“A Veiled Hunter’s Moon” is my Photo of the Week.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2019
It’s that time of year, again, when the leaf peepers hurry far and wide to find the prettiest leaves. This photo was taken exactly four years ago to the day high in the Maryland mountains. The leaves on the trees on this hillside declare the breadth of Mother Nature’s paint palette. In this case, I was on one of my many trips between Ohio and Virginia before we moved to the Shenandoah Valley.
“That Time of Year” is my Photo of the Week.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2019
If the calendar has a nostalgic month, October is it for me.
As a child, our father would load his brood of five into the old cream-colored Chevy, and we would head southwest out of our blue-collar steel town to the wonders of Holmes County, Ohio. Oh, the things we would see and encounter.
We’d stop along the windy way of U.S. 62 to sample cheese. We watched horse-drawn black buggies clop along, marvel at the corn shocks standing in rolling fields, and gape at long farm lanes that led to large white houses with big red bank barns. The real show, however, was in admiring woodlot after woodlot ablaze with every shade of orange, red, and yellow.
If I had to pick an ideal month and place to paint an iconic picture of our life, it would have to be October in Holmes County. My wife and I reared and raised our children there. We fulfilled our careers there and made life-long friendships.
During the first decade of our life together, my wife and I lived in the western hills of Holmes County. In October, there was no prettier drive than the road from Killbuck to Glenmont with its seven hills all dotted gold, russet, and yellow. It was a landscape artist’s paradise.
We built our first home on a bluff facing into that lovely valley. The view was always gorgeous in October.
When we moved to the eastern section of the county, our directional orientation and views changed but were equally splendid. Facing east, many gorgeous sunrises greeted us. The brilliant sunsets we enjoyed from the back yard were similarly lovely.
The bucolic scenes of corn shocks drying in fields surrounded by blushing sugar maples, rusting oaks, and yellowing ash and tulip poplars were commonplace, but no less appreciated. I drove back many of those long lanes to converse with the inhabitants of those white houses, and the keepers of those red barns. It was like those childhood visions had become actuality. That’s because they indeed had.
But October served as a double-edged sword of sorts for me. I didn’t mind the changeable weather. If an early-season Canadian clipper arrived, the snow seldom stuck, and if it did, the fluffy whitewash merely enhanced the already glorious countryside.
It wasn’t the weather or even the stinging scent of burning leaves that concerned me, though. Early Halloween pranks brought us volunteer firefighters out at 3 in the morning to douse some of the corn shocks that had been set on fire for pure orneriness.
On more than one occasion, town squares resembled barnyards. Temporary pens of goats and sheep were surrounded by hay bales and relocated corn shocks that blocked the traffic flow.
The good news was that the farmers usually got their livestock back safe and sound. Fortunately, that tradition has waned with the advent of security cameras and alarms.
We haven’t experienced such shenanigans during our two-year stint in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. With consecutive dry summer and fall months, the autumn leaf colorations can’t compare to those of our former home either.
I suppose that is what in part drives my pleasant autumn nostalgia for those bygone Holmes County days. October does that to me.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2019
It was a chilly morning several years ago in Ohio’s Amish country about this time in October. The mist coming off of the farm pond caught the twilight’s first light. I also doubt that the residents of this Amish farmhouse ever heard of Jimmie Hendrix. But they do know what purple haze is.
“Purple Haze” is my Photo of the Week.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2019
Listen. Did you hear it? If not, there’s still time. In a few short days, September’s most significant gift will be gone.
The changing leaves too often get all the attention, especially the gorgeous sugar maples. I have no argument with that whatsoever. September merely sets the stage for Nature’s colorful artwork.
Inexplicably, that wondrous, warming rainbow leaves leafy trails to this September virtuous quality. Can you guess what it is?
In the pondering, we uncover this gracious gift the world is too often too busy to unwrap. September’s silent specialty is all around us. Do you hear it? That rhetorical question is no joke.
September gives us ample opportunity to embrace her unique child. Her silence never sleeps. She is as still as still can be 24-hours a day.
At every dawn, September’s stillness is broken not by the sun, but by humankind winding up for another day of work. Unnatural sounds break the silence and intrude upon our slumber.
The morning train whistles reverberate up and down the valley warning of its impending crossings. Even with the house windows closed, we can hear it from miles away.
Tires hum on the variegated macadam where country and city roadways meet. On occasion, sirens tell a tale of disrespect, distress, or disorder that further disturbs September’s sacredness.
With the initial rush over, my wife and I settle on the back porch for a simple breakfast. Too fascinated with the month’s hush, we seldom interrupt it or one another’s thoughts.
Thinking the coast is clear, mourning doves swoop in for morning refreshments at the birdbaths. One slight movement by either of us and the spell is broken. The ripple of wind that propels them to safety in the neighbor’s blue spruce tickles my neck.
A rabbit nibbles freely at the fibrous greenery. Its oversized eyes sparkle in the sunshine, its floppy ears twitch without disturbing the quietude.
We take up the same positions at lunchtime. Migrating ruby-throated hummingbirds squawk their arrival at the nearby feeder. Too much like humans, they spend more energy chasing each other away rather than learning to share the nourishing liquid nectar.
The leaves and needles of the neighborhood trees hang limp and still. Even if a slight afternoon breeze gently bounces them around, they remain faithful to the code of September silence. They hit the ground inaudibly.
Beneath those shady limbs, lawnmowers roar back and forth, back and forth. When the last blade is cut, the glorious silence returns. Does anyone hear it?
If not, the ubiquitous gangs of bellowing blue jays are sure to enforce it with their host of calls and cries. Their intentions are righteous; their methods are inadequate and contradictory, to say the least. Still, once gone, September’s silence is palpable.
Twilight may be the best time to catch a glimpse, a snippet, a pocketful of September’s hush. With the day’s work done and supper over, the last of the season’s crickets sing the silent song into the night.
Overhead, the Milky Way, dim as it is in the potentate sky, twinkles its approval of the welcome stillness. The day is done. Though many have tried sunup to sundown, September’s silence has thankfully prevailed.
Much like the rest of us, September’s days are numbered. Listen for her calming silence while there is still time.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2019
My wife caught the moment perfectly. We sat on our back porch enjoying our usual simple Sunday supper.
“It’s really still,” Neva said. In response, I looked up. I am not sure why, because silence can’t be seen.
As usual, though, she was right. For no dogs barked, no lawnmowers purred, nor were any voices heard.
An unusual phenomenon caught my attention. A light breeze blew through the back yard, rustling the red maple leaves. Though they quivered steadily, they, too, were silent. I found that both eerie and fascinating.
I relaxed in the uplifting and refreshing quietude. Such an instance enables you to see the moment itself as it is, not as you want it to be.
Here we were only on the first day of the month, and already September issued forth one of its many golden moments. If the ninth month kept to its course, there surely would be many more, hurricanes notwithstanding.
The stillness seemed to be the day’s crown jewel, adorning a crest of many arches already naturally appointed. I noted a few of the maple’s eastern-facing leaves had already tinged.
On my morning walk around the neighborhood, I had noticed that other trees also had begun to transform their leaves. A giant sugar maple showed reds and orange where the morning’s first light peeks over the eastern hill that separates the city from the country.
A helter-skelter pattern of blotchy brown infested the fringes of the pointy leaves of a mighty pin oak. I had to wonder if it was seasonal change, blight, insects, or a combination of those causes.
Overhead, a disorganized flock of Canada geese winged it south. I heard the honking long before I saw the birds. Someone or something must have disturbed their foraging in a nearby farmer’s field to be out of formation.
On social media, birders in Ohio and Virginia alike shared photos of western sandpipers, red knots, and other gorgeous birds visiting local mudflats and waterways on their return trip. Birds know when it’s time and September gladly greets them.
The summer’s heat had taken its toll on flowers, whether wild or cultivated. Even recent decent rains couldn’t revive them.
On the way home from church, I had noticed the once lush leaves of the soybean fields had dulled to pale green. Interspersed flecks of diluted yellow appeared randomly, much like the pin oak’s disorderly display.
In contrast, fields of sunflowers glowed golden, a living symbol for the month itself. September is notorious for being the gilded sibling among its peers. Could jealousy be why August stirs and spins its tropical trouble into its September sister?
September relishes its title. It shows off its stuff at county fairs, produce stands and in supermarkets. The honeyed tones of summer squash, cantaloupes, the last of the season’s sweet corn, and the early ripened gourds and pumpkins prove the point.
I suppose that is only appropriate since stores are already pushing fall sales and Halloween merchandise. If they haven’t already done so, primary classroom windows will mimic the fall colors with a run on yellow, red, and orange construction paper.
Of course, with the flip of a mental sports switch, our attention has turned from baseball to football. High school, college, and pro scores dominated the front pages of Saturday morning newspapers, at least the ones that still publish.
Crickets trading musical text messages woke me from my muse. September is here, and I intend to enjoy every moment the fair-haired month has to offer. I hope you can as well.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2019
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