Autumn, an appropriate metaphor for life

colorful leaves, autumn leaves
The trees near Ivan’s home.

By Bruce Stambaugh

With our numerous stands of mixed hardwoods, I always look forward to fall’s colorful leaf display. In our busied lives, however, the transition from green to gold seems to take forever. But in a flash or a persistent wind, the trees all stand leafless.

That realization confronted me as the autumn leaves reached their vibrant peak when I received word of Ivan’s death in the middle of the afternoon. Ivan was a valued member of the cancer support group to which I belong. I had visited with him in the hospital only a week earlier knowing that his time was near.

Still, when I heard the sad news, tears of sorrow flowed for Ivan and his family. Our intimate group had welcomed him in, and he contributed far more than his usually quiet demeanor would have suggested. Later that same evening, joy overcame my sadness as my favorite team, the Cleveland Indians, claimed Major League Baseball’s American League pennant. It was a bittersweet moment, one that Ivan would have relished with me.

Right after the final out, I called my friend Tim, also an avid Indians fan. He was as giddy as I was. When I invited him to the first game of the World Series, I think he fell over.

I was fortunate to have secured tickets for the opening World Series game long before the Cleveland club even began the postseason. I hoped beyond hope that they would make it, and they had. I wanted Tim to share in the joy of seeing a World Series game in Cleveland with me.

The leaves were still coloring up when I left Virginia’s majestic Shenandoah Valley the next day to return home for Ivan’s viewing. Paying my respects to the family became a personal priority.

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I had traveled the same roads from Ohio to Virginia just after visiting Ivan the previous week. The leaves in the mountains of western Maryland and northern West Virginia were near their peak. Those in both Ohio and Virginia were turning, but still had a ways to go.

I was amazed at what a difference those few days had made. Patches of red, gold, and burgundy dotted the forested mountain slopes. On the ridges above, giant white windmills twirled in the autumn breezes.

giant wind turbines, fall leaves
Beauty and the beasts.
I thought about Don Quixote jousting with those Dutch windmills. I was satisfied to simply photograph this real live contrast of beauty and the beast and continued on my way.

When I got to Maryland’s mountains highest altitude where I thought the colors would be the brightest, I was disappointed. Many of the leaves had already dropped. Some trees were completely bare.

When I stopped for lunch, I commented to the waiter about my disappointment in missing the peak coloration. I was three days too late, he said.

That happens in life. Our timing just isn’t what it might have been.

It was dark and pelting rain when I arrived at home. But just the illumination from my car’s headlights told me the sturdy sugar maple in my backyard was glowing showy orange.

The combination of rain and wind brought down lots of leaves. But plenty remained for all to enjoy.

Baseball. World Series. Friends. Fall’s coloring contest. I know these precious moments will all wither away like the last leaves of autumn, which passes by us in a vapor.

Life can be like that, too, a hard but applicable metaphorical reality.

orange sugar maple
Our backyard treasure.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Autumn in Amish Country

colorful leaves, Holmes Co. OH
Autumn in Amish Country.

I think I’ll just let this photo speak for itself.

“Autumn in Amish Country” in my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Welcome to Fall!

Amish boys, foggy walk
Welcome to fall.

Autumn officially arrived at 10:21 EDT this morning. Scenes like these Amish boys walking to school in the morning mist are common in the fall. Cool, moist air condenses on the earth’s warmer surface. Most likely, however, these youngsters were conversing about who will get to bat first at the morning recess.

“Welcome to Fall!” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Is it the end of November already?

sunrise, November
November sunrise

By Bruce Stambaugh

I know I’m getting old. I have a birthday soon to prove it.

I thought I just wrote about what November would bring us, and here it is done and gone already. How can that be? I think I have some answers, all of them as lovely as the month itself.

Given the last two winters, we began this November with more than a little trepidation. We had good reasons for our collective unease.

snow in November
Last November’s snow.
Would we be blasted with another surprise snow in the middle of the month like last year? Could we even begin to hope that November would be half as beautiful as October was?

As you happily know, November gave her best to replicate October’s stunning weather here in Ohio’s Amish country. The eleventh month wasn’t quite as bright and pretty as October, but she sure tried hard.

Even with standard time returning and the daylight hours growing fewer by the day, November was a welcome, pleasant surprise. It exceeded all expectations.

Overall, the month turned out to be a much better than average November if only measured by weather. November charmed me with its hospitality, a welcome relief from the state of affairs on the national and international political front.

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It’s not too many Novembers in Ohio that you see a father and his young son walking along a sidewalk in short sleeves mid-month. Last year they would have been bundled up throwing snowballs.

Municipalities, stores, and homeowners took advantage of the decent days to put up their holiday decorations. It beat trying to hang banners and Christmas lights in blizzard-like conditions.

In some locales, Christmas decorations and Halloween displays stood side by side. I wasn’t going to judge. I just enjoyed the intended spirit each reflected, even if the timing was a little off.

The horses and cattle had to be enjoying the extended stay in the open pastures. Frequent November rains made the grass as fresh as after April showers. In fact, folks were mowing their lawns this November on the same day they were plowing out their driveways last year.

Pine Siskin, birding
Looking up.
I took advantage of the excellent weather, too. I cleaned and readied my multiple bird feeders. I was hardly inside when I spotted a few infrequent Pine Siskins on the cylinder feeder by the kitchen window. They feasted on the cracked sunflower hearts.

With my firewood supply tenuous, I had three pickup loads of split and seasoned hardwoods delivered. Over the space of three days, my wife and I had it all neatly stacked behind the garden shed. Remember, I said I was getting older soon.

November’s brisk winds made regular appearances. That was good news for those who hadn’t yet raked their leaves. Their eastern neighbors may have a different viewpoint on that, however.

We had days of rain and drizzle. We had clear blue-sky days, too. And we had those days of cloudy one minute and sunny the next. None required a snow shovel.

Driving around the November countryside, the landscape seemed wider, more open. Perhaps that was due to the leafless trees affording a three-dimensional illusion, no special glasses needed.

This November frequently offered amazing sunrises and sunsets for all to enjoy. Sometimes they lingered for the longest time. Mostly, though, you had to look sharp, or you would miss the colorful show, just like the month itself.

Like Thanksgiving, November has come and gone. Bring on December and hope that it learned a little kindness from its closest sibling.

November sunset, windmill
Glorious sunset.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

November Sunset

sunset, November, Holmes Co. OH
November Sunset.

With the stubby brush and the windmill, this sunset scene looks like it could be “out west.” Not really. I shot this photo a few days ago here in Ohio’s Amish country.

In fact, I merely had to step into the backyard for the shot. I used my telephoto lens. The setting is the top of a hillside pasture about a quarter of a mile behind our home. The “brush” is simply the top of a tree that protrudes from the other side of the hill.

“November Sunset” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Delicate Delicata

delicata squash, squash, farmers produce auction
Delicate Delicata.

Living in the country all of my adult life, I like to think that I know vegetables. When I came upon these beauties, I had to ask what they were. The Amish woman said they were Delicate Squash. Given their intricate and varied variegated coloration, I could see why they got that name. However, when I saw the same squash being sold at the Farmers Produce Auction near Mt. Hope, Ohio, I checked the tag for the name. It read, “Delicata Squash.”

Of course, I Googled it when I returned home and discovered some tasty recipes. Next time, I won’t just photograph these artsy veggies. I’ll buy some, too.

“Delicate Delicata” is my photo of the week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Finding peace and joy

Farmers Produce Auction, Mt. Hope OH
Auction in action.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Most folks go there to either buy or sell. I go for peace and joy.

The Farmers Produce Auction west of Mt. Hope, Ohio is heaven on earth for me. Given the size of the crowds and the non-stop activity, I have a feeling I’m not alone in that sentiment.

This little spot of paradise, located dead-center in the prettiest township in Ohio, bustles with business. That’s especially true in fall, the summit of the harvest season.

That it is so raucous this time of year should come as no surprise. The skid loaders, the bins, the baskets, the boxes, the trucks, the wagons, the carts, the pallets overflow with all of Creation’s botanical creativity.

Though they may not look like it, the auction grounds and buildings are the Garden of Eden April to November. Fall is its horn of plenty.

Growers of all delicious fruits and vegetables and eye candy fall flowers gather their goods and come to the auction. As diverse as the produce varieties, attendees represent a microcosm of society. Men, women, children, black, brown, white, young, old and in between, workers, buyers, sellers and admirers harmoniously intermingle.

Once the auctioneers’ voices begin to resound, all eyes and ears swivel to attention. Buyers from small urban markets, major grocery stores, and mom and pop stands along country roads stay glued to the rhythmical cadence of the hucksters.

They want to make sure they’re going to get the best produce for the best possible price. They know what their customers want and what they’ll pay for quality fresh food and flowers. It’s entrepreneurship at its finest.

Finer still is the paint pallet of colors of the gourds, squash, pumpkins, mums, watermelon, tomatoes, plums, apples and cucumbers. Together they create a biological masterpiece.

Click on the photos to enlarge them.

I wander through the grounds absorbing this end of the rainbow experience. The raw aromas of the fruits and veggies mingle with those of the resting horses and the scrumptious offerings of the beckoning lunch stand.

As if this ever-changing live landscape painting weren’t enough, the singsong crackle of the auctioneers’ voices over the loudspeakers lead the melody of the moment. The hum of the electric loaders, the dozens of sidebar conversations, and the hailing of one person to another across the way sing in harmony.

I glide through as those around me keep to their appointed tasks of loading and unloading, of buying and selling. I am unhindered as I zigzag my way up and down the aisles careful not to interfere or offend.

When I stop and admire the artistry in the earthiness of the individual brush strokes of this organic collage, I come alive. I am at peace. I find joy in the natural patterns of the speckled, striped, plump, oblong, elongated brightness nestled in this temporary harvest home.

The scene could be a Monet or a Rockwell with one exception. It’s real, and it’s all around me, intoxicating all who partake.

Once the bidding ends, a patented rush begins in two directions. One is to quickly but carefully load the delivery trucks to ensure freshness to the awaiting customers miles away. The other is to the food stand, where the chefs are generous with their portions and their geniality.

From still life to landscape to abstract renderings, this produce market offers much more than edibles. In the course of the procurement, peace and joy surreptitiously enrich the colorful treats.

Farmers Produce Auction, Mt. Hope OH
Full view.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015