Horses in the snow

Horses in the snow.

Photo by Bruce Stambaugh

Seeing horses was an everyday occurrence when my wife and I lived in Ohio’s Amish country in Holmes County, Ohio. We would see horses pass by our home on the busy county road daily pulling carts, buggies, and wagons.

The Amish still use workhorses, like the ones shown here, for their field work. Mechanical power was shunned in order to literally ground and keep the Amish connected to their earthy roots.

This photo shows a pair of workhorses amidst a wicked snowstorm in bitterly cold conditions. Since they could not find grass on which to graze, their owners would bring hay and feed to sustain them. In the distance at the bottom of the hill, the fallen snow had already been started to be cleared so Amish youngsters could skate on the thick ice.

“Horses in the Snow” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Happy New Year!

I chose this photo of two women watching the sunset on July 3, 2020 to represent the relief of 2020 finally coming to an end. We are universally happy to see this horrific year end. In my 73 years of living, I can’t remember a worse one. Let’s let the sun go down on 2020, and hope upon hope that 2021 will be a better year in every way.

I suspect, however, as President-elect Biden has already stated, that things will get worse before they get better. Of course, he was referring to the pandemic, but that may also play out in other aspects of our lives.

I hope and pray that the New Year will, in the long-run, indeed bring a better life for all of God’s global children. Enjoy the sunset, but cherish the sunrise.

“Happy New Year!” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

News you may have missed in the year we want to forget

The sun can’t set soon enough on 2020.

I’m glad this year we would all like to forget is coming to an end.

I know we still have a few days to go in 2020. I figured summing it up early would help us get a head start on the coming New Year.

As is my custom, I recorded some of the newsy pieces that didn’t make the headlines. Consequently, there is no mention of the U.S. presidential election.

January

1 – Soot from raging wildfires in Australia turned glaciers black in New Zealand

5 – The BBC reported that 4 million hectares or 9.9 million acres had burned in Australia’s New South Wales since July 1.

14 – NOAA reported that 2019 was the fifth consecutive year that the U.S. sustained 10 or more $1 billion weather and climate disasters, including fires, flooding, and hurricanes.

15 – NOAA and NASA jointly released a report that showed 2019 to be the second warmest globally since records have been kept in 1880.

16 – The San Francisco Giants became the first Major League Baseball team to hire a female as a full-time coach.

22 – It was so cold in southern Florida that the National Weather Service warned citizens to be alert for stunned iguanas falling from trees.

28 – A team of international scientists discovered four new species of sharks that use their fins to walk off the coast of northern Australia and New Guinea.

February

6 – The temperature in Antarctica reached a record high 65 degrees Fahrenheit, the warmest the continent has ever been.

10 – A scientist from Ohio State University reported finding byproducts of the Industrial Revolution in the Himalaya Mountains deposited long before anyone ever climbed that high.

17 – A pair of armed men robbed a delivery man in Hong Kong of hundreds of rolls of toilet paper due to the coronavirus.

21 – A published study identified a bird found in permafrost in Siberia as a horned lark that lived 46,000 years ago.

24 – After taking an 88-year-old Rochester, Washington man to the hospital with a broken hip, three Emergency Medical Technicians returned to the home and finished mowing the yard where the victim had fallen.

29 – Junior Heaven Fitch became the first female in North Carolina to become a high school state wrestling champion when she defeated seven boys to win the 106-pound division.

March

10 – A driver in Slidell, Louisiana pulled over for license plates that expired in 1997 told police that he was too busy to get them renewed.

12 – Snopes.com reported that the average American uses about 100 rolls of toilet paper a year, with most of it manufactured in Canada, Mexico, and the U.S.

13 – The Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. announced that all 16 fragments of scripture that they had on display were discovered to be modern forgeries based on independent research.

29 – Smash-and-grab robbers stole a priceless Van Gogh painting from a Dutch art museum.

April

2 – It was announced that a record 6.6 million people in the U.S. applied for unemployment benefits the previous week due to the coronavirus pandemic.

 14 – The organizer of a challenge to sew 1 million face masks for workers on the frontline of the COVID-19 crisis reported that globally volunteers had sewn 20 million masks.

17 – NASA satellite images showed a 30 percent drop in air pollution during the three-weeks of stay-at-home orders on the U.S. east coast.

21 – A team of scientists sailing off the coast of Western Australia discovered the longest animal ever recorded, a 150-foot gelatinous siphonophore.

May

1 – The U.S. Census Bureau reported that one-third of Americans already felt some depression and anxiety from the pandemic.

8 – The U.S. Labor Department reported April’s unemployment rate at 14.7 percent, the highest since the Great Depression.

15 – A new study published in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning found that planting and caring for a garden boosts people’s mood as much as walking and cycling.

18 – Lawrence Brooks, the oldest living U.S. veteran of World War II at 110-years-old, was featured on the cover of National Geographic Magazine.

19 – A study published in Nature Climate Change showed a sudden 17 percent drop globally in greenhouse gases during the lockdowns due to the coronavirus.

June

2 – Irene Triplett, the last person still receiving benefits for being a dependent of a Civil War soldier, died.

3 – Scientists discovered the cleanest water in the world in the Southern Ocean, the body of water that surrounds Antarctica.

5 – A large asteroid swept by the earth closer than the moon is to our planet, and it wasn’t detected until two days later.

9 – Kathryn Sullivan, the first woman to walk in space as a NASA astronaut, became the first woman to reach the deepest part of the Mariana Trench.

11 – It was revealed that a Siberian power plant leaked 20,000 tons of diesel fuel into area rivers on May 29, turning the waters red.

21 – The temperature in Verkhoyansk, Siberia reached 100 degrees Fahrenheit, a record high reading.

24 – After being furloughed from her job because of the pandemic, Michelle Brenner, used her $1,200 stimulus check to buy ingredients to make 1,200 pans of homemade lasagna, which she gave to first-responders, hospital workers, strangers, and single parents.

30 – A report stated that Americans annually shoot off a pound of fireworks for every adult.

July

1 – People in Prague, Czech Republic, one of the first countries to require mask-wearing, celebrated the end of coronavirus restrictions by dining at a 1,600-foot -long table that wound its way through streets and across the Charles Bridge.

9 – Tropical Storm Fay became the earliest “F-named” storm ever recorded when it formed along the eastern Atlantic Coast.

15 – A research study published in Lancet revealed that the global fertility rate had dropped to 2.7 children per family in 2017.

17 – Queen Elizabeth II knighted 100-year-old World War II veteran Tom Moore for raising more than $40 million for National Health Service charities by doing laps in his backyard garden.

26 – Olivia de Havilland, the last surviving star of the classic film “Gone with the Wind,” died at age 104 in Paris, France.

August

3 – Mildred “Gerri” Schappals, 102 of Nashua, New Hampshire, survived COVID-19 after having also survived a severe flu during the 1918 pandemic, in addition to two bouts of cancer

14 – A report said that globally people use 200 billion plastic bottles annually, and most are not recycled.

16 – The National Weather Service in Reno, Nevada issued the first-ever Firenado Warning for a tornado caused by a firestorm near Lake Tahoe, California.

20 – A scientific report showed that Greenland lost 586 billion tons of ice from an extremely warm 2019.

22 – Researchers found pesticides and industrial compounds, likely from the U.S., in the snow atop four high-elevation pristine sites on the Norwegian archipelago, Svalbard.

28 – Guinness World Records declared Julio Mora Tapia, 110, and Waldramina Quinteros, 105, of Quito, Ecuador, as the world’s oldest married couple.

September

1 – Three different airline pilots reported seeing a man in a jetpack flying near their planes as they landed at Los Angeles International Airport.

3 – The production of a new Batman movie was shut down when the actor playing batman tested positive for COVID-19.

7 – A 33-year-old Arkansas man found a 9.07-carat brown diamond at Arkansas’ Crater of Diamonds State Park.

8 – The Pew Institute released a study that showed that for the first time since the Great Depression the majority of young adults ages 18-29 lived at home with their parents.

16 – The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that summer 2020 was the warmest ever.

October

2 – The Irish Supreme Court ruled that the sandwiches made by Subway contain too much sugar to be legally considered bread.

5 – British Lincolnshire Wildlife Centre had to separate five gray parrots because they kept swearing at visitors.

14 – NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information reported that globally September was the warmest on record.

23 – For the second time, a Dutch researcher correctly guessed the password for President Trump’s Twitter account as “maga2020.”

24 – Anika Cherbrolu, a 14-year-old freshman at Independence High School in Frisco, Texas, discovered a compound that can bind the coronavirus, inhibiting its ability to infect people to win the 3M Young Scientist Challenge and $25,000.

26 – NASA scientists announced that they had discovered water in the form of ice on the moon.

November

2 – The driver of a train was saved from injury near Rotterdam, Netherlands, when the front carriage crashed through an end section of the elevated rails and landed on the tail of a giant whale sculpture.

10 – The National Hurricane Center reported that 2020 was the most active year ever for named tropical storms and hurricanes with 29 named storms.

16 – A 71-year-old Florida man was arrested for grand theft when he strapped a downed steel power pole to the top of his car and drove away, hoping to sell the pole for scrap metal.

18 – A Saw-whet owl, that apparently traveled from upstate New York in a large Christmas tree to midtown Manhattan, was rescued from the pine tree at Rockefeller Center in New York City and taken to a wildlife rescue center.

30 – A report showed that online spending on Black Friday jumped 22 percent from last year.

December

7 – The International Olympic Committee announced that beginning at the 2024 summer Olympics in Paris it would include breakdancing as a medal competition.

8 – Swedish retailer Ikea announced that after 70 years it would no longer print its annual catalog, which was the world’s largest.

9 – A humpback whale made quite a splash in the Hudson River, breaching in front of the Statue of Liberty and other New York City icons.

Here’s hoping that the New Year will be better than the old one in every way. How can 2021 not be?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Make this COVID Christmas a reflective one

An Ohio Christmas past.

I’m not sure what Christmas will bring this year, let alone Santa. With the pandemic surging and health guidelines more stringent, it might just be my wife and me enjoying Christmas Day. And that’s okay.

Pandemic or no pandemic, Christmas is still Christmas, whether we are alone or with a gaggle of rowdy relatives. We can still celebrate the sacred day. This year, though, our celebrations will probably be very different since the pandemic is still raging.

Since we likely can’t gather in our traditional ways this Christmas, I have an idea. Let’s enjoy this holiday by joyfully reflecting on Christmases past.

I realize that isn’t always the easiest to do. The holidays bring sad and painful memories for many folks for diverse reasons. Many, like our family, have lost loved ones.

My father and my wife’s father both died just before Christmas. So have close friends, some of them much too young. It’s not hypocritical to miss and mourn as well as celebrate the season, however.

My father loved Christmas. When it came to Christmas, Dad was like a little kid. He couldn’t contain himself.

Dad would overspend on multiple gifts for his two daughters and three sons. I never could figure out how he and Mom afforded what they did for us. They set an example for us that we still follow, though perhaps with more restraint.

It was only appropriate that we celebrated our father’s life well-lived on a cold and snowy December 26. That was 11 years ago already, and it was a Christmastime I will always cherish. The family loved that so many folks took time out during the holidays to pay their respects.

Late one Christmas Eve, I fondly recall delivering the town’s daily newspaper. A fresh six-inches of snow brightened the colorful holiday lights all along my neighborhood route. People seemed extra friendly as I handed them the next day’s paper.

Christmas 1956.

As a youngster, I joined my siblings in excitingly awaiting the appointed early hour of 6 a.m. Christmas morning to bolt downstairs to see what Santa had brought. In minutes, we undid what had taken Mom and Dad hours to assemble and wrap.

Our stockings were always hung with care on the fireplace mantel. We could always count on Santa stuffing it with nuts, candy canes, and an orange at the very bottom. Neva and I continued the same tradition with our own children and grandchildren.

When I was principal at Winesburg Elementary in the real Winesburg, Ohio, the fifth and sixth graders would return to school one evening before Christmas to go caroling to the appreciative elders of quaint Winesburg. The youthful entourage would always end up at the late Mary Ann Hershberger’s house for hot chocolate and yummy cookies. As cold as those nights often were, the memories warm me still.

The weather will determine whether Neva and I can gather with our daughter and her family this year. If it’s fair, we will celebrate adequately distanced on the back porch. If not, connecting using technology will have to suffice.

Besides remembering Christmases past, let’s also reflect on how we can brighten someone else’s holiday today. Connect via letter, email, phone call, or card with someone that you know who finds the holidays especially hard for whatever reasons. It may brighten the season for you both. After all, that’s the true spirit of Christmas in action.

However you celebrate this holiday season, please do so safely and with others in mind. After all, we all want to be around to enjoy many more Christmases to come.

Merry Christmas, everyone!  

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

White on White

We just had our first winter snowstorm in Virginia, even though winter doesn’t officially arrive until next Tuesday. Other than refilling bird feeders, I stayed in the safety of our home. Instead of going out, I sorted through my photo files and found this beauty after a snowstorm in Ohio’s Amish country. The late afternoon sun was just sneaking through the thinning clouds, kissing the white barn and homestead.

“White on White” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Scalloped Sky

Clouds have fascinated me since I was a kid. Clouds affect our moods and inspire our imaginations with their unique shapes and various colors. These rippled altocumulus clouds appeared in the eastern sky just as the sun rose over the distant Blue Ridge Mountains. The sun’s low angle helped accentuate the wrinkles in the cloud layer.

Though it looks like a black and white photo, this is actually a color shot. “Scalloped Sky” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Day is Done

Showy sunsets have been hard to come by recently in the Shenandoah Valley. Either the skies have been clouded over, or there have been no clouds at all. When friends invited us over to view the sunset from their backyard, I was hoping for the best. I got my wish.

As we sat around the fire pit in the coolness of the early evening, the day’s high, thin clouds hung around long enough to provide a colorful show to the waning day. In the foreground, the silhouettes framed the reddish clouds hanging over the Allegheny Mountains, which mark the boundary between the Commonwealth of Virginia and West Virginia.

“Day is Done” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Birds of winter are returning

A male Purple Finch eyed the black oil sunflower feeder.

I’m sitting at my desk, looking out the window, enjoying my favorite pastime. Several winter birds have returned and are feeding on and under the feeders that I hang each fall.

In this case, it’s a flock of chattering pine siskins partaking of black oil sunflower and safflower seeds. I mix the two varieties in a tube feeder that dangles from the lowest red maple branch in our front yard.

That’s what the sociable pine siskins were devouring. They are a dainty bird with a pointy little beak. Unlike other species, the siskins don’t seem to be too competitive. They dine cooperatively. The pesky house finches could learn a lesson from their smaller cousins.

I consider the siskins a real treat, an honor to have them partaking of my offerings. They tend to move around a lot in the colder months. They can be here one day and gone the next. So, I enjoy them and the other birds while they are here. I do hope they stick around.

The purple finches have returned, too. Like the siskins, I never know how long they will stay. I just keep filling the feeders and appreciate their beauty. Birders ogle over having purple finches, and the glorious but unpredictable evening grosbeaks even more so.

The white-throated sparrows have also arrived for their six-month hiatus from the Canadian provinces and the northeastern forests. They are marvelous birds to both watch and hear. I never tire of their hop and kick approach to feeding on the ground.

The song of the white-throated is the delight of winter. Neva and I hear their distinctive, lyrical whistle when we walk in the morning. Their cheery call quickens our step on chilly mornings.

The dark-eyed juncos and white-crowned sparrows have just begun to arrive. More will likely appear as the weather grows colder.

I enjoy the year-round birds, too. Is there anything more beautiful than a bright red northern cardinal perched on an evergreen branch? If it happened to have snowed, it creates a Christmas card moment for sure.

I can always tell when the neighborhood Cooper’s hawk is on the prowl. Stealth as it is, the songbirds can’t always fly for safety. So, they freeze in place by staying still and low or press tightly against a tree trunk, hoping not to be spotted.

I don’t mind if the sly hawk captures one. It has to eat, too. However, my preference would be to snag a few of the noisy, hoggish European starlings. They devour the suet cakes like they are candy.

I enjoy the various antics and interactions of my feathered friends. The Carolina wren’s repertoire of songs alerts me to be on the lookout. Sure enough, it bounces around our front porch, checking nooks and crannies for any dead insects.

The wren also partakes of the seeds and suet. Birds need their protein, too. That explains why American robins peck beneath the suet feeder while the starlings sloppily gorge themselves. The robins gobble up the dropped suet pieces from the unruly gang overhead.

I always am pleased when the northern mockingbird makes an appearance at the suet, too. Even the starlings yield to this aggressor.

I marvel at the various woodpeckers that make infrequent stops. The downy is the most faithful, followed by the red-bellied and northern flickers. I’m still waiting on the pileated to make its initial appearance this year.

That’s half the enjoyment of being a birder. You never know what to expect next. You just have to keep watching and appreciate what arrives, starlings excepted.

This Pileated Woodpecker got the last of the peanut butter suet on March 24, 2020.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Cirrus Clouds

Like many other locales in the eastern United States, the Shenandoah Valley has been experiencing some marvelous, unseasonably warm weather. After morning fogs burn off, clear blue skies have dominated most days.

Imagine my surprise when I stepped outside one recent afternoon to enjoy the amazing weather. What appeared to be an army of wispy cirrus clouds hung in the eastern sky. Cirrus clouds are ice crystals that form above 20,000 feet in the atmosphere. They often appear bright white and in unusual formations, sometimes resembling human hair or feathers.

I thought their bright white against the deep blue sky created an inspiring scene. “Cirrus Clouds” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Hello darkness, my old friend

October’s Harvest Moon rises over Massanutten Mountain near Harrisonburg, VA.

Many moons ago, I remember clearly seeing the Milky Way for the first time in ages. I stood starstruck at the twinkling, gem-like brilliance overhead.

In the evening chill, I gazed transfixed, awestruck. Of course, the setting alone provided that opportunity. I had just stepped out of the historic El Tovar Hotel at the Grand Canyon’s edge in northern Arizona.

I felt like a child again, my mind racing back to forgotten summer nights when I would lay on my back in the coolness of the grass and watch the stars and planets. My family lived in a suburb of a blue-collar steel town in northeast Ohio. We could still see the heavens above.

Back then, light pollution was not an issue. Street lights were fewer, and their incandescent bulbs radiated soft light. I even remember being able to track satellites from our front yard.

Somehow, somewhere we North Americans became afraid of the dark. More and brighter street lights and security lights multiplied, all in the name of blotting out the darkness. Now, light pollution prevents 80 percent of the U.S. population from seeing the stars.

The evolution of lighting up streets, buildings, and entire cities has grown exponentially with urban sprawl. In today’s world, most people have to travel out into the country to see the stars.

Residents of cities like Jacksonville, FL, have little chance of seeing the night sky.

Seeing the night sky was one of the benefits of living in a rural area like Holmes County. The air was so clean that Amish buggies rode by at night with no lights on at all until they heard a vehicle coming. Though it wasn’t a safe thing to do, the point was that the horse and driver didn’t need lights to guide them.

We chose the house we now live in near Harrisonburg, Virginia, in the daytime. Being able to see the night sky on a clear night came as a bonus. Our expansive housing development has no street lights.

Light fills our modern night lives, too much of which is bright, blue illumination from all of our electronics. Cell phones, computers, and TV screens stimulate us rather than relax us before bedtime.

Humans need dark nights to get proper sleep. Some people have to use black nightshades to cover their windows to shut out external, artificial light to get some sleep. Sleep deprivation can lead to too many negatives for us humans.

Excessive night lighting disturbs wildlife, too. More than 60% of invertebrates and 30% of vertebrates are nocturnal. Each year, millions of migrating birds die by flying into urban windows illuminated at night long after employees have gone home.

Newly hatched sea turtles crawl to the brightest light, which used to be the stars and moon twinkling over the sea. Now, the turtles turn the wrong way and perish unless the artificial lighting is turned off.

Nighttime photos taken from space of urban areas may look pretty, but such massive lighting causes problems and is extremely expensive. Imagine the money and resources society would save by simply turning off all those unnecessary lights. Plus, too many of the lights point skyward instead of down.

We shouldn’t be afraid of the dark. Nighttime is good for our rest, our bodies, our souls, our ecosystem. As we enter the winter’s season of darkness, we should embrace it, not try to either eliminate or illuminate it.

Yes, darkness arrives early now and will continue to do so into the New Year. Until then, I’ll just steal an opening line from Simon and Garfunkel: “Hello darkness, my old friend…”

Halloween’s Blue Moon and Mars in the abstract, taken from my backyard.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020