My wife and I showed a couple visiting us from Ohio around our favorite winter retreat, Amelia Island, Florida. We drove to Old Town Fernandina Beach, where lots of history has occurred. A small square, Fernandina Plaza Historic State Park, marks the site of a colonial massacre of Indigenous peoples and some French trappers.
We drove to the small parking area overlooking the Amelia River on a bluff. Soon, our attention was drawn away from history to the present moment. A small flock of American White Pelicans had landed along the river’s edge at the park’s base.
The beautiful birds formed a floating wedge of sorts and immediately began to forage in their unique synchronized fashion. We witnessed a ballet on the water, as the video shows.
Seeing these elusive migrators was one thing. Observing their feeding ritual was something else altogether.
These were the first arrivals. The photos were taken five seconds apart.
American White Pelicans migrate to the coastal areas of California, Central America, and the Gulf Coast States for the winter. They nest in the Midwest and western states, as well as the Canadian prairie provinces.
I was sitting one recent morning at my desk that faces the Atlantic Ocean when I noticed a sailboat passing by at least a half-mile offshore. When I went to take a photo of it, I spotted something else in the water. I snapped a picture, ensuring I got both the boat and the unknown object in the frame.
I switched to my binoculars and couldn’t believe my eyes. The long dark object appeared to be a whale. The morning sunshine reflected off of its face. I had never seen a Right Whale before, but I was pretty sure that’s what it was. I took a couple more shots and then Googled the phone number to report the sighting.
Earlier, I had noticed a red and white airplane circling over the ocean just to the north of our rented condo. As I found the number, I put two and two together. Because they are an endangered species, most Right Whales are tracked by various science organizations, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. I figured the plane must have been verifying the whale’s presence.
Because Right Whales are protected, the public is asked to notify authorities of any sightings. Right Whales migrate more than 1,000 miles south from the Canadian and New England coasts to warmer waters off the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida’s east coast. It is there that they calf their young.
Scientists estimate that less than 400 Right Whales still exist. Protecting them and their young is critical to the whale’s survival. Consequently, the requests to report their sightings.
My call went to voicemail at the North Atlantic Right Whale Project, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission division. It wasn’t long before I received a call back from one of their agents asking when and where I had seen the whale. When I told the person that a red and white plane had drawn my attention, enabling me to spot the whale, I was told it was one of the project’s aircraft.
The agent told me that what I saw was actually a mother and her calf and asked me to send my photos to them to help support the plane’s sighting. I gladly cooperated.
I looked closer at my photos. I could see two separate facial reflections, one large and another much smaller. I was ecstatic. The images aren’t top quality since the whales were a half-mile from me. I was glad for the sighting and more than happy to help identify this Right Whale mother and her baby.
A pictorial series of the moon’s rising above the Atlantic Ocean.
I was hoping to photograph January’s Full Wolf Moon as it rose above the horizon of the Atlantic Ocean. However, the timing would occur before sunset, making the moon hard to see. I gave it a try anyhow.
Fortunately, a cargo ship was moored offshore, and I hoped it would provide a bit of perspective once the moon came into view. What happened was even better than I could have imagined.
In the slideshow below, you will see a sequence of photos showing the rising moon, first very faintly right behind the freighter. Then as the moon arched higher into the evening sky, the ship provided a perfect marker on the very calm ocean waters. (Please click the right arrow to move to the next photo.)
My wife and I are on our winter vacation on Florida’s Amelia Island northeast of Jacksonville. We try to retreat here during winter’s coldest time. Though it’s not balmy here like southern Florida, we don’t have all that snow folks do up north right now.
There are a great many things to like about Amelia Island. The sunrises and sunsets top my list, closely followed by the wildlife, especially the many species of birds.
Our rented condo is right on Main Beach in Fernandina Beach. Unless it’s cloudy, sunrises are a daily treat. No two are alike.
We don’t have far to go for sunsets either. We drive to various spots along the Amelia River that afford marvelous views of the setting sun. Of course, not every evening offers up a golden sky, but we have seen many glorious sunsets in our several visits to this unique isle.
I enjoy photographing as many sunrises and sunsets as possible. I love sharing them with you all the more.
My wife and I wanted to wrap up our 50th anniversary year with the entire family in someplace warm. It didn’t quite work out that way.
Since our son’s career is in hospitality, we let him make the reservations. He found a family-friendly, eco-friendly resort south of Cancun, Mexico. However, it ended up that he and his wife couldn’t join us after all. Their doctor wouldn’t let her travel out of the country due to her high-risk pregnancy.
So, our daughter and her family, and my wife and I headed to Cancun without them with their blessings. We left Christmas Eve and returned on New Year’s Eve.
It was great to lounge in 85-degree weather on the beach with our three grandchildren and their mother and father. They enjoyed the waterpark, too, since the shoreline was rocky and uneven. We relaxed with them, chatting and teaching them card games.
Our reservations were made in early October, well before the omicron variant reared its ugly head. We double-checked with the airlines and the resort regarding their COVID-19 protocols. We were assured that all precautions would be taken, and that is what we experienced. We always felt very safe.
Here are some representative photos of our week-long experience at Sandos Caracol Eco Resort, Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
Palm trees provided plenty of shade for us, non-sun worshipers. The beach was lovely, but there were more rocks than sand under the water, which required water shoes to be worn to stay safe.
We spent Christmas Day getting acquainted with the resort. One of our grandsons and I explored the Mayan ruins on the resort property. We saw several giant iguanas, enjoyed a meal at one of the resort’s restaurants, saw the sunset, and watched a reenactment of a Mayan fire ceremony.
Of course, our oldest grandson and his dad had to try the jet skis while the rest of us watched from the shore. We also enjoyed the beautiful flowers and greenery that were all around us.
Because the resort is built in a jungle, we didn’t have to go far to find wildlife. Often, the critters came to us, mainly because people ignored the “Do Not Feed the Animals” signs. So, it was prudent to not leave anything on your balcony or your sliding door open. As a birder, I was pleased to see a variety of bird species. Some were life birds for me.
We enjoyed our time at the resort. Patience was paramount given that, like most everyplace else, the resort was short-staffed due to COVID-19. Being flexible enhanced our overall enjoyment of the Sandos Caracol Eco Resort.
I’m glad 2021 has ended. We would all like to forget it for a million reasons. Likely, we never will, nor should we.
With politics and the coronavirus and its variants making up much of the headline news, I did my usual thing and kept track of some of the more quirky but still significant information.
Here are just a few of the newsy pieces that didn’t make the headlines or the TV news.
January 1 – The National Interagency Fire Center reported that U.S. wildfires burned 10,275,000 acres, the most ever recorded.
January 7 – Tesla CEO Elon Musk became the wealthiest person globally with a net worth of $185 billion, surpassing Jeff Bezos’s paltry $184 billion.
January 8 – A Missouri woman who married a 93-year-old Civil War Veteran when she was 17 died as the last remaining widow of the war.
January 9 – The state fire marshal announced that no child died in a fire in Massachusetts for the first time since officials kept records.
January 15 – A racing pigeon that disappeared from Oregon in October 2020 reappeared in Melbourne, Australia, where officials tried to catch and kill it due to Australia’s strict quarantine rules.
January 18 – D.C. National Guard Sgt. Jacob Kohut, a band teacher, taught students from his Humvee before a 12-hour shift to guard the Capitol Building.
January 25 – A new study showed that the earth is losing 1.2 trillion tons of ice per year through melting glaciers and polar ice caps.
January 26 – Stranded in a snowstorm near Hayes Hill, Oregon, Jefferson County Public Health staff administered doses of the COVID-19 vaccine that were about to expire to motorists who were also stuck.
February 12 – The U.S. had its deadliest week in a century for avalanche deaths when 15 skiers died between January 26 and February 6.
February 16 – Fran Goldman, 90, was so determined to get her first coronavirus vaccine after struggling to get an appointment that she walked six miles round-trip in a foot of snow in Seattle.
February 17 – Houston’s Gallery Furniture opened two stores to shelter people from the cold and snow after power and water supplies were lost all across Texas.
March 3 – The California Highway Patrol in Los Angeles caught a driver in the carpool lane with a realistic-looking passenger dummy wearing a face mask and a Cleveland Indians baseball hat.
March 8 – The sun shining through a crystal ball in the living room of a Delton, Wisconsin home caused a $250,000 fire.
March 9 – Shoe Zone, a foot ware retailer in Great Britain, announced that Terry Boot had replaced Peter Foot as the company’s financial boss.
March 11 – A digital artist known as Beeple sold a collage jpg image at a Christie’s auction for $69.3 million.
March 16 – Despite being closed for six weeks during the pandemic, a record 1.7 million people visited Shenandoah National Park, Luray, Virginia, in 2020.
March 19 – Iceland’s Fagradalsfjall volcano erupted for the first time in 800 years.
March 23 – Officials blamed high winds from a dust storm for the grounding of Ever Given, one of the world’s largest container ships, to be blown sideways, blocking the Suez Canal and closing the busy shipping route.
April 8 – Archeologists in Egypt announced the discovery of a 3,000-year-old lost golden city unearthed near the city of Luxor.
April 8 – On his second shot on the seventh hole of the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Georgia, professional golfer Rory McIlroy hit his spectator father with the golf ball.
April 12 – Hope Trautwine pitched a perfect game for the University of North Texas softball team by striking out all 21 batters from Arkansas Pine Bluff.
April 14 – A report in “Nature Communications” revealed that archeologists had unearthed 3,500-year-old terracotta honey pots in central Nigeria.
April 28 – Walmart restarted its pandemic delayed experiment of online ordering of groceries and having one of their employees not only deliver it to your home but also stock your shelves and refrigerator.
May 8 – Spencer Silver, the research chemist at 3M who invented the Post-It Note, died at age 80 at his home in St. Paul, Minnesota.
May 11 – A skull-head painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat sold at auction at Christie’s in New York City for $93.1 million.
May 20 – Research from Minderoo found that the average American throws away 110 pounds of plastic annually.
June 3 – Italian artist Salvatore Garau sold an invisible sculpture at auction for $18,300.
June 5 – A study revealed that, on average, Americans touch their smartphone 2,617 times per day.
June 9 – National Geographic officially recognized the body of water around Antarctica as the world’s fifth ocean, the Southern Ocean.
June 23 – A herd of 30 cows escaped from a slaughterhouse in Pico Rivera, California, and were later corralled in a cul-de-sac by police, although deputies shot one cow.
June 28 – The New York Yankees, the team I love to hate, made Gwen Goldman’s 60-year-old dream come true by making her the team’s honorary batgirl for a game.
June 28 – Ankeny, Iowa, police arrested 42-year-old Robert Gollwitzer, Jr. for phoning in a bomb threat to a local McDonald’s restaurant because employees forgot to include dipping sauce for his chicken McNuggets.
July 8 – Zaita Avant-garde, a 14-year-old from New Orleans, became the first African-American to win the National Spelling Bee contest in Washington, D.C.
July 10 – Death Valley, California, the temperature hit a world-record high of 135 degrees Fahrenheit.
July 12 – The Copernicus Climate Exchange Center reported that June was the hottest on record in North America.
July 13 – Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission reported that 841 manatees had died between January 1 and July 2, more than any other time in the state’s history.
July 22 – The United Arab Emirates used technologies, including drones, to stimulate clouds to produce rain to counter 120 temperatures and low potable water sources.
August 6 – An unopened Super Mario Brothers video game sold for $2 million at auction.
August 10 – NASA satellite photos showed for the first time in recorded history smoke from wildfires burning in Siberia reached the North Pole.
August 12 – According to the 2020 U.S. Census, the number of White people fell for the first time since 1790.
August 13 – The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said July 2021 was the hottest on record, 1.67 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th -century average.
September 9 – France fast-tracked 12,000 frontline COVID-19 workers to citizenship for their valiant ongoing efforts to help those in need.
September 12 – Lawrence Brooks of New Orleans, Louisiana, turned 112, the oldest surviving World War II veteran. (Sadly, Mr. Brooks died January 5, 2022).
September 13 – The governor of Massachusetts mobilized 250 National Guard members to serve as school bus drivers since the state’s schools were short on employed drivers.
September 16 – Tobacco giant Philip Morris purchased Vectura, a British company that manufactures inhalers.
September 17 – Alabama’s Health Officer, Scott Harris, said that for the first time in known history, the state had more deaths than births in 2020.
September 20 – The Guinness Book of World Records named the paint developed by researchers at Purdue University as the world’s whitest.
October 4 – A Brazilian soccer player was arrested for attempted murder after kicking a referee in the head during a match.
October 16 – Elon Musk became the world’s richest person when the company’s stock soared, and his net worth grew to $209.4 billion.
October 21 – Timber the Moose, a wooden marketing sign for the Cabin Store in Mt. Hope, Ohio, got its stolen head returned by an Amish youngster who found it in a field 10 miles away.
October 25 – Hertz announced that it had ordered 100,000 Tesla electric cars for its rental inventory.
October 26 – A hiker in Colorado got lost but refused to answer his cell phone because he didn’t recognize the search and rescue team’s number.
November 4 – Colin Craig-Brown of Hamilton, New Zealand, dug up what may be the world’s largest potato that weighed 17.2 pounds from his garden.
November 5 – Billy Coppersmith, a Maine lobsterman, caught a one-in-100 million blue “cotton candy” lobster and donated it to an aquarium in New Hampshire.
November 16 – Psychologists in London revealed a study showed that the perfect hug should last between five and 10 seconds.
November 24 – Roto-Rooter said that plumbers refer to the Friday after Thanksgiving Day as Brown Friday because it’s the busiest day of the year for plumbers.
December 4 – The National Weather Service issued a Blizzard Warning for the summit of Mauna Kea volcano in Hawaii.
December 7 – A report stated that turf grass is now the biggest plant crop in the U.S., collectively covering an area larger than Wisconsin.
December 9 – Davyon Johnson, 11, of Muskogee, Oklahoma, saved a fellow student from choking using the Heimlich maneuver and saved an older woman from her burning house later in the afternoon.
December 11 – The Oxford Dictionary named “vax” its word of the year for 2021.
December 26 – Kodiak, Alaska hit a record high of 67 degrees, giving the term “baked Alaska” a new meaning.
Of all the holidays in the calendar year, Christmas is my favorite. I know I am not alone in that declaration.
I have many fond memories of Christmases past. The most memorable seem to be snippets of bigger pictures, but they are still meaningful after all these years.
Delivering Sunday’s newspaper as a teenager on a snowy Christmas Eve night is one of my favorite memories. I can still see the smiles and hear the well-wishes from many customers as I tromped through heavy, wet snow.
Christmas was my father’s favorite holiday. He was a big little kid when it came to Christmas. He and our dear mother worked hard to make each Christmas extra special on Dad’s meager salary.
Dad loved to get the last-minute shopping discounted deals. He spent part of Christmas Eve buying presents he thought were bargains. His offspring reaped the rewards early Christmas morn.
Christmas Day in the Stambaugh household was a joyous time. We woke our parents too early and tore open packages with abandon. The pile of ripped wrapping paper grew exponentially.
As my brothers and sisters and I grew, married, moved, and raised children of our own, our traditions changed, of course. However, Mom and Dad hosted us all as long as they could until the brood expanded beyond the limited capacity of their post-World War II bungalow.
My siblings who lived nearest our folks took turns hosting the annual Christmas dinner and gift exchanges. Of course, once our children grew to adults and married, those traditions changed again.
My wife’s family always opened their presents on Christmas Eve, usually after attending services at their church up the road from their farm. It was Christmas Eve with Neva’s family, Christmas Day with mine.
At my age, the calendar isn’t nearly as important as the opportunity to gather the family together whenever we can. Christmas just made it a most memorable delight.
Nostalgia only carries so much weight in celebrating the holidays. It’s the here, and now that counts. We celebrate with those we love today, creating similar meaningful memories for the younger generations.
We will cherish the season with those who can join us and connect remotely with those who can’t. It’s the best we can do in this season of holidays mixed with precautions necessitated by the pandemic.
With that, I wish you all Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!
A special note to followers of this blog.
Much of the content of this blog comes from newspaper columns that I have written for 23 years. This is my last column, but not the last blog post. I will continue to populate Roadkill Crossing with other musings and of course my photos.
As I near the three-quarters of a century mark in age, I have other writing projects that need my attention. I want to complete them while still having my wits and enough energy to put pen to paper.
I started a memoir of living among the Amish years ago. Completion of that book is long overdue. I have other stories swirling in my head, too. I want to set them to print before the Good Lord calls my name.
In that regard, I hope to share snippets of those with you here on Roadkill Crossing. So, please don’t give up on me!
Like most everyone else, I was shocked and saddened to hear of the death, injuries, and massive destruction left by the late-season outbreak of strong tornadoes that hit the country’s midsection like a gut punch recently.
Given this and other tragic global current events, how can we be joyous now? The answer is both easy and hard.
This family of tornadoes brought sorrow to innocent people. Survivors were thankful to be alive. Many people lost everything, and dozens died.
As I viewed the video of the immediate aftermath of the tornadoes, one clip particularly caught my attention. A first responder walked into a heavily-damaged nursing home where one person died from the tornado strike.
As the firefighter waded through inches of water in the dark, he passed several elderly nursing home residents sitting in their wheelchairs waiting for help. More than one of the residents thanked the firefighter for his assistance.
I was amazed. I figured those poor folks would be in shock and confused. Some probably were. But a few chose to express their thanks and joy for help despite their dire circumstances.
Not everyone can be joyous in this holiday season. Some feel alone. Some are homeless, cold, separated from family, while others mourn the loss of loved ones.
Our family knows those feelings all too well. My wife’s father died just before Christmas in 2001, and eight years later, I lost my father on December 21.
At Dad’s memorial service, I told those in attendance not to be sad for us. Dad loved Christmas and that there was no better time for him to pass on. He would have loved the festive decorations of the church.
During calling hours before the service, friends, family, and acquaintances shared their condolences and heartfelt stories of knowing our father. I remember one young man in particular.
The youngster came with his grandparents to express both his gratitude and sorrow. The young man remembered our father because Dad had shown him his arrowhead collection. That lasting impression exemplified our father’s love for life and learning.
How could we be sad at that? We couldn’t be, of course.
We loved our quirky, gregarious father, and we loved that others had opportunities to experience our father’s wide range of interests and joy for life. The fact that so many took time out of their holiday celebrations and ventured out in the snow and cold to be with us spoke volumes.
Another recollection of joy experienced at a stressful time was at the first fire I responded to as a volunteer firefighter in Ohio’s Amish country. A chimney fire had spread into the attic of a century-old Amish farmhouse. At the end of a 30-foot ladder, I sprayed water onto the fire through a small attic window.
With the flames under control, I looked down to the front yard, and I couldn’t believe the unfolding scene. Scores of people, primarily Amish, rushed in and out of the house, hauling out precious family heirlooms, furniture, dishes, and other items.
Several ladies and teenage girls already had washed some of the family’s clothes and hung them on the laundry line. Talk about expressing joy in the face of despair.
That is the way life is, isn’t it? When we are down and out for whatever reason, joy reaches in and touches our heart and soul and gives us hope.
We can choose to be joyful even in the face of death and terror. At every opportunity, be the joy.
My wife and I and another couple toured a greenhouse in the Shenandoah Valley for their Christmas Open House. I was expecting Christmas wreaths and lots of poinsettias. They had those, but these festive calla lilies dressed in their many holiday colors really caught my eye.
We are halfway through the season of Advent already. Advent in the Christian tradition occurs the four Sundays before December 25. That is the day earmarked as the birth of Jesus.
Advent is generally understood to be an annual time of preparing and waiting for Christmas, the personal recognition of the birth of Christ. For many, Advent is a sacred, significant time.
For others, Advent is just another word in the Christmas vocabulary. It’s familiar to us, but do we genuinely consider its implications in our hustle and bustle before the big day? Perhaps a better question is this: Do we even know what Advent means?
A concise, accurate answer to that question would be to recite the four universally accepted Advent themes: Peace, Hope, Joy, and Love, most often celebrated in that order on Advent Sundays.
I remember as a youngster having an advent calendar in our home. My two brothers and two sisters and I would take turns opening the little doors to reveal the contents hidden behind each tiny flap.
Each day of Advent revealed a colorful illustration, scripture, or word to ponder, or perhaps a suggested act of service to others.
I just remember the pent-up anticipation of what lay hidden behind each door. It was a successful subliminal modeling method for the Christmas waiting.
To be clear, no one would have described our family as devout. We were “religious” only because we celebrated Christ’s birth and attended the local Methodist church regularly.
But as youngsters, we naturally got caught up in all the secular holiday hubbub. Later in my life, I was introduced to knowing and respecting that other religions had solemn and festive holidays.
Consequently, the older I have gotten, the more I sense a spiritual link between the lights of Christmas and those of Hanukkah. It is a significant element of our Judeo-Christian history for this septuagenarian.
That understanding creates a deeper meaning to Advent, one too often ignored. While we wait for Christmas, Advent also calls us to reflect on what has transpired in the course of history, personally and collectively.
Human history is full of cruelty by one race, tribe, or religion to others who look, live or believe differently. The Trail of Tears comes to mind.
White settlers of our nation literally and brutally pushed out Native Americans from their homelands, where they had lived for generations. Those indigenous peoples not only lost their land, but many also lost their lives in the agonizing march west.
A similar but lesser-known atrocity occurred in Illinois and Wisconsin in 1832. The bloody Black Hawk War opened land to white settlers who replaced the Sauk, Fox, and other native nations.
Nor can we ignore the unethical enslavement of an entire race of people for economic purposes. That indictment, unfortunately, applies far beyond our southern states, where slavery was a way of life.
Perhaps you can add personal examples to this lurid list. Sadly, such horrific atrocities continue today around the globe. We only need to look at the headlines for confirmation.
The oft-overlooked reflective aspect of Advent requires each of us to acknowledge and confess these wrong-doings. Doing so is part of the necessary preparation for the celebration of Christmas.
So, Advent, like life itself, has a dark side. We must allow the season’s light to infiltrate the darkness that is all around us. Preparation, anticipation, and repentance are the main ingredients of Advent.
The principles of Peace, Hope, Joy, and Love help guide us through these dark times into the light. That is what Advent is all about.