Category Archives: writing

Finding gratitude where least expected

Rockingham Co. VA, rural farms

Where some of the local food is grown and where some of the food pantry clients live.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Life never ceases to amaze me. In my long years of living, I’ve learned that gratitude often emerges in the least likely of places.

My wife and I were asked to volunteer one evening a month at a local food pantry near downtown Harrisonburg, Virginia. The Friendly City is home to 55,000 people in the center of the Shenandoah Valley. The pantry operates once a week, providing foodstuffs for those who don’t have enough income even to buy basic grocery necessities.

Participants are only permitted to visit the food pantry once per month. Individual records are kept to ensure the rules are followed. That has never been a problem, however.

tomatoesbybrucestambaugh

Locally grown produce like these tomatoes is often donated to the food pantry.

The pantry receives its supplies from two sources. A regional food bank provides federal government USDA commodities, while local supermarkets, restaurants, and farmers donate their surplus food to the pantry. A few farmers even grow extra produce to help supply in-season fresh foods.

Those who depend on the food pantry for their sustenance must qualify by income for the USDA items. Pantry participants receive the locally provided food without qualification. The pantry offers a few healthcare products, too.

Neva and I have settled into our roles of interviewers. Our job has multiple responsibilities. We have to ask many invasive, personal questions before we can check off the USDA food preference list with the clients. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to write down $0 for a monthly income. It’s a humbling experience both for the clients and us.

With all the “workers wanted” signs around, a logical question might be, “Why don’t these people get a job?” The answer to this question is two-fold. Many of the clients do have jobs. Their meager incomes and family sizes qualify them for the federal subsidies.

William Penn quotation.

From my observations and interactions, those who receive aid and don’t work are not employable for a host of obvious reasons. Some stay at home with small children. Some are senior citizens whose productive working days are long past. Some are disabled with no financial support of any kind. You get the picture.

Amid the discomfiting officiousness, one quality consistently shines from month to month, person to person. Everyone we encounter expresses gratitude for any help provided. Some are effusive while others say a quiet thank you.

As humbling and perhaps even embarrassing as the experience is for the clients, they are all thankful. Without being prompted, a few share heartbreak stories with us. They seem glad to have someone with whom to converse. We listen intently and thank them for sharing. A hardy handshake sometimes ensues.

I have yet to meet anyone who feels entitled to this food. Just the opposite is true. The clients’ glow of exuberant gratitude outshines any hint of disparity.

The joyous expressions and cheery thankfulness for whatever assistance they receive more than reward us for our collective efforts. Every client is especially appreciative if the list indeed includes healthcare items like diapers, shampoo, or toothpaste.

It takes courage to admit you need help. But if your child is hungry and the cupboard is bare, courtesy, gratitude, and thankfulness vanquish pride.

A disconcerting trend has developed, however. Each time we serve at the food pantry the number of clients tends to increase. Nevertheless, humility, smiles, and expressions of relief also grow exponentially.

Who would have thought that we would find and receive abundant gratitude from those who can’t afford daily food? Who would have imagined that serving in such a manner would reward us with humankind’s most heartfelt thanks?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under column, food photography, human interest, news, photography, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, writing

Why voting is vital for a democracy

flash flooding, Rockingham Co. VA

Fire and EMS volunteers work a water rescue.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I believe that to be effective, to be relevant, to be dynamic, to be healthy, a democracy depends on its citizens interacting. There are many ways to be involved in the lifeblood of the country.

Some citizens choose to serve the country directly by participating in its infrastructure. They join the military. They work in public institutions like schools, hospitals, police and fire services, and work in government agencies. Some even run for public offices.

Of course, not everyone feels called or led to do any of those actions. They prefer the private domain. They farm, run their own business, keep house, work in an office or factory or restaurant or drive trucks or fix the plumbing. They, too, keep our country humming.

There is one common denominator that we all can do, however. This action is an equalizer to ensure that our democratic republic thrives and survives. We can vote. Each and every citizen 18 years and older is entitled to vote by merely being registered.

Voting was designed as the means to democracy. It is a process as much as an ideal.

Historically, only white male property owners could vote. As our democracy evolved, women and minorities eventually gained the right to vote, too.

In our grand experiment of democracy, voting was established to ensure a grassroots stability to local, state, and federal government assemblies and their representative agencies.

Ideally, the vote of its citizenry was designed to be the final check on the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government. That methodology creates ebbs and flows in the democratic process that gives angst to some and satisfaction to others. That is how democracy works, lives, continues.

That is true, however, only if voters indeed vote.

Winston Churchill was purported to have said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all of the others.” In truth, Churchill merely paraphrased another individual without attribution. So the originator of that wisdom has never been determined.

What is clear from that quote is that societies need some form of government to remain civil, efficient, effective, and stay within their realm of responsibilities. To be sure, different people have different perspectives on how those principles are achieved.

Again, that is why voting is so critical. The idea of one person, one vote is carried out in a representative form of government such as ours. That representation is manifested through elections.

I remember as a youngster going back to the elementary school where I attended to watch my father mark his paper ballot before the polls closed. My parents wanted me to experience the political process first-hand.

Many years ago my adult Sunday school teacher and friend, a peer about my age, presented a lesson on the separation of church and state. He used that as a foundation to explain why he never voted.

If you don’t vote, don’t complain.

I listened intently to all of his logical reasons. When he had finished, my reply caught him off guard.

I said, “All the reasons you listed not to vote are exactly why I do vote.” He respectfully accepted my response as I did his conviction not to vote based on his religious beliefs. That is as it should be.

The right to vote comes with an important caveat. In exercising that right, voters need to educate themselves on the issues and candidates, and the various positions held before going to the polls.

In other words, do your homework, and then for the sake of the country, go vote.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Facing unfounded fears brings unexpected rewards

Compton Gap Trail, Shenandoah NP

Our lunchtime view.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I love to hike. Planting myself in a hiker’s paradise has afforded me unlimited opportunities to satisfy my love for hiking. In reality, it hasn’t worked out quite the way I anticipated.

First of all, I have too many interests and too little time to fulfill all of them. Family responsibilities top my priority list, especially in the fall when our grandchildren seem to be their busiest. Hiking takes a backseat so I can help with the grandkids.

When I do get a chance to head to the many trails of Shenandoah National Park, I usually go alone. I enjoy the oneness with nature and the precious personal time to think and explore at my own pace.

However, that lone ranger approach to hiking changed when I discovered a peer-hiking group. When an outing on a trail I had not yet tackled was offered, I wanted to go. However, I hesitated for somewhat personal reasons.

I wasn’t sure just how fast the group would walk. Neither did I know if they would take as many breaks as I was sure to need. At my age, any hike that begins early morning can be problematic. In the words of Forest Gump, “And that’s all I have to say about that.”

Despite my doubts, I sent the confirmation email that I would join the group. I was greatly relieved when I got the reply.

The leader welcomed me into the hiking circle. He volunteered that the trek would accommodate all the hikers’ needs. In other words, the group would stop as often as necessary. I was glad about that news, but now a new set of insecurities surfaced.

I didn’t know how many people would be in the group. I didn’t know their level of hiking expertise. Nevertheless, I didn’t let my petty, irrational fears deter me, and prepared for the hike.

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I loaded my hiking gear, the hiking poles I had purchased but never used, my camera, binoculars, and a light lunch. I dressed in several layers of clothing to peel off as the day warmed.

Our group was small, only five, all of us retired with various levels of hiking proficiency. The other four hikers were as pleasant as could be.

We each enjoyed the camaraderie that ensued along the way. Our revered leader knew all aspects of the park, its botany, geology, and history. His genial personality served him well.

The day was crisp, the forest quiet except for an occasional gusty wind that rustled the still green leaves. I was surprised at how very few birds I saw or heard.

We followed the Appalachian Trail up the ridge on sometimes rocky, steep terrain, sometimes mostly flat, well-worn earth. Short grasses and fallen leaves bordered the trail.

We ate our lunch standing and sitting on ancient igneous outcroppings overlooking the sweeping valley below. Signal Knob, the northern-most point of the Massanutten Range, stood across the way overlooking the old-aged Shenandoah River.

After lunch, we crossed back over the AT, scrambled around and down another rocky point to view a rare exposure of basalt columnar jointing. Seeing the hexagonal formation dispelled once and for all any remnants of my silly fears.

It had been a glorious day hiking with newfound friends. Naturally, all of my fears proved to be unfounded.

In this age of fear-mongering and extreme reactionary phobias, it was a timely reminder for me. Trivial or not, tell your fears to take a hike before they walk all over you.

South Fork Shenandoah River, Shenandoah NP

Overlook at Shenandoah River State Park.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under column, human interest, nature photography, photography, Shenandoah Valley, travel, Virginia, weather, writing

The older I get, the faster the days go

sunrise, Harrisonburg VA

A new day begins.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Just the other day I remarked to my daughter about how fast the days seem to go. I didn’t have to wonder why.

Logic would dictate that just the opposite would be the case in retirement. Weren’t the golden years meant to be slower, more relaxed than when we were younger?

I thought back to my full-time working life when days started early and ran late. Whether in my first career as an educator for 30 years or in my second gig in marketing, a wide variety of activities filled the days.

Add in the agenda of our active, growing children, community commitments, recreation, organizational meetings, and each day just disappeared. There never seemed to be enough time to complete all that was on my daily plate.

As you might imagine, teaching was demanding. I was bone tired by the time Friday rolled around. When I became an administrator, the routines changed, but my duties often extended long after school had been dismissed both for the day and for the year. Mindless meetings had much to do with that dynamic.

Not much changed in my marketing career. I could always count on surprises that suddenly altered my plans for the day.

When I said goodbye to all of that a couple of years ago, I figured my pace would slow down. Instead, life’s speed seems to have accelerated in retirement.

youth soccer, Harrisonburg VA

Goal by our granddaughter.

My daughter concurred with me about the quickness of the days. I had to wonder, however, about the look she gave me. Was it a sympathetic gaze into what the future held for her, or was it a look of astonishment at my declaration?

Perhaps there was a third option, one of appreciation for the assistance her mother and I provide to her family. We were in the heart of the volleyball season, and Nana and I do our parts to help make our daughter’s household run as smoothly as possible.

Carrie is the women’s coach at Eastern Mennonite University, and her husband is the chief financial officer for a rapidly growing start-up company. Professional duties pack their daily schedules.

So we do what we can to help. Nana makes meals, tidies up our house and theirs, and does laundry, shopping, and so much more. I have my honey-do lists.

sproodle, dogs

Our granddog.

Sometimes I care for our granddog. Sometimes I pick up a grandchild at school and transport them to another venue. Sometimes I serve as the landscaper, and sometimes I help with homework, even if it is math and in Spanish.

All of this interaction helps make the days disappear one right after the other. Of course, it could be that our energy level at this age isn’t what it was in our younger years. Then we chauffeured our son and daughter from school to soccer and piano practices to church youth group in addition to all of our other responsibilities.

Whatever the reasons for time flying, Nana and I prioritize our time and efforts into doing the tasks at hand. In between, we rest, relax, exercise, have lunch on the porch together, pray and meditate each in our individual way.

In truth, we expected all the busyness. We moved from Ohio’s Amish country to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley for just such assignments. It’s our new life calling.

We didn’t realize how very fast these golden times would go, however. In these autumn days of our lives, the time just seems to evaporate. I for one couldn’t be happier.

valley, Ohio's Amish country

In the evening of our lives.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Living in the moment has its rewards

Harrisonburg VA

A bad day.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The day hadn’t gone well for either my wife or me. You would think that people our age would know enough not to let circumstances negatively influence our attitudes. But, hey, we’re human after all. We each succumbed to separate and sundry annoyances.

My wife had more reason to be upset than me. But I didn’t know that at the time. I was too consumed with my own pettiness. Men tend to do that, at least I do.

Neva volunteers at a local thrift store as a manager. While the store’s full-time managers were away on vacation, the credit card machine malfunctioned. Once Neva realized there was a significant issue regarding recording sales, she scrambled to correct the problem.

I was at home oblivious to all of this. The world was falling apart again, and I foolishly allowed myself to absorb too much of the toxic news.

Despite our individual funks, we each still had our usual grand-parenting duties to fulfill. I was responsible for transporting Neva’s premade, delicious casserole to our daughter’s place, putting it in the oven at the prescribed time and at the predetermined temperature. Neva would be there to ensure the meal got served.

I completed my assigned, simple duties and retreated to the sunroom. I sat on the couch still miffed. I stewed in my own self-made misery, absorbing more and more discouraging news. You would think a retired volunteer firefighter would know better than to throw gasoline onto a smoldering campfire.

Harrisonburg VA

Maren was pleased with the shoes she got for her birthday.

Right after Neva arrived, an amazing thing happened. Our nine-year-old granddaughter entered the room, donned a pair of headsets and started to sing. Maren ignored everything else, focusing solely on getting each note just right, just the way she was hearing it sung through her headset. She was practicing for her children’s choir.

Her cheerful, innocent voice buoyed me. I threw all of my attention into admiring her determination, her concentration, her ambition, her appreciation for each tune, the lyrics, the opportunity to merely sing.

I resisted the urge to photograph and record the impromptu mini-concert. Instead, I just sat in admiration and joy, breathing and smiling. It was then that I realized something critical. I had forgotten about “my problems.” I realized they weren’t problems. I also understood the importance of what I was witnessing. This young lady singing her heart out was all that I needed, all that mattered.

Maren sang and sang until Neva couldn’t contain herself any longer. She interrupted the spontaneous concert to compliment Maren. Besides, suppertime was near.

I felt fortunate to have been witness to this spontaneous musical interlude of Maren’s. It was a heavenly reprieve from the messy noise of today’s world. I wish you could have been there, too.

There was a lesson there, not just for me, but all of us caught up in the heat of the moment, in the avalanche of information that streams from our televisions, radios, computers, cell phones, laptops, and any other electronic device to which we are tethered.

In the beginning, I had allowed hopelessness and despair to rule the moment. In the end, a time of earnest, uplifting singing transformed my heart and soul. I live for moments like these.

My granddaughter’s singing reminded me to live in the moment, breathe, and listen. Those are the ingredients for a beautiful day every day no matter the nature of the news.

Harrisonburg VA

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under column, family, human interest, Virginia, writing

Nature’s Elements

Paul State Forest, Rockingham Co. VA

Rain drops and sun rays.

If I have learned one thing in my seven decades on this marvelous planet of ours, it is to go with the flow. When I left the house, pleasant temperatures and partly cloudy skies ruled the sky. I intended to drive 10 miles to Paul State Forest near the crossroads known locally as Ottobine. I planned on walking the trails of this 172-acre gem of a woods to look for birds.

I packed my binoculars, birding hat and vest, and of course my travel camera, a Canon PowerShot SX530 HS. The camera is light, easy to use, and takes excellent shots, as long as sufficient light is available. I also had my iPhone along for safety sake. You never know when an old guy like me will need to make an emergency call.

Not far from the forest, the roadway showed signs of recent rain. Indeed, the clouds that hung close to the Appalachian Mountains to the near west looked ominous. With the early evening sun occasionally peeping through, they also looked gorgeous. The billowing thunderheads showed every shade of gray. Sun rays streamed through breaks in the building cumulous clouds, creating a stunning rural scene.

When I reached the small parking lot of the forest, the bucolic view towards the mountains was surreal. I turned my attention to shooting the unfolding and rapidly changing scene. The valley played open to the west, giving me an excellent view. I snapped away with both my camera and phone. Satisfied with the shots, I returned to my original goal of walking the woods in search of any migrating birds settling in for the night.

I had only walked a short distance when the heavens opened up. I returned to my vehicle, contented with the pastoral scene of clouds, rain, and sun rays. The birds would have to wait for another day.

“Nature’s Elements.” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under birding, human interest, nature photography, photography, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, weather, writing

Enhance your trip: Make it personal

Rochester NY, Pont De Rennes bridge

High Falls

By Bruce Stambaugh

My wife and I share a mutual love for travel. To explore and learn together about new locations, people, and their mores substantially enriches our married life.

Adding family and friends into our forays gives us even greater joy. Our son recently moved to upstate New York, which gave us the perfect excuse to visit him and the Rochester area for the first time.

Nathan had moved to Rochester for a new job opportunity. He was effusive about the natural beauty and the many cultural and culinary opportunities that the city and surrounding area afforded.

Even before our flight from Virginia had landed, we saw what Nathan meant. The side-by-side Finger Lakes became elongated mirrors, beautifully reflecting the morning sunshine. That sight alone refreshed our spirits since rain persisted in Virginia.

The plane’s final approach to the airport took us right over downtown Rochester, a metropolitan area of a million folks. I caught a brief glimpse of a lovely waterfall in the heart of the center city.

Nathan picked us up, and we headed straight to his new apartment, a considerable downsize from his old Dutch colonial Ohio home. We immediately shared his satisfaction with his housing selection. He had bright and spacious living quarters in a stately Victorian that had been converted to accommodate several apartments.

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His new digs are ideally situated among other splendid old homes on tree-lined streets and boulevards. His place affords many amenities. It’s near downtown, trendy eateries, renowned museums, and art galleries. Nathan had chosen well.

Another personal plus for us was that retired friends from Ohio live just a mile away from our son. We caught up with them over brunch the next morning.

Of course, Nathan wanted us to experience a sense of his new stomping grounds. So off we went, walking and driving to area attractions over our long-weekend stay. The moderately rolling landscape dotted with mixed woodlots and ravines carved by ancient streams felt like home, both Ohio and Virginia.

We packed a lot in during our short stay. We toured the art gallery, wandered through an old mansion and accompanying gardens, dined at locally-owned and operated restaurants, discovered lighthouses, felt the cool north breeze off Lake Ontario, and sampled delicious home-made ice cream more than once. We admired the cityscape view from Cobb’s Hill and watched the autumnal equinox sunset from atop a skyscraper.

I found familiarity driving up Mt. Hope Avenue to Mt. Hope Cemetery. I had served 21 years as principal at Mt. Hope Elementary School in Mt. Hope, Ohio. More importantly, we toured the historic cemetery that holds the graves of social pioneers Frederick Douglas and Susan B. Anthony.

Though I had never been there, it felt like I had. The old cemetery was established on glacial kame and kettle topography. It was the same glacier that formed the similar rolling hill and valley landscape of Holmes County, Ohio where Neva and I had built our homes, cultivated our marriage, raised our son and daughter, and fulfilled our careers.

Of course, we had to find those downtown waterfalls, too. Soon we stood on the Pont De Rennes footbridge admiring High Falls with the cityscape as its backdrop, and all the sights and sounds of a busy 21st-century city. I absorbed all that I could, ecstatic for our son.

Like most travelers, I greatly enjoy exploring new haunts and all they have to offer. When the excursion involves family and friends, the trip becomes even that more meaningful.

autumnal equinox sunset, Rochester NY

Final glow of the autumnal equinox sunset.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Is October the best month?

Maryland Mountain, fall color

Changing leaves.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Everybody has favorites. From favorite ice cream to a favorite sports team, we humans tend to quantify and qualify most everything.

Months of the year are no different. I’m as guilty as the next person in this category. October is far and away my favored month.

I’m likely not alone in stating the primary reason for liking October so much. The ever-changing color schemes fascinate me. Living all of my life in areas where mixed hardwoods warm the landscape with vivid, fiery colors makes that choice easy.

I hope I never take that annual beautification for granted. That’s because no two autumns are alike. So many factors go into just how colorful the trees will be. Half the fun is anticipating the intensity of the leafy rainbows.

We wonder what effect the persistent wet weather of the summer will have on the colors. Will they be bright or will they be dull? Will the leaves even last long enough to fully color, or will they succumb to gravity’s inevitable tug and prematurely tumble to the ground?

I know that may sound like a silly question. But my wife and I have already noticed that the leaves of the red maples in our yard in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley began falling days ago. Last year they hung on red and green until well after Halloween.

Holmes Co. OH, autumn leaves, sugar maple

Changing colors.

If we pay close attention, nature sometimes offers us a sneak preview. Certain sections of particular trees begin to turn long before the rest of their foliage. Sugar maples are especially prone to this phenomenon. Could it be the compounding effect of the day after day absorption of the sun’s intense first rays during September and October mornings?

Trees aren’t the only canvas on which nature paints though. Fall also displays her colors among the agricultural harvest in the waning days and weeks of the growing season. The warm hues of gourd and squash varieties rule produce stands and supermarkets everywhere.

Those yellows, oranges, and crimsons contrast nicely with their hosts’ rich greens. Mums and sunflowers testify to the validity of these facts, too. The array of fruits and vegetables available also join the splashy seasonal show.

Restaurant menus highlight the food of fall with autumn entrees and beverage offerings alike. However, I’ve not joined the pumpkin-spice-flavored-everything club. I’m happy with my wife’s homemade gluten-free apple crisp washed down with a glass of delicious and locally produced apple cider.

Milder and less humid air is a welcome change from the steady heat and humidity that filled summer and early autumn days, especially here in Virginia. As I have unfortunately discovered in my first year of living in the Commonwealth, invisible pollen particles fill the air awakening allergies I didn’t know I had. So for selfish reasons, I look forward to the first killing frost.

I realize that the end to the growing season means we are closer to the cold and dark of winter days. But the earth still turns on its axis and rotates around the sun. Without winter there can be no spring.

Perhaps I am too taken with the overall aura of October itself. Our North American society has made October a festive month with one community celebration after the other. Consequently, food truck operators work overtime to meet all the demands for their tasty treats.

All in all, October is fall’s time to shine. With the harvest in full swing, October is a celebratory time. For me, that is excuse enough to elevate the tenth month above its jealous siblings.

Corn shocks at sunset.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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How a pair of leaky boots sent me back in time

flooding, river in my bakcyard

A river ran through it.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Memories often materialize in the most unusual of circumstances.

It was early June, and we had endured rainstorm after rainstorm. At times, the rain pelted down at the rate of two inches an hour.

When you live between two mountain ranges and groundwater has already saturated the sticky, red-clay soil, that much precipitation spells trouble. And trouble found lots of folks throughout the picturesque Shenandoah Valley.

High water flooded roadways, keeping fire departments and rescue squads busy with multiple water rescues. It was still pouring when a river of muddy water rushed through our backyard.

I decided to check the five-foot crawl space beneath our ranch home. I slipped on my old black gumboots and jumped into eight inches of water. Instantly, cold, yucky water surrounded my right foot. The combination of old age and wear and tear had finally taken their toll on my versatile rubber boots.

I was grateful a local plumber was gracious enough to bail us out despite being swamped with other calls. Everything beneath our home seemed to have weathered the storm except my precious boots.

rubber boots, gumboots

My old friends.

Gumboots are knee-high footwear made of rubber and fabric designed for all kinds of outdoor activities. Those boots and I went way back. They had served me well in a variety of conditions over several years.

I remember where I bought them nearly three decades ago at a now-defunct shoe store in Mt. Hope, Ohio. I wore the boots often in many different situations. I had depended on them time and again, often in dire instances.

When a storm hit, I put them on to check my roads as a township trustee. I can’t tell you how many flooded streets and ditches I waded through wearing those boots. I traipsed through many snowstorms with them, too.

Once after a big snow, I spied a grizzled old opossum munching birdseed from a feeder that sat atop a picnic table in our backyard. On went my coveralls and those gumboots. I intended to shoo off the unwanted mammal. As I opened the door, our pet rat terrier Bill shot out the door ahead of me.

Charm OH, Ohio in winter, ice cycles

Scene of the rescue.

Bill’s fearless instincts immediately kicked in when he spotted the opossum. The little dog circled the unimpressed marsupial once, and on his second pass, Bill leaped for the much larger animal’s tail. The opossum hit the ground with a thud, dead on arrival.

Those boots even helped me as a volunteer firefighter and EMT. On one run, I found myself standing in the shallows of a stream holding up an elderly victim who had fallen into the rushing creek. I still remember the fire chief’s surprised expression when he saw me in the water with those black boots.

Another time, on an early subzero February morning, I spotted our Amish neighbor heading across frozen farm fields toward our house. Levi was delivering the promised fertilizer for our garden. Steam shimmered in the morning light as it rose from the hardworking draft horses and the load of manure they were pulling in the spreader.

By the time I dressed and pulled on my gumboots, I was too late. Levi and his pitchfork had already deposited a still-steaming pile of manure onto the garden plot. Standing in that frigid, fragrant morning air, I asked him how much I owed for the delivery. Levi just smiled and said wryly, “Nothing. I don’t have anything in it.”

Like I said, sometimes the strangest circumstances stir the fondest memories.

Ohio's Amish country, winter, Holmes Co. OH

Our Ohio backyard winter scene.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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The sights and sounds of summer’s end

goldenrod, rural scene

A field of goldenrod.

By Bruce Stambaugh

My wife and I sat on our back porch enjoying a light lunch. A gentle breeze sifted through the backyard as monarch and skipper butterflies flitted about, buoyed by the day’s brightness and coaxed on by instincts humans have yet to understand fully.

The rhythmical hum of neighborhood lawnmowers joined in concert to drown out the hypnotic cadence of the cicadas and katydids. As if they were following instructions, the leaves of red maples and sugar maples were beginning to blush just a tinge of their real color hidden all spring and summer by the chlorophyll.

Try as it might, Daylight Savings Time can’t delay the inevitable. The sun and the moon, the stars and the planets, work their seasonal magic, triggering an unstoppable unfolding of goodness and allergies alike.

Even in the noontime heat and humidity, senior citizens and expectant mothers walk their dogs on the broad neighborhood streets. In some cases, it’s the other way around, leashes fully extended, human arms straining to keep control and still chat on their cell phones.

Dragonflies dart here and there, somehow avoiding being lunch for some hungry migrating birds. Black and turkey vultures circle overhead, letting the convection vortexes carry them higher and higher.

White and yellow Sulphur butterflies zigzag their way past my window as if imitating fallen leaves being blown through the yard. A few grasshoppers jump from one blade of grass to another in short flights like so many commuter planes.

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Summer’s full corn moon has come and gone in one cool weekend, a pleasant relief from the storms and heat. But come Monday, the late summer swoon returned, ushering in more warm and muggy weather all across the eastern United States.

So intense was the dreaded combination of atmospheric siblings heat and humidity, some schools mercifully canceled or dismissed early. Without air conditioning, students and staff swelter, unable to conduct the proper learning processes.

That weather, however, eventually ends. Sooner or later, September’s customary, soothing elements do return. Blue-sky days precede comfortable evenings followed by starry nights. Unless infiltrated by tropical storm remnants, thunderstorms come and go without catastrophic consequences.

That’s what makes September the jewel in fall’s seasonal crown. It quietly but most assuredly melds August’s stubborn temperament into October’s Technicolor Dreamcoat landscape.

Until the first killing frost, September is the pollinators’ paradise. Squadrons of bees, flies, ants, butterflies, hummingbirds, and hummingbird moths follow the sweetness from fall bloom to fall bloom.

The mums’ warm colors have replaced the showy bubblegum petunias as the go-to domesticated floral display. Melons, gourds, pumpkins, and squash take center stage at produce stands. Thorny thistles and goldenrod populate the rural roadsides until they meet their sickled doom.

The furry critters must note the changes as well. The squirrels and chipmunks are bolder, more aggressive in their foraging, which is only appropriate. Their lives likely depend on the amount they stored if they can remember where they put their cache.

The morning and evening chatter at the backyard bird feeders is diminished to Song Sparrows and Northern Cardinals, with the Carolina wren making an occasional soliloquy. Now and then the northern mockingbird will chip in a few bars, too.

Once the winter migrants show up in a month or so, that scenario will change. Until then, we’ll enjoy the spontaneous choruses of the crickets, katydids, and cicadas. We’ll joyfully anticipate autumn’s arrival while summer’s pleasantries still linger.

Baker WV, West Virginia

A late summer thunderstorm.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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