Grateful I Heeded the Warning Signs

It was good to be back in Holmes County, Ohio.

I had been struggling with high blood pressure for weeks. A prescription for pain set off a chain of events that has taken weeks to rectify.

The orthopedic surgeon prescribed pain medication for the discomfort in my hip, but only if my family physician approved. She did, but on the condition that I take my blood pressure morning and evening. The prescription tended to elevate people’s bp, she said.

It didn’t take long to prove my primary care doctor was correct. In a short time, my bp was sky-high. The physical symptoms I had foretold that it would be: a constant headache, lightheadedness, and my balance was off. Even though I was approaching age 75, I had always been steady on my feet. I wasn’t now.

The symptoms didn’t stop there. I was waking in the middle of the night and, occasionally, had pressure on my chest. Having served on the local volunteer rescue squad for 27 years, I knew that was a red flag. I stopped taking the pain med and returned to the doctor’s office.

Much to my chagrin, I was prescribed two more medications to help bring down my blood pressure. However, the symptoms and my elevated bp persisted.

Of course, all of this happened around the holidays. We had planned on attending a gathering of my siblings for the first time since the pandemic hit. Despite my uneasiness, we decided to go and drove the 350 miles from Virginia to Ohio. Fortunately, all went well, and we had an enjoyable time together.

The Stambaaugh Five.

That evening, good friends invited us to a soup supper at their church in Holmes County, Ohio, where we had spent most of our lives and each completed 30-year education careers. We enjoyed more fellowship with other friends and acquaintances there. The soup was delicious, too.

As we were about to leave the church, however, I felt the heaviness in my chest again. My family doctor told me to head to the emergency room if that returned. The pressure had a habit of coming and going, so I just lived with it. However, the chest discomfort felt more intense this time. And it wasn’t the soup.

We had intended to return to Virginia the next day. Driving all those miles through primarily rural, mountainous terrain, with limited cellphone service, seemed risky. I didn’t want to put that burden on my loving wife. Our lifelong friends, who knew I was uncomfortable, encouraged us to go to the local small-town hospital instead. They reasoned I would get quick attention for my issue and receive excellent care. We took their advice, and headed to the little hospital’s emergency room. As soon as I mentioned pressure on my chest, I was ushered into a room and immediately examined.

I doubt the response would have been the same at a big city hospital, especially on a Saturday night. While the nurse and an EMT doing clinical time as part of his training got me settled, my wife checked me in. Later, she told me they already had our Virginia address, health insurance, and other information in their system.

Having lived in that rural community for 46 years, this was not my first visit to this facility. I had previously been treated there for assorted ailments over the years. Our daughter and son were both born there. I had also served on the hospital board for six years, almost two decades ago. So, yes, I had a particular affinity for this medical facility.

My blood tests and EKG came back normal, but with the chest pressure and my medical history, the caring ER doctor decided to admit me. She ordered a stress test and an echocardiogram. Unfortunately, those would have to wait until Monday morning.

Sunday passed surprisingly quickly. My wife sat by my side late morning into the evening. In between, nurses, aides, and a doctor came and went. The local social grapevine went into overdrive. Relatives and close friends helped the day zoom by with brief visits. My blood pressure lessened each time it was taken.

I was awakened early Monday by a cheery lab tech for the ordered tests. I passed the stress test with ease, and the echocardiogram revealed no blockage in the arteries to my heart. I was greatly relieved.

By early afternoon, the doctor on duty added a relaxing medication and sent us on our way. She also ensured we had all the documented results of every test I had taken. My family doctor was impressed when I saw her a couple of days later.

A Holmes County sunset.

I was so glad we had decided to let this small, rural hospital’s professional staff care for me. I am most grateful to my friends who encouraged us to vist Pomerene Memorial Hospital, and for its caring and professional personnel.

I was equally happy that I had heeded the warning signs. My blood pressure is back to normal, and so is my life.

So, if you have symptoms that don’t seem right, call your doctor or go to the nearest emergency room, no matter its size. Common sense always eclipses ego, no matter one’s age.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2023

By Dawn’s Early Light

I found this when I checked the potential for a lovely sunrise at 6:30 this morning. With sunrise still 45 minutes away, these clouds should have been turning all shades of pink, orange, and red at this stage.

Instead, the low clouds set a foreboding mood, as if denying the sun its daily duty. Then I noticed the crescent moon in the photo’s upper right-hand corner. And the phrase, “By dawn’s early light,” came to mind.

For citizens of the United States, those words should mean something. They are in the opening line of our national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner.” The lyrics come from a poem, “In Defence of Fort McHenry,” written on September 14, 1814, by Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812.

I wondered how this sky compared to the one that inspired Key’s patriotic poem. Unlike the scene Key painted, thankfully, no bombs were bursting in the air here in Fernandina Beach, Florida, this morning.

But the mood of this photo, with the splinter of a waning January moon peeking between the clouds, also inspired me. I hope it does the same for you.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2023

Private Moments in a Public Space

Spanish moss and the Live Oak leaves glistened in the afternoon, son.

I’ve never been a beach kind of guy. I prefer the fields, hills, and forests. When we winter in Fernandina Beach, Florida, on Amelia Island, I head to Egans Creek Greenway for peace of mind. That’s a bit ironic since our rented condo is on the beach facing the Atlantic Ocean.

I enjoy watching dolphins swim by and the many birds of prey, shorebirds, and other avian species plying the ocean waters. I also delight in the lovely sunrises, though they have been few and far between this year. I’m not complaining. We’ve had plenty of clear blue skies and above-average temperatures in the two weeks we have been here.

The warmth and fair weather have allowed me to spend enjoyable hours on the Egans Creek Greenway. The Greenway is a preserved wildlife area sandwiched between two busy east-west roadways, including the northernmost section of Florida’s noted A1A Coastal Highway. It’s my sacred place, though it is hardly quiet.

Egans Creek Greenway is a place to discover all of nature’s wonders. Visitors can find alligators, Ospreys, butterflies, river otters, and much more in, on, and among the waters, marshes, and greenery. Opened at the turn of the millennium in 2000, the Greenway is an undeveloped park for conservation and passive recreational use.

Egans Creek runs north through the far northeastern section of this barrier island. Housing developments and commercial buildings like hotels constantly push at the edges, even though the area is designated a preserve. The Greenway is managed by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, which has its headquarters adjacent at the north end of the marsh.

The Greenway consists of over 300 acres of protected lands, which include slivers of marine woodlands, wetland bushes, and a sizeable briny marsh. Trails for walking, running, biking, and birding wind throughout the Greenway. Maps are available at the Greenway’s entrances, and benches are dotted along the grass-covered paths.

A path in Egans Creek Greenway.

In the dozen years we have been coming here, I have found the Greenway my place to relax, explore, and rest. Its location forces me to focus on what is right in front of me and always watch for surprises. Last year a Northern Harrier swooped low across the marsh. Roseate Spoonbills make rare appearances.

I especially enjoy the creativity it affords me if I only take the time to see it. The stark contrasts of crimson buds of red maple trees against the shiny green leaves of Live Oaks create a festive feel. Or the orange and black of a lone Monarch butterfly settling on a barren stalk keeps me mentally alert and spiritually alive.

Please click on the photos to enlarge them.

An added enjoyment is meeting new people on the Greenway. Some stop to talk or inquire about what I am seeing. Others just run or bike right on by. Rowdy teenagers occasionally pitch a stick at a sunbathing alligator or spook birds with their boisterous talk.

Nevertheless, these experiences allow me to tune out the human-induced noises that permeate our lives. In the case of the Greenway, commercial jetliners approaching Jacksonville International Airport 30 minutes away buzz overhead. So do smaller planes taking off and landing from the local airport two miles southeast of the Greenway. And then there are the military helicopters flying up and down the beach from Mayport Naval Station in Jacksonville.

Sirens wail away, responding to the next emergency. Trucks, motorcycles, and cars hum along the adjacent streets. Train engine horns from tracks along the riverfront invade the Greenway’s peace and tranquility.

Despite those acoustic interferences, I still find the Greenway a respite, a private sanctuary in a very public place. I accept that I cannot change those annoyances. I can concentrate on solitude and enjoyment in whatever I find each time I walk the Greenway.

Egans Creek.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2023

Full Moon Rising

January’s Full Wolf Moon rose over the Atlantic Ocean about 15 minutes before sunset last evening, January 6, 2023. That made it rather difficult to find on the horizon. The moon easily blended with the pale pink background of the Belt of Venus.

I had my cameras ready, and my wife spotted it first. I aimed my 35 mm camera on the tripod and snapped away. I also used my point-and-shoot camera with a 1,725 mm lens when fully extended. I concentrated on holding it still enough to keep the photos from blurring. In addition, I took a few pictures with my iPhone.

The following photos show the sequence of the full moon rising. Please click on the images to enlarge them.

5:25 p.m. EST.

The photo above was my first shot once we spotted the moon. A large bird hovered over the ocean and appeared at about 11 o’clock on the moon’s face. The red object at the far right is a bouy that helps mark the channel into the St. Mary’s River that serves as the state line between northeast Florida and southeast Georgia.

5:27 p.m. EST.

The moon became more evident in just two minutes as it rose slightly above the ocean.

5:29 p.m. EST.

This photograph provides the view from our third-floor condo. Note the freighter on the horizon in the upper right-hand section of the photo.

5:38 p.m. EST.

Nine minutes later, the moon hung unmistakeably above the Atlantic.

5:51 p.m. EST.

With the sun now set, the full moon dominated the eastern sky.

Watching the moon rise over the ocean is always a treat. The unobstructed view gives viewers the opportunity to fully appreciate the spectacular sequence and beauty of another rising full moon.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2023

First Florida Sunrise

Each winter, save 2021 due to the pandemic, my wife and I escape Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley for warmer climes. We head to Amelia Island, Florida. If you are familiar with Florida’s geography, you know that Amelia Island is northeast of Jacksonville. It’s the northernmost barrier island in Florida. The St. Mary’s River separates Florida from Georgia, so it’s not consistently balmy like Miami or Naples.

We stay in a rented condo complex only yards away from the Atlantic Ocean. On days when the weather is nice, it’s a great location. When the weather turns less than desirable, it can be downright cold. Nevertheless, the island and surrounding areas offer plenty of outdoor amenities like birding, hiking, and photography for me to enjoy.

Since we face east, I relish the many beautiful sunrises. However, the results are often somewhat foggy if a cold front stalls offshore. When we arrived on New Year’s Day, the temperature hit 75, and the sky was mostly sunny. By morning, we were fogged in. Still, I took the photo above as our first Florida sunrise in 2023.

The next day proved much better.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2023

How Amish Celebrate the Holidays

An Amish farm on Christmas Day in Holmes County, Ohio.

The Amish enjoy celebrating the holidays just as much as anyone else. However, they go about it a bit differently.

Defining how the Amish celebrate America’s most time-honored holidays deserves an introductory explanation. The Amish are divided into church groups, usually about 100 persons per church. And by “church,” they mean fellowship since they hold church in their homes, shops, or barns.

There are many different orders of Amish. The Swartzentruber Amish are considered the lowest order, with the New Order Amish the highest, since they hold Sunday school on alternate worship Sundays.

The terms “lowest” and “highest” are not intended to be derogatory or hierarchical. It simply is the way it is with the Amish. Those in between are the Old Order, the most numerous among the Amish population. The rules of the church leaders determine the orders.

Defining the Amish is a lot harder than their simple lifestyles might let on. Nevertheless, they all celebrate the holidays in one way or another.

The key to understanding how the Amish do so lies in this understanding. You can’t generalize about the Amish. Their holiday traditions and rituals vary from family to family, church to church, and sect to sect, not much different from any other culture or ethnic group.

Modesty is an essential principle in the values of the Amish. That fact can be seen in exactly how the Amish keep the holidays. In living out their faith beliefs, they do so joyously surrounded by food, family, and friends. Christmas decorations are insignificant.

Here is an overview of how any given Amish family might celebrate the holidays, save those in the Swartzentruber order.

Christmas

From the Amish perspective, anyone not Amish is considered “English.” The Amish recognize and respect Christmas’s universal demarcation on December 25. For them, Christmas is a sacred day in honor of the birth of God’s only son, Jesus Christ. Many, though not all, will fast before their family gathering.

Amish celebrate Christmas twice, once on the expected date of December 25 and again on January 6, commonly referred to as Old Christmas. In higher religions, that day is known as Epiphany.

The Amish appreciate natural holiday “decorations,” like this sundog, while a red-tailed hawk roosts on a distant tree.

Unlike the rest of society that celebrates Christmas, the Amish do not have Christmas trees or decorations. They will, however, burn Christmas candles in honor of the day.

After the usual Christmas meal of turkey or ham and all the trimmings, the Amish will spend the afternoon and evening playing table games, board games, and cards. None of the card games would involve using face cards, however.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Christmas without gifts, and the Amish also carry out this gift-giving tradition. The gifts will be wrapped, but usually nothing elaborate. Children will receive toys. There is, however, no mention of Santa.

Perhaps the closest to celebrating Christmas in contemporary fashion is done at the private or parochial Amish schools for grades 1 – 8. There are nearly 200 such schools in the Holmes County area. All are either one or two-room schools, where students walk to school. Before taking a couple of days off for Christmas, a program is held for parents, grandparents, and friends on the evening of the last day of school. The program usually consists of Christmas songs, poetic recitations, short plays, and possibly group singing.

Family and friends gather for a Christmas program at an Amish school near Mt. Hope, Ohio.

Old Christmas

Old Christmas harkens back to the change from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar during the latter stages of the Reformation when Pope Gregory XIII switched Christmas to December 25. Out of tradition and reverence for their forefathers, the Amish have continued to honor Christ’s birth on January 6.

Unlike the more jovial December 25 celebrations, Old Christmas is more solemn. It begins with fasting, followed by another typical Christmas meal and more gift-giving. However, the emphasis is on reflecting and visiting as opposed to reveling.

No matter which holiday is celebrated, family is always essential in any get-together for the Amish. And that is true for any Amish order.

An Amish school sits empty on a snow hillside during a brief Christmas break.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

The Ice Queen

Yesterday, we had an ice storm in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Schools and many businesses were closed, but for the most part, little harm was done. The power surged just once in our neighborhood.

The ice coated everything from the ground up with at least a quarter inch of ice. There was more ice in some places, while others received much less. The ice accumulation depended on elevation, air temperature, and the amount and types of precipitation in any given area.

One thing was sure at our location. The layer of ice created a crystal palace appearance to all it embraced. It was joyous to look out and see nature’s beauty enhanced all the more.

I was surprised to see so few birds at our many feeders placed strategically around our front and back yards. But by mid-day, they apparently got hungry enough or felt safe enough to venture out from the security of their perches to come to the feeders.

I was ready for them with my cameras. I captured a brilliant red male Northern Cardinal sitting on a branch of a frosted evergreen. But it was his female companion that stole the show.

The female Northern Cardinal perched on an ice-incrusted limb of a young tulip poplar tree we had planted earlier this year. The photograph embodied the whole of the day.

The encasement of the ice is clearly visible, while the thin ice pellets pepper the background. With its burnished tulip-like blossoms frozen in time, the dormant tree beautifully accented the Cardinal’s lovely muted red and olive coloration.

This female Northern Cardinal earned the title “The Ice Queen.”

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

Celebrating a Big Birthday

Sunset as viewed from Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park.

When you have a big birthday, you celebrate it in a big way. At age 75, however, it’s best to do so gradually.

That’s not usually how I approach things. Given the circumstance, going slow and steady was the formula I needed and certainly enjoyed. Pacing myself proved to be the best alternative to enjoying each moment.

My oldest grandson gave us an early jump on my birthday. He was home from college for Thanksgiving, so we ate at a local restaurant on Thanksgiving eve. The family time around a chef-prepared meal allowed everyone to enjoy the evening together.

Celebrating my birthday with the family well before the big day.

My birthday extravaganza continued. My dear wife secretly arranged an overnight stay in a neat bed and breakfast less than an hour away the next weekend.

On the way there, we drove southeast across country roads that wound through Civil War battlegrounds fought on land still farmed in rural Shenandoah Valley. To the east, the Blue Ridge Mountains rose majestically, guiding us onward. Farther to the west, the Allegheny Mountains marked the state line between Virginia and West Virginia. The ancient mountains east and west provide an innate sense of security.

We made sure we stopped at Milmont Greenhouses in Stuarts Draft. They always display colorful poinsettias and other lovely flowers for the holidays. We selected a few small pink and white poinsettias for our daughter and headed for our bed and breakfast. We met our gracious hostess, who showed us our spacious and comfy second-floor suite. We had a great view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Poinsettias galore at Milmont Greenhouses, Stuarts Draft, Virginia.

My wife also had scoped out the town’s eateries and made reservations at the top-rated spot. Since we had plenty of time, I suggested we take a short ride to Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park and hope for an inspiring sunset despite the mostly cloudy day.

There were a few west-facing overlooks not far from the park’s southern entrance. We found the second one more favorable than the first and kept watch there.

As often happens over the mountains, the clouds thickened as daylight waned. Still, we noticed a break in the clouds just above the farthest mountain range.

The brief burst of orange.

The wind picked up just as the sun briefly broke through. From the overlook, we saw first-hand how the Blue Ridge Mountains earned their folklore name. A series of blue ridges led right to the setting sun’s soft orange glow. I snapped a couple of shots before darkness overtook us.

More than satisfied, we headed south but soon had to stop for a doe and her yearling to cross in front of us. Their brown coats naturally blended in with the dormant roadside vegetation.

Blending in.

Despite the minor delay, we arrived at the downtown restaurant right on time. Our delicious meals and our friendly waitress, who knew how to care for her customers, made for a splendid outing.

When we arrived back at the bed and breakfast, our host’s husband entertained us with the history of the old brick mansion. He then cranked up the beautiful player piano with a few Christmas tunes. He talked a lot but said very little. I preferred the piano.

At this point, I must confess that spreading out my birthday celebration was advantageous to my health. For unknown reasons, my blood pressure had significantly risen in recent weeks. Following my doctor’s orders, I took things easy. It was all I could do anyhow. This day had been good for me, though. My evening blood pressure reading was the lowest it had been in weeks.

In the morning, our hosts provided a scrumptious meal of shirred eggs and bacon, and they even had gluten-free fruit-infused bread for me. It was an excellent way to start the new day.

We said goodbye and drove into town to the P. Buckley Moss gallery. Since Waynesboro was ringing in the holidays this particular Saturday, the famous artist greeted patrons for part of the day. We arrived shortly after the store opened and had a friendly chat with Ms. Moss. She even signed the Christmas tree ornament we purchased that she had painted. The artistry depicted a winter scene only a few miles from our home, the historic Silver Lake Mill.

P. Buckley Moss.

We caught lunch just down the street, and it was time to head home. With the sun shining brightly through low broken clouds, I had to stop and take a few scenic photos. We spent the rest of the day watching football and basketball and enjoying the birds at the feeders.

I awoke much too early Sunday morning. I could tell I would have to take it easy on my birthday. My blood pressure had spiked again.

Many friends on social media expressed their best wishes for me on my big day while we attended church. I greatly appreciated all of their kind thoughts. They came from former students and teachers, friends and family, and people I have never met. That’s how social media is supposed to work.

After an uplifting worship service, we went to our daughter’s home, which is just up the hill from the church. We dropped off the poinsettias and popped two casseroles into the oven. I enjoyed some quiet time with our grand dog, Millie. We visited with our daughter and her family and then drove to a friend’s house for one of the small groups to which we belong. Neva had baked my favorite cake, an upside-down pineapple cake. I blew out the lone candle, and we enjoyed the carry-in food and genuine fellowship until mid-afternoon.

We wound down my big day quietly, watching more sports and fixer-upper TV shows. Just as we settled in for the night, our son sent a text that made my birthday complete. Our six-month-old grandson had his first solid bowel movement.

I couldn’t think of a better way to end my progressive 75th birthday celebration.

Teddy, our grandson.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

Happy Thanksgiving!

The last Thursday in November in the United States is proclaimed Thanksgiving Day. Tomorrow, my wife and I will gather at our daughter’s house with her and her family. Our son-in-law’s family will join us to celebrate the day, too.

We will have all of the usual Thanksgiving meal trimmings: roasted turkey and dressing, homemade mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, and an assortment of homemade pies. It will be scrumptious.

We are grateful for this bounteous meal and warm home where we will feast. But more importantly, we will be most grateful to share it with family. Loving family relations can never be taken for granted.

We will also remember those who have passed on and those who aren’t as fortunate. Gratitude must come with the recognition, responsibility, and desire to help the least, the last, and the lost.

Happy Thanksgiving!

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

At Pond’s Edge

We are fortunate to have the Edith J. Carrier Arboretum as part of the James Madison University campus here in Harrisonburg, Virginia. It is a green sanctuary among an ever-expanding campus.

People, young and old, go there for family outings, personal reflection, birding, walking, and photography in any season. It is a wonderland of color, textures, and nature’s pure beauty.

Even after most of the lovely leaves had fallen, Plecker Pond served as a receptive temporary host for the leaves to continue their fall show.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

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