Category Archives: weather

Right Where They Fell

autumn leaves, sugar maple leaves, iron fence

Right where they fell.

This has been an unusual fall across much of the country. Here in Virginia, we have received only recent rains, much too late to help the leaves reach their peak colors before they fell. This sugar maple in a yard in the quaint town of Dayton in Rockingham Co. defied the dry weather. Perhaps not as bright as usual, her broad leaves still turned rich gold in color.

Whether from fatigue or the extended dry spell or both, the shapely maple gave up most of her leafy crown all at once. With little wind, this year’s crop remained right where they fell. The old wrought iron fence seemed to help corral them, too.

“Right Where They Fell” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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In awe of fall’s many murmurations

meadow, Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg VA

The hilltop meadow.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Have you seen them? Fall’s murmurations are everywhere, or at least they were. They can be as fickle as fall weather. In fact, it’s autumn’s cooler temperatures and shorter daylight hours that often spur them on.

European starlings create the defining form of murmurations that are often caught on video. Massive, migrating flocks of starlings whirl, dance, gyrate, and swirl, darting high and low, turning seemingly indiscriminately in the sky. One minute they mimic a ballet dancer, the next a fearsome Halloween monster. Sometimes they perform over land, other times they maneuver above great bodies of water. Either way, their machinations mesmerize human observers.

Common Buckeye, honeybees,

Getting buzzed.

These starling murmurations, so prevalent in the fall, appear cloud-like, pulsating as if scripted to a choreographed symphony. They change direction and tempo, moving from Beethoven’s measure to Springsteen’s beat. I once saw a murmuration where thousands of starlings turned and twisted like a tornado, so much so that other drivers also pulled over to watch the show.

As magical as they are, the starlings cannot claim a patent on this fascinating phenomenon. Though not as showy or perhaps even as noticeable, other creatures great and small participate in their own migratory matinees.

A recent Sunday afternoon sabbatical on a hilltop brought me to that conclusion. October’s bright afternoon sun bathed the land in warmth and beauty. I couldn’t have been happier.

West Virginia, Virginia, Appalachian Mountains

The blue mountains.

To my west, the Allegheny Mountains stood eternal, the hazy blue boundary line between Virginia and West Virginia. To the east, the Massanutten Mountain held watch over the city of Harrisonburg, which hummed with its usual busyness.

As pleasant as that was, the setting became secondary to the murmuration activity in the lovely hillside meadow before me. In its last days of seasonal, colorful productivity, hundreds of butterflies flitted everywhere. Multiple species competed for the blooms they far outnumbered. Thousands of honeybees, bumble bees, and beetles also joined in the frenzy for the limited floral offerings.

Monarch butterflies, meadow, wildflowers

Blooms and butterflies.

Though they weren’t captivating clouds of whirling birds, each insect species had its own style. Butterflies chased butterflies. Bees buzzed butterflies, usually unsuccessfully. It wasn’t uncommon for a ladybug, honeybee, a Monarch, and a Painted Lady butterfly to all inhabit the same blooming wildflower plant, appropriating whatever they could for their journey or hibernation ahead.

Overhead, turkey vultures sailed on rising convection thermals, additional byproducts of the generous sunshine heating the cooler landscape. Beyond the urban trees and down the hill, a red-shouldered hawk shrieked its call in an attempt to flush songbirds from their protective cover.

American robins appeared with only abbreviated chirpings. Silent and absent since their last summer nestings, robin congregations bobbed on yards and scavenged crabapple trees for any morsel of energy to wing their way to milder winter climes.

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An eastern phoebe launched from a solitary dogwood tree loaded with bright red berries. The bird had no interest in them, however. Instead, it captured an unsuspecting damselfly, and returned to the same perch in the same tree, wagged its tail one more time and disappeared.

On the way home, a rather lopsided V winged across the last of the sunset’s orangey glow. Even with car windows closed, I could distinctly hear the geese honking as the darkening sky absorbed them. At day’s end, I was elated to have observed a few of the other forms of nature’s murmurations, each with their own flair, their own personal signature.

What murmurations of fall have you seen? Look sharp. They’ll soon be gone, replaced by the coming season’s institution of slumbering stillness.

sunset, Shenandoah Valley

Waning sunset.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Waiting on rain and suffering the personal consequences

picket fence, black-eyed susans

Is it the flowers?

By Bruce Stambaugh

I sat on the patio reading a marvelous book my best friend had given me before we hightailed it out of Holmes County, Ohio for Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. I didn’t read long, however.

A good case of what I’ll call the Shenandoah Sneeze forced me to retreat to the safety of our air-conditioned home. I had no choice. I was sneezing more than reading. I used more tissues than I turned pages.

Reading was only the secondary reason I had escaped to our outdoor sanctuary. I thought if I went outside the thick promising clouds would finally let loose a downpour. It didn’t happen. Apparently, I was under the spell of not only the Shenandoah Sneeze but also the Harrisonburg Hole. I’ll gladly clarify this localized lingo.

When my wife and I had our first appointments with our new doctor, one of the first questions she asked was if we had contracted any allergies yet. Apparently, newcomers to the Shenandoah Valley acquire hypersensitivities they didn’t have previously. Harrisonburg is The Valley’s notorious epicenter for such physical reactions.

home, Harrisonburg VA

Home sweet home, as long as the windows are closed.

I never had allergies my entire life of living in northeast Ohio. Now, every now and then when I step outdoors, or our home’s windows are open, I suddenly begin a succession of rapid-fire sneezes. I have no idea why or what is causing it. I’ve tried both over-the-counter and prescription medication. Nothing seems to help, so I just endure it. When an attack occurs, I retreat to a private space so as not to spoil a perfectly good autumn afternoon for others.

After the sneezing episode ends, my eyes itch and water and I have to breathe through my mouth due to nasal congestion. In relating this all too personal information, I am not asking for pity, only understanding.

As for the Harrisonburg Hole, that’s the real reason I went outside in the first place. The official forecast was a 90 percent chance of rain. It had been more than a month without rain. Not. One. Drop. I figured if I ventured outdoors the sky would inevitably open up. It didn’t.

backyard, Harrisonburg VA

Where I’d like to relax without sneezing.

Besides the parched yard, I had a selfish reason for desiring a good soaking. I had fertilized the lawn the previous morning when the dew wetted the browning grass. The moisture-laden blades of grass made the tiny granules of fertilizer stick. To make the fertilizer effective, I needed the promised precipitation. Otherwise, the lawn could burn out more than it already was.

You see the Harrisonburg Hole is a fabled meteorological phenomenon that affects our fair city and its immediate surrounding areas. Nine times out of 10, when the weather forecast calls for a high chance of rain, it doesn’t. It does rain, north, south, east, and west of “The Friendly City.” But it doesn’t rain in and around Harrisonburg.

So far I haven’t found one person who can explain why this occurrence happens so frequently. I just discovered a bevy of believers in the myth that apparently has more than a grain of truth to it. I can attest that I’ve checked the radar on more than one supposed-to-rain occasion only to find steady rain everywhere but over “Rocktown.”

I was hoping that in addition to rinsing the specks of fertilizer into the ground that a steady rain would also clear out whatever was in the air that was causing me to make the Kleenex brand rich. No such luck.

Please excuse me now. I have to sneeze again.

still life

Wishing my life would be still.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Embracing October’s sensory qualities

changing leaves, Holmes Co. OH

Autumn’s glory.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’ve always loved October. The month never seems to fail in its sensory-sensitive offerings that surprise, frustrate, and elate you. October in Ohio has that much variety. Halfway through the tenth month, I’ve learned that’s even true in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, where we now live.

Fall’s first frost ushered in the new month on October’s very first morning. Light as it was, the chill still stung the tomato and pepper plants in our daughter’s garden. Overall, the days have been balmy and very dry. I haven’t mowed the lawn in a month. No worries. I’ve found other ways to spend my time.

I chauffeured our granddaughter to 5 p.m. soccer practice on her eighth birthday. She took along a sweet treat to share with her teammates, which the college-student coaches wisely kept until after practice. A refreshing breeze blew through a crystal clear, early October sky while the youngsters jostled back and forth on emerald grass bordered by stands of patient trees waiting for the signal to paint their leaves.

sugar maple, Shenandoah Valley

Sugar Maple.

After an afternoon of volunteering at a local thrift store, my wife shared a touching story with me. A customer came in from Florida. She and her husband had evacuated to a relative’s home in Harrisonburg to escape the wrath of Hurricane Irma. The lady’s husband was gravely ill with cancer. She was gathering clothes for their return trip home. The man wanted to die in his own bed. The store manager and Neva donated the clothing to the grieving woman. As she was leaving, the lady turned at the door and said, “You don’t know how much this means to me.”

Loyalist that I am, I wear my Cleveland Indians gear wherever I go. As I walked across the campus of Eastern Mennonite University to the school’s library, a student stopped me. “I noticed your Indians shirt,” he explained. Turned out, he had graduated from the same small, rural Ohio high school as our son and daughter. I had a brief chat with Aaron Weaver, now a college senior. The connection brought me as much joy as an Indians postseason win.

harvest moon

Harvest Moon.

Soon after that encounter, October’s Harvest Moon bathed the earth in creamy nocturnal colors, enabling the skunks to waddle their way around with ease. You could follow their trails with your nose.

Of course, this October brought more human-induced and unnecessary horror that just cannot be understood. Innocents in Las Vegas fell dead or injured faster than autumn’s leaves. I shudder at such horrid, incomprehensible, and inexplicable violence.

Even with that sad news, if you asked me to pick one month out of the year as my absolute favorite, it would be October. My October memory bank is overflowing.

One particular Ohio scene is indelibly etched in my mind as if it were yesterday. In reality, my regular morning walk on my favorite township road was actually four years ago.

Typical for an Ohio October morning, the air was crisp, embroidered with lacy fog that snaked across the landscape indiscriminately, propelled by the rising sun that warmed the country air. My stroll was nearly half completed when a young boy quietly passed me on his bicycle near an Amish parochial school. The sun’s defused rays colored everything a luminous, eerie monochrome on the hazy landscape canvas.

That’s an October memory I’ll always recall for its vividness, its sensory invigoration, and its blessed setting. It’s helped me to continually be alert for unfolding comparable moments. They are everywhere for everyone, especially in October.

Amish boy on bike, foggy morning

Into the fog.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Zigzag Chilling

sister and brother, resting in the shade

Zigzag Chilling.

It would have been easy to title this photo “Relaxing in the Shade.” That is precisely what our granddaughter and her brother were doing while their big brother played baseball in the hot sunshine. However, it was the patterns that caught my eye as much as their shoulder-to-shoulder sharing of a video in the coolness. The black and white tread patterns of their shoes enhanced the multi-blue zigzag pattern of their blanket pad.

“Zigzag Chilling” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Sanctuary!

DC 3, keeping cool, shade

Sanctuary!

Record-breaking heat has affected Americans all across the United States this late summer and early autumn seasons. Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley was no exception. The shadow of the left wing of a restored and fully functioning DC 3 airplane brought at least temporary relief from the hot sun for this mother and her young daughter attending a recent air show near Bridgewater, Virginia. In the shade of the hanger in the photo’s background is the first Air Force One, Columbine II, used by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

“Sanctuary!” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Say goodbye to summer, hello to fall

Silver Lake, Dayton VA

On Silver Lake.

By Bruce Stambaugh

It’s another quiet morning in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. The warming sun has climbed high above Massanutten Mountain to begin evaporating the valley fog and mist wisp by wisp.

The leaves of the red maples in our yard have started their annual process of revealing their true colors and the reason for their designated nomenclature. Even before they fully blush, a few tumble one by one onto the still luscious grass beneath.

red maple tree, turning leaves

Green to red.

The school buses have already made their morning rounds. It’s quiet now, with only the sound of blue jays squawking in the distance. My wife is her busy self, the washing machine already spinning its first load. Still, I can hear the soft sound of the dry mop gliding over the oak floor. Neva is in her realm.

Orange and brown wreaths have replaced the sunny summer ones on neighbors’ front doors. Pumpkins and pots of yellow and scarlet mums beckon visitors from their sidewalk setting.

The signs of autumn’s arrival have been overlapping with those of summer’s waning for weeks now. The outer rows of massive cornfields have long been cut and chopped into harvest bins. The rest will soon follow until the silos are full. The Old Order Mennonites drive horse and buggies to church. They wheel huge tractors down narrow country roads into their sprawling farm fields with no thought of contradiction.

Shenandoah Valley farm, large farm equipment

Old Order Mennonite farm.

It was a pleasant summer, our first as residents of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Folks kept saying that this wasn’t a normal one for Virginia. With intense hurricanes brewing and massive wildfires sweeping the west, is there such a thing as normal weather anymore?

The chimney swifts that called our neighbor’s flue home for the summer disappeared days ago. Ohio friends have reported flocks of common nighthawks winging south. Shorebirds, some rather rare, made pit stops in the Funk Wildlife Area, Killbuck Marsh, and Beach City backwaters to the delight of novice and hardcore birders alike. Those, too, are sure signs of fall’s arrival.

Starlings, northern cardinals, and cedar waxwings have already obliterated the bright red dogwood berries even before the trees’ curling leaves have completely transitioned from green to crimson. The Carolina wrens provided the soundtrack to the feeding frenzies.

Old Order Mennonite horse and buggy, Dayton VA

Down the road.

Just as we did the summer, we anticipate with wonder whatever our first Virginia fall delivers. Neva will continue to play chief cook and bottle washer for our daughter’s household until the volleyball season subsides in early November. Just like all the other seasons, I’ll continue to do whatever I’m asked or told to do. Usually, it’s the latter.

Seasons come and seasons go. Life marches on. We embrace each moment of each day with joy no matter the silliness, pettiness, and egotistical disposition of those in more powerful positions than the rest of us.

That, my friends, is the way it is. We must keep on keeping on no matter the season, the situation, and the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Rake leaves with a smile on your face. Stop and talk with your neighbors who are likely doing the same chore. Share your abundant tomato harvest or a freshly baked apple pie with others. The results will be delicious.

Enjoy the pleasant fall weather, the changing of the leaves, the foggy mornings, the brilliant sunrises, the stunning sunsets, and each moment in between. In the process, autumn will fall most graciously upon you and yours.

Rockingham Co. VA, sunset

September Shenandoah sunset.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Lessons learned from an 11-year-old

Bearfence Mountain, Shenandoah NP

Atop Bearfence Mountain.

By Bruce Stambaugh

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.

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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.

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.

Bearfence Mt., Shenandoah NP

The explorer and the photographer.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Under the spell of a majestic mountain

Mt. Rainier, White river

Love at first sight.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Once I saw the mountain I couldn’t stop looking at it. I pulled into nearly every scenic overlook along the circuitous route to Mt. Rainier to gaze at this beauty and take her photograph. She didn’t seem to mind in the least.

It was my first visit to Mt. Rainier National Park. Yet the majestic mountain drew me in like a long, lost friend. The mountain embraced me rather than the other way around. Still, our feelings toward one another were mutual.

Oregon Junco, Mt. Rainier NP

Oregon Junco.

I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. This was a nondiscriminatory attraction. Peoples of all races, religions, cultures, and ages shared the same awe. It showed in their various displays of excitement, photo ops, and quickened pace up well-marked trails.

The weather likely affected my initial reaction. From the time we left friends’ home north of Seattle, Washington, low, thick, gray clouds rolled through the sky. I had visions of not being able to see the peak at all.

As we approached the park’s boundaries, a meteorological switch appeared to have been flipped. The cloud blanket disappeared, and we drove through forests of tall evergreens crowned by clear blue skies.

The chalky waters of the rushing White River contrasted nicely with those greens and blues. The frothy river owed its origin to the melting snow of the magnetic mountain miles away. Its snow-capped peak glistened in the morning sunshine.

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When we arrived at Paradise Lodge in the mid-afternoon, there was no room at the inn. No worries for us; we had reservations. I just couldn’t find a parking spot so many admirers had gathered at the mountain’s base.

With all this natural beauty, I wasn’t about to complain about such trifles. I explored the many trails that lead away from the visitor center and the lodge while my wife rested. The trails were easily traversed, paved even, at least until they grew steeper up the mountainside.

Consequently, the paths were packed with curious souls like myself. Young and old, pedestrians and those in wheelchairs, all inhaled the luxury surrounding us. Here in the higher altitude, the air was pure, crisp, fresh, delicious even, sweetened with the faint fragrance of blooming wildflowers. Birds chirped and headed for cover as the incredible mountain drew us closer.

Soon, however, the crowd clogged the trail, like a bear jam in Yellowstone National Park. To my surprise, that’s exactly what caused the delay. A young black bear grazed on ripe blueberries only 30 to 50 yards up the slope from the trail. We couldn’t believe our good fortune.

Satisfied with my observations, I moved on. Near a gurgling alpine brook, a gaggle of teenage girls seemed uncertain about what to do. When I told them about the bear, some screamed while others wanted to know where. I showed them, and I think all of their jaws dropped simultaneously.

That evening, I found an excellent spot to view the sunset and was not disappointed. Odd shapes of wispy clouds floated carefree over lower peaks to the west. The thin clouds reflected deep blues and warm pinks and oranges. Though the sun had long dipped below the horizon, it was as if time itself had stood still.

sunset, Mt. Rainier NP

Dance at sunset.

The next morning my wife and I had that same trail nearly all to ourselves. We stood in awe and admiration as the sun’s first rays planted a good morning kiss on the mountain’s peak.

In that cool, pristine, peaceful moment, we were in no hurry to leave. Who would be when under the spell of such a mother of a mountain?

Mt. Rainier at sunrise, Mt. Rainier National Park

First light at Myrtle Falls.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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A trip that eclipsed the eclipse

Port of Seattle, Seattle downtown

Enjoying Seattle.

By Bruce Stambaugh

We committed to going to our friends’ wedding anniversary celebration long before we knew about the total solar eclipse. We merely had to tack on a day to our itinerary to view this exciting, much-anticipated event.

Neva and I saw this trip to the Pacific Northwest as an opportunity to finally see the State of Washington, one of seven in the U.S. I had yet to visit. Now the list is down to six.

If you know your geography, you’ll realize that Washington shares much of its southern border with Oregon. We had long wanted to visit other friends who lived in those two states.

Traveling is in our blood. Neva and I both like to visit new places. When renewing friendships is also involved, the trips are all the more pleasurable.

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First on the agenda was an extended visit with one of my college roommates and his wife in Spokane, Washington. They had visited us a few times in Ohio, their native state as well. We quickly got to see Spokane up close and personal. We also made a day trip to some historical locations in Idaho’s beautiful panhandle. The scenery was stunning, the history engaging, and the local folks as friendly as could be.

As pretty as the tree-studded mountainsides and luscious valleys were, the renewed fellowship with Joe and Janis was so much sweeter. Conversations and stories tumbled out as if our separation had been 10 hours not 10 years.

From Spokane, we steered the rental car west through pleasant evergreen forests into the expansive dry plains of The Great Basin, passed sweeping irrigated fields that stretched for acres and acres. The state had kindly marked each crop with signs on the fence that separates the interstate from the fields. It also eliminated the necessity to stop along the roadway.

We crossed the mighty Columbia River much easier than Lewis and Clark ever did. Soon after we drove through parched grasslands still smoldering from recent wildfires.

We found the home of former Holmes County friends nestled among tall evergreens. Bob and Becky were equally gracious hosts, showing us their beautiful new hometown of Edmonds on the Puget Sound. We packed in more sightseeing in a day than I could have imagined. Seattle is also a beautiful, bustling city with excellent public transportation. A dollar can take you a long way there.

We attended the weekend anniversary celebration of the bride and groom of 60 years, Larry and Mary Jane, at the remote church camp they had run for a few years after moving to Oregon. It’s not often you get to spend a weekend on a coastal mountain reminiscing with friends and connecting with new friends surrounded by a lush rain forest and a gurgling mountain stream.

With the Great American Eclipse the next day, our hosts at the camp kindly made arrangements for us to stay with friends in Albany in the agriculturally rich Willamette Valley. The weather there tends to be clearer than days along the Pacific Coast where the camp was located.
It couldn’t have turned out better. Albany was in the path of totality, where the moon completely blocked out the sun. In our locale, the sun went dark for two minutes. We had incredible views of the eclipse, including the Diamond Ring, Bailey’s beads, and the corona.

The total solar eclipse, with all its dazzling attributes, was a celestial complement to our Pacific Northwest trip. The joyful renewing of personal relationships, however, eclipsed the eclipse.

corona, total solar eclipse

Totality with Regulus in the lower left.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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