one clip particularly caught my attention. A first responder walked into a heavily-damaged nursing home where one person died from the tornado strike.

As the firefighter waded through inches of water in the dark, he passed several elderly nursing home residents sitting in their wheelchairs waiting for help. More than one of the residents thanked the firefighter for his assistance.

I was amazed. I figured those poor folks would be in shock and confused. Some probably were. But a few chose to express their thanks and joy for help despite their dire circumstances.

Not everyone can be joyous in this holiday season. Some feel alone. Some are homeless, cold, separated from family, while others mourn the loss of loved ones.

Our family knows those feelings all too well. My wife’s father died just before Christmas in 2001, and eight years later, I lost my father on December 21.

At Dad’s memorial service, I told those in attendance not to be sad for us. Dad loved Christmas and that there was no better time for him to pass on. He would have loved the festive decorations of the church.

During calling hours before the service, friends, family, and acquaintances shared their condolences and heartfelt stories of knowing our father. I remember one young man in particular.

The youngster came with his grandparents to express both his gratitude and sorrow. The young man remembered our father because Dad had shown him his arrowhead collection. That lasting impression exemplified our father’s love for life and learning.

How could we be sad at that? We couldn’t be, of course.

We loved our quirky, gregarious father, and we loved that others had opportunities to experience our father’s wide range of interests and joy for life. The fact that so many took time out of their holiday celebrations and ventured out in the snow and cold to be with us spoke volumes.

Joy on Christmas morning.

Another recollection of joy experienced at a stressful time was at the first fire I responded to as a volunteer firefighter in Ohio’s Amish country. A chimney fire had spread into the attic of a century-old Amish farmhouse. At the end of a 30-foot ladder, I sprayed water onto the fire through a small attic window.

With the flames under control, I looked down to the front yard, and I couldn’t believe the unfolding scene. Scores of people, primarily Amish, rushed in and out of the house, hauling out precious family heirlooms, furniture, dishes, and other items.

Several ladies and teenage girls already had washed some of the family’s clothes and hung them on the laundry line. Talk about expressing joy in the face of despair.

That is the way life is, isn’t it? When we are down and out for whatever reason, joy reaches in and touches our heart and soul and gives us hope.

We can choose to be joyful even in the face of death and terror. At every opportunity, be the joy.

An Amish farmstead in December.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

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