Over the Swift River

Even in a still photo, you can tell that the Swift River is aptly named. While touring New England a couple of years ago, a friend advised me to travel the length of New Hampshire’s Kancamagus Highway from Conway to Bath. I did, and I wasn’t disappointed in the least.

Recent spring rains and melting snow from the surrounding White Mountains had this river running full. Roaring tributaries with impressive waterfalls added to the river’s rage.

I took this photo from a foot bridge over the river. “Over the Swift River” is my Photo of the week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

This June is a Gateway for All

We have all been waiting to exhale, especially this year, once June arrived. We had that same perspective a year ago, but we were wrong.

Last year the estimation was that summer’s warmth would lessen the spread of the coronavirus. Just the opposite happened. People gathered, and the virus spread.

This June appears to be different. The fact that nearly two-thirds of American adults have received at least one vaccination makes it so. That has resulted in the waning of the virus here in the U.S. However, other countries continue to struggle as new variants emerge, spread, sicken, and kill.

But in June 2021, a different feeling is in the air. June is that stepping stone into sunshine, smiles, and satisfaction. People in the U.S. are once again getting together, though some are doing so cautiously.

June is the gateway to summer. The summer solstice late on June 20 merely anoints the welcomed season.

June means longer and generally warmer days than previous months. With health restrictions significantly reduced or altogether eliminated, life in June just might help us all feel “normal” again.

Graduations, vacations, weddings, reunions, picnics, and Little League baseball games are a much better bet to occur with June’s arrival. Church congregations that met remotely are beginning to hold in-person services, some outside, others with controlled numbers assembled indoors.

I’ve always welcomed June from adolescence to this day. School often finished around Memorial Day, which turned us outdoor lovers loose. I still feel that way all those decades later.

But there is something sacred about this particular June. It’s more than just the freedom to move about, go swimming, fishing, hiking, or wearing T-shirts and shorts.

The pandemic isn’t over, but here in the U.S., it seems to be subsiding. Still, we are approaching 600,000 deaths in our great country and 3.5 million globally. Those are sobering figures.

I recall the wise advice of a farmer friend from the weeks-long drought that began in June 1988. Local hay crops had failed, and shipments of baled hay arrived from the Midwest. Many farmers bought the imported bales at exorbitant prices.

When they got it home, they discovered that the hay bales that looked good from the outside had more weeds than nourishment on the inside. I asked my friend if he had purchased any of the high-priced, weedy fodder.

I have never forgotten his reply. “My father once told me that when you see others running for something, you should walk.” So, no, he hadn’t.

Consequently, my wife and I will welcome June without much fanfare. We’ll follow our grandson’s traveling baseball team when we can. We will continue to be cautious about eating inside public places, preferring to dine at establishments that offer outside seating.

We have and will continue to visit vaccinated friends. We’ll use June to ease into renewing our travels, including seeing our son and his wife for the first time in two years.

I’ll continue to hike, but I will be careful to choose the days, watch the weather, and avoid weekends. I’m not a snob or prude. Crowded trails are not my thing.

When we do get out and about in June, we need to be cautious for practical reasons. Reports from many eastern states indicate that ticks are thick this year. Once back inside, check yourself, your children, and your pets. The physical effects of tick bites are devastating.

We can rightfully celebrate June’s arrival. But let’s continue to be alert and careful every step of the way.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

A Pretty Pink Surprise

Since we moved to the Shenandoah Valley four years ago, I have planted two dogwoods in our yard. A white dogwood stands in the front yard between our driveway and the property line with the neighbors to the east. The tree sprouted beautiful silky white blooms six-weeks ago.

I kept watching for hints of buds on the pink dogwood that I had planted outside our bedroom window. It was a Mother’s Day gift for my wife in 2019, and I had it placed there so my wife could see it each morning as it bloomed. Dogwoods are notorious for not blooming for a few years after being transplanted, however. So, I wasn’t too disappointed when the pink dogwood didn’t bloom when all the other native dogwoods did in April and early May.

But the other day I looked out and tiny pink buds were bursting open to the morning sunshine. At first, they were dainty. But as you can see, the unfurled flowers are gorgeous.

“A Pretty Pink Surprise” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Mole Hill Sunset

Mole Hill is a landmark in Shenandoah Valley’s Rockingham County. The forested nob is actually the remnants of a volcano’s core. That hasn’t deterred locals from farming and living around its base.

Mole Hill is properly named. The Allegheny Mountains in the western background dwarf it in comparison. Still, Mole Hill attracts birders, bikers, and sunset gazers alike.

This photo was taken about two miles east of Mole Hill near Harrisonburg, Virginia. With evening fog setting in, the fiery sky looked as if it had recently erupted from this local favorite hotspot.

“Mole Hill Sunset” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Paying it forward creates multiple rewards

The horizon is the limit on paying it forward.

The bulletin board in the coffee shop caught my attention. I moved closer to read its contents.

I quickly discovered that this billboard that you often see in mom-and-pop establishments was no ordinary advertising venue. The notes posted on it were all different but had a common theme.

This public service space was a pay-it-forward board. Pay-it-forward is when a person pays for something for someone else, usually anonymously. Paying it forward can be contagious. Doing so often leads to others returning the favor for future customers.

The examples pinned to the café corkboard were self-explanatory.

“For a parent,” read one. “For an aspiring archeologist,” and “for a pharmacy technician,” read two others. The notes ran the gamut of the human experience, including medical workers for their efforts in fighting the pandemic.

Situated in a northern Virginia town close to the Appalachian Trail, through-hikers often frequented this café to refuel and refresh themselves. Generous donors recognized their likely needs and provided an opportunity for the trekkers to enjoy a prepaid lunch or latte. Individuals were free to take the specific note or envelope that fit their situation.

Other pay-it-forward messages were for National Park workers who spend their careers helping others enjoy the great outdoors. In this particular case, nearby Shenandoah National Park sprawls 105 miles along Virginia’s famous Blue Ridge Mountains.

The pay-it-forward bulletin board.

Regular visitors to the national park know that these dedicated park employees work hard for the money they earn. Many donate time helping out stranded motorists or searching for lost hikers.

I’m sure recipients appreciated the many kind gestures posted. I suspect that some may have also added their own pay-it-forward envelopes to the crowded board.

Last December, a pay-it-forward event that happened at a Dairy Queen in Brainard, Minnesota, received loads of media coverage. It became known as a chain of kindness.

Genuine benevolence began to flow during the lunch hour on December 3 when a man reached the drive-thru window and said that he wanted to pay for his lunch and the order for the car behind him.

That started a chain reaction of events that lasted into three days and involved 900 cars. Everyone kept paying for the vehicle behind them no matter what they had ordered. The Dairy Queen manager said that all of the kindness had energized her and her staff.

Paying it forward can be a spontaneous experience, too. During the devastating ice storm in Texas last February, the manager of an H.E.B. grocery store made an impromptu, impactful and gracious decision to pay it forward.

Customers seeking to stock up on food and household items to weather the storm and power outages packed the store. Suddenly, the store’s power went off. None of the cash registers worked without electricity.

Store employees asked all of the customers to come to the checkout counters. With shopping carts full, the lines of the crowded store were long. Customers expected an extended checkout when the line began moving.

Cashiers merely waved the customers through to the exit. People started crying when they realized what was happening. No one paid for anything.

In the parking lot, people helped one another load groceries into their vehicles. They, too, began paying it forward.

The grocery chain’s generosity didn’t stop there. H.E.B. donated $1 million in groceries to 18 Texas food banks.

Life offers a myriad of opportunities to pay it forward. As we go into this day and all the days ahead, let’s be alert for those unique chances to anonymously and graciously help others however and wherever we can.

Another beautiful sunrise, another day full of opportunities to pay it forward.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Reward at the Summit

Lunch with a view

Hiking has its rewards. Reaching the summit of a peak is one of them. Hikers often celebrate with some cool water and a light lunch to refresh their body’s energy. This hiker is doing just that while also enjoying the gorgeous view from Hawksbill Summit, the highest peak in Shenandoah National Park. New Market Gap in the Massanutten Range is in the distance.

“Reward at the Summit” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Mountain to Mountain

I live in one of the prettiest places in the world. I can be atop the Allegheny Mountains in less than half an hour. They are the mountains in the far distance, center to left in the photo.

In less than an hour, I can be driving on the enchanting Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, which runs 105 miles along the Blue Ridge Mountains. This photo was taken less than a month ago from Rockytop Overlook on Skyline Drive.

The peak in the center of the photo is the southern tip of the Massanutten Mountains east of Harrisonburg, Virginia. These old age mountain ranges can’t compare in beauty to the younger, sharper, snow-covered Rocky Mountains. Nonetheless, I find beauty in the mountains that border and bisect the Shenandoah Valley even on a mostly cloudy day.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Reflections on a Rainy Day

Shortly after my wife and I arrived at a local arboretum, the overcast skies began to leak. The raindrops stirred this already murky pond, but the redbuds still reflected their beauty.

“Reflections on a Rainy Day” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

April is a character

In a family of months

Redbuds in full bloom.

I’ve known a few characters in my lifetime. I bet you have, too.

By character, I mean a unique individual who enjoys life outside the expected societal norms. Every family, workplace, and even church seems to have at least one individual who fits the profile.

I’ve learned that you don’t have to be human to be a character either. Our long-departed rat terrier Bill fit that category.

Bill’s personality far outsized his small frame. He once jumped up to try a catch a Canada goose that flew low over our Ohio home.

Other non-human characters include our backyard blonde squirrel and a pair of mallard ducks that frequent our neighborhood.

Just being blonde and a squirrel is character enough. When other squirrels approach, Blonde rapidly flips her beautiful golden tail to defend her territory. Satisfied that all is clear, she stretches out on the cool grass in the shadow of the maple, relishing in her most recent victory.

The ducks are a different story. Even though our suburban home’s closest water sources are swimming pools, this pair flies around the neighborhood, landing on rooftops. From there, they scout out nearby birdfeeders and go house to house foraging for breakfast, lunch, and supper.

Characters, however, don’t have to be living beings or animals.

Take our Julian calendar, for example. Months have dynamic personalities, too. April earns head of the class and not necessarily for alphabetical reasons.

Among her 11 siblings, April can often be a bit obnoxious. That’s especially true when it comes to weather.

April showers bring much more than May flowers. April’s repertoire dishes out tornadoes, snow, frost, floods, 80 degree days, and more. Sometimes only hours separate those diverse conditions.

No matter where you live in the United States or Canada, April can be a stinker. She doesn’t rely only on April 1 to fool you. One day, it’s 15 degrees above average. The sun is shining in a clear blue sky, while songbirds fill the warm air with luxurious melodies. The sound of lawnmowers echoes far and wide.

The next day the fog is so thick the sun can’t even breakthrough. Soon the wind picks up, and storm clouds race across the landscape, pelting rain, hail, and producing winds that exceed the speed limit. It would be justifiable if the weather service issued an arrest warrant for April for perpetrating days like this.

It’s not that we don’t expect variety in the weather. It is spring, after all. But it would be pure pleasure to know it’s safe to store the ice scrapers and snow shovels for at least a few months.

I have anecdotal evidence of such events. One early April day, 20 inches of heavy, wet snow brought much of Ohio to a halt. Volunteer fire departments ferried medical workers to and from hospitals.

On April 3 and 4, 1974, massive and deadly tornados hit Xenia, Ohio, and many other locations in more than a dozen states. Holmes County was in the path of the storm, too.

The sky turned pea green, and everything grew still. The tornado never touched down, but instead, tattered and torn objects from Xenia drifted to earth. People found checks and personal effects from 150 miles southwest.

April continues to be a Jekyll and Hyde. Just as our redbuds were about to bloom pink and bold, back-to-back days of 20-degree mornings deadened their potential pink beauty. I hope they can recover from their frigid encounters.

April is a character, all right. She still has time to repent, however.

Creeping phlox and a lone blue anemone.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Bloodroot

An aptly named wildflower

Look quickly, or you might miss this lovely spring wildflower. Bloodroot blooms March to mid-April here in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

There is much to like about this aptly named wildflower. This lovely perennial herb with a simple leaf formation blooms across much of the midwest and eastern United States and into several Canadian provinces. As this photo shows, however, the blooms are short-lived. Some are at their peak, while others are beginning to wither, while still others are beginning to unfurl in the full sun. The flowers close at night.

Look for these beautiful wildflowers in the leaf litter of deciduous forests. Their buttery centers are surrounded by multiple frilly white pedals. Native Americans used the blood-red juices produced by their root stems to dye baskets and clothing. They used the coloration for war paint and insect repellent. The juice, however, is poisonous if ingested. The generic name, from Latin sanguinarius, means bleeding.

“Bloodroot” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021