How do you mid-summer dream?

A mid-summer, multi-colored flowerbed.

How do you mid-summer dream? It’s something we all do but may not recognize it as such. I’m not necessarily channeling Shakespeare’s classic comedy either.

Mid-July is the time of year when we find ourselves drowsing. We can thank the month’s long days of heat and humidity for that. I’m not complaining, mind you.

Summer’s lush and contrasting colors are at their peak before August’s dog days wither and fade them. There is no better time than the present to commune with the out-of-doors. It is summer, after all.

It’s a dreamy time of year. Nature gives us plenty of opportunities to while away our time by gazing at the many varieties of vibrant and verdant scenes that surround us. City, suburban, or country, all we have to do is notice the abundant bold beauty.

There are plenty of options for all ages. Venues like the Wilderness Center offer multiple choices for summer dreaming. Stroll the many trails or take a seat on a bench or a log and just sit and absorb whatever you encounter. Mosquitoes don’t count.

Put on your best summer muse. It could be the initial quiet moments of the dawning day or the cool of the evening as Venus glimmers brightly low in the western sky.

Sit on a porch swing and watch the fireflies flicker in the late evening haze. Cast a keeper-hook into a bed of blooming water lilies and gently reel and wait for that expectant tug on the line.

Swim in a farm pond with your teenage friends, or just lounge on a dock and bask in the ensuing laughter. Sit around a campfire, listening to the snap, crackle, pop, and watch the sparks skitter higher and higher until they fizzle.

Stand at your garden’s edge, and smile at the success of your persistent efforts to keep the weeds at bay. Watch a sunset over a lake or stream. Be awed as the orange, golds, and reds magically meld into pinks and blues as dusk becomes nightfall.

Silently follow a family of chimney swifts as they swoop in wide loops overhead, busily chattering before suddenly dropping into a nearby smokestack. Sit high in a mountain at a scenic overlook for hours and savor the ever-changing view.

Don your skis and skip wave after wave behind a speeding motorboat, laughing in the glorious moment. Share a homemade sour cherry pie with generous scoops of vanilla ice cream with your grandchildren.

Even Britain’s Queen Elizabeth has embraced the dreaming. She recently opened up the Buckingham Palace lawns to the public for picnic lunches. Take your own food, of course.

Studies have shown that spending time outdoors can improve your health. A mere 20 minutes outside three times a week could make a huge difference for you physically and mentally. By month’s end, you will have spent five hours recharging in nature.

Think back on all that has transpired in the last year and a half. Think ahead about what might yet be. Most significantly, dream, observe and appreciate all the goodness around you at this midway spot in our calendar year.

We all have endured a great deal, some more than others. There may be more to come. That’s all the more reason to take time to find a special place of respite outside, a spot where you can reflect and dream.

We can’t change the past, and we can’t know what lies ahead. We can, however, enjoy the moment at hand.

There is no better place to do that than your favorite open-air space. Happy mid-summer dreaming.

Summertime lushness in Ohio’s Amish country.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Hugs worth the wait

A pandemic inconvenience

Sodus Point Lighthouse, Sodus Point, NY. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh

My wife and I had waited two years for these hugs. When we finally embraced our son and his wife, all seemed right with the world again.

We knew we were not alone. Necessary health restrictions continue to keep millions of global people apart.

So, we felt fortunate to travel from central Virginia to upstate New York finally. The scenery was magnificent. The traffic not so much.

The road to Rochester, New York, was a long and winding one. With the heatwave, it was a hot one, too.

Though the city is due north of our home in the Shenandoah Valley, there is no easy way to get there. We can thank the old, folded Appalachian Mountains for that. The lush, forested mountains contrasted with the ripening grain fields we saw.

One highway closely followed the picturesque Susquehanna River part of the way. We even passed through central Pennsylvania’s Amish country. Hand-painted signs advertising quilts and produce reminded me of our beloved Holmes County, Ohio, home of the world’s largest Amish population, and where we used to live.

Upper left to right; The Sam Patch tour boat on the Erie Canal; Williamsport, PA; 100-acre pond; Male Eastern Bluebird; a hike on a hot and humid day.

For us, the mini-reunion was especially sweet. Unable to travel in June 2020, we had to watch our son’s street wedding on Zoom. It wasn’t what we wanted, but what we had to do.

Since the specifics of each state’s pandemic policies and restrictions were unique, we had to be patient to see our son and his bride in person. According to the guidelines, they couldn’t come to us from New York State, and we couldn’t visit them from Virginia.

That all changed once the vaccines became available. Our son and daughter-in-law got vaccinated just as we did. With both states relaxing restrictions due to declining infection numbers, we finally set a date to trek north.

Our daughter-in-law teaches middle school English, and her academic year didn’t end until the last week of June. That worked out perfectly for us. We may have missed their wedding, but we would be there to help celebrate their first anniversary.

And celebrate we did! With the heatwave in progress, however, we scaled back the planned outdoor activities. Still, we enjoyed a pleasant boat ride on the Erie Canal and took anniversary photos at a quaint lighthouse on Lake Ontario.

Food enthusiasts that they are, Nathan and Jess, arranged meals at some excellent restaurants. We were even able to eat outside in the evening’s shade. We savored the food and conversation and watched people stroll along city sidewalks.

We visited a park and toured a wildlife rehabilitation center. A refreshing breeze cooled us as we sat on benches overlooking a 100-acre pond. Before we left, we hugged some more.

Yes, we were inconvenienced all those months by the pandemic and the health restrictions needed to deter it. But with those embraces, all of the pent-up stress evaporated into the steamy air.

Yet, there was more. With each hug, I had to think about all those who haven’t yet had the same opportunity. I also thought about all those thousands upon thousands of mourning folks who would never be able to hug their lost loved ones taken by the pandemic’s virulence.

My wife and I were more than rewarded by merely being with our son and his wife. We were most grateful.

As I drove home, it hit me that the long and winding road to Rochester served as a metaphor for the horrific pandemic. The approaches and responses to the coronavirus have taken many twists and turns since its emergence in December 2019.

Hopefully, science will straighten those pandemic curves soon. Meanwhile, I’ll cherish every hug I get.

Tioga River Valley, Tioga, PA. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Why does summer go so fast?

Why does summertime always seem to go so fast? It’s July already!

Once Memorial Day passes, and school dismisses, it’s on to summertime fun. With the warmer, more pleasant, consistent weather and longer daylight hours, we fill our days with the most enjoyable activities we can.

That’s easy for school children and retirees to do. We have all the time we need to enjoy each moment of each day if we so choose. However, most people who still work have to squeeze in as much outdoor time as possible.

Home improvement projects, gardening, lawn-mowing, fishing, hiking, biking, painting, and grilling are just some of the “ing” activities that fill the hours before and after work. But, from what I can tell, most folks do a fine job of making these precious days count.

Of course, critical social interactions like vacations and weddings also chip away at summer’s beck and call. But, hopefully, all of the planning time and money spent will make the events worthwhile. Usually, the smiles provide proof.

However, summer’s waning is especially noteworthy given all that we have endured during the ongoing pandemic. We here in the United States are most fortunate to have the vaccines so readily available. They allow us to shake off the doldrums of the prolonged, unexpected, and unwanted coronavirus ramifications.

Too many global citizens aren’t as fortunate, though I am glad to see that our country is coming to their aid. But the number of world’s people desiring the shots far outnumber the available vaccines at this point.

On the beach.

Still, Americans are taking to the highways and byways, packing national parks, baking on beaches, and celebrating the opportunities to do so. It’s a joyous feeling. We will continue our travel plans, but we will still be cautious.

My wife and I ventured out on our first out-of-state trip to visit her cousin and spouse in North Carolina. It was nice to be on the road again, even if the Interstates became parking lots from time to time due to accidents or construction.

We didn’t do anything special. The weather put a damper on that. But it was simply a joy to be together again, playing cards, reminiscing, watching TV shows, and enjoying dining out once again.

Another transition back to normalcy also lifted our spirits. We began to attend in-person church services, still with distancing and masks. Words alone can’t express my gratitude.

My wife and I got to see our son and his wife for the first time in nearly two years. We had watched their wedding via Zoom, but we made up for our absence by celebrating their first anniversary with them.

Last summer the pandemic interrupted our annual trip to our beloved Lakeside Chautauqua on the shores of Lake Erie. We hadn’t missed a summer there since we started going as a family in 1987.

We look forward to renewing friendships and making new ones, which is always easy to do in the summertime resort. I’ll rise to catch the break of dawn and head to the dock each evening to capture the sunset along with scores of other memory-makers.

We’ll play dominoes on the porch, stroll the shoreline sidewalks lined with lilies and hollyhocks. I’ll sit on a bench and watch the boats sail away, and enjoy the lake breezes.

I’m glad it’s summer, and I am thrilled to be able to travel again. However, the joy of reconnecting relationships far overshadows any exotic destinations.

With all of these interactions, perhaps that answers my question as to why summer seems to be already speeding along.

A summer sunset in Ohio’s Amish country.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Insights about my enigmatic father

My father at the World War II Memorial three months before he died. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh

I don’t need a designated day to remind me of my late father. I see him in many of my machinations and manners. I walk, talk, and too often behave much as he did. I’m still working on that.

Understand me, though, that I loved my father unconditionally. It just took me too long to realize that I spent too much of my adolescent and young adult life trying to earn his affection when affection wasn’t his thing. I finally realized that Dad was already sharing his love in how he lived his life.

Dad had many interests. In his nearly nine decades of living, he squeezed in an array of activities. Unfortunately, assisting our dear mother around the house wasn’t high on his list.

My father had Ichabod Crane’s physique and Rip Van Winkle’s spirit. At six foot two inches in his prime, Dad was tall for his era. But his skinny build gave him a gangly appearance.

Dad was athletic and energetic, especially when it came to having fun. He loved to tell stories of dancing with Mom at Moonlight Ballroom in Meyers Lake Park in Canton. We played “Moonlight Serenade” at his memorial service as he danced into glory.

However, the only time I ever physically saw him dance was with Mom at a niece’s wedding. Though in their 80s, they glided across the floor as if they were 20.

Top left: With our parents on Dad’s last Thanksgiving; Middle: Dad with my two brothers, sister and me before our other sister was born; Top right: Mom and Dad on their wedding day; Bottom: The home Dad helped build and where we all grew up.

Dad loved to tell stories. When we lived in Ohio, I would occasionally run into people who knew my father. Their complimentary comments often referenced Dad’s storytelling.

I always acknowledged that Dad was indeed a great storyteller and that some of those stories were actually true. I always smiled when I said it, though.

By profession, Dad was a project engineer. He helped build the red-brick bungalow where he and our mother raised their family. His pride and joy, though, was the inviting cottage he and Mom built at a lake in southeastern Ohio.

Although he couldn’t swim, Dad enlisted in the Navy in World War II. He did so because the Great Lakes Naval Base was only hours from home. However, he found himself in the engine room of the U.S.S. San Diego in the Pacific theater.

After the war, Dad worked on submarine missiles and was part of a team that designed a new gondola for the Goodyear blimp. Yet, projects around home went unfinished or were patch jobs. His favorite tool was duct tape.

Dad loved social gatherings. He took it upon himself to organize family reunions. He also once planned his high school class reunion and then forgot to go.

Dad and Mom visited us frequently in rural Holmes County, Ohio. His pretense was to see his grandchildren, but he spent his time scouring fields for arrowheads. In his excitement to show us what he had found, Dad tracked dirty footprints into the house.

Even as cancer overtook his body, Dad’s passion for life remained. He was ready to go but didn’t want to leave this life he loved.

Though unconscious, the Hospice nurse encouraged me to tell Dad that it was alright to let go. So, I did.

Dad’s reaction didn’t surprise me. Unable to speak or open his eyes, he just waved me away. I took it as an indication that he wanted to die on his terms and time. And that is what he did. Early the following morning, while the nurse left his side for five minutes, Dad took his final breath. I don’t need Father’s Day to remind me of my father, but I am thankful for the day and my dad nonetheless.

Dad gave a presentation to retirement home residents on his favorite topic, Native Americans. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

It pays to be flexible in retirement

I thought retirement was going to be peaceful and calm. I was dreaming.

Take two recent back-to-back days, for instance. My wife and I could have gotten ulcers from our on-again, off-again schedules. Instead, we merely went with the flow as we have learned to do.

This particular Tuesday was packed. We skipped our morning Zoom yoga session in favor of hosting Neva’s first cousin and his wife for breakfast before they headed back to Ohio. Of course, Neva did her usual over-the-top hospitality thing.

We looked forward to their long-awaited in-person visit, their first in two years. But there was a problem. I host a Zoom writing group on the first Tuesday of every month at 10 a.m. I knew the lively conversation would last well beyond the Zoom meeting’s starting time. I had no choice but to excuse myself from the enjoyable party.

When I started the Zoom writing meeting, a couple of folks were already waiting to get in. Others arrived late. Since we were in three different states, we spent the waiting time catching up until everyone was present.

The meeting went well with lots of excellent readings and constructive comments. Though the two hours flew by, I was exhausted. Zoom tends to do that to me.

After a light lunch on the porch, I decided to mow the yard since the grass was tall and my afternoon was open. I had to finish by 3:30 p.m., though, so that I could go with my wife to pick up our middle grandchild at the middle school at 4 p.m. Nana was to drop me off at our daughter’s house on the way to taking the youngest grandchild to soccer practice.

From there, I was to ride with our daughter and her husband to watch their oldest play baseball in a neighboring town. However, that plan got altered and then totally scrapped when the home team changed the game start time to 7:30, not 6. It was one big “Never Mind.”

The next day wasn’t much better. All the hustle and bustle activities got squeezed into a late afternoon-early evening time frame. The plan was to host our daughter and whatever family members could attend for dinner.

Nana had made beef stew, and they would all eat and go to the high school for the first live band concert in more than a year. The middle grandchild would play the French horn with the high school band.

Because I had a previously scheduled appointment in town, I was to join them for the 6 p.m. concert after rushing home to enjoy the stew. The high school is just a five-minute drive from our home.

Of course, that all changed when we learned that the band concert started a half-hour later than initially scheduled. Consequently, Nana made a stew run to our daughters, and she and I ate a quick supper on the back porch.

We arrived at the football stadium just as the wind began to pick up. Band members, including our grandson, struggled to keep their sheet music from blowing into Pennsylvania.

To comply with school rules for large gatherings, each musician wore a face mask. So did audience members. Those playing wind instruments, like our grandson, tucked the mouthpiece underneath their masks and played on. Somehow, someway, they pulled it off.

My wife and I were duly impressed with the performance. Given the conditions, the students sounded great.

No matter the circumstances, we wouldn’t have missed any of those activities. In retirement, being flexible pays big dividends despite life’s frenzy.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

This June is a Gateway for All

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Memorial Day is for remembering

A Virginia man prepares his Memorial Day decorations.

Memorial Day is for remembering. As a septuagenarian, the bulk of my life is behind me. Memories fill my daily life, but especially so on this solemn weekend.

In the years between ages 21 and 51, I started my career as a public school educator. I met and married my energetic and valiant wife. Our daughter and son were born. I simultaneously served 27 years as a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician.

I consider those the best years of my life. That is true, not because of anything I did, but because of the people I met and interacted with in the communities where I lived, worked, and served.

To list all the folks would surely be impossible. So, I’ll share a few meaningful examples of those who helped me along life’s way.

Of course, I have to start with my parents, Dick and Marian. In the post-World War II era, men were the breadwinners, and women were for the most part housewives, teachers, nurses, or secretaries. That’s just how it was, and I am exceedingly glad those societal expectations are no longer the norm.

Dick and Marian Stambaugh at their 65th wedding celebration.

At 6 foot 2 inches, Dad cut an imposing figure for that era. But he lived like a child turned loose in the world. He loved our mother dearly, but he never saw the need to help much around the house.

Mom always had supper ready when Dad came home from work. After we ate, Dad would often go on some adventure, whether to tend the garden we had on a friend’s property two miles away or to a church softball game.

Mom took things in stride as best she could. None of us five kids ever doubted her love, but we sure tested her limits. Mom was as kind and sweet as she was stalwart and unafraid to have a necessary word or two with Dad or us when needed.

Dad served in World War II on the U.S.S. San Diego, a Navy light cruiser that saw action in 16 major Pacific battles. They never lost a man. Dad was proud of his service but seldom talked much about it. His father, Merle, served in the Army in France in World War I.

Grandpa was gassed by German forces and treated in a field hospital that kept no medical records. He suffered from those damaged lungs until he died at age 72. He never received the financial or medical help that he needed and consequently lived a hard life.

My wife’s parents, Wayne and Esther, took me in like the son they never had. I knew Wayne liked me right away because he ushered me to the barn to see the pigs on my first visit to the farm. My wife said it usually took suitors three trips before they got that introduction.

Family members weren’t my only influencers. I boarded with Helen, a kindly woman, the first year that I taught. We became lifelong friends. Never married, Helen graciously adopted our family as her own. Our daughter and son were the grandchildren she never had.

Many others guided me through life, too: teachers, friends, other family members, even strangers. I cherish the times they spent with me. They all revered the past, never feared the future but sensibly lived in and for the moment at hand. So should we.

You have your saints, too. Remember them we must, for that is what they would want us to do. It is what we all want once we are gone. It’s why we have Memorial Day.

Dad at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., Sept. 12, 2009 as part of an Honor Flight.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Mole Hill Sunset

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

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

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

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

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Paying it forward creates multiple rewards

The horizon is the limit on paying it forward.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The pay-it-forward bulletin board.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Slow down for the rest of May

Enjoying the outdoors is one way

Hightop Mountain, Shenandoah National Park.

Don’t look now, but we are in the middle of May already. May always goes too fast for my liking.

Ideally, it would be nice to put a speed limit on each of May’s 31 days to slow their pace. Of course, that is a romantic pipe dream.

There is an antidote. We can each slow down, take our time, enjoy all that is around us.

Here in the Shenandoah Valley, I am grateful to be part of a hiking group that helps me do just that. It’s a program primarily designed for retirees, so going slow is what we do.

The group generally hikes twice a month and almost always in the gem of the valley, Shenandoah National Park. Each outing is limited to a dozen hikers. The leader is a retired bank president who volunteers in the park by keeping trails open for hikers.

I can’t participate in every hike, but I try to do both hikes in May if I can. The leaves of the mountain forests have yet to unfurl, allowing many wildflowers and trees to bloom. Plus, hikers’ nemeses, heat, humidity, and insects, are scarce.

Our leader plans the hikes and reminds us to come ready for the cool mountain temperatures and bring plenty of water and a lunch. We often trek to a precipice that overlooks the rolling countryside that dominates the Shenandoah Valley.

Mosey might be a better way to describe our hikes. We usually take four or more hours to hike three to four miles roundtrip. Pokey we may be, but we indeed have a glorious time enjoying each other’s company and the beauty we encounter.

It’s not unusual for us to climb 1,000 feet or more in that distance and back down again. Along the way, we frequently stop to enjoy and photograph the floral display spread out for us like a colorful carpet on the forest floor.

On our latest trip, we enjoyed seeing both large and small-flowered white trilliums, patches of red trilliums, wild geraniums, yellow and blue violets, black haw bushes, and hawthorn trees in bloom. Wild strawberries blossomed low while towering tulip poplar buds opened high above.

To reach the summit of Hightop Mountain, we walked the Appalachian Trail (AT) that snakes its way the entire length of the national park. We meet other day hikers like us, section hikers, and through-hikers.

Section-hikers walk the AT one section at a time, returning multiple times later to do more hiking. Through hikers are the serious ones. Their goal is to hike the entire 2,500 miles of the AT.

Most start at the trail’s beginning in Georgia and hike north to its terminus in Maine. In doing so, they experience an unfolding of spring over and over from the south to the rugged northeast.

Our group tries to give way to these more experienced hikers, but they are often as curious about us as we are about them. They often share their trail names and hometowns, and off they go.

We then return to observing the songbirds singing and flitting all around us and the many varieties of wildflowers as we meander. At our age, we have no choice to simply take our time to be safe and to inhale both our surroundings and the refreshingly cool mountain air.

Perhaps that is a good lesson for all of us. Slow down. Take your time. Enjoy all you encounter, moment by moment, breath by breath. Maybe then the remainder of May will gladly join you.

Our lunchtime view with a through hiker.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021