Category Archives: writing

Why the beach has gone to the dogs

dogs on the beach, Fernandina Beach FL

Dogs on the beach.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Never mind the weather. The dogs must have their way. Rain, sunshine, fog or full on gales, owners walked their dogs on the Florida beach where we holed up for the winter.

Depending on the degree of training, sometimes it was hard to tell if the owner was walking the dog or the other way around. Most were on leashes, the dogs I mean. Taut, loose, stretched, harnessed, or sometimes no tether at all, the dogs were right at home on the beach.

The canines did more than walk, of course. Like their human masters, they liked to play. An older man heaved a bright orange tennis ball as far down the beach as he could several times. In anticipation, his hybrid-mix furry companion sprung and bounced in timing with each cock of her master’s arm. In seconds, the golden doodle returned, dropped the ball at the man’s feet and sat waiting for more. In each of our snowbird years, my wife and I observed similar scenes replicated scores of times.

dogs on the beach, Fernandina Beach FL

The game.

We love dogs. We both had dogs as pets growing up and from time to time during our marriage. Now we just travel too much to own a pet. Instead, we get our personal dog fix by hosting our granddog from time to time.

I fully understand, then, the desire, the human need to have a pet dog. People love dogs as long as they are friendly and not too rambunctious. Research has shown that dogs make excellent companions, especially for the elderly.

Folks regularly walked their canine companions on the beach morning, noon, and evening. They did so, of course, for exercise and to take care of the unpleasant necessaries. I should have invested years ago in the stock of companies that manufacture those little plastic cleanup bags.

Big dogs, little dogs, in-between dogs pulled their masters up and down the beach. Others walked along obediently at the same pace. Still, others ran freely, returning when called. Only on rare occasion did we witness any doggy misbehavior. When you’re on the beach, there’s plenty of opportunities for bird dogs to be bird dogs. The shorebirds just seem to tolerate and toy with them anyhow.

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A pleasant side effect of dog walking on the beach was the socialization that occurred. Dogs are naturally attracted to other dogs and more often than not the owners are just as cordial to each other.

Sometimes the humans got so involved they failed to notice the incoming tide. An astute pedigree might take advantage of this opportunity to remind its owner of the encroaching sea in hopes of a reward in the form of a treat. With that, the conversations ended, and all parties moved on, up and down the beach stepping in time to the soothing breakers.

On weekends and holidays, teenagers joined the parade. I can’t prove this, but I suspect that both pretty girls and handsome boys use their beloved dogs as bait to lure in some new friends. If true, who can blame them? The results are the same. Both the dogs and the teens get the attention they need and desire.

So did we. I can’t count how many times we stopped on the beach to admire a lovely dog, ask its name, breed, age, or whatever questions came to mind. I’m happy to report that so far during our snowbird stays that only their masters provided the answers.

dog under umbrella, Fernandina Beach FL

Smart dog.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018


Filed under human interest, photography, travel, writing

Be the good in life

Florida sunrise, rays of hope

Morning rays of hope.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Our lives are filled with bad news almost daily. Much of it is minor, insignificant. Too much, however, is horrific. News of flooding, earthquake, or another school shooting dominates the feeds on our electronic devices all too often.

Every now and then, however, a piece of good news manages to appear. It’s not always in the headlines of newspapers or featured on the trending social media of the day. Good news occurs nonetheless.

I believe that humans are still good by nature. A few prove me wrong, sometimes in a big way. However, adverse events can generate the best in people, often times spontaneously.

When two New York State Police officers working curbside at New York City’s LaGuardia Airport noticed a young woman sobbing after exiting her ride, they asked if she needed help. That’s when the good news story began to unfold.

Jordana Judson headed to the airport when she heard that a good family friend, Meadow Pollack, had been one of the 17 victims at the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Judson had graduated from that same school.

nature walk, mother and son

A mother hugs her son.

Judson wanted to fly home to attend a vigil for her friend. Only she was so distraught that she could hardly talk when the two officers, Thomas Karasinski and Robert Troy, approached her. Together they directed Judson to the proper counter to purchase her airline ticket.

When Judson was told that the one-way ticket would cost $700, she broke down again, exclaiming that she didn’t have that much money. Still crying, she tried to call her mother. In the process, Karasinski and Troy, who had never worked together before, each reached for their credit cards.

Judson tried to wave them off from making the purchase but was too late. The officers handed her the ticket. Judson said she didn’t know what to say about the officers’ exceptional kindness, but gave them each a hug before boarding her plane. Their instinctive act of kindness enabled Judson to attend the service for her deceased friend.

A spark of hope amid all the despair flickered when I read this marvelous story of compassion by the two police officers towards the distraught Judson. The story was so much more than the purchase of a plane ticket. The officers modeled what it means to be the good in life.

We should follow their lead, and we need not wait for a major tragedy to show kindness. Plenty of opportunities to be the good await us every day. We just need to be alert and respond when they present themselves.

Volunteer at a food pantry. Give your neighbor some flowers. Bake cookies for a friend. Buy coffee for a stranger in line behind you. Hug your spouse, your children. Be kind to yourself.

I was in the midst of writing this when a photographer friend in Florida shared with much excitement how her new day had begun. An anonymous person left a note of appreciation on her car door. Every morning Lea makes a point of photographing the ocean and seashore at sunrise, even if it is cloudy. She posts the results on social media for all her friends to see. Lea was effusive about the unexpected note. She concluded, “The greatest joy is giving joy to others.”

Lea is right. If we want to ensure that virtue occurs in the world, the awareness and compassion have to begin with each one of us.

sunrise, shorebirds, photographer

My friend Lea in action.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018


Filed under column, human interest, nature photography, news, photography, writing

Walking with the dolphins

Fernandina Beach FL, bottle-nosed dolphins

The walk begins.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I love it when I can walk with the dolphins.

The time of the day is insignificant. I consider the stroll up or down the beach a blessed and rare privilege. The bottlenose dolphins don’t seem to mind at all. I doubt they are even aware of my presence. The closest ones surface and resurface just beyond the breakers.

If the relentless waves would soften their drumbeat upon the sand, I might even be able to hear the dolphins’ high-pitched squeaking and chatter as they undulate north or south, feeding, playing, the young ones occasionally showing off, jumping out of the water like flying fish. The rest of the pod continues with the business of foraging in the giving sea. The youngsters circle back, never far from mother’s side.

We watch for the dolphins from sunrise to sunset. With below average air and water temperatures this winter, the walks with the dolphins have been fewer than previous snowbird ventures. That only heightened my joy at each opportunity. Once I spot the dolphins, I hurry down the steps, across the wooden walkway to the gritty beach sand and begin my stroll.

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I walk fast trying my best to stick to the wetted sand where footfalls are firm but pliable. I have learned that my natural striding equals that of the dolphins’ cruising pace unless they change course or have their routine interrupted for some reason. I assure you, if they do, it’s not because of me. I watch them more than where I am going. They, however, don’t know I exist, which is my preference.

When I pass other beachgoers, perhaps walking their dogs or also just out for a morning or afternoon stroll on the beach, I ask, “Did you see the dolphins?” There are only two possible answers, whether verbal or nonverbal. A nod or “Yes” and I smile and keep walking. A “No” often followed by “Where?” and I point and wait until they, too, see the rhythmical appearing and disappearing fins, thank me, and walk on.

dolphins, Atlantic Ocean, Florida

Dolphins playing.

Dolphins are smart. They most often appear when the weather and water agree on calmness rather than a calamity. The dolphins slip through the water silently, hardly making a ripple. We seldom see them during a nor’easter, where the waves and wind collectively and relentlessly crash the shore.

I especially enjoy the walks at low tide when the ocean and the sky join forces to show all their true colors. Even on cloudy days, blues, pinks, purples, tans, greens, and frothy whites chase one another through the never-ending cycles of ebbing and flowing.

Overhead, Forester’s terns and squawking gulls trail the pods like kites on strings. The Forester’s hover and dive to the water’s surface, grabbing breakfast or brunch that have eluded the playful dolphins.

I inhale the sea spray and salty freshness simultaneously, joyfully, though I know my glasses will need a good cleaning once I return to our winter’s nest beyond the seashore dunes.

I stop to investigate a shell or take a photo with my cell phone of some artistic designs the sea and sky have jointly sculpted. I look up, and the dolphins are gone.

I retrace my footsteps, occasionally checking beyond the folding waters for any gray fins or reflective glints of the sun off wetted backs. Seeing none, I walk on, my heart and soul both warmed by the encounter that strengthened not only my muscles but my spirit, too.

That’s why I cherish each chance I get to walk with the dolphins.

natural art, sand, seashore

Seashore art.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018


Filed under human interest, nature photography, travel, weather, writing

What the Olympic athletes can teach us

By Bruce Stambaugh

My wife and I love watching the Winter Olympics on television.

We wonder wide-eyed at the participants bouncing down the mogul runs, throwing in a couple of showy back-flip jumps before zipping across the finish line. I’m always amazed that the skiers and snowboarders have any teeth left as they broadly grin at the in-your-face TV cameras.

Gold medal by Charles Deluvio.

We gasp at the speed of the bobsledders, especially if there is a crash careening the sled and riders down the slippery slope like ragdolls. The same is true with the downhill skiers. Curling is much more my style.

We marvel at the ability of the athletes to overcome mistakes and carry on. Figure ice-skating is a prime example.

Most of the skating athletes are young. I won’t pretend to understand or know the various requirements or vocabulary of the sport. I just know it takes incredible skill and practice to even qualify. The pressure has to be enormous being in the bright lights of the arena, cameras rolling, coaches, family, friends, teammates, and the rest of the electronically tuned-in world watching.

They synchronize their routines with the music the skaters chose. Each performance requires certain moves and skills to positively impress the judges and meet the necessary requirements.

The athletes have practiced and practiced and practiced. And then it happens. On a tricky maneuver, spinning like a human top, the landing is slightly imperfect. The skater falls or at the very least touches the ice with a hand that subtracts precious points.

And still, they carry on as best they can with their routines, desperately trying to regain the rhythm and pace of their choreographed performance. The adrenaline must be pumping. Their minds must be racing, yet they continue, either flawlessly or as too often happens, with further miscues.

Skier by Nicolai Berntsen

No matter what country they represent, my heart goes out to them. All that time, effort, money, and travel, previous competing, sacrificing, just for this moment. In an instant, with a slight stumble or inability to fulfill the required maneuvers, their moments in the spotlights dim.

The cameras zoom in as the performance ends. No forced smiles or automatic hand waves to the appreciative crowds can conceal their emotions. They know they have missed their chance. The despair can’t be hidden.

There is only one thing for them to do. These amateur athletes have to act like professionals. They accept the flowers and gifts that are affectionately showered on them from the audience in anticipation of perfection regardless of the real results.

No doubt their coaches will school their understudies on their errors, encourage them, remind them that they can do it. The athletes get themselves ready for the next event and try again.

Whether they are in the running for a medal or not, the contestants keep on competing. It’s that simple. Their next performance can only be improved upon if they learn from their mistakes, practice, and try, try, try again. Some competitors, however, may have to wait another four years for that opportunity.

Teenagers win gold medals. Veteran Olympian medalists fail to qualify to stand on the coveted awards podium. It indeed is “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,” to quote the late Jim McKay.

Failing is a part of life. It’s a way to learn, to improve, and to be a better person, to be resilient. It’s just one of the reasons I enjoy the Olympics as much as I do, especially curling.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018


Filed under human interest, news, writing

Alice always made me smile

By Bruce Stambaugh


Alice always made me smile. Oh, she could be annoying. Even when I’d kindly caution her to keep her voice down, that didn’t stop Alice from being Alice. Nor did that stop me from liking her.

I got to know Alice at our little church in Millersburg, Ohio. I can’t even remember how long I’d had the privilege of being Alice’s friend. She was a friend to many, to whomever she met really. Alice just had that kind of outgoing, unabashed personality.

Nothing held Alice back. If she wanted something or wanted you to know something that she knew, she’d share, any place, any time. Tact and appropriateness of timing were never part of Alice’s arsenal. Ironically, consideration of others most certainly was. It’s what motivated her, drove her, caused her to fearlessly blurt out her innermost feelings with no compunction.

Alice could be a pill, even a pest. If she had your number, especially your phone number, Alice would find any old excuse to call you. Alice often rambled on and on if you would let her. That’s how much she loved you.

Alice attended church whenever possible. Other good folks went out of their way to provide transportation for her.

Alice loved Helen Steiner Rice poems. She’d read them aloud every chance she got in church, often in honor of someone’s birthday. Of course, Alice did so long after other announcements had already been made. Spitfire that she was, Alice didn’t need a microphone. She would just shout out her comments, prayer requests, and recitations as the spirit moved.

Alice could pull this off because everyone knew her situation. It wasn’t toleration mind you. It was admiration for her unequivocal love for others and her fierce desire to share whatever was on her mind. Nearly 99 percent of the time, her thoughts and concerns were for others, not herself.

Alice receiving communion.

As Alice did her readings or made her proclamations, knowing smiles radiated from all around the congregation. Every worship leader graciously acknowledged her comments and the service continued without a hitch.

In addition to poems, Alice loved a good joke and prank. Though often silly and uncomplicated, Alice laughed her wicked laugh as she told and retold the punch lines. Once when our infant granddaughter squeezed Alice’s index finger and wouldn’t let go, Alice was in heaven. She joyously reminded me of that incident whenever she could. That was Alice.

Several years ago, I escorted Alice to Texas to visit her only living brother, whose health was failing. People thought I was crazy to take on that formidable task.

Though dependent on a wheelchair, Alice traveled with no problems. The further we got from Millersburg, the quieter she got. The return trip proved just the opposite.

Alice listened to my every instruction. Deep down, she and I both knew just how much this journey, paid for anonymously, meant to her. Witnessing Alice embrace her brother Floyd was one of my lifetime thrills.

Quixotic as she was, Alice married late in life on the most romantic day of the year, Valentines Day, Feb. 14, 1970. She and her husband Charlie lived right behind our church. In recent months, Alice was confined to a nursing home, substantially reducing her mobility. Alice recently died there at age 95.

Alice’s unbridled love for life was an excellent gift to us all. In her memory and in her honor, I hope that same devotion becomes an exemplary measure of living out our own lives.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018


Filed under column, friends, human interest, Ohio, writing

The Beach Lady’s lasting legacy

American Beach, Amelia Island FL

American Beach today.

By Bruce Stambaugh

In the United States, February has been designated as Black History Month for many years now. Some schools, libraries, and other institutions give the theme only cursory attention while others plan meaningful and memorable events, including art shows, lectures, and dramas.

When my wife and I discovered Amelia Island’s American Beach on one of our Florida snowbird retreats, our interest piqued. We quickly learned a lot about decades of injustices, discrimination, and intolerance of blacks in our society.

Black History Month art

Art for Black History Month.

The American Beach Museum is a tidy, organized, and informative exhibition hall on Julia Street in a secluded historic district on the south end of this Atlantic Coast barrier island. The place may be tiny, but it is packed with facts, stories, relics, and photos that make your head spin trying to absorb it all. The volunteer guides are the most gracious people one would ever want to meet, and gladly help explain and amplify the historical information.

The short video featuring the Beach Lady, MaVynee Betsch, is the highlight of the tour. It makes you want to have been on that tour bus with her to hear her passionate stories of experiencing racism, discrimination, personal career success, her genuine love of nature, history, family, and the Creator who gave us the responsibility for caring for this marvelous earth.

In her case, the Beach Lady cut short a lucrative and professionally successful career as an opera singer in Europe to return to her beloved American Beach to ensure its preservation. She had her ups and downs in that endeavor. In the end, the Beach Lady’s efforts prevailed, even years after her death from cancer.

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For her persistence and persuasive hard work, MaVynee left her mark everywhere around American Beach. The beach itself is the most obvious result. Its sand dunes are some of the highest in the state. The beach’s sands are white and smooth, much desired by island developers. However, due much in part to the Beach Lady, the National Park Service now supervises the 80 some acres of the area.

American Beach was the only one on which blacks were permitted on Amelia Island. That segregation lasted until 1970. American Beach was founded in 1935 by the Afro American Insurance Co. president A. L. Lewis, the Beach Lady’s grandfather. American Beach provided a place for recreation and relaxation without humiliation during the Jim Crow era. It offered a place of hope in a time of despair for dark-skinned people.

Ironically, the original 100 by 100 ft. plots of land were always integrated. Some of the original buildings still exist, though they are not in the best condition. Evan’s Hall, a gathering place for music and dance, is one of them. Today some of the beachfront houses are worth millions of dollars.

American Beach, Amelia Island FL

Historical marker.

The museum holds photographs, artifacts, and displays of the legacy of the Beach Lady, including her seven-foot length of hair. Some thought her eccentric. Others knew better. Her devotion to family, nature, and her beloved beach remains for all to see today.

Each winter, we always make a point of visiting the museum and American Beach itself. We do so as a personal reminder of segregation in this country, of those who worked so diligently to overcome it and the sacrifices they made in doing so. MaVynee, the museum, and American Beach are testaments to what was, is, and yet needs to be done to indeed guarantee equality for all in this great country of ours.

Amelia Island FL

Volunteer guides at the American Beach Museum.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018


Filed under column, history, nature photography, photography, travel, writing

We can learn a lot from “old” people

running on the beach, sunrise

It’s a new day. Get moving.

By Bruce Stambaugh

When I turned 70, I received lots of celebratory wishes and unsolicited advice. Like a 70-year-old needs advice.

One ditty was the seven and 70 rule. The idea is that seven-year-olds will say anything, and 70 year-olds have earned the right by default to espouse whatever they want. Clearly, I didn’t know or obey that tenet. Wanted or not, I’ve been offering my opinions my entire life.

Nevertheless, I’ve done a lot of thinking since hitting that personal milestone. I feel fortunate, grateful, honored, humbled as I review my life. I have many, many kind people to thank for giving me challenges I didn’t think I could meet, opportunities I never expected, and critiquing I didn’t want to hear but definitely needed. To steal a movie title, it’s been a wonderful life.

Best of all, life continues, but for how long? None of us really knows for sure. As the saying goes, embrace each day as if it were your last. It just might be.

That somber thought used to bother me, scare me even. As a teenager, I thought I’d live forever. I know that’s not going to happen. I read the obituaries every morning, and I find the life summaries of too many people my age or younger.

Death where is thy sting? Many a sermon has already been preached on that topic. I won’t add to that litany.

Instead, I want to share a purposeful phenomenon that seems to resonate with many seniors. Generally speaking, we’re not afraid of death anymore.

After I retired as a public educator, I began my second career in community relations and marketing at a retirement community near my former Ohio home. I wasn’t there long until a common philosophy became apparent among the residents. As they aged, they were happier in their lives, despite increased physical and mental afflictions, reduced agility, and less energy overall. I recently learned that gerontologists confirm these observations. As people’s bodies decline, instead of feeling worse about themselves, they feel better.

horse and buggy

What’s around the corner?

Given their settings and expected elderly ailments, logic would dictate the opposite. Why had death indeed lost its sting for them? In general, they needed less in life and from life. They had given their all and were genuinely happy for that. Also, they looked forward to what they called “going home.”

Regrets? Sure, they had a few, just as I do. But that alone could not deter their enthusiasm for whatever came their way. They still expressed anxiety about all of life’s catastrophes they saw on TV, in the newspapers, and online.

But these were folks who had survived The Great Depression, who knew the value of work, being thrifty, conserving for the future and for future generations. They may not have liked many of the social changes that flew in the face of what they believed. But for the most part, neither did they let that bother them or think less of those who behaved or felt differently than they did. Their knowledge and experience taught them that. In my book, that is the very definition of wisdom.

I admired their gumption, fortitude, love of life, and their focus on being in the presence of each moment. They were ready for whatever came next. I’m trying my best to model that attitude, too, to my wife, my family, my friends, my neighbors, to whomever I meet.

Like my octogenarian friends at the retirement community, I’m ready for the next chapter of my life to unfold, one day, one person, one event, one glorious sunrise, one breathtaking sunset at a time.

Florida, sunset, Amelia River

Even at life’s low tide beauty abounds.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018


Filed under column, human interest, photography, writing

“The Post:” A personal review

I’ll begin with the disclaimers.

1. I am not a professional movie reviewer. In fact, this is my first ever written movie review. I didn’t read any of the reviews, professional or otherwise, about “The Post” before or after I saw it. I didn’t talk with anyone who had seen the movie before I saw it either. I went to “The Post” with only faint recollections of those days and the events that occurred decades ago in my formative years.

2. I have always had ink in my veins. Growing up in suburban blue-collar Canton, Ohio, a neighbor lady called me “The Beacon Journal” in honor of the respected Akron, Ohio daily. I took her title as a compliment. As a youngster, I was always the first to know what was going on in our busy neighborhood bursting with post-war children. When the siren at the volunteer fire station three blocks away sounded, I often was the first one to arrive, wanting to know what was burning. Careful to stay clear of the trucks, I’d follow them on my bike if I could or sneak a peek at the chalkboard inside the door to the firehouse where the info about the call was scribbled.

3. I majored in journalism at Kent State University, graduating a year before the infamous shooting. While there, I was both the campus stringer for The Plain Dealer, once the premier newspaper in Cleveland. I also was a student reporter for the Daily Kent Stater, a requirement for journalism majors. Kent State was a magnet for political activism in the tumultuous 1960s. It all swirled around me, a naïve, young student taking it all in one event at a time. I reported what I observed about student war protests and couriered photos and copy from Kent to Cleveland.

4. My first career spanned 30-years in public education in Holmes County, Ohio, filled with a dynamic mix of Appalachian and Amish/Mennonite cultures and their historical quirks. Still, I kept the ink in my veins flowing by serving as the information officer for local volunteer fire departments. I also continued to write feature stories for The Plain Dealer and local newspapers. I served as co-editor for 12 years for the magazine of the Ohio Conference of the Mennonite Church.

5. After retiring as a school administrator, I began using my journalism background full-time by serving as public relations/marketing coordinator for a local retirement community and as a marketing consultant for an Amish-owned furniture business. And I have been writing a weekly newspaper column since 1999.

All this is to say that I had a personal and professional vested interest in “The Post.”

Whether Steven Spielberg, the movie’s director, used creative license in the storyline of “The Post” is insignificant. I can’t know if Ben Bradlee schmoozed with Jack Kennedy or not, or whether Kay Graham and Robert McNamara really were good friends. I didn’t research it. I didn’t even Google it. All I know is this: With marvelous performances by Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, “The Post” put the importance of our first amendment rights of a free press front and center. What was critical then is even more so today, especially given today’s tense political situation and a president who seems incapable of understanding or separating the roles and responsibilities of each branch of government and a free press to report to the citizenry.

Given my background, I know personally how important that Supreme Court ruling was. Justice Black’s words, speaking for the majority, reaffirmed my beliefs, my life as a tiny, trivial citizen in this fantastic country of ours. No president from Truman to Trump, no person or organization from Bannon to Breitbart, can silence the truth. If they do, our democracy is doomed. It’s that simple. To me, that was THE point. As the credits rolled at movie’s end, the memories were vivid, the emotions raw and real, and tears flowed.

After the movie, I sent a text to my son saying that “The Post” was the best movie I had ever seen. He thought that strong praise indeed. I explained by saying that it connected the dots of where we are today politically back to the Civil Rights/Vietnam era, the time that most formulated the person I am today. Watching those scenes, hearing those secret Nixon tapes, having all of those names come tumbling off the screen and into this 70-year-old brain somehow finally made it all make sense to me, brought me peace amid the chaos of where we are today. I felt fulfilled, closure, and hope all in one emotional release.

I have another disclaimer.

6. I was once mistaken for Spielberg in Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in Arizona. The person refused to believe my denial, and my companions couldn’t stop laughing.

Regardless of your politics, go see “The Post.” I hope it will set you free as it did me.

Bruce Stambaugh


Filed under Amish, article, history, human interest, news, Ohio's Amish country, writing

Beginning anew with feeding the backyard birds

tube feeder

Male Red-breasted Grosbeak and Male House Finch.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I knew when we moved from our home in Ohio’s Amish country to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley that my backyard birding experiences would change. I just didn’t know how much difference there would be.

Our Virginia ranch home is one of nearly 500 in an established housing development west of Harrisonburg in Rockingham County. Mature trees, shrubs, and well-manicured lawns surround the many-styled houses. However, none of the vegetation is as dense as we had had in Holmes County.

Over the years, I tried to create an inviting habitat around our rural Ohio home for birds of all species, whether they nested or just needed the cover to approach the feeders. Neva complemented my efforts with beautiful flowerbeds all around the house. Birds, bees, butterflies, and other wildlife thrived.

a bird in the bush

Male Northern Cardinal.

The wide variety of cover and available water and food sources for birds near our home enhanced the variety of species seen on or near our Holmes County abode. White-winged crossbills, bald eagles, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, pileated woodpeckers, various warblers, barn owls, long-eared owls, and screech owls were just some of the amazing birds we had seen in the 38 years we lived there.

I wondered what birds would find their way to our Virginia home. I hung birdfeeders and placed birdbaths in the front and backyards not long after moving in. Our one-third acre only had two red maples, one in the front yard and one in the back. Nearby properties held sycamore, white pine, wild cherry, pin oaks, sugar maple, mimosa, and various shrubs and flowerbeds. The closest stream was a half-mile away.

The rolling hills and broad valleys are reminiscent of those in Holmes County. But they are not the same, and I didn’t expect the birds to be the same because of that. They haven’t been.

I was thrilled when red-breasted grosbeaks and northern cardinals showed up at the feeders soon after I erected them last May. I had the ubiquitous house sparrows and house finches, too. But once the common grackles arrived with their new fledglings, the more desirable birds were crowded out. Even the bossy blue jays headed for cover. I took the feeders down for the summer.

I rehung the feeders in early fall, including the suet feeder, in hopes of attracting some woodpeckers and other suet-eating birds. Again, songbirds found the food quickly. The northern cardinals and house finches returned. A small flock of American goldfinches followed, too, along with mourning doves.

As the weather cooled, more birds arrived. A red-bellied woodpecker found the suet and often came early morning and late evening. A male downy woodpecker appeared irregularly. Dark-eyed juncos and white-throated sparrows scratched at offering on the ground below. I was especially ecstatic with the latter. Their melancholy song seems to linger in winter’s frosty air.

Other yard birds included flocks of American robins. Unlike Holmes County where robins seek shelter in dense woods or migrate altogether, robins in Virginia linger longer. They forage on berries, crabapples, and grubs they find in yards and beneath mulch in flowerbeds. The robins particularly enjoy the birdbath for drinking and bathing.

A troop of European Starlings replaced the grackles as the rascals of the feeders. They’re pretty birds, but they can devour four cakes of peanut butter suet in a day. The woodpeckers shared my disapproval.

My bird feeders may not have attracted the variety of birds we had in Ohio. I keep them up anyhow to enjoy the ones that do appear. It’s a pastime that both my wife and I find more than worthwhile.

robins, birdbath

Gathering around water hole.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018


Filed under birding, birds, human interest, nature photography, Ohio, Ohio's Amish country, photography, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, weather, writing

A glimpse into the past, hope for the future

living history, old stone house, Granite Quarry NC

Living history.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I parked the van on the 21st Century side of the road and walked with my wife and our host couple across the two-lane highway back to 1766. The combination of the cold winter air and the smoke from several campfires immediately invigorated our senses and drew us in like kids to candy.

It was Christmas 18th Century style at the Old Stone House in the appropriately named village of Granite Quarry, North Carolina. The massive stones that formed the large, two-story house had been quarried a short distance away. A cast of volunteers decked out in period attire for their chosen character roles held me spellbound at every station.

The ladies at the beehive oven kept producing fresh-baked goodies for visitors to sample. The cornbread was pretty tasty. Members of the Mecklenburg Militia caroused around quietly spinning yarns that spanned generations. Still, they did their duty. To my knowledge, no one was arrested for pilfering sweet bread or inciting unrest.

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The militia’s cotton tents appeared flimsy and insufficient to keep out the cold for their camp over. Indeed, a spy told me they all intended to sleep in the comfort of the little log cabin outbuilding that housed a book sale for the event. Given the bite in the late afternoon air, I couldn’t blame them.

The old granite house stood proud and impressive, having been restored 50 years earlier. Its 22-inch walls kept the interior warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

We stepped into the living room to time-appropriate music as our guide rattled off detail after detail of what life was like three centuries ago. Though this house was large and elegant even by today’s standards, life was demanding. The family and their indentured servants and slaves always had plenty to do merely to ensure day-to-day survival.

The children in our group weren’t too impressed with the straw ticking that served as the mattress on the old rope bed. “Sleep tight and don’t let the bedbugs bite” took on a practical meaning to them. The guide demonstrated the sizeable wooden key for tightening the ropes that served as slats to hold the mattress. The herb tansy was interspersed with the straw to keep most of the bugs away. We all laughed when a stinkbug crawled out onto the ticking.

Upstairs was plain and noticeably cooler since the only heat came from the first-floor fireplaces. A slave squeezed into a wall space behind the massive kitchen fireplace to keep the fire going overnight.

Since the builder of the house had migrated south from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, he modeled his home after the ones he knew. The spacious clapboard kitchen was attached to the main house, wherein that era the kitchen was a separate building at most southern homes.

Old Stone House, Granite Quarry NC

Will the door to the past help guide us into a better future?

The kitchen was the engine that ran the household. Here everything from cooking to spinning to laundry to bathing took place. Since the youngest in the family got the last bath using the same water as the others, you didn’t want to “throw the baby out with the bathwater.” The guide mused how we still use sayings without knowing their real origin.

In warmer weather, bathing took place in the stream that ran through the deciduous woods behind the house. Likely there was no lingering in that outdoor bathing arrangement.

I marvel at this kind of living history. It allows us to stand in the present, glimpse the past, and long for a better life for all future generations everywhere.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018


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