The Dry River in Virginia’s Rockingham County really is dry. It isn’t always.
With heavy and persistent spring rains, the river often runs strong and bank full. When that happens, the river is not crossable. That’s because no bridge spans the waterway. Rather, a large cement slab has long been in place for vehicles to pass over the riverbed. “Road Closed” signs are posted when the water is running too high and fast over the concrete crossing. Appropriately, the road that runs across the river is named “Slab Road.”
Precipitation has been greatly lacking here in the Shenandoah Valley since early June. Consequently, the Dry River has been bone dry for quite a while.
The calendar didn’t change, but the weather sure did.
August came early this year. The calendar didn’t change, but the weather sure did.
The three H’s customarily associated with August, hot, humid, and hazy, have been around off and on since this June. Unfortunately, the dreaded trio has been mostly “on” all across the continent and beyond.
The results haven’t been pretty or even healthy. Record high temperatures fed massive wildfires, more typical for the fall months. The fires have been burning all across the West and in several Canadian provinces. A wildfire completely obliterated the small town of Lytton, B.C.
The wildfires have fed the brilliant sunrises and sunsets in recent days. Brisk winds aloft have spread soot particles eastward, creating that giant orange ball in the sky that we usually can’t look at directly. The August haze is extra heavy from Maine to Florida.
August’s weather seemed both more predictable and tolerable a half-century ago. Global warming and climate change weren’t household phrases back then. They are now.
In those days, the school year ran from the day after Labor Day until Memorial Day weekend. The school district seldom used up the permitted allotment of snow days. So, we knew we had the whole summer season to enjoy.
As a youngster, I always welcomed August even though it was the last month of school vacation. The neighborhood gang of baby boomers took the hot, hazy, and humid weather in stride.
You are never too young to help husk corn.
We were content to sit beneath giant shade trees and play cards and board games instead of more strenuous adventures. We saved our more energetic shenanigans for cooler evenings. I’ll skip the details since the statutes of limitations haven’t expired. No harm to life or property occurred, however.
August always gave us suburban kids pause. August was our reality check. It forewarned us to use our last remaining days of freedom wisely. We usually didn’t.
A few of us, of course, had jobs associated with youth, like paper routes and mowing lawns. My older brother and I both delivered newspapers. In those days, I had ink on my fingers and not in my veins.
County fairs and street fairs began in earnest. Our county fair was always the last week of August and ended on Labor Day. When the fair closed, the schoolhouse doors opened.
Our father usually grew a garden well away from our suburban home. After supper, my siblings and I crowded into the family car, and off we would go to help hoe, weed, and hopefully pick my favorite vegetable, sweet corn.
If we had a bumper crop, we headed to a strip mall parking lot, popped the trunk, and sold our excess at a dollar a dozen. Dad usually threw in an extra ear for free, the gardener’s equivalent of a baker’s dozen.
Back home, our dear mother had the pressure cooker ready. All we had to do was husk the corn. It’s another job that I still relish. My wife says I will be applying that apt skill as soon as the bi-colored corn is ripe.
Occasionally, Dad would also load the family into the car, and we headed to Holmes County. I always admired the platoon of golden wheat shocks standing at attention in the fields of Amish farmers.
I had no idea then that I would be spending most of my adult life living there. It served as a foretaste of many good things to come for me.
I look back on my lifetime of Augusts with pleasant memories. None of the three H’s can bake, wilt, or obscure them.
My wife and I could hardly wait for our Ohio vacation to arrive. It wasn’t so much the destination as it was the people we would see.
After 50 years of marriage, relationships are everything to us. With all of the interruptions caused by the pandemic restrictions and safety measures, the sheer desire to see friends and family members drew us back to our home state.
Sure, we wanted to visit our old rural Ohio stomping grounds, Holmes County. Before that, though, would come a much anticipated week at our beloved Lakeside, Ohio. It’s the Buckeye State’s most beautiful mile.
We have relaxed there each July since 1987, minus last year’s pandemic summer-sequestering. We looked forward to enjoying all of the resort town’s amenities.
We longed to stroll along the Lake Erie shoreline to view the colorful collage of flowers. We looked forward to playing dominoes with other baby boomer friends on the porch of our hospitality house. Most of all, we anticipated reuniting with fellow Lakesiders.
First, we connected with a couple of my siblings on the way. My youngest brother and his wife greeted us with their new Britney Spaniel puppy in tow. Our sister soon joined us, and we caught up with news of children and grandchildren around a table of finger foods.
To help further break up the long drive from Virginia, we stayed overnight with a lifelong friend. Glad for our company, she went overboard to accommodate us, sharing deep conversations that resulted in laughter, tears, and lots of delicious food. Our reunion holiday was off to a good start.
Beautiful summer weather welcomed us to the Chautauqua on Lake Erie. Lakeside was still Lakeside.
However, a powerful night-time cold front arrived, drowning out many of our outdoor Lakeside plans. The weather remained wet and chilly, more so than the forecasts had foretold.
Still, we were at our favorite family resort, and that was all that mattered. The on-again-off-again rain couldn’t dampen our reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones.
As a photographer, I always enjoyed rising early for gorgeous sunrises over the lake. Clouds and fog foiled that, too. The sun still rose. We just couldn’t see it.
The traditional stroll to the dock for sunsets even became iffy. A bagpiper serenaded the sundown to the joy and amazement of the adoring crowd at one of the few sunsets that we did see.
Summer flowers brightened cottages, homes, and even businesses thanks to the dedication of the hardworking Lakeside staff and volunteers. We enjoyed the many flashy floral displays.
Despite the weather, the Lakeside days slipped away. Saturday came too soon, and we bid farewell to our Lakeside friends. We headed southeast for dinner with my two brothers and their spouses.
Then it was off to the heart of Ohio’s Amish country, Holmes County, where we had spent most of our adult lives until moving to the Shenandoah Valley to be close to our grandchildren four years ago. We were amazed at the continued new construction, primarily commercial buildings.
On Sunday, we returned to the church where we worshiped for 46 years. More friends shared hugs and smiles both before and after the service.
We stayed with dear friends and watched the sun glint off of the newly restored courthouse dome. It was hard to believe the many changes of the last four years as our gracious hosts drove us around the county.
As we headed back home, we made one more important stop. Breakfast with my wife’s sister and husband and a close cousin and his wife, all baby boomers, too, served as an appropriate send-off.
Spirited conversations and genuine fellowship with family and friends marked the pinnacle of our Ohio vacation. Soggy weather couldn’t swamp that.
The patch of lovely pink coneflowers drew me to them. The pretty flowerbed would make a nice photo. Then I spotted a lone bee atop one of the flowers. It sat motionless, as if resting. The amount of yellow pollen protruding from each side impressed me. I had to snap a photograph before it flew away.
Ironically, the bee stayed still, and I walked away glad that it had caught the attention of these old eyes.
There she was, sitting in the hot summer sun sketching away. The oversized, floppy straw hat she wore blended in with the stucco building behind her and created its own shade. This septuagenarian was just one of many street artists participating in the Plein Air Festival at Lakeside, Ohio, where my wife and I vacationed.
With her permission, I captured this shot of her sketching a cafe scene across the street. “The Street Artist” is my Photo of the Week.
How do you mid-summer dream? It’s something we all do but may not recognize it as such. I’m not necessarily channeling Shakespeare’s classic comedy either.
Mid-July is the time of year when we find ourselves drowsing. We can thank the month’s long days of heat and humidity for that. I’m not complaining, mind you.
Summer’s lush and contrasting colors are at their peak before August’s dog days wither and fade them. There is no better time than the present to commune with the out-of-doors. It is summer, after all.
It’s a dreamy time of year. Nature gives us plenty of opportunities to while away our time by gazing at the many varieties of vibrant and verdant scenes that surround us. City, suburban, or country, all we have to do is notice the abundant bold beauty.
There are plenty of options for all ages. Venues like the Wilderness Center offer multiple choices for summer dreaming. Stroll the many trails or take a seat on a bench or a log and just sit and absorb whatever you encounter. Mosquitoes don’t count.
Put on your best summer muse. It could be the initial quiet moments of the dawning day or the cool of the evening as Venus glimmers brightly low in the western sky.
Sit on a porch swing and watch the fireflies flicker in the late evening haze. Cast a keeper-hook into a bed of blooming water lilies and gently reel and wait for that expectant tug on the line.
Swim in a farm pond with your teenage friends, or just lounge on a dock and bask in the ensuing laughter. Sit around a campfire, listening to the snap, crackle, pop, and watch the sparks skitter higher and higher until they fizzle.
Stand at your garden’s edge, and smile at the success of your persistent efforts to keep the weeds at bay. Watch a sunset over a lake or stream. Be awed as the orange, golds, and reds magically meld into pinks and blues as dusk becomes nightfall.
Silently follow a family of chimney swifts as they swoop in wide loops overhead, busily chattering before suddenly dropping into a nearby smokestack. Sit high in a mountain at a scenic overlook for hours and savor the ever-changing view.
Don your skis and skip wave after wave behind a speeding motorboat, laughing in the glorious moment. Share a homemade sour cherry pie with generous scoops of vanilla ice cream with your grandchildren.
Even Britain’s Queen Elizabeth has embraced the dreaming. She recently opened up the Buckingham Palace lawns to the public for picnic lunches. Take your own food, of course.
Studies have shown that spending time outdoors can improve your health. A mere 20 minutes outside three times a week could make a huge difference for you physically and mentally. By month’s end, you will have spent five hours recharging in nature.
Think back on all that has transpired in the last year and a half. Think ahead about what might yet be. Most significantly, dream, observe and appreciate all the goodness around you at this midway spot in our calendar year.
We all have endured a great deal, some more than others. There may be more to come. That’s all the more reason to take time to find a special place of respite outside, a spot where you can reflect and dream.
We can’t change the past, and we can’t know what lies ahead. We can, however, enjoy the moment at hand.
There is no better place to do that than your favorite open-air space. Happy mid-summer dreaming.
I took this photo exactly seven years ago today while I was checking my roads as a township trustee in Holmes County, Ohio. Wheat shocks standing in fields like this one was once a common scene in Ohio’s Amish country.
Today, only the lowest order of Amish still shock their winter wheat, oats, and corn in the fall. The mainline Amish have introduced horse-drawn harvesting machines to gather their grain. Doing so was a matter of efficiency. With less than 10 percent of Amish still farming, fewer farmers are available to help in the harvesting process.
Consequently, this photo perhaps is a shocking scene in today’s terms. “A Shocking Scene” is my Photo of the Week.
My wife and I had waited two years for these hugs. When we finally embraced our son and his wife, all seemed right with the world again.
We knew we were not alone. Necessary health restrictions continue to keep millions of global people apart.
So, we felt fortunate to travel from central Virginia to upstate New York finally. The scenery was magnificent. The traffic not so much.
The road to Rochester, New York, was a long and winding one. With the heatwave, it was a hot one, too.
Though the city is due north of our home in the Shenandoah Valley, there is no easy way to get there. We can thank the old, folded Appalachian Mountains for that. The lush, forested mountains contrasted with the ripening grain fields we saw.
One highway closely followed the picturesque Susquehanna River part of the way. We even passed through central Pennsylvania’s Amish country. Hand-painted signs advertising quilts and produce reminded me of our beloved Holmes County, Ohio, home of the world’s largest Amish population, and where we used to live.
Upper left to right; The Sam Patch tour boat on the Erie Canal; Williamsport, PA; 100-acre pond; Male Eastern Bluebird; a hike on a hot and humid day.
For us, the mini-reunion was especially sweet. Unable to travel in June 2020, we had to watch our son’s street wedding on Zoom. It wasn’t what we wanted, but what we had to do.
Since the specifics of each state’s pandemic policies and restrictions were unique, we had to be patient to see our son and his bride in person. According to the guidelines, they couldn’t come to us from New York State, and we couldn’t visit them from Virginia.
That all changed once the vaccines became available. Our son and daughter-in-law got vaccinated just as we did. With both states relaxing restrictions due to declining infection numbers, we finally set a date to trek north.
Our daughter-in-law teaches middle school English, and her academic year didn’t end until the last week of June. That worked out perfectly for us. We may have missed their wedding, but we would be there to help celebrate their first anniversary.
And celebrate we did! With the heatwave in progress, however, we scaled back the planned outdoor activities. Still, we enjoyed a pleasant boat ride on the Erie Canal and took anniversary photos at a quaint lighthouse on Lake Ontario.
Food enthusiasts that they are, Nathan and Jess, arranged meals at some excellent restaurants. We were even able to eat outside in the evening’s shade. We savored the food and conversation and watched people stroll along city sidewalks.
We visited a park and toured a wildlife rehabilitation center. A refreshing breeze cooled us as we sat on benches overlooking a 100-acre pond. Before we left, we hugged some more.
Yes, we were inconvenienced all those months by the pandemic and the health restrictions needed to deter it. But with those embraces, all of the pent-up stress evaporated into the steamy air.
Yet, there was more. With each hug, I had to think about all those who haven’t yet had the same opportunity. I also thought about all those thousands upon thousands of mourning folks who would never be able to hug their lost loved ones taken by the pandemic’s virulence.
My wife and I were more than rewarded by merely being with our son and his wife. We were most grateful.
As I drove home, it hit me that the long and winding road to Rochester served as a metaphor for the horrific pandemic. The approaches and responses to the coronavirus have taken many twists and turns since its emergence in December 2019.
Hopefully, science will straighten those pandemic curves soon. Meanwhile, I’ll cherish every hug I get.