Category Archives: writing

Finding a new sanctuary

Big Meadows.


Not long after we moved to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley more than two years ago, I sought a nature spot. I wanted a place where I could practice my photography, quietly watch birds, or simply do some walking.

I had many such places within an hour of our home in Holmes County, Ohio. They all had their unique features that attracted many folks in addition to fulfilling my photography, birding, and hiking desires. I had hoped to find one location close to our Virginia home that met those needs, too.

I have plenty of choices when it comes to getting out into nature for walks, birding, and photography in the Shenandoah Valley. I hit the trifecta if I can incorporate all three into one trip.

When you have a national park within the boundaries of your county, the answer seems obvious. It’s a 40 minutes drive to the park’s closest entrance. Shenandoah National Park was formed out of parts of eight Virginia counties, Rockingham among them.

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The park offers a host of options for visitors, though I have only been able to thoroughly explore a few so far. Big Meadows is one of those, and to date, it has been my go-to spot.

Big Meadows is a wide-open space on the summit of Skyline Drive at mile-marker 51. Its simplistic name perfectly describes its main feature. The place is a big meadow.

What’s it doing there, and why? With the park’s dense forests, fast-running streams that often lead to crashing waterfalls, Big Meadows is an anomaly to the park. No one seems to know how or why Big Meadows was formed. It’s certainly a fish out of water given the diverse geology, geography, and biology in Shenandoah National Park.

Big Meadows is and always has been lush with wildflowers, grasses, and low shrubs. Archeological research reveals that Native Americans camped in Big Meadows. Evidence shows they used controlled burns to flush out the abundant wildlife of the area. The park service still uses controlled burns to keep Big Meadows Big Meadows.

The area is more than a big meadow, however. The Byrd Visitors Center offers an informative display on the formation of the park, along with a gift store, and restrooms. A way station for hikers, an amphitheater, a lodge, restaurant, campgrounds, picnic areas, and multiple hiking trails can all be reached from Big Meadows.

A few photos from my most recent visit to Big Meadows. Please click on the photos to enlarge them.

Of course, the Appalachian Trial runs on the west slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains on the edge of Big Meadows. Waterfalls are not far away along with some incredible views of the Shenandoah Valley.

On a hot summer’s day, Big Meadows is a pleasant escape from the valley’s heat and humidity. The temperature on the mountain can be 10 to 15 degrees cooler.

Even for those who aren’t able to hike very far, Big Meadows offers a lot. Visitors can sit in their cars while butterflies flit from one group of flowers to another. I’ve even seen dark-eyed juncos pecking for food around the Byrd Visitors Center in the summer.

The winter weather gets so wicked, however, that I tend to only visit spring, summer, and fall. Besides, the park often closes the Skyline Drive in the winter anyhow.

Everyone needs a place to get away, a place to relax, to take a load off, retreat from the hectic, pounding pace that we’ve come to know in the early 21st century. Big Meadows is such a place for me. Where is yours?

The view of the Shenandoah Valley from Big Meadows Lodge.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Filed under birding, birds, human interest, nature photography, photography, Shenandoah Valley, travel, Virginia, writing

Why September is the golden month

September in the Shenandoah Valley.

My wife caught the moment perfectly. We sat on our back porch enjoying our usual simple Sunday supper.

“It’s really still,” Neva said. In response, I looked up. I am not sure why, because silence can’t be seen.

As usual, though, she was right. For no dogs barked, no lawnmowers purred, nor were any voices heard.

An unusual phenomenon caught my attention. A light breeze blew through the back yard, rustling the red maple leaves. Though they quivered steadily, they, too, were silent. I found that both eerie and fascinating.

I relaxed in the uplifting and refreshing quietude. Such an instance enables you to see the moment itself as it is, not as you want it to be.

Turning.

Here we were only on the first day of the month, and already September issued forth one of its many golden moments. If the ninth month kept to its course, there surely would be many more, hurricanes notwithstanding.

The stillness seemed to be the day’s crown jewel, adorning a crest of many arches already naturally appointed. I noted a few of the maple’s eastern-facing leaves had already tinged.

On my morning walk around the neighborhood, I had noticed that other trees also had begun to transform their leaves. A giant sugar maple showed reds and orange where the morning’s first light peeks over the eastern hill that separates the city from the country.

A helter-skelter pattern of blotchy brown infested the fringes of the pointy leaves of a mighty pin oak. I had to wonder if it was seasonal change, blight, insects, or a combination of those causes.

Overhead, a disorganized flock of Canada geese winged it south. I heard the honking long before I saw the birds. Someone or something must have disturbed their foraging in a nearby farmer’s field to be out of formation.

Not the usual V-pattern.

On social media, birders in Ohio and Virginia alike shared photos of western sandpipers, red knots, and other gorgeous birds visiting local mudflats and waterways on their return trip. Birds know when it’s time and September gladly greets them.

The summer’s heat had taken its toll on flowers, whether wild or cultivated. Even recent decent rains couldn’t revive them.

On the way home from church, I had noticed the once lush leaves of the soybean fields had dulled to pale green. Interspersed flecks of diluted yellow appeared randomly, much like the pin oak’s disorderly display.

In contrast, fields of sunflowers glowed golden, a living symbol for the month itself. September is notorious for being the gilded sibling among its peers. Could jealousy be why August stirs and spins its tropical trouble into its September sister?

September relishes its title. It shows off its stuff at county fairs, produce stands and in supermarkets. The honeyed tones of summer squash, cantaloupes, the last of the season’s sweet corn, and the early ripened gourds and pumpkins prove the point.

Pumpkins galore.

I suppose that is only appropriate since stores are already pushing fall sales and Halloween merchandise. If they haven’t already done so, primary classroom windows will mimic the fall colors with a run on yellow, red, and orange construction paper.

Of course, with the flip of a mental sports switch, our attention has turned from baseball to football. High school, college, and pro scores dominated the front pages of Saturday morning newspapers, at least the ones that still publish.

Crickets trading musical text messages woke me from my muse. September is here, and I intend to enjoy every moment the fair-haired month has to offer. I hope you can as well.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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

This picture really is worth a thousand words

Overlooking the icebergs in front of the Knik Glacier, Palmer, AK.

Of the more than 2,000 photos that I took on a recent two-week trip with my wife, one single photo stands out for me. It wouldn’t win any photo contests, but it best represents the sentiment of our journey to Alaska and Canada’s Yukon Territory.

The picture could have been of the ubiquitous and colorful fireweed blanketing a misty alpine meadow. During our visit, I captured the brilliant pink flower in every stage of blooming. But that’s not it.

I could have easily chosen one of several digital landscapes of the Knik Glacier. Our friends Doug and Rosene took us there on our very first day in the 49th state. The views were stunning, the experience exhilarating. But, no, that’s not my favorite photo.

The early morning view from Flat Top Mountain overlooking Anchorage, Alaska could certainly qualify, too. I could faintly see the grand mountain Denali through the morning haze. That wasn’t it either.

Other possibilities were the many snapshots of caribou grazing in meadows in Denali National Park and Preserve. For shooting at some distance through the window of a refurbished school bus, I thought the photos turned out pretty well. However, none of those shots could compare to my favorite.

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I had hoped to see a bull moose while on our trip. As we approached the end of our Denali tour, we spied one lumbering through the brush 100 feet from the bus. Even my first bull moose pictures couldn’t match the one that touched me most.

We much enjoyed our walk around the frontier town of Dawson City, Yukon. With its dirt streets and eclectic set of residential and commercial structures, it looked like a set right out of a John Wayne movie. As lovely as that assortment of Dawson photos was, they couldn’t measure up to my pick.

You should see Emerald Lake, a beautiful body of water worthy of its colorful name in the Yukon. Surrounded by mountains dotted with forests and meadows, the shots I got are some of my favorites, but not the favorite.

Shortly after that, we stopped at the quaint village of Carcross, built on a spit of land between two sparkling lakes. I captured a flock of ducks twisting and turning in the sky over Lake Bennett. As ecstatic as I was, those pictures can’t compare to my most precious shot.

Please click on the photos to enlarge them.

The narrow-gauge train trip down the mountain gap from the Canadian border to Skagway, Alaska was breathtaking. With a clear sky and divine mountainous scenery, the shot of the train crossing the trestle over a river is calendar-worthy. Nope. That’s not the one either.

I had high expectations for getting shots of several different glaciers in Glacier Bay National Park. Sea, air, and light conditions made for perfect shots. But as you likely have surmised, they aren’t my choice either.

I was fortunate to capture memorable photos of gorgeous scenery, thrilling wildlife, spectacular glaciers, and eye-catching architecture. Yet, none qualify as my shot of shots. What is?

My favorite photo of our dream vacation is one of the best I have ever taken of my wife. Neva is standing at the stern of our cruise ship as it slowly eases out of port to begin our brief voyage.

The smile on her face is both precious and priceless. As she looks back at the camera, Neva’s radiance lights up the dim evening setting. It wasn’t the anticipation that created that glow. It was the pure pleasure of being there together.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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

Watching the grandkids grow

Times have changed, and so have the grandkids.

Our grandkids are growing in so many ways. The most apparent transformations, of course, are their physical changes.

On their last visit to Nana and Poppy’s Ohio home, we had family photos taken. That was April 2017. At 5 foot 9 inches, I was taller than all three grandchildren. Not anymore.

When we returned from a recent trip to Alaska, I could no longer make that claim. Both Evan and Davis have outgrown me. Two years makes a big difference when you are growing youngsters.

In fact, Davis is challenging his older brother for tallest sibling bragging rights. At 15 and 13, they both likely have some growing yet to do.

When Nana asked Davis if he was the tallest in his middle school, he said not by a long shot. One classmate is already 6 foot 3 inches.

When I asked what sports the tall teen plays, Davis quickly replied with one defining word: “Guitar!” That’s what I get for stereotyping.

We took the sprouting trio out for our annual before-school-begins breakfast at their favorite eatery. Since it was already going on 10 a.m. by the time we arrived, the outing was more like brunch. Growing youngsters need their sleep.

The discussion around the breakfast table revealed other sorts of growth. They each shared about their recent trip to the west coast.

Back in Ohio.

The highlights they named surprised both Nana and me. They all liked the Chihuly Art glass garden in Seattle. Riding motorbikes and four-wheelers in Oregon was a close second, followed by watching surfers at Huntington Beach, California with cousins they got to meet for the first time.

We talked about the upcoming school year. When asked about the classes they would be taking in high school and middle school, each boy pulled out a smartphone and read off their schedules. Little sister, who isn’t so little anymore, is excited to have her best friend in her fourth-grade class.

As they chattered on and we waited on the food, I couldn’t help but reflect on their younger years in Texas, where all three were born. We enjoyed those infrequent visits, although the hot Lone Star summers often kept us inside playing with Matchbox toys and changing diapers.

Now they live in the heart of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, and so do we. They are the primary reasons we moved here from the beloved Buckeye State more than two years ago. Living five miles apart is much more convenient than five hours by airplane.

Watching the grandkids change so quickly is both gratifying and a bit scary. We relish each moment, even the predictable squabbles of youth and siblings. I’m thankful that the role of grandparent is less harried than that of the parent.

Evan, Davis, and Maren all have their various likes and dislikes, gifts and abilities. It is both a joy and a challenge to keep up with their busy, young lives.

We bundle up and watch Even pitch even if it’s 40 degrees with a stiff northwest wind. I marvel at Davis’ preference for quiet, personal time, whether on a solo bike ride or being in his room. I shake my head in disbelief at Maren’s packed after-school schedule. How she manages soccer and choir practices, and piano lessons that sometimes follow one another is a mystery to me.

The grandchildren are growing. Nana and I relish the rapid changes that seem to occur daily. We anticipate with wonder all that is yet to come, thankful we’re here to help and take it all in.

Kids being kids.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Filed under column, family, human interest, photography, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, writing

It was a cloudy day all across the U.S.

On the tarmac.

It was a cloudy day all across the United States. My wife and I flew five hours from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, to Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C.

A blanket of gray covered the entire area of the northwestern United States and southwestern Canadian provinces. On liftoff, it didn’t take long for the jetliner to punch through the clouds, and quickly climb above them.

As the plane leveled out at its cruising altitude, splotches of brown and green peeked through the gray and puffy white clouds. Were we over Washington, Idaho, Montana? I didn’t know, and it didn’t matter.

Evening clouds.

We were winging it home after a two-week stint of sampling nearly every type of transportation imaginable. On our extended trip, we hopped on planes, trains, buses, cars, vans, SUVs, boats, old Army troop trucks, ships, and even repurposed school buses. We walked a lot, too. Now we were back on a jet heading home.

It was Alaska or bust for us this time. Unlike too many of the old gold prospectors of long ago, the 49th state was no bust for us. Neither was the Yukon Territory, which geographically mirrored much of Alaska’s towns, mountains, and inland rivers.

We had crossed back and forth between the two countries several times. But now in the sky, borders were insignificant, indefinable. They were unrecognizable as God meant them to be until man intervened and contrived invisible boundary lines. Bees, butterflies, grizzly bears, bald eagles, and migrating birds deemed them meaningless.

The clouds thinned over America’s breadbasket. Their charcoal shadows indiscriminately cast jigsaw-like puzzle pieces onto croplands and the Badlands alike.

Evening clouds.

From the jetliner, more ominous storm clouds appeared, and the earth again disappeared. We flew south of the sharp anvil-shaped thunderheads that towered 20,000 feet higher than the 37,000 feet we reached.

Once clear of the storms, I saw the mighty Mississippi River turn and twist beneath the haze as the plane began to bounce in the turbulence ahead of the weather front we had breached. Fastened seatbelts kept us in place until the skies smoothed and summer’s famous white, fluffy clouds steered us eastward.

The clouds were broken enough for me to finally distinguish details on the ground seven miles below. Jagged rows of giant windmills sprouted in the quilt-patterned patches of midwestern agriculture. I wondered if the farmers regretted or relished the decision to take the money and let the monsters run.

Directly to the north, I could see an airport and a city butted up against the end of a large lake. It had to be Duluth, Minnesota at the western tip of Lake Superior.

East of the Big Muddy, clouds blanketed the states like one continuous unrolled sheet of quilt batting gone ballistic. Then the cottony layer transitioned into cotton balls. I could see Michigan’s western shoreline, even the little inlet to Traverse City.

The plane began its gradual descent. Lake Erie appeared through the summer haziness, then Columbus, and then the squiggly Ohio River. In West Virginia, rows and rows of hundreds of windmills towered above lush hardwood forests on old, folded mountain ridges. John Denver played in my head.

As the sun waned, the plane drew lower and lower. We crossed the Appalachians, the Shenandoah Valley, and the Blue Ridge Mountains, all in less than a minute. Through the haze, we landed with a gentle bounce.

We had had a marvelous trip, but it was good to be home under a cloudless sky.

Home.


© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Reflections on 30 years in public education

A one-room Amish private school in eastern Holmes Co., OH.

It’s been 20 years since I retired as a public school educator in Holmes County, Ohio. I began teaching fourth grade at Killbuck Elementary School only weeks after the historic and devastating July 4th flood of 1969.

It’s fair to say that neither Killbuck nor I have been the same since. I can’t speak for the town, but for me, that’s a good thing.

I have many fond memories of my time in both West Holmes and East Holmes Local School Districts. I was hired just 10 days before school started. A significant teacher shortage had hit rural areas then. West Holmes still needed 10 more teachers before school started.

I had the two most important requirements needed to teach back then. I had a college degree and a heartbeat. The only education course I was certified to teach was driver education.

I was assigned to a tiny third-floor room in the old high school part of the school complex. I had 28 fourth graders packed into that small space.

I can still name every one of those 28 students. That’s the kind of lasting impression that experience made on me.

A retirement gift from the staff.

Students in the other eight years that I taught at Killbuck were equally enjoyable. I especially appreciated the support of the parents, as well as the camaraderie of the school staff members.

To keep teaching each year, I had to complete at least two college education courses. That meant many night classes and summer school for this teacher. It didn’t take me long to realize that this was what I wanted to do for a living. I loved children, and despite some of the silly state and local requirements, I enjoyed teaching.

I liked it so much in fact that I got my Master of Education degree and became an elementary principal in East Holmes. I also worked out of the central office coordinating the expanding federal programs. But it was the kids I enjoyed the most, plus the opportunity to help teachers teach.

I served as principal of Mt. Hope and Winesburg Elementary Schools for 21 years. I also supervised Wise Elementary for three years at the same time. To complete the triangle of visiting each school each day required driving 21 miles.

For me, the best day of each school year was the first. The students were always excited, scared, and ready to learn. Once they settled into the new routines that soon changed.

I marvel at those precious years, those shinny tiled hallways that bustled with the cheerful sounds of children laughing and learning and quietly chatting. I recall trying to chase teachers out of the buildings long after the school day had ended. Sometimes teachers were still there in the evenings grading papers, displaying student work, or planning for future lessons.

I recall marvelous, heartwarming stories involving children, their parents, teachers, and administrators. There were darker times, too, but far and away, the better memories rule.

It is hard to believe that two decades have evaporated since I retired from the profession I loved with all my heart. I know I wasn’t perfect in executing my responsibilities. I simply tried my best to be an educational leader for the community that I served. After all, the schools belonged to the community, not me.

I can say without hesitation that the 30 years that I spent in the hallowed halls of public instruction in Holmes County were some of the best of my life. But for me, now and forever, school is dismissed.

My last class as an elementary teacher.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Filed under Amish, column, history, human interest, Ohio, photography, rural life, writing

The colors of August

Wheat shocks at sunset.

The colors of August captivate me. Living nearly all of my adult life in Holmes County, Ohio gave me a full range of that summer paint pallet.

The pleasing contrasting greens and golds quickly got my attention. I admired the rolling contoured rows of lush green field corn against the toasted waves of winter wheat.

In the eastern part of the county, wheat shocks stood as sentinels guarding the fattening ears of corn nearby. Unfortunately, their presence seldom deterred the deer from nibbling the outer rows to the cob.

The blooming alfalfa brought pretty butterflies, honeybees, and other vital pollinators. The swooping swallows had their own feast, especially when the farmers made their August cuttings whether by tractors or horse-drawn mowers.

August was when the vibrant green leaves of deciduous trees began to curl in the heat, humidity, and parched soil. By month’s end, a few even turned brown or began to color.

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I always enjoyed the flowers that bordered blossoming gardens or multiple flowerbeds like my wife cultivated to perfection. Hollyhocks were my favorite until the gladiolas raised their pink, red, yellow, and white flags.

I would be negligent if I failed to mention the summer birds, some of which had already begun their return flight south. Though not as vocal as earlier in the year, most still showed their breeding colors.

The flashing iridescent red on emerald of the male ruby-throated hummingbird and the flashy orange and black of Baltimore orioles spruced up any welcoming yard, if only temporarily. Sometimes the two species vied for dibs at the sugar-water feeders.

By months end, early morning coolness brought silent, silken fog that glowed bronze with the rising sun. If eyes were sharp, silver droplets dotted the dewy threads of spider webs artistically strung from one barbed wire strand to another.

Much of that changed, however, when my wife and I moved to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Like Holmes County, the Valley, as locals like to call it, is the breadbasket of the south. Agriculture still rules the rural areas.

Farming is a bit different here, however. Though the Old Order Mennonites still drive horses and buggies, they man the latest farm machinery invented. As thrifty as their Amish cousins, they often farm right up to the roadway.

Though the topography is similar, strip cropping is seldom used. No-till farming seems to be the in thing here. The result is wide swaths of wheat sown between two fields of field corn or the tallest soybeans I have ever seen. It’s still green and gold, just different species.

With soil that hardly ever freezes and being further south, the growing season is longer. Farmers and gardeners get an earlier start on planting and consequently harvesting. The colors I was used to in August begin to appear in July. Produce stands evidence that.

The produce peak, however, still seems to be August. My wife and I can attest to that thanks to the generosity of our son and daughter’s families. They gifted us a weekly produce box known as CSA, Community Supporting Agriculture.

End of August morning.

We have already enjoyed weeks’ worth of fresh, organic produce that is as tasty as it is luscious to admire. Mellow yellow summer squash, prickly green pickles, plump red tomatoes, sweet red beets, orange cantaloupe, and juicy red watermelon make our summer meals perfect.

Happy to merely admire the colors, I almost hate to have Neva slice, dice, fry, cook, and can the colorful lot. I change my mind, however, with the fresh salsa alone.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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There’s always a pleasant surprise at Lakeside, Ohio

Cottages in early morning light along Ohio’s most beautiful mile in Lakeside, OH.

Upon our return from our most recent stay at Lakeside, Ohio, a friend who had never been there asked me what we liked. “Everything!” I replied immediately. I wasn’t facetious either.

We go for the wholesomeness of the Chautauqua town on Lake Erie. We love the renewal of friendships, the happy buzz of children playing, generations of adults relaxing on front porches of quaint cottages, inspiring sunrises and sunsets, informative presentations, and a variety of nightly entertainment that touches multiple genres in a week.

We stay in the same hospitality house every year, often with some of the same guests, who have become friends over the years. We quickly settle into the same routines.

A two-mile walk around the gated community’s parameter precedes breakfast on the spacious wrap-around front porch. As we enjoy coffee, cereal, and friendly conversation, we people watch. Many folks make donut runs to a restaurant a block away.

The OH Pops stand at the farmers market.

On Tuesdays and Fridays, the farmers’ market vendors assemble and set up their offerings of fresh fruits and vegetables, scrumptious homemade pies, and even doggie treats. The streets fill with customers from 9 a.m. to noon.

When I saw people browsing the various vendors while eating popsicles, I had to wonder where they got them. Friend Jeanne informed me that a new stand offered the cool treats for the hot weather.

Visions of creamsicles from my youth danced in my head. I went to find the source.

Beneath a rainbow-colored umbrella, a thin young man operated a stand that was nothing more than an icebox on wheels designed to be towed behind a bicycle. The young entrepreneur greeted everyone with a welcoming smile.

A sandwich chalkboard listed the luscious and unique flavors available for the day. I bought two different varieties, banana split, and apricot lavender. Of course, I shared with my wife.

One bite of the banana split pop, and I was hooked. The taste and texture of the mini-chocolate chips convinced my taste buds. I had to get the story on these OH Pops, the appropriate and official name of the young man’s business.

Storm clouds reflect sunset colors on the Lakeside dock.

I dashed back down the street and waited until other customers were served. I introduced myself and learned his name was Derek.

I identified myself as a journalist and wanted to know his story. When he told me, I was in near disbelief.

Derek was 30-years-old. His two nieces, ages seven and 12, live with him. A judge gave him custody of the girls when their mother sadly fell victim to the pandemic opioid crisis. The court decided Derek, their uncle, was the best suitable relative to care for the young girls.

The pair helps Derek make the icy treats, and even suggest the unusual flavors and ingredients. In addition to farmers markets, Derek is hired for special events and wedding receptions.

Derek got the mobile icy pop idea from seeing similar operations in large cities that he visited. He thought, “Why not here?”

Besides his business, Derek works two other jobs to make ends meet.

His vision for both the business and for the welfare of his nieces much impressed me. The combination of this young man’s work ethic and dedication shines as a model for all of us.

If this wasn’t a lesson in humility and compassion, I don’t know what is. Meeting Derek and hearing his heartwarming story was just the latest reason we love to visit Lakeside, Ohio every summer.

Dawn breaks at Lakeside Chautauqua in Ohio.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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

Plan ahead for rest and relaxation

Iconic summer scene in Ohio’s Amish country.

When we lived in Ohio’s Amish country, Sunday was a day of rest. It was a biblical concept that was actually put into practice.

Our house was built on an Amish farmstead. Few in our neighborhood mowed their lawns, washed their cars, or worked in their gardens. There were six other days of the week to do those tasks.

I wasn’t raised that way. Growing up, I knew nothing of Amish and Mennonite ways. Sunday was a day for worship and rest, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t wash and wax my car. I didn’t consider that activity to be work at all. In fact, I found cleaning my vehicle relaxing.

My Mennonite farm girl wife adhered to the Sunday day of rest tradition. I quickly swung to her custom of keeping the Sabbath after our marriage all those years ago. Sunday was church day and frequently involved hosting or visiting with others.

I haven’t looked back, and I haven’t been sorry.

Since we moved to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, those quiet Sundays aren’t so quiet anymore. By most standards, our neighborhood of family homes is somewhat subdued. However, the sound of lawnmowers, power washers, and weed eaters echo from street to street any day of the week, including Sundays. We clearly are not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.

Never on Sunday.

Still, several of our neighbors join Neva and me in holding to our principles. We mean no disrespect or ill will towards those who feel free to do yard work or some other Sunday chore. After all, working in the yard, garden, or flowerbeds can be therapeutic and therefore relaxing. Hiking, fishing, swimming, and other outdoor activities are equally satisfying.

It is vital that people who hold either view respect those who believe differently. It’s the only way we can successfully coexist as friends, neighbors, and viable society. In fact, others observe Sabbath on different days of the week.

That fact became clear to me while planning for our spring trip to New England. I have learned to plan ahead to avoid the stress of any kind of deadline, writing, or otherwise. That is a significant admission from a professional procrastinator. I sense great joy and accomplishment in getting things done correctly ahead of time.

I had several articles due to various publications for which I write around the time we were scheduled to leave. I made it a goal to complete them as thoroughly as possible before their due dates.

Doing so delayed much of the planning for the New England trip. Consequently, I had only done cursory research on places to visit.

Glen Ellis Falls, Jackson, NH was just one of many recommendations to visit that friends made to us.

Friends who had previously visited or lived in New England had given us excellent tips. I used those as the prologue to our itinerary. I scoured tourism websites, birding hot spot recommendations, perused multiple maps, both online and the physical hold-in-your-hand fold up kind.

Finally, I came to the realization that I only needed to compile an outline itinerary. The day-to-day details would unfold according to the notoriously wet and cool spring New England weather. We packed so we could dress in layers as the weather changed. We only set reservations for a few hotels and guided tours. We used the travel list of attractions as a guide, not an absolute must.

I felt immediate relief. It was 18 hours before we intended to leave, and everything was ready to roll. In my relaxed state, I realized just how important that was to me mentally and physically.

It felt like Sabbath Sunday, but only it was Thursday afternoon.

The view from the Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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Filed under Amish, column, friends, human interest, nature photography, Ohio, Ohio's Amish country, photography, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, travel, Virginia, weather, writing

Half empty and half full’s juncture

An iconic mid-summer scene in Ohio’s Amish country.

It’s July, and you know what that means. We are already halfway through the year. How can that be?

It seems like only yesterday that it was cold and rainy, and folks from Florida to Ontario were all tired of wearing winter jackets. But here we are at the beginning of July, the year half spent like a jar half full, or is it half empty?

I suppose the answer is a matter of personal perspective. Given all that has happened in 2019 so far, I could respond either way. It’s been that kind of year.

Sometimes life is a question mark.

The half emptiness comes from the loss of long-time friends, people who lived productive, generous lives of service. They meant so much to not only me but to so many others that they also touched so tenderly. Others who have passed on were much too young. Their deaths caused heavy, burdensome grief, and raised imploring questions and inquiries of the Almighty about life’s fairness.

The unruly weather caused miseries more disastrous than prolonged cold spells. Extensive record flooding indiscriminately inundated homes, businesses, fields, and overflowed the largest lakes.

Ohioans came to the aid of their waterlogged Nebraska compatriots. Weeks later, it would be the Buckeyes who watched and waited for their fields to drain. Crops that managed to be planted risked rotting in the soggy soil. Other ground may simply go fallow.

My wife and I have found that the half-fullness overflows with bounteous joys of exploring new places, meeting new people, having others reach out in friendly ways. To say we are grateful would be insufficient in expressing our appreciation for what life in the first half of 2019 has brought us.

In mid-January, a sun pillar brightened the already gorgeous sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean outside our snowbird rental. The ever-changing scene served as a reminder to breathe deeply and to embrace each moment as 2019 unfolded.

After a light late February snow, the sun strained through trailing clouds and turned the rolling Shenandoah Valley landscapes into a spectacular sparkling winter wonderland.

A pastel March sunset bid us farewell as we said our last goodbyes to the family cottage in Ohio. Generations of family and friends helped fulfill the dreams that my folks had had for their quaint lakeside-gathering place. But as that chilly sunset waned, we shed tears of gratitude and appreciation for the memories made and wished the new owners the very same.

Each spring, I had enjoyed the showy lavender blooms of redbud trees that adorned still barren forests and neighborhood landscapes. However, I had never noticed how each individual blossom so closely resembled tiny hummingbirds on the wing until a kind neighbor showed me in April.

A state bridge engineer directed us to a cascading waterfall we would have surely missed had we stayed on the main highway. In the quintessential New England town of Jackson, New Hampshire, Jackson Falls became one of the many highlights of our May vacation.

The same kind neighbor who pointed out the redbud hummingbirds brought over a couple of puffy pastries she had made using the sour cherries she had recently picked. Her tasty treats made this June day even better than it already was.

You likely have a comparable list. What challenges and surprise blessings are in store for us the rest of 2019? We really don’t know.

Like July is to the calendar, we encounter life’s happenstance experiences at the juncture of our half empty and half fullness. Our job is to be alert to explore and savor those serendipitous, joyous moments.

An end of June sunset marks a fitting demarkation for any year.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

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