It must be July! The winter wheat is ripening to a golden brown here in the Shenandoah Valley, also known as the breadbasket of Virginia. Once the moisture count in the heads of grain reaches a low enough percentage, the combines will start to roll through the fields day and night.
I loved that this Old Order Mennonite farmer left the sugar maple tree to grow and that he planted his crops around it. “The Wheat Field” is my Photo of the Week.
My wife and I have closely followed the stay-at-home coronavirus requirements since they began in mid-March. We hadn’t even been out of our county until just the other day.
Even though Rockingham is the second-largest county in square miles in Virginia, we stayed close to home nevertheless. We have taken the pandemic and the safety recommendations suggested by medical professionals seriously.
While waiting for the predicted rain to arrive, Neva and I went about our regular homebound routines. She sewed and read. I wrote and spent too much time on social media, including sorting my many daily emails. When our church’s weekly newsletter landed in my inbox, I got an idea after reading it.
Friends had recently visited Shenandoah National Park, which stretches 105-miles along the Blue Ridge Mountains. The mountains grace and mark the eastern boundary of Rockingham County. The mountain laurel bushes were in full bloom.
That’s all that I needed to read. With the afternoon half gone and the forecasted rain failing to appear, I suggested we head to the park, too. Neva gladly agreed.
We dressed for the cooler weather that we were sure to encounter in the higher elevations of the park. We were glad we did. Fearsome black clouds hovered over the mountains as we headed east.
We have lived here long enough to know that the mountain weather’s main characteristic is fickleness. The weather changes quickly in those blue mountains.
Sure enough, in the 25 miles we drove on Skyline Drive to Limberlost Trail, we dodged in and out of the sunshine, clouds, fast-moving fog, mist, and even a little rain. We kept going.
We were so glad we had. Only a couple of other cars were in the parking lot of the handicapped accessible trail. Limberlost is a 1.3-mile loop trail that is beautiful in every season.
I had never been on the trail in the spring when the mountain laurel bloomed. Neva had never been there at all. We were both in for an awe-inspiring treat.
We only had to walk a short distance before we encountered the beautiful blooming bushes. We were glad that we had dropped what we were doing and followed our friends’ advice.
Individual bushes and thickets of blooming mountain laurel flourished all along the circular path. They overwhelmed other, more subtle wildflowers that I almost missed.
This area of the park had burned several years ago. Many of the old-growth trees were gone, replaced by patches of spindly saplings. The trail ran through them, creating a fairy-like world. Colorful fungus grew out of tree stumps, and fallen timber left lying right where they landed.
Lush Christmas ferns carpeted the forest floor. The fragrant pink and white blossoms of the mountain laurel painted a lovely contrast to the emerald of the tree canopy above and the sea of ferns below.
We noticed no bees or butterflies, however. I later learned that this variety of rhododendron is toxic to both pollinators and humans. Look, but don’t touch.
A chorus of warblers, vireos, and other woodland birds serenaded us on our enchanting stroll. We were clearly in a national park, but it felt like paradise. Our spontaneity had certainly paid off.
I realize not everyone has a national park to hurry off to in less than an hour. But you likely have a special place that you have meant to visit, someplace you haven’t been since a child.
So, pack up the kids, the snacks, drinks, and don’t forget the hand sanitizer, masks, gloves, and your camera. You just might find paradise, too.
There is nothing particularly spectacular about this photo, although it is pretty. The photo’s details make for a diverse composition: The deflected sunset rays, the fog rising from the hollows of the Allegheny Mountain foothills, and the overall pastoral setting itself. Throw in the fact that this shot was taken on the 2020 summer solstice, and the landscape photo becomes even more meaningful.
So why the title “Hope?” I never expected to be able to take this shot. We had had a string of relatively chilly and cloudy days in the Shenandoah Valley. June 20, the date of this year’s summer solstice, continued that trend. However, after heavy rain moved through, pinks, yellows, and oranges began to appear in the evening sky. I grabbed my camera and headed to my favorite sunset spot, Mole Hill, an extinct volcano core that is a local landmark. It’s higher elevation affords an impressive view of the rolling valley, the foothills, and the mountains themselves.
Though this is not a particularly stunning sunset, it was one that I never thought that I would be able to capture. Consequently, “Hope” is my Photo of the Week.
Summer is here. That short sentence constructed of three little words strung together usually conjures up fond anticipation of good things to come with the passing of the summer solstice.
Summer usually means vacations to both familiar and foreign places, family reunions, children joyously shouting as they splash each other in the local public swimming pool.
Summer means a lazier time with no school for students, and longer, warmer days to garden, read, visit, and work. It means weddings and picnics, hikes in state and national parks, children sleeping in tents instead of their beds.
All of this and much more usually comes on the heels of graduation celebrations and Memorial Day gatherings. We graduated, partied, and then commenced into summer. This year, not so much.
The summer of 2020 is shaping up to be very different thanks to the pandemic. We saw that coming in so many ways, given the sequestering and necessary physical distancing of the last three months.
It’s going to be a different kind of summer for all of us. My wife and I have already missed our grandchildren’s canceled spring plays, concerts, and soccer and baseball games. Summer opportunities for their sporting events also seem limited.
Sadly, we won’t be attending our son’s forthcoming wedding in New York State. Out of an abundance of caution, my wife and I will watch the small ceremony via Zoom. We’ll offer a silent blessing with the exchanging of the vows.
For the first time since 1987, we will skip our annual summer stay at our beloved Lakeside, Ohio. The Chautauqua on Lake Erie canceled most programming due to the Covid-19.
Since my wife and I are in the high-risk category, we have to put our health ahead of our desires. We will dearly miss our Lakeside friends and the gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, not to mention the magical Lakeside spell of peace and calm.
Despite those disappointments, we will not lament those paradigm shifts. We will approach this summer with open arms and cautious optimism and careful actions. Our focus must be adjusting for the long haul, on celebrating each moment, whether in person six feet apart or via Zoom.
What will the summer of 2020 hold for us all? I suppose it depends on your age, situation, location, and just how seriously you consider the coronavirus crisis to be.
As for us, my wife and I will pray for a summer of calm, healing, and reconciliation, given the political rankling and the global unrest due to racial tensions. Each one of us must make every effort to confront our prejudices, hear the criticisms of others without harsh rhetorical defense.
For the summer of 2020 to be a success, each one of us bears the responsibility to restore civility. It is incumbent upon each one of us to treat everyone we meet and encounter with respect, fairness, and honor, just the way we want to be treated. Decency and kindness must prevail regardless of skin color, race, religion, and cultures.
“Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18 and Mark 12:31). In other words, let’s live summer to the full as best we can for everyone’s safety, health, and well-being.
We can begin to make that happen by practicing these five suggestions:
1. Ask others, how can I help?
2. Be a positive person.
3. Communicate in uplifting ways.
4. Be thankful.
5. Express your appreciation of others personally.
Summer has begun. Let’s all work together to make it the best one possible.
Colorful sunsets have been far and few between this spring in the Shenandoah Valley. We have had strings of days when we hardly see the sun. It’s been that cloudy, and often chilly.
The few times the evening sky did offer hope, I headed out. I wasn’t disappointed on June 6. I felt fortunate to capture this shot long after the sun had hidden behind the Allegheny Mountains that mark the boundary between Virginia and West Virginia.
The texturing and laying of the clouds seemed to mimic that of the folded mountains below. The north face of the private two-room school reflected the heavens above.
“Sunset at Mountain View School” is my Photo of the Week.
My wife and I came upon this scene on a recent morning walk around the neighborhood. The slanting rays of the early sun perfectly highlighted this patch of Clustered Bellflowers and one lone, brave Lamb’s Ear.
No calendar is needed to know what month it is. Doors and windows are flung wide open. Summer’s pleasing sounds and pleasant aromas waft in. It must be June.
Sit by a stream where the cottonwoods grow. A summer breeze stirs, and suddenly it’s a blizzard of cottony seeds drifting everywhere. The situation can be as aggravating as it is beautiful.
Once the dew dries, a cacophony of motorized humming ensues, seemingly lasting all day. All the neighbors want to get their lawns mowed before the anticipated rain arrives. It never does. At least the yards are manicured.
To protect their precious eggs, grackles and American robins perform Kamikaze raids on the backyard squirrels who are in search of lunch. The rabbits munch the tender grass undisturbed and unknowing nearby.
The leaves of the deciduous trees appear to have fully unfurled overnight. Contented with their newfound shade, grazing livestock swish their tails, flicking flies left and right, left and right.
Dinner tables brighten with outdoor bouquets brought indoors. Red roses, pink and white peonies, blue salvia, and lavender snapdragons proudly show their colors and intermingle their delicate fragrances.
On the stove, kettles of fresh-picked mint disperse organic menthol. Thirsty throats endure the wait, knowing lunchtime will bring refreshing minty sweetness.
Even the gray catbird pauses for a sip from the birdbath, having warbled all morning from the depths and darkness of the neighbor’s dense yew. The territorial northern mockingbird cuts short that respite, however.
Balmy mornings slip quietly into steamy afternoons. Cumulous clouds build and billow, dappling the landscape with their speeding, oscillating shadows.
By late afternoon, the cooling breezes have retreated. A sultry stillness is ubiquitous. Even the birds grow quiet in anticipation of the coming storms.
A line of darkness fills the western horizon. Soon thunder rumbles the squall line’s approach. Sweaty farmhands work faster still if that is even possible. Saving the first-cutting of hay becomes the day’s primary objective.
After the storm, a double rainbow temporarily shines in the east. Thankful for the cooler air, the rectangular bales stack the haymow higher and higher. Those abandoned in the flattened field will have to wait until they dry.
In the city, waitresses hustle to dry dampened outdoor tables and chairs, all spaced safely according to coronavirus standards. Soon, the customers return, jackets in hand as a precaution for the cooling evening.
In the Allegheny, the Blue Ridge, and the Massanutten Mountain ranges, plump little Louisiana waterthrushes fill the air with luxurious songs. They serve as soliloquies to the music of the rushing mountain streams.
Mountain laurel bushes are at peak bloom, while other wildflowers are only now appearing. The valley-to-mountaintop elevations allow June’s sweetness to thrive all month long.
Honey bees and bumblebees enjoy all the blooms, whether domesticated or wild. They are not picky. Ruby-throated hummingbirds zig and zag at sugar-water feeders to the delight of bird-lovers young and old.
House wrens continue their month-long chatter of courtship, nest-building, incubation, and non-stop feeding. Once the constant rattling goes silent, the brood has fledged, and the cycle begins anew.
We humans of the northern hemisphere enjoy the extended daylight June affords. We work and play all day.
When the sun yields its daytime dominion, the moon, the stars, and the planets light up the heavens. We can enjoy the sparkling show until the neighborhood skunk sends us inside.
Given all of this, it’s no wonder this month is the favorite among brides and grooms. In every aspect, June is a welcomed date.
I had to let the birds come to me during this year’s spring bird migration. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, I only occasionally ventured out on short excursions that often included a grocery pick up after a brief search for migrating birds.
So, I decided to look back in my photo files for a bird that I had never shared before. This Prothonotary Warbler caught my attention and sent me back to when and where I had photographed it. It was a cool, damp day at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area along Lake Erie’s shore in northwest Ohio. The boardwalk was crowded with other birders of all ages from around the world. The cameras clicked away when this bright yellow fellow appeared. Unfortunately, Magee Marsh is closed this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Prothonotary Warblers are only one of two warbler species that nest in tree cavities. They prefer marshy thickets as their habitats. They are named for Roman Catholic papal clerks known as prothonotaries who wear bright yellow robes.
I am glad we have Memorial Day. Its intent is like no other U.S. public holiday.
There is no popping of champagne bottles, no chocolate bunnies, no fireworks, no unwrapping presents. Originally known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day was set to honor the Union soldiers lost in the Civil War.
Now, of course, Memorial Day has a much broader purpose. In 1968, Congress established the last Monday in May as Memorial Day to honor all who served. The legislation also created a three-day weekend for federal employees.
Consequently, Memorial Day morphed into a long weekend with picnics, barbeques, family gatherings, patriotic parades, and other assorted gatherings. Miniature American flags mark the graves of veterans.
Memorial Day always meant a lot to my parents. They made sure fresh flowers were placed or planted at the graves of close relatives. It was a time of solemn, respectful remembrances.
I embraced that lesson. After Dad died, I took it upon myself to carry on the family tradition of commemorating family graves with flowers. By then, most cemetery rules had changed to only allow artificial arrangements and wreaths at headstones, and only for so long.
I suppose real or plastic floral displays weren’t the point. The act of remembering was what mattered.
Since we no longer live in Ohio, that physical act of remembering has ended for me. Like most everything else in our current COVID-19 world, I’ll do a virtual visit through my photo library to pay my respects and refresh my memories.
The pandemic will definitely make this a different kind of Memorial Day for most. Many parks and playgrounds will rightly remain closed as a necessary precaution against the spread of this invisible virus.
There will be no baseball games to attend or watch, no picnics to enjoy the fellowship of family and friends. Concerts and parades have been canceled. Nevertheless, we can still carry on the intended spirit of the day.
I will sit on our patio and contemplate the good times of the past. I will especially remember those who are gone. I’ll recall memorable family stories that my parents told about relatives that I never met. Grandpa Frith died from accidental electrocution six months before I was born. A thoughtless prank in a steel factory killed a great uncle. Every family has similar sad stories.
In many places, our western society views Memorial Day as the end of the school year and the unofficial start of summer. Both of those may be true, but the classes of 2020 won’t have the pomp and circumstance of traditional commencement ceremonies or the celebration of graduation parties.
As much as we would like to be out and about for such events, my wife and I will continue to play it safe. We will continue to social distance and mostly stay at home for the duration.
Vacations, weddings, celebrations, and sports activities, to name a few, have all been canceled, delayed, or postponed due to the spread of the deadly virus. Many may happen virtually using today’s innovative technology.
For that, I am happy. However, many will mourn either a recent loss or a loved one who died long ago. I will grieve, too.
Memorial Day is for remembering and honoring. For those who survive this momentous universal event, however long it lasts, I hope they look back to this Memorial Day in awe. I hope, too, the day will etch a more meaningful, profound, and indelible mental mark.
Wasn’t that the primary point of Memorial Day? Isn’t it still?