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

Prothonotary Warbler


I had to let the birds come to me during this year’s spring bird migration. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, I only occasionally ventured out on short excursions that often included a grocery pick up after a brief search for migrating birds.

So, I decided to look back in my photo files for a bird that I had never shared before. This Prothonotary Warbler caught my attention and sent me back to when and where I had photographed it. It was a cool, damp day at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area along Lake Erie’s shore in northwest Ohio. The boardwalk was crowded with other birders of all ages from around the world. The cameras clicked away when this bright yellow fellow appeared. Unfortunately, Magee Marsh is closed this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Prothonotary Warblers are only one of two warbler species that nest in tree cavities. They prefer marshy thickets as their habitats. They are named for Roman Catholic papal clerks known as prothonotaries who wear bright yellow robes.

“Prothonotary Warbler” is my Photo of the Week.

© 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

Spring in Ohio’s Amish Country


It was exactly five years ago today that I took this photo of our Amish neighbor planting corn in the late-April sunshine. Add in the faithful dog, and it’s an iconic spring scene in Ohio’s Amish country. A majority of the three to four million tourists who visit Holmes Co., Ohio, every year come for such nostalgic vistas as this. Horsedrawn plows and planters bring back fond memories for our most senior folks. It’s a way of life that is rapidly disappearing, even in the largest Amish population in the world. Today, fewer than 10 percent of Amish still farm.

“Spring in Ohio’s Amish Country” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Social distancing before it was required

Reflections at the alligator pond.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

A cypress grove along the Suwannee Canal.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Earth Day


Today is Earth Day’s 50th Anniversary. As we celebrate this milestone, let’s remember the reason we mark the day. Together we all need to admire, enjoy, and care for Creation.

“Earth Day” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Trying to make sense of things


I could hear my wife’s sewing machine humming in the guest bedroom. Neva was piecing together yet another one of her lovely wall-hangings or comforters. She hadn’t yet decided which it would be.

I frequently darted out of the room that is my office and announced to her breaking news about the coronavirus pandemic. None of it was good.

The disturbing information flowed in like a tsunami. It arrived on the TV, the internet, text messages, emails, and social media. The latter was a jumble of emotions, some folks trying to keep comments on the lighter side of life, while others were angry, confused, hurt, disbelieving.

All of those reactions were legitimate, and through this global pandemic, we all have no doubt experienced the full range of human emotions. It feels like September 11, 2001, all over again, only in slow motion.

One of my wife’s many creations.

However, unlike that infamous day, we could see this coming. The many forms of media basically did their job. They kept and are keeping us informed with the latest updates. That’s their job. Some people openly denied the warnings of the obvious, while others tried humor to relieve the tensions. Nothing seemed appropriate. Nothing seemed right.

So much news came in so fast that my head spun. It all felt like a bad dream, only I couldn’t wake up. It just kept getting worse.

Here in Virginia’s bucolic Shenandoah Valley, the weather was spring-like. I needed to get outside, away from all of the clatter and news of economic, medical, and political calamity. I told Neva that I was going for a walk, and she eagerly joined me. She, too, needed a break.

Neva and I immediately became aware that this was no ordinary stroll. Though sound occurred, the atmosphere felt eerily strange and heavy. It was like an episode of the Twilight Zone.

As we ambled along, we saw no other people. No vehicles passed us. Social distancing was a moot point. We usually see several others as we wander around the paved streets of our sprawling neighborhood. Today, not even the usual dog walkers were out.

A thousand robins chirped with every step. Other sounds caught our attention in the eeriness. A quarter-mile away, a pile-driver pounded away at the thick blue limestone bedrock at a construction site.

A neighbor’s daffodils.

So did a single hammer at a new home going up three streets over. It drew us like two curious kids wanting to check out the action. We surveyed the house already framed and roofed, intrigued by the noises of wood against wood, metal against metal preparing for the next building stages.

When we returned home, the news continued to pour in. The NCAA canceled the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments canceled. The Major League Baseball season would be delayed. An acquaintance from our church had died. Nursing homes were quarantined. Schools were closing one state after the other.

Governors of multiple states prohibited large gatherings. No more than 25 in California. It was 500 in New York, 100 in several other places. The stock market continued to plunge in fear of the unknown.

That’s what fear does to humans. It riles us up, makes us think, do, and say crazy, unhealthy, panicky things. It’s no way to live.

That’s why we took our little walk to clear our hearts, minds, and souls of the fallout from the cascading crisis. All we could do at that moment was to breathe. Out of new habit, I washed my hands for the longest time before Neva’s sewing machine began to hum again.

It was the sweetest, most comforting sound of the day.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020