Viewing the leaves in Ohio’s Amish country

Fall from my backyard by Bruce Stambaugh

By Bruce Stambaugh

Ohio’s Amish Country, particularly Holmes County, is a great place to be when the autumn leaves are at their finest. With its many stands of mixed hardwoods throughout the area, the colors can be spectacular if all the conditions are right.

The leaves are usually at their colorful peak by mid-October. Though the summer’s drought may have caused some trees to already change, they seem to be on a normal timetable for coloration. Now through the next two weeks will provide marvelous viewing.

Several great routes can be driven to see the rainbow of leaves. Just consider the rolling hills, rows of corn shocks, grazing cows, romping horses, Amish buggies and silvery streams as backdrops to the main event.

Fall farm by Bruce Stambaugh

Simply traveling the main highways that lead into the Holmes County area and crisscross the county will guarantee beautiful scenery. That’s especially true in the fall.

Trees and shocks by Bruce StambaughState Route 39 cuts Holmes County in half east to west. In many places, the road roughly follows the terminal moraine of the Wisconsin Glacier. To the south, hillsides loaded with maple, oak, walnut, beech and hickory trees are steeper than their counterparts on the opposite side of the road. The glacier filled in the valleys on the north side 10,000 years ago, leaving a gently undulating geography, with rich soil that farmers pamper for excellent crops and lush pasturelands. Stands of woodlots and tree-studded fence lines create magnificent leaf viewing.

Yellow and red by Bruce StambaughState Route 83 bisects Holmes County in half north to south. You will be dazzled by the vistas that change seemingly at every curve. Both north and south of Millersburg, the county seat, the route hugs the eastern edge of the Killbuck Valley. Impressive slopes with ample forests east and west nestle golden marshlands teeming with wildlife in between.

U.S. 62 runs diagonally across the county. From the northeast, pastoral views are aplenty, meandering through Amish farmland on each side. Because the wood industry surpassed agriculture as the number one employer in Holmes County a few years ago, trees are treasured and properly cared for.

Fall scene by Bruce Stambaugh

Follow U.S. 62 from Millersburg southwest toward Killbuck and on to Danville in Knox County and you might think you are in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. In truth, you are. The road follows the area’s main waterway, Killbuck Creek, and then climbs the hills into the Mohican River watershed.

Woods and hills by Bruce Stambaugh

The lesser traveled state, county and township roads provide equal opportunity viewing when it comes to autumn leaves. State Route 520 from Killbuck through Glenmont’s seven hills and on to State Route 514 especially provides a pretty show if the timing is right.

In the east, State Routes 241, 515, 557 and 643 all are winding, hilly and gorgeous in the fall. Farmsteads with white houses and coffin red barns are the norm in any direction on these roads.

Red barn red tree by Bruce Stamaugh

For those who desire more than just riding and looking, the area has plenty to offer. At the Wilderness Center off of U.S. 250 west of Wilmot, you can hike through prairie grass and virgin forests, and explore an education center, where there is fun for all ages.

Mohican State Park near Loudonville affords numerous trails with incredible overlooks to the steep Mohican River gorge. The greens of the thousands of white pines nicely compliment the colorful mixed hardwood forest.

For bicyclists, the Holmes County Trail offers 16 miles of lovely trials from Fredericksburg to Killbuck. Hikers are welcome, too. The trail runs along the Killbuck through the center of the county until it turns southwest toward Killbuck. The wildlife, birding and leaf viewing can all be consumed simultaneously. A note of caution, however. Horse and buggies also use the trail on one side while bikers and hikers are on the other.

Everyone has their favorite spot to view the changing leaves. You’ll enjoy finding yours.

Fall in Amish country by Bruce Stambaugh

This article appeared in Ohio’s Amish Country magazine.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

Fall is upon us in every way

Pumpkins and buggies by Bruce Stambaugh

By Bruce Stambaugh

Officially it’s still summer for a few more days. Reality says otherwise.

Fall is upon us. The signs are everywhere. They have been for sometime now.

Warm, pleasant days give way to cooler, quiet evenings. Only a few remaining crickets and an occasional Screech Owl break the night’s silence.

The morning wake up call suddenly switched from a chorus of American Robins to cheery Carolina Wrens. The effect is still the same.

Morning fog by Bruce Stambaugh

Dense fog quickly lifts from valleys, giving way to white cottony clouds highlighted pink, peach, gold and gray by the strengthening sun. Morning mists betray the garden spiders’ artsy trap. The miniature droplets soon yield to the day’s brightening warmth.

While most show a slight tinge, some entire trees have already had their leaves turn a dull orange or dirty yellow. No doubt the stress of this summer’s oppressive heat and extreme dryness forced this premature metamorphosis. Some leaves seemed to go green to brown overnight. The deepening blue sky offsets these anomalies, making them almost acceptable.

Tinted tree by Bruce Stambaugh

Fall is not a time to quibble. It’s a time to appreciate, to work and to reorient yourself and the world as we have come to know it.

Dewy web by Bruce StambaughScholars head to school, each in their own way. Young boys, red and white lunch buckets swaying by their sides, walk in groups, tan straw hats bobbing rhythmically. Smart girls wearing pastel dresses glide by on mute bicycles. They left home later than yet arrived simultaneously with the boys.

Bumblebee painted buses inch past the pedestrians until the next stop. Somewhere behind sheer curtains, home-schooled children take it all in.

The hum of school seems to settle society, put it back in sync. Family vacations end. The students, though not likely to admit it, enjoy the familiar routine, save for a handful of frequent flyers who already know the path to the principal’s office.

At the produce market, giant pumpkins now outnumber the red, plump tomatoes and the ubiquitous zucchini. Despite the protests of the regal morning glories, crimson and gilded mums are the flowers of choice and the season.

Field corn by Bruce Stambaugh

Despite the drought, farmers are smiling, assuming they indeed have crops to gather. They live for the harvest. It’s their bread and butter, their paycheck, their livelihood. They relish the work and consider comparing their bushels per acre numbers as an exercise in status. If their neighbor needs help, however, they’ll be the first to respond.

Kitchens fill with the aromas of snappy salsa, and pickles and vinegar. Canning shelves are replenished with jars of winking peaches and cherries, sandwiched by rows of golden corn and tart applesauce.
Peach salsa by Bruce Stambaugh
Life in the fall in the rural Midwest in mid-September is as fulfilling as it gets. Pride and gratitude are the human harvest for rural folks. No blue ribbons, even if bestowed, can provide the same satisfaction. Those ancillary awards politely confirm what we already believe.

Where coloring stands of hardwoods mingle with fencerows and cornrows, life is good. We acknowledge our connection to creation and to one another. We also sense the real and urgent necessity to care for mother earth as we prepare for whatever winter brings our way.

Fall is upon us. Stop, look, listen, inhale and enjoy. The rest of life will take care of itself. It is an equal opportunity seasonal transition we all need whether we know it or not. I humbly thank autumn for the abundant and timely cues.

Amish scholars by Bruce Stambaugh

This column appeared in The Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

It’s the plum time of year

Fall sunset by Bruce Stambaugh
The sunsets in the fall are truly amazing.

By Bruce Stambaugh

For those of us fortunate to live in North America’s temperate zone, this is the plum time of year. I mean that literally and figuratively.

The literal part is that locally grown plums are at the peak of their ripeness. I’m just plum crazy for plums.

I remember traveling with my grandfather, who knew as many people in the world as my gregarious father did. Grandpa Merle loved to stop at roadside produce stands, especially where he knew the proprietors. If they had ripe plums, he always bought a peck or two.

I loved everything about them, their simple size, their football shape, their blue violet sheen, their light greenish-yellow flesh, their sweet tart taste, and even the pit.

Sugar plums by Bruce Stambaugh
The variety of plums locally referred to as sugar plums.

I liked the size because, especially for a kid, they weren’t too big, which meant we could usually eat more than one. I liked their oblong shape because it was easy to bite in to.

I found the plum’s color inviting. The moist sweetness with the tart aftertaste was both delicious and curious. I liked the texture of their meat and the fact that, unlike other fresh fruit, you could bite into them without having juice run down your arm and drip off your elbow.

Much to my mother’s chagrin, I often plopped a whole one in my mouth. My mother highly discouraged my poor manners to no avail. I often eat the lovely plums the same way today.

Once devoured, that left the seed. I didn’t eat it of course. For whatever reason, I tucked the pit, which mirrored the shape of its fruit, into my left cheek and sucked on it for hours. I could play an entire baseball game with a plum seed nestled between my cheek and gum. It seemed to help keep my mouth moist. Besides, it was better than the usual baseball alternative, snuff.

All those memories resurfaced for me when my wife brought home some plums from the local produce stand. They were accompanied by Bartlett pears, squash, zucchini and preserved sugar beets, too. The fall harvest was on, one of the primary symbols of the season.

Holly berries by Bruce Stambaugh
The holly berries have turned bright red, a nice contrast against the bush's prickly green leaves.

We are enjoying an abundance of tomatoes that have seemed to ripen in our modest patch all at once. There isn’t one heirloom I don’t enjoy, and they can be eaten in so many different ways, right off the vine, fresh salsa, in sandwiches, sauces, and with pasta.

Our neighbors added to the feast by insisting we help them out by accepting and consuming a sampling of the last of their bumper crop of sweet corn. It was amazingly sweet for this late in the growing season.

The days have grown shorter and cooler, both daytime and night. The leaves on the deciduous trees have begun to turn. They started falling shortly after Labor Day.

The webs of black and yellow garden spiders catch the frequent morning mist and then sparkle diamonds in the sun’s rays. The sunrises and sunsets are breathtaking, each one picture perfect.

Golden rod by Bruce Stambaugh
Though weed that it is, golden rod brightens even the haziest of mornings.

The dogwood and holly berries are bright red. Yellow jackets are everywhere. Unkempt fields, once purple with ironweed blooms, have morphed to mustard with thousands of goldenrod heads bending from their fullness. Wild tickseed sunflowers brighten the dustiest roadside.

Autumn has arrived. Either metaphorically or realistically, transitioning from summer to fall in northern Ohio is a plum time of year.

A practical way to give thanks

By Bruce Stambaugh

It was only appropriate that for a full week after the first snow of the year that we experienced a perfect Indian summer here in Ohio.

The extended summer-like days, which seemed to actually improve chronologically until the rains came, served as a picturesque bridge between a superb fall and an inexplicit winter yet to come.

We can only wonder what winter will be like. Will it be as harsh and record breaking as the last? We hope not. Clearly we have no say in the matter.

Snowfall in Ohio's Amish country by Bruce Stambaugh
Snowfall in Ohio's Amish country totaled three feet in February 2010.

Every fall the National Weather Service issues a long-term guesstimation of what winter will bring. But even the scientists hedge their prognostications on percentages, casino like.

In the end, we have no choice but to take what we get. Hushed by the holiday clamor, a certain question lingers unspoken. Will we appreciate what we receive? In truth, that question can and should be applied far beyond the realm of weather.

I remember well the winter of 2004-2005 when the infamous ice storm nailed our area. The accumulating ice snapped giant trees, brought down power lines, halted commerce, interrupted communications, and thinned traffic to emergency purposes only for days.

Those of us who were on the electrical grid were hit hard. Fortunately, an Amish friend saved my family and me with the use of a generator to at least keep the gas hot water heat on. Without the generator’s assistance, the pipes in our home would have frozen and burst, causing extensive damage. Thankfully that did not happen, due to the unconditional generosity of my friend.

All the while, with our communication to the outside world cut, thousands upon thousands of people were caught in the wake of a horrific earthquake and subsequent tidal waves that killed scores of people.

In sorting through an overflowing basket of mishmash the other day, I came upon some handwritten notes I had made about the catastrophe. Apparently, I did so while listening to a battery-operated radio. In reviewing my scribbling, I was reminded that the inconvenience of living without electricity for five days paled in comparison to the plight of millions of fellow human beings halfway around the world.

A sampling of my jottings, dated Dec. 26, 2004, relived the calamity: Banda Ache, 60-foot wave, two miles inland, 30 mph, eight-12 feet deep flood; deaths, 200,000 in Indonesia alone, 400,000 injured; no system to alert people in Indian Ocean rim; 9.3 magnitude earthquake, the world’s deadliest tsunami. Unfortunately, those initial notations proved accurate.

Once power was restored the horrible scenes unfolded on television. I was appalled for the victims, thankful for my family that we had only lost power and a few trees in the yard. Compared to the widespread wreckage and unbelievable totals of death and injuries of so many innocents, we had been fortunate.

Tracks in the snow by Bruce Stambaugh
Horses made serpentine tracks in the heavy snow last Feb. in Holmes County.

Since then, infinite natural and man-made disasters, including the sluggish global economy, have occurred. Others will likely continue to develop as time progresses. Nevertheless, as we begin this holiday season in North America, we still have so much for which we can be thankful no matter our personal situation.

This Thanksgiving perhaps we can express our gratitude by simply helping the less fortunate. We may not have to look clear to the Indian Ocean rim for those opportunities either.

Maybe, just maybe, a proactive generosity can be an Indian summer bridge to brighten someone else’s rainy day life. That would be a practical, productive and prudent Thanksgiving.

It’s beginning to look a lot like fall already

Oats shocks by Bruce Stambaugh
A field full of oats shocks before being gathered for the thrasher near Berlin, Ohio.

By Bruce Stambaugh

With Labor Day upon us, autumn will be right around the corner. In fact, if you look closely, signs of fall are already evident.

Some of the indicators are obvious, others more subtle. Some are predictable with still others seemingly a bit premature.

The days, often the nicest of the summer, have a sly, natural flaw. Day by day, minutes of daylight are silently subtracted from the previous day’s total. By month’s end, daily darkness will outnumber daylight once again.

The sun itself is moving more towards the center of the horizons at sunrise and sunset. Those driving true east and west running roads have already begun to frequently use their sun visors. The fall fogs, too, have clouded crisp mornings, the consequence of cool nights following warm days.

In the fields, the harvesting has begun. My Amish neighbors have long since gathered up the standing army of oats shocks and wheeled them off wagon load after wagon load to the thrasher.

Now it’s the corn’s turn. The field corn seems to have taken on drought status, drying up almost overnight. Brown has overtaken green as the predominant color in the standing sea. Smart farmers have already begun to cut their supply of silage to replenish the silos.

Fall webworms by Bruce Stambaugh
The homes of fall webworms shine in the sun.

In the woods and along highways, once glossy, emerald leaves have dulled and drooped. Some have already begun to drop without even changing color. Now and again a black walnut can be found standing stark naked, save for the cache of fall webworm nests it has involuntarily collected.

In the gardens, the picking of produce is a daily chore. Cucumbers, onions and tomatoes have hit their peek. Kitchens are cluttered with utensils for canning and freezing. The ripened fruits and vegetables that aren’t consumed at the dinner table find their way into jars and containers.

Even the sounds of the season have changed. Only a few American Robins continue to sing, and most likely they are sophomores practicing for next year’s prom. Instead of gathering nesting materials and snagging worms and insects, parent birds lead their fledglings to watering holes for liquid refreshment and necessary bathing.

Well-worn butterfly by Bruce Stambaugh
A well-worn tiger swallowtail butterfly took advantage of some wildflowers.

The volume and frequency of the cicada and katydid songs have lessoned considerably. Even the crickets have quieted down.

Butterfly on phlox by Bruce Stambaugh
A butterfly enjoys late blooming phlox.

Butterflies of all sizes and colors squeeze whatever nutrients they can out of the fading cornflowers and black-eyed susans. The humming birds, too, seem to sense an urgency to store up extra energy for their upcoming southern vacation travel.

Squirrels are in their glory, cutting as many beechnuts, hickory nuts and walnuts as they can. Thrifty creatures that they are, they also bury future meals for harder times ahead. Only they can’t always remember where they put their stash.

Next spring, when the saplings begin to appear, we will learn just how forgetful the squirrels were. But between now and then, many pleasant days lay ahead, and probably some less than desirable ones, too.

There is yet one more indicator that fall is knocking on our door. Campaign signs have already begun to litter urban, suburban and rural roadsides. They are as prolific and unsightly as the ugly webbed homes of the worms.

The obnoxious yet gaudy campaign posters are a human-induced reminder of what nature is about to bring. Autumn will be here before we know it, and there is little we can do about it except to enjoy the ever-changing colorful show.

Cows grazed at sunset by Bruce Stambaugh
Cows grazed on a hillside at sunset.