Let the summer reading commence

By Bruce Stambaugh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Spring sunset

sunset, Shenandoah Valley

Spring Sunset.


One thing about photographing sunsets is certain. You have to be at the right place at the right time to capture the beauty.

As I was driving desperately trying to find the perfect spot to capture the quickly fading sunset, the colors suddenly brightened. I pulled in the nearest farm lane, pointed my camera and clicked away. Once was enough, as this shot shows. Seconds later, the western sky went gray over the Allegheny Mountains that create the border between Virginia and West Virginia.

“Spring Sunset” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Behold summer’s sights and sounds

Summer sunrise.

By Bruce Stambaugh

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

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

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

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

At the feeder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amish girls, Holmes Co. OH

Enjoying a summer’s day.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Brown on Yellow and Green

Confused Cloudywing, Golden Ragwort

Brown on Yellow and Green.

Butterflies and flowers are made for one another. On a recent hike in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, many wildflowers were in full bloom, and from their joyous, creative aerial dances the butterflies couldn’t have been happier.

Little skipper butterflies were most abundant. I found this one, which I believe to be a Confused Cloudywing, flitting from bloom to bloom on this patch of Golden Ragwort, a daisy-like flower.

The afternoon sun nicely illuminated this invigorating scene. “Brown on Yellow and Green” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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When is a chimney more than a chimney?

memorial chimney, Shenandoah NP

The memorial chimney at Elkton, VA.

By Bruce Stambaugh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

fireplace, Virginia

Where memories were made.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Patterned Path

Shenandoah National Park, hiking, Virginia

Patterned Path.

When I happened upon this scene yesterday, I had to stop for practical and aesthetic reasons. Crews were working on the Limberlost Trail in Shenandoah National Park. Recent heavy rains had washed out and badly rutted sections of the handicapped accessible trail. To avoid some of the construction at the trailhead, I walked the trail loop backward.

As I rounded a curve near the trail’s end, I stopped. Because this spot was where the repair was being done, I wasn’t sure if I should proceed. No signs indicated that the trail was closed, however. The rolled, finely crushed limestone looked more like freshly-poured cement. Once my eyes adjusted to the canopy-filtered light, I realized that the speckles were nothing more than leaf shadows created by the intense afternoon sun.

I thought the dappled effect stunningly artsy. “Patterned Path” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Putting lifelong learning into practice

Old Order Mennonites, Shenandoah Valley

Sunday morning at Pleasant View Old Order Mennonite Church.

By Bruce Stambaugh

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

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

The view from Pleasant View Old Order Mennonite Church.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strangely and marvelously, I felt right at home.

View of the valley from the garden at Crossroads.

© Bruce Stambaugh

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Beautiful bird, beautiful song

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Remembering the goodness of my mother

mother and children

This photo of my our mother and my siblings and me was taken at Christmas 2011.

By Bruce Stambaugh

My four siblings and I were spoiled. We were very fortunate to have a loving, devoted mother. Unfortunately, not everyone can say that.

Growing up, Mom cared for us in every way imaginable. She fed us, clothed us, nurtured us, played with us, corrected us, loved us, and so much more. Those were the roles and expectations of a post-World War II wife and mother.

In those days, careers for females were pretty much limited to secretary, nurse, or teacher. Mothers were expected to be at home to care for their children. It’s just the way it was.

Marion Stambaugh

Marian Stambaugh.

My brothers and sisters and I were the beneficiaries of Mom’s time, effort, skills, and wisdom. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

Life couldn’t have been easy for her. We weren’t wealthy by anyone’s standards, but we weren’t poor either. We grew up in the suburbs of a blue-collar town in northeast Ohio’s mid-20th-century industrialization.

Mom reassured us when we were scared, nursed us when we were sick, and encouraged us in our schoolwork. How she did all that and kept her sanity, I have no idea. We were five active kids, all with different needs, wants, and interests.

Somehow Mom made time for each one of us, though I remember plenty of times when we wore her patience thin. “Wait until your father gets home” was a familiar tune in our household. Usually, that comment was directed at one of my siblings, not me.

Children of every age filled our close-knit neighborhood. Many times the number of youngsters in our household doubled in number as friends came and went. If we got too loud or rowdy, however, Mom lowered the boom. She not only modeled justice, but she also instilled it in us.

Most likely I am romanticizing those fond memories. Not everything always went smoothly of course. We had personal, relational problems just like every other family.

As much as we admired our father, he wasn’t the most helpful or responsible husband when it came to household chores or repairs. Later in her life, I told my mother that she had raised six children, not five. With no explanation needed, her hardy laugh affirmed my comment.

Mom was a string bean of a woman. She cooked us nourishing meals but seldom ate much herself.

Mom and Dad on their wedding day, August 1942.

Mom could speak her mind, however. She let Dad have it in no uncertain terms when he arrived home from a fishing trip without my older brother, a cousin, and me. Having been left in a raging thunderstorm frightened us. Dad had to weather a storm of his own with Mom.

Mom was a multi-talented person. Besides her homemaking skills, she was an accomplished artist, loved to play cards, bowl, and shop for antiques. In their retirement years, she and Dad relaxed at the cottage they had built on a fishing lake in southeast Ohio.

Not only was our mother talented, but she was also a looker. Some folks actually wondered what Mom saw in Dad. Their 68 years of marriage answered that question.

I don’t mean to paint her as a saint. Mom wouldn’t want that, and she would be the first to say that she made mistakes in her motherhood. I just remember feeling really safe around her. That was no small matter.

In my youthful naiveté, I thought everyone had a mother like the late Marian Stambaugh. My lifetime experiences unfortunately proved otherwise. I wished for their sake that they had. Now, I am forever grateful for my loving mother.

One of Mom’s many watercolors.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Singing in the sunset

Shenandoah Valley, sunset

Singing in the sunset.


One of the joys about being in the out-of-doors is experiencing the unexpected. Nature’s ways never cease to pleasantly surprise me.

Such was the case recently when I went out to photograph the sunset. Doing so is always an adventure. You never know what the results will be. When I arrived at my chosen destination not far from our home near Harrisonburg, Virginia, I had a feeling my quest would be disappointing. I was wrong, not in the sunset so much as the aura of the setting.

I parked at the entrance of a nearby farm that doubles as an event center. I could see a thick bank of clouds hovering over the Allegheny Mountains 20 miles to the west. Usually, that means that the sun’s rays will be blocked from reflecting off of the congregation of cumulus clouds hanging in the evening sky. But I’ve learned that when it comes to sunsets, patience is a valuable virtue.

So while I waited, I watched the steers grazing in the sweeping, limestone-studded pasture. Other than the lone bull, they paid me little heed.

Soon, my attention was diverted to another source. An Eastern Meadowlark was belting out its evening song. At first, I had a hard time locating the bird. Just as the sunset reached its color peak, I spotted the bird high atop a deciduous tree whose leaves were in their infancy of unfurling. The song mesmerized me. It was as if the bird were serenading the setting sun. I have included a link to give you an idea of what I heard here.

If you can’t spot the Eastern Meadowlark, please click on the photo to enlarge it. Look for the bird center-right at the very top of the tree.

“Singing in the Sunset” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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