Category Archives: writing

Mere observation brings renewal

Lakeside OH, Chautauqua Lakeside

The fountain in front of Hotel Lakeside.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’m sitting on a bench beneath the shade of a determined sugar maple tree, perhaps its verdant growth encouraged by the view I’m enjoying. Who or what wouldn’t be heartened with these delightful surroundings.

Youngsters set sail on skiffs, their teenage teachers guiding them into and out of the steady east wind, tacking, and turning this way and that, the multi-colored sails energized by the steady lake breeze.

Only weeks ago a much different scene played out in this same location. One nor’easter after the other pounded the shoreline that now houses a single-file line of dinghies slotted between wooden four by fours.

The shoreline lost, as it always does, against such strong forces of nature. So did the dock, which had its securely anchored metal benches washed overboard.

Today, however, is different. The lake breeze is just stiff enough to keep Old Glory and the nautical signals continually flapping and a lone great egret working overtime to a new upwind fishing spot.

Beyond the pier’s end, a cigarette boat slices with ease through the small waves of Lake Erie. Sun worshippers, fisher-people, and swimmers all bask in the sun-drenched day, thankful the oppressive heat and humidity of recent days have been replaced by these ideal conditions. Not a single contrail pollutes the all-blue sky.

Purple Martins and tree swallows also sail over all the human aquatic action, skimming the latest hatch of Mayflies from the air.

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Parents and proud grandparents stand along the shoreline or in the pavilion watching their sons and daughters and grandsons and granddaughters sail away on the blue-green water chop. In a matter of minutes, they safely return, smiles replacing any lingering fear of their maiden voyage.

Just off of the end of the reinforced breaker wall of native limestone, fishermen bob in their bass boat, casting and recasting without success. They soon move on to calmer and hopefully more productive waters.

Back on shore, walkers stroll the sidewalk that runs the full length of the shoreline that makes Lakeside lakeside. This Ohio resort town, appropriately known as the Chautauqua on Lake Erie, is bustling with activity on this Sunday afternoon.

Lifetime Lakesiders gather on other shaded wooden benches like they have for decades like their parents and grandparents did before them. Only the seats are different. The view, the busyness of recreation, education, arts and crafts, and entertainment of the friendly, gated community unfold all around them just as it did when they were children, too.

Bicycles and golf carts wait patiently for their drivers and passengers in the green grass along the blacktop’s edge. The bikes stand unlocked, and ignition keys dangle freely in the carts. Such is Lakeside.

Daring teenage girls try their hand and legs at paddle boards, nimbly dropping to their knees when their hesitation takes hold. They eventually regain their confidence and return to their paddling.

The Westminster chimes of the clock tower atop the nearby pavilion bong 3 p.m., followed by bells singing “How Great Though Art.” Behind me, a gurgling fountain lures a toddler away from her mother until she beckons her daughter to the spotting scope aimed at Perry’s Monument on Put-in-Bay.

These few minutes spent observing, absorbing, listening, looking, appreciating all that is Lakeside, Ohio renews my body, mind, and spirit. Given this setting, that’s what is supposed to happen.

You don’t have to be at Lakeside to garner these healthy, in-the-moment results. But it sure helps.

Lakeside Chautauqua, Lakeside OH, swimming

Fun in the sun.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under architectural photography, birds, column, family, human interest, Lakeside Ohio, Ohio, photography, travel, weather, writing

Never a dull moment at Lakeside, Ohio

throughthehollyhocksbybrucestambaugh

The waterfront at Lakeside.

By Bruce Stambaugh

There’s never a dull moment at Lakeside, Ohio. That’s quite a statement for a sleepy, little village on the shores of Lake Erie.

Don’t misunderstand. That doesn’t mean the residents are rowdy. Just the opposite is true for this Chautauqua town.

In the summertime, Lakeside bursts with energy and activities, planned and spontaneous. There’s never a dull moment because there’s just so much to do for any and every age level. I’ll let the activities speak for themselves.

The Lakeside programming offers vacationers and residents a multitude of sponsored options that enrich the body, mind, and soul. Founded in 1873 as a Methodist Church camp, Lakeside has evolved into a summer destination for thousands of folks across the country.

shuffleboard, Lakeside OH

Shuffleboard, a favorite Lakeside pasttime.

Lakeside is a place that welcomes all who come to relax, learn, meet new folks, enjoy entertainment, and commune with others and nature. It’s why we keep going back year after year. Now that we’ve moved to Virginia, my wife and I make Lakeside our guaranteed summer vacation.

Since Lakeside is a gated community during the summer season, it’s a safe place to be for one and all. Kids are free to roam its crisscrossed streets that run the mile length of the cottage-filled community.

They won’t be alone. The community swells to 6,000 or more residents at summer’s peak. Making new friends is easy. Besides, the 300 year-round residents are glad to have the company.

Planned programs and classes for toddlers to teens to senior citizens fill each day. Choosing which activities and events to participate in creates an estimable problem. You won’t hear “I’m bored” at Lakeside.

Children can attend arts and crafts classes, build model boats, or enjoy a game of shuffleboard with family and friends. Lectures, bible studies, morning worship, and walking tours enlighten the adults.

For those who love the water, Lakeside offers swimming in its new pool that includes lap lanes, a kid’s area, and water slide. There’s even a children’s splash park down by the dock.

The waterfront is really where the action is at Lakeside. The dock is the go-to place for sunbathers and fisherpersons alike. Lifeguards standby for those who choose to swim in the lake. Sailors young and old navigate their own boats.

sunset, Lakeside OH

Sunset on the dock.

You can fill your day with more casual options, too. Take a leisurely walk along the shore while enjoying beautiful flower gardens, lovely cottages, and gorgeous views of Kelley’s Island, and Perry’s Monument at Put-in-Bay. Or sit on a park bench beneath giant shade trees and dream the day away.

In the evening, Hoover Auditorium takes center stage with a variety of programs that captivate the entire family. Admission costs are included in the gate fees.

If the weather cooperates, sunsets draw people to the dock for picturesque photo ops. Sunrises are just as spectacular rising over the lake with their pinks and blues.

A farmers market offers up local produce and delicious homemade goodies two mornings a week. For those less worried about their diet, freshly made donuts and hand-dipped ice cream bring many smiles.

As for my wife and me, we’re more than content to sit on our favorite sweeping front porch that dominates the front side of the guesthouse where we stay. At the corner of Third and Walnut, we have a first-class view of all that Lakeside has to offer.

I’m always happy but never surprised to spot long-lost friends walk by. That reconnecting alone nurtures my body, mind, and spirit to the full.

sunrise, Lakeside OH

Silhouettes at sunrise.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under architectural photography, column, family, human interest, Lakeside, Lakeside Ohio, Ohio, photography, travel, writing

Celebrating the freedom to be kind

Fort McHenry, Baltimore MD

Fort McHenry.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Long ago, someone once tried to trick me with a skewed question. “Do the English celebrate the Fourth of July?” was the query.

My answer went something like this: “Well, the English have a July 4th like the rest of the world, but I doubt that they celebrate it.”

The Fourth of July is Independence Day in the United States. It’s a day of traditions: family gatherings, picnics with hot dogs and hamburgers, baseball games, and fireworks, although the latter is often spread out over a period of days depending on planned community events.

American flags are flown, and many decorate their houses with red, white, and blue buntings. Some communities hold parades with high school bands, fire trucks, decorated floats, and troupes of children riding patriotic adorned bicycles.

In typical American fashion, fireworks on the Fourth of July began in 1777 during the Revolutionary War with England. They weren’t the only flashes and booms in the sky then. Muskets and canons were also fired as ways to increase the commotion and hopefully boost the morale of the rebelling colonists.

A few years later during the War of 1812, Baltimore, Maryland had a life or death situation louder and fiercer than any fireworks. On September 13, 1814, the British Navy opened fire on Fort McHenry, the primary protective garrison of the city’s harbor. Much like today, Baltimore was an essential Atlantic coast port. Its defense was vital against the British, who had just burned the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C.

The fort withstood a horrific 27-hour bombardment by the British fleet. Francis Scott Key, a noted attorney, witnessed the attack from a ship in the harbor. When the smoke and mist cleared in the morning, Key saw the stars and stripes still flying from the fort, and was moved to write a poem about the battle. That poem became the lyrics for the “Star Spangled Banner,” our national anthem.

My wife and I recently visited the fort with a friend. As I watched a replica of the original flag flap in the morning breeze, I thought about the importance of celebrating the Fourth of July. It’s much more vital than food, fun, and colorful pyrotechnic displays.

In these current, trying times, when everyone seems to be talking and fewer people listening, I recoiled at the unnecessary squabbles going on in families, private and public meetings, in the media and on social media. Much of it is not pretty, and too much of it is hurtful, divisive, and driven by fear, not fact.

A person I recently met gave this suggestion: Treat people kindly in the moment. It might be the only time you have with them. She was right.

This Fourth of July, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we began listening to one another without bias, without interruption, without labeling, without being dismissive or rude or worse? After all, we are one nation, made up of many peoples from many different origins, languages, races, religions, beliefs, and backgrounds. That is as the Founding Fathers envisioned in the words of the U.S. Constitution.

So let’s carry on with the usual Independence Day activities. As we join together with family, friends, neighbors, and even strangers, let’s begin again to converse with one another with civility, kindness, respect, and appreciation, whether we agree or disagree with what is said.

That’s how a community as small as a family and as large as a nation should behave in order to thrive. In accomplishing that, we really will have something to celebrate on the Fourth of July besides Independence Day.

grocery store sign

A sign for many cultures.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Inspired by water from a rock

Rock Spring Cabin, Shenandoah NP

The view from the cabin.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Life is a mystery.

I hiked the short trail with one thing in mind. I wanted to find the old cabin and take a photo of its chimney if it indeed had one. As so often happens in life, discovering what I was looking became secondary in this trek.

I took my time on the trail, soaking in all the glorious sights and sounds that I encountered along the way. There was a lot to absorb.

Rock Spring Cabin was a short distance away from a crude hut built for hikers along the Appalachian Trail in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park. From the cabin’s covered front porch, the Page Valley played out in the patchwork patterns of fields far below.

The cabin at Rock Spring.

The primitive log cabin did indeed have a stone chimney. I snapped my picture and headed for the spring of Rock Spring Cabin nearby.

When I arrived, I was stunned at what I saw. I stood there in both amazement and disbelief. There, high in the Blue Ridge Mountains, cold, clean, crystal clear water gurgled from beneath giant boulders as old as time. Human interaction, of course, had to plumb it with a PVC pipe.

Instantly, my mind flashed back to my childhood. I thought of the Old Testament Bible story of Moses striking a rock and water gushing forth for the assembly of disgruntled, thirsty Jews wandering in the desert. That ancient story always struck me as a blend of awe, mystery, and miracle.

I contemplated the moment. I couldn’t help but wonder why here at this spot, more than 3,000 feet above sea level did water run from rocks? The earth does fantastic, mysterious things. Explanations are not always required.

Still, I reckoned the answer to my rhetorical question. Clearly, the rock strata folded long before human history began and forged a channel for the water table below.

Yet, there was something mystical about the rock spring, its waters trickling down the steep slope far into the valley below. I mentally traced its path from small stream to a creek that formed a tributary to the Shenandoah River. Farther north, it met the broad Potomac River at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, and then flowed east through rapids and placid waters alike, passing the nation’s hectic capital into the Chesapeake Bay and on into the Atlantic Ocean.

Noisy ravens awakened me from my lively daydreaming. Apparently, they viewed me as an intruder. Not wanting that title, I returned to the main trail, warblers, and thrushes flitting and singing in the leafy canopy high overhead.

I walked a short distance down the trail, and the raven followed me, swooped low, and continued its nasal banter. It was only then that I realized that I was not the target of its raucous concern.

A motion drew my eyes downward. Not 30 feet away a young black bear grazed along the forest floor. My head instinctively swiveled in search of the mother bear. I saw only trees, plants, and rocks.

black bear cub, Shenandoah NP

Young black bear.

I gingerly stepped a few feet down the trail where I could get a better view of the cub, likely in its second season given its size. One click of the camera shutter and the bear spied me and bounded down the hill towards the spring. Overflowing with wonder and joy, I headed in the opposite direction for the parking lot.

I went searching for a cabin and found so much more. An emerald forest. Water from a rock. Agitated ravens. A frightened bear cub.

Life is a mystery waiting to be solved.

Appalachian Trail, Rock Spring Trail

The emerald way to Rock Spring Cabin.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Telling tales tall and true

Dick Stambaugh, native Americans, artifacts

Dad gave his last public presentation on Native Americans 10 years ago at age 88.

By Bruce Stambaugh

My late father wore a lot of hats in his long life. Husband, father, son, brother, uncle, engineer, sailor, hunter, fisherman, volunteer, traveler, archeologist, writer, photographer, teacher, leader, joiner, and planner. In short, Dad’s life was both full and fulfilling.

From these varied life experiences, Dad gained his most formidable reputation, that of a storyteller. No matter the situation, Dad loved to relive the past by telling one tale after the other. He could regale yarns with the best of them, embellishing the story when the facts needed a little flavoring. Perhaps that was one of the reasons people liked him so much.

Dad used his many interests and experiences to inform and entertain people of all ages and situations. He gave many presentations to school children and senior citizens alike about Native Americans who had lived in the Ohio region. Dad used arrowheads and other artifacts that he had found on nearby farms to make the talk as meaningful as possible for his audiences.

People often remarked to me that Dad was a great storyteller. With no disrespect, I’d reply by saying, “Yes, he was, and some of those stories were actually true.”

What Dad didn’t realize was that his adventurous life created a book of charming chapters all their own. Each one of my siblings likely has their personal favorite stories they could share.

Mom and Dad on their wedding day, August 1942.

Dad loved to hunt, as much for the camaraderie with his fellow hunters as for bringing home game. That was especially true during deer season. Once when he actually shot a deer, he had a remarkable story to accompany the carcass.

Hunting in the hilly, steep terrain of southeast Ohio, Dad was tracking a nice buck through deep snow. With the buck quickly outdistancing Dad by going up the opposite hill across a ravine, Dad took a desperate shot just as the deer jumped a wire fence.

Dad saw the deer go down and schlepped to the spot as best he could in the wintery conditions. Dad was shocked by what he found when he climbed over the fence. Lying in the snow was a dead deer all right, only it was a doe. Dad happily retold that story every chance he could, with the snow getting deeper with each recap.

Another time Dad returned from hunting and showed us the game he had shot. He went out to feed Boots, our springer spaniel, but couldn’t find her. Thinking she had run off, we all looked and looked in vain. A week later Dad opened the car trunk, and there was Boots, faithfully and quietly waiting for her master to finally let her out. She had been in the trunk all that time without food or water.

On another hunting expedition in glacial kame and kettle topography, Boots ran a rabbit into the thicket of the marshy bottomland. The hunting party plunged into the briers and brambles in hot pursuit while Dad ordered me, just 10 or so at the time, to stay on the more open hillside. Soon I heard a shot, quickly followed by a yelp and then a shout from my father, “You shot my dog!”

Fortunately, Boots only had a few buckshot pellets in one paw and limped on. The poor rabbit, likely scared out of its fur, had actually jumped into the crook of a small tree a few feet from the ground. I don’t remember the fate of either the rabbit or the tree.

Dick Stambaugh was a fantastic storyteller. He also wrote some incredible, memorable tales through the exciting, engaging life he lived.

thecottagebybrucestambaugh

The cottage my parents built and where Dad loved to hunt and fish.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Let the summer reading commence

By Bruce Stambaugh

It’s June and time to start making a dent in the summer reading lists. I’ve been reminded of that fact multiple times lately. Maybe you have been, too.

Scholarly newsletters featuring summer reading lists have recently inundated my email inbox. Friends on social media are both asking for reading suggestions and offering their own.

For full disclosure purposes, I am not the reader in the family. That honor goes to my wife, who reads and reads and reads. She has her reading habits down pat.

Me? I’m a laissez-faire reader, meaning I read as the literary spirit moves me. That also means that I don’t have a summer reading list.

What I peruse depends on my mood, mode, and purpose for reading. If I’m reading for pleasure, you can find me on the back porch, lounging in a rocker, beverage by my side, book or magazine in my hand. I’m not a romance novel kind of person.

Learning new words is also an essential part of why I read. I want to learn about the subject matter, but I also desire to expand my vocabulary. Every now and then I’ll insert a few of those new words into my writings. Once a teacher, always a teacher.

Growing up, I don’t remember having many books in our home. I don’t know why. With five active children in a small brick bungalow, perhaps we just didn’t have space.

We did frequent the local libraries though. My siblings and I would hop on a bus. It cost us a quarter each way, a significant investment in learning 60 years ago.

I especially loved the library located in an old refurbished mansion in Canton, Ohio’s center city. The combined smell of the books and a faint odor of a home once loved drew me in.

I’d scamper the spiral stairs of the ancient home with its coal smoke-blackened stone exterior. I couldn’t get enough of the thick, frosted glass floors of the mezzanine. The books became secondary to this young mind.

I wasn’t a great reader in school, as in elementary, junior high, high school, and college. Reading to me was like swimming, and I can’t swim. I think that fear of reading aloud manifested from having to orally read in front of 35 other terrified second graders. I heard the giggles when I stumbled over big words like “truck” and “peanut.”

Phonics was foreign back then. Sight-reading was the preferred method, and for me sometimes tricky. It’s probably the reason I read so slowly.

I loved to be read to, however. When I became a teacher, I made sure I incorporated reading aloud Mark Twain, Betsy Byers, William H. Armstrong, Madeline L’Engle, and others to the students after their noon recesses.

Times have changed. Access to reading is literally at your fingertips in today’s electronic world. I mention to my wife a book that I’d like to read, and a few minutes later she has it downloaded on her iPad from the library.

Since I’m a news nut, I prefer online reading based on stories gleaned from those multiple daily email newsletters. One click and I’m reading some marvelous stuff.

Still, there is just something about holding a book or magazine or newspaper that seems more appealing than the screen-time perusing. Maybe it’s just the physical satisfaction of turning a page in anticipation of what is ahead.

Either way, reading is reading regardless of your preferred style. It’s June already, time to get serious about reading, summer lists not required.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Behold summer’s sights and sounds

Summer sunrise.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Memorial Day has come and gone. You know what that means? It’s the traditional but unofficial start to summer in the United States.

Public swimming pools will open to the sounds of laughter and joyous splashing by youngsters fresh out of school. They are the envy of those still laboring over mandated tests and counting the days until they, too, can roam free.

Church camps and scout camps and Bible schools will open their floodgates and let the children pour in. Snipe hunts and dreaded memorizations will commence just to get to the real treasures, homemade snacks.

The warning chirps of robins disturbed from their nests resound until inattentive humans continue on their way. The first broods of fledglings squawk and beg for their parents to feed them despite being nearly as big. If a brown-headed cowbird has snuck into a song sparrow’s nest, the scene can be grotesque.

At the feeder.

Lawn mowers, riding mowers, weed eaters, and leaf blowers join the summer society’s songfest, mostly off key. Those willing and able to expend the energy on their hands and knees for hours at a time do less intrusive weeding. Their rewards come in more than tidy flowerbeds. They enjoy the bees and butterflies flitting from bloom to bloom.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds zip from flower to flower, too. They supplement their diet with long sips at the local sugar water fountain to the delight of dedicated bird watchers everywhere.

Many times the best show is when the tiny birds chase one another high and low, zigzagging at light speed after one another even though there are plenty of places to perch and feed. Those in charge of refilling the feeders applaud the performances.

At night, the summer breezes diminish. Fireflies rise up out of the grasses and fields and light up the evening skies blinking their romantic messages. Overhead, commercial jets sail beneath the stars and planets that twinkle brightly.

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On the horizon, faint yellow flashes children like to label heat lightning interrupt the nighttime play. In reality, storms a hundred miles away had already driven other children indoors long before dark.

The next day, the sunrise blazed crimson and orange, signaling a fabled warning to sailors and civilians alike that rain was on its way. Sure enough, a squall line raced through, bending trees to the stress point. A few sacrificed a limb to save the whole.

Lightning flashed and crashed, and hailstones pelted the ripening strawberries to the dismay of both growers and customers. In suburbs and cities, torrents rutted gardens and sump pumps ran overtime.

Those were minor issued compared to the storms that others endure. All of this romanticizing and reminiscing about summer pales in comparison to those whose nights are peppered with gunshots and emergency sirens.

Summer in the city is filled with garden plots, swimming pools, day camps, and library readathons, too. Picnics in the park and taking in a baseball game, Major League or Little League, are also part of the warm weather entertainment.

Bicycling along picturesque country roads or designated bike paths hits its peak. Helmets are always a safety requirement.

Isn’t everything merely a matter of perspective and geography and circumstances?

We still have nearly three weeks until the summer solstice, the scientific start of fun in the sun. It’s also the day with the most daylight, giving us plenty of opportunities to enjoy the sights and sounds of summer yet to come.

Amish girls, Holmes Co. OH

Enjoying a summer’s day.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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When is a chimney more than a chimney?

memorial chimney, Shenandoah NP

The memorial chimney at Elkton, VA.

By Bruce Stambaugh

When is a chimney more than a chimney? I know that sounds like a strange question. The answer, however, might even be more so.

A chimney is more than a chimney when it no longer serves as a chimney. Now, I know you must be really confused. I can gladly explain.

When the Shenandoah National Park was first being conceived decades ago, hundreds of folks lived and farmed the land along the mountain ridges where the park was to be formed. They would have to move to make the park a reality. That became an issue.

In most cases, the government compensated landowners within the designated park boundaries for their property and buildings according to market value in the 1930s. Others received less than they thought they should. However, tenants operated many of the farms and received no reimbursement.

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Some of the displaced were resettled in nearby towns. Most were on their own, leaving behind fond, treasured memories and subsistent livelihoods.

Adding insult to injury, many of the abandoned homes, having been condemned, were either burned or demolished in developing the new national park. For those displaced folks, more than walls went up in smoke.

Year after year, families returned to where they used to live if only to view the ruins and pay their respects at nearby family cemeteries. In many cases, only the chimney of their former dwelling remained.

fireplace, Virginia

Where memories were made.

Memories of sitting by a warm fire in the dead of winter, of a mother preparing a family meal using the fireplace, and of looking up from working in the nearby garden and seeing smoke curling out of the chimney were all recalled. Together, the fireplace and the chimney served as the sources of survival.

Knowing that resentment still lingered in local families after all these years, grassroots efforts were begun to help quell that ire. Local non- profit organizations, community volunteers, college students, descendants of those who were displaced, city, and county officials worked collaboratively on a memorial project. They decided to establish monuments in honor of those removed from the parkland.

The chimney was chosen as the most logical symbol to memorialize those on the harsher side of the history of creating the park. To date, six memorials have been built. Two more are planned, which will complete the circuit of all eight counties that have land within the boundaries of Shenandoah National Park.

For its part, the National Park Service created an informative, inclusive and accurate exhibit of the history of Shenandoah National Park at the Byrd Visitors Center at Big Meadows. Chimneys play a prominent role in retelling that story.

The latest of the chimney memorials was just dedicated in Rockingham County’s town of Elkton at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains where the Skyline Drive snakes through the park. Volunteers built these chimney memorials using native limestone and granite rocks. I imagine a little blood, a lot of sweat, and tears of both sadness and joy flowed in the process.

With the remaining people who were displaced now in the 90s, the memorials were built to keep the story alive through education about the park’s history, including its dark side. In truth, these chimney memorials serve a more significant, more admirable purpose. These chimneys also help heal those long-held hurts of personal injustices.

When is a chimney more than a chimney? When it serves as both an emotional symbol of history’s good and evil that can’t be changed, only remembered and respected, and one that reconciles.

Ironically, this cabin, complete with a local stone chimney, was built by the National Park in 1936, after many of the original homes were destroyed.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Putting lifelong learning into practice

Old Order Mennonites, Shenandoah Valley

Sunday morning at Pleasant View Old Order Mennonite Church.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Exploring has always been in my blood. Curiosity has coursed through my veins all of my life.

The move from Ohio to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley merely whetted my appetite to become familiar with my new surroundings. A myriad of opportunities abound, either spontaneously or scheduled, to explore this beautiful, historic setting.

The view from Pleasant View Old Order Mennonite Church.

Many of my junkets have been self-started. A lazy afternoon’s drive around the rolling, scenic countryside brings new people and places into my life. The Shenandoah Valley region is rich in history, a personal favorite subject. I needed more.

I joined scores of other retirees who were also eager to still learn a few things in life. James Madison University, located in Harrisonburg, offers a Lifelong Learning Institute to that end.

I just completed my second class, an overview of Mennonites in the valley.
Phil Kniss, the pastor of Park View Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, taught the class. He is an astute student of Mennonite history, so I knew I’d learn a lot.

The first session served as a historical survey of Mennonites, tracing their beginnings to the 16th century Reformation. Because of their steadfast beliefs, many Mennonites endured persecution to the point of martyrdom.

Consequently, many moved from their European homelands to the New World, where they hoped for a new chance to live peaceably. Unfortunately, conflicts followed them right into the 18th century as they settled in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. They tried to live in peace farming the fertile soil, but war found them again.

Armed with that information, class field trips sent us into the lives and history of the many sects of Mennonites in the valley. A small choir enthralled us with their magnificent singing at the local Mennonite high school that is celebrating its 100th year.

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At the Old Order Mennonite elementary school, I flashed back to former Ohio days of living among the Amish with their own private schools. The horse and buggy Old Order Mennonites are spiritual cousins to the Amish.

At the unassuming Old Order Mennonite church, a devoted preacher succinctly explained the scriptural basis for their simple way of living. Like all other Old Order men, he was clean-shaven but spoke Pennsylvania Dutch, an anomaly among his people.

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At the buggy shop, we laughed and learned through the wisdom of the father-son combo that so efficiently ran the business so necessary to the Old Order way of life. The elder’s humor kept us on our toes.

In an Old Order Mennonite home, we gave thanks and feasted on a scrumptious home-cooked meal. The sparkle in our host’s eyes twinkled her delight in our contentment.

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At Bank Mennonite Church, we learned of an orchestrated church split with genuine intent to agreeably disagree on specific theological applications while continuing a parallel spiritual path. Congregates dressed and lived like Conservative Mennonites in Holmes County, Ohio with a notable exception. Again, the men had no beards.

At the final class at Crossroads Heritage Center, we explored a type of living museum. Guides explained pioneer life as we wound through original, relocated old houses and various other buildings.

It was a fitting location for the last class. From high on a hill, the valley played out below us. The city bustled beneath the hot morning sunshine. Yet, the farmland’s still earthy springtime fragrances enveloped us.

From that vantage point, I imagined the struggles, the heartache, the determination and the desire to live their lives in community together through productivity, and finding peace and satisfaction in weaving their daily lives together.

Strangely and marvelously, I felt right at home.

View of the valley from the garden at Crossroads.

© Bruce Stambaugh

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Beautiful bird, beautiful song

Dickcissel, Shenandoah Valley
When a friend posted on social media audio of Dickcissels singing at dusk, I wanted to see the birds. Dickcissels are rare here, according to birding records and range maps. Dickcissels are listed as scarce for Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley breeding maps.

With my morning and early afternoon tightly scheduled, I knew I had a small window of opportunity to find this beautiful bird with an even more beautiful song. Severe storms were forecast for the area for the early evening. I headed north 10 miles as soon as I could. When I reached the intersection where the birds’ song had been recorded, I immediately heard them upon exiting my vehicle. Finding them was a different story.

I had seen my first Dickcissels in similar habitat in Ohio. Unfortunately, they are drawn to alfalfa fields dotted with weeds like ironweed that grow taller than the legume the farmer planted. Sure enough, using my binoculars, that’s where I spotted the first male Dickcissel. I felt pressured to photograph the birds. Thunder rumbled in the distance near the Allegheny Mountains 20 miles west.

To my surprise, a Dickcissel rose out of the thick foliage and flew directly towards me, landing on a tree branch right above my head. As I raised my camera to capture the bird up close, it took flight and perched on an ironweed plant nearly a football field away. I clicked away anyhow.

I scanned the field in the direction of other Dickcissels that I heard. I found a pair about 50 yards south of my location. Just as I started to walk south, a male and female flew to the woven-wire fence that surrounded the hayfield.

I immediately stopped and found a place to brace myself to steady the camera. Even before I could get off my first shot, the female flew, leaving the male to sit along, singing eloquently. I clicked away hoping for some decent results. A light rain had already started obscuring the sun, which gave me less light to work with.

Finally, when a car approached from the south, the beautiful bird flew in the direction of its mate. I headed for the car, happy to have witnessed both the bird and its enchanting song.

“Beautiful bird, beautiful song” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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