I never tire of taking shots of sunsets from my backyard. At first glance, one might think this photo was taken out west someplace, as in the western United States. It wasn’t. I shot this sunset recently in my backyard in Ohio’s Amish country. Windmills for pumping water on Amish farms are commonplace in Holmes Co., Ohio.
I realize that I am fortunate to live where I do. I never tire of the incredible sunsets that occur so frequently. Most of all, I enjoy sharing them with you.
When I was a youngster growing up in a suburb of a blue-collar steel town in northeast Ohio in the 1950s and 60s, I loved summer nights.
Let me be clear that the foremost reason for my affection for summer was that school was out. But it was so much more than that, and still is.
Sure, summer days filled with warm temperatures, fluffy white clouds sailing by and gaggles of my peers running loose made for riotous times. We’d play ball, ride bikes, and explore for hours on end along the little creek that snaked through a woods down over the hill from our brick bungalow.
However, we knew when to come home for lunch and supper, or we wouldn’t eat. It was that simple.
It was a crazy, wonderful era to grow up. Times were changing. Right after supper, we watched the world unfold before us on the nightly news on black and white television. I had trouble reconciling what I saw then with what I had seen just before dinner on the Mickey Mouse Club.
That might have something to do with why I enjoyed and enjoy summer nights so much. Things got quieter after 10 p.m. or so. The noises of life subsided. I escaped into the refreshing darkness, unafraid, in awe of creation, and in search of anything that moved in the sparkling sky.
Since we were on summer vacation from school, my siblings and I were permitted to stay up later. I loved the evening’s coolness, a respite from the daytime heat and humidity. The nighttime air was our air conditioning.
I took full advantage of those cooler opportunities. I loved to view the night sky. Streetlights were scarce in our neighborhood then, allowing us actually to see the constellations and the countless stars.
My folks must have noticed that interest, too. I got a telescope, and that allowed me to examine the heavenly hosts up close. It was the beginning of the space age, and once I even was able to follow Sputnik, the first-ever man-made satellite launched by the Soviet Union.
Satellites were still so novel that newspapers published the time and flight path of their orbits. When I saw Sputnik, I couldn’t believe its simplicity, a round ball with four protruding antennae.
I liked simpler, natural things, too, like fireflies, the flash of heat lightning in distant storms, an owl hooting. Most of all, I embraced the solitude that summer nights afforded.
Here I am decades later, a grandfather instead of a grandson. I still love the quietness of early summer nights, before the crickets and katydids begin their concerts.
Living here in the country, I lie awake at night listening to distant sounds far from our home, dogs barking, horses whinnying, and jetliners cruising high overhead. It’s that calm. If I’m fortunate, a Whippoorwill will wake me from my daze, or a pair of coyotes will howl from the hilltop behind our home.
An American Robin will startle me awake long before dawn, perhaps herself startled from her nest. Was it a cat, a flying squirrel, an owl, or did one of her babies grow restless and try an early morning fledgling flight?
I still like the nights before the crickets start choir practice. I still prefer summer’s air conditioning to artificial. I am most appreciative that lightning bugs don’t crackle when they blink.
Each summer solstice, I stand at the northwestern corner of our property here in Ohio’s Amish country and watch the sun sink between the twin silos on our Amish neighbor’s farm. I guess it’s my version of Stonehenge. Normally, if the sky is clear, I often see a golden orange glow. Not this year.
I watched the sunset on the summer solstice again last Sunday evening. As sunsets will do, the colors in the evening sky seemed to change by the minute. I kept shooting and shooting photos. I thought the roses, violets and baby blues painted above the silhouetted farmstead in this shot created an amazing scene.
While leading some field trips to view baby barn owls, I happened to catch this scene. The light from the bright outside was streaming through the old broken shutters on a vent that helps air out the barn. Though it was rather dark inside the barn, this natural light played upon the inside wooden wall, revealing every intricate detail of the weathered barn siding.
On my morning walk, my neighbor’s grandsons exited the house well before 9 a.m. They each had their necessary baseball gear in tow, gloves, bat, and ball.
I called out to them, “Baseball for breakfast, boys?”
They just smiled and ran to their imaginary Major League park, the grass groomed immaculately by their grandfather. I walked on, lifted by the sound of bat striking ball.
Because the local greenhouse was having a sale, more traffic than normal traveled the tiny rural road. Believe me, they were busy.
The chorus from the Song Sparrows, Eastern Meadowlarks, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Red-headed Woodpeckers helped balance the roar of engines and jake brakes accelerating and descending hills on highways a mile away.
That’s one of the luxuries of living in the country. The sounds of life’s contrasts become all too obvious.
Young Amish girls, all three sisters that I knew, pulled an empty wagon toward the greenhouse.
“Going shopping this morning?” I asked them. A simple “Yes” and a few giggles was their retort. I silently lauded the mother for allowing the girls to pick out the desired plants.
This opportunity gave them responsibility, decision making, and experience in money exchanging, all valuable life skills. It was just one example of raising children in the way they should go.
As I reached Jonas’ farm, his wife walked down the sidewalk to the gravel driveway where her husband waited in the buggy. I waved, and Jonas returned the common greeting.
All the while I strolled and interacted with these good folks, I kept thinking of my friends far away in Syria, Iraq, Honduras, Texas, California, and other foreign countries.
How I wished they could be walking with me to experience this goodness that I take for granted far too often. Instead, some of them were just trying to stay alive, work diligently for peace, help the needy, and recover from massive flooding.
At that point, I embraced them and the day the only ways I knew how. I thought and prayed for them as I walked along on this lovely morning. I hoped it was as divine for them whatever their current situation.
When I passed by the greenhouse on the return trip, there was Jonas again. He was sitting in the buggy while his wife looked for flowers and plants.
I kiddingly cried out to him, too. “Don’t you like shopping, Jonas?”
“I trust my wife,” he said. I bet he helped her plant whatever she bought though. That’s the kind of betrothed devotion I admire.
Down the homestretch, where traffic gets busier and louder, an Indigo Bunting sang from deep within a woodlot. I stepped to the road’s side to let the vehicles zip by, and to listen to this magical sound. I wished the drivers could hear it as well.
When I reached our property, my heart sang in harmony with the birds. My energetic wife was watering a variety of colorful flowers, some she had purchased at the greenhouse sale earlier that morning.
The Eastern Bluebirds flew from the birdhouse I had put up for them. My heart rejoiced all the more. I was glad they had won out over the pesky House Sparrows. A House Wren chattered atop another birdhouse nearby.
I have a lot for which I am grateful. This walk reminded me that each morning I open my eyes I need to say a joy-filled thanks.
I am fortunate to have several species of Ohio’s woodpeckers come to my feeders on a regular basis. Most prefer the peanut butter suet feeder that hangs from a branch of the large maple tree in our backyard. A few will venture up to the hopper feeder hanging right outside our kitchen window. They can’t resist the chipped sunflower seeds that many other birds also enjoy.
I’m glad I had my camera in hand when this juvenile male Downy Woodpecker, soaked from the day’s rain, arrived at the feeder. The young bird didn’t seem deterred either by my presence or its rather damp feathers.
Even in my semi-retirement, I’m a busy person. Keeping active and involved in the community has been a priority and passion my entire life.
That lifestyle takes a personal toll, however. From time to time, I need to recharge my body, mind, and spirit. I step away from my daily routine and spend some time just enjoying life.
I have found that immersing myself into nature is the salve that soothes the soul. I love the outdoors and all the beauty that she offers.
A Big Day does that for me. In the birding world, a Big Day is an entire day devoted to nothing more than counting all the species of birds that you can identify by sight or sound.
Folks do Big Days in groups that cover a given territory. Or they are done by simply staying put in one spot and counting all creatures avian seen or heard. That is appropriately called a Big Sit.
My Big Day, however, wasn’t either one of those. Instead, with the warbler migration in full swing, I knew the various locations I wanted to visit in northwest Ohio to view the returning and transient birds.
Traveling alone to different birding hot spots allowed me to go at my own pace, and to absorb fully all that I experienced.
Spring birding near Lake Erie means dressing for all seasons. I was glad I had.
The steady, stiff northeast wind off of the lake brought out the winter duds in most birders on the boardwalk at Magee Marsh, my first destination. Being bundled up didn’t deter either the active bird observations or the usual universal geniality of most birders.
The boardwalk was packed with birders young, old and in between from around the world. Warblers and other birds flitted everywhere.
Even though I had gone by myself, I clearly wasn’t alone. Among the hundreds of birders at Magee, I only knew one, my friend and expert birder, Greg Miller, of ‘The Big Year” fame. The rest weren’t strangers though, helping me to locate and identify 23 warbler species. Their kindness meant more than the day’s species numbers.
Later, when I drove the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge road and then hurried to see some other rare birds, I found the same excited congeniality. Sullen grumpiness isn’t part of birding ethics. Beautiful birds and friendly birders cohabited.
With the day quickly waning, I headed east to the Marblehead Peninsula. I wanted to enhance my day with a brief visit to the Lakeside Daisy Nature Preserve to view the flowers in their prime. Though the day was mostly cloudy and cool, the little buttery daisies warmed my soul with their lusciousness.
After a quick supper, I hustled to my favorite spot in Ohio, Marblehead Lighthouse. The setting sun cast long shadows of trees onto the historic white lighthouse. Its red top, where the beacon blinked for sailors, was bathed in creamy, warm light.
A handful of other photographers celebrated with me. I can’t speak for them. But with each click of the camera’s shutter, my soul felt lighter, cleansed, fulfilled.
I hurried to nearby Lakeside to watch the sunset’s golden evolution. The day was complete.
Such are the positive consequences of observing, listening, contemplating, reflecting and sharing with humankind amid the earthly creation for which we all are charged to preserve. My Big Day finished bigger than I could have ever imagined.
Joy abounded all around in regeneration. Isn’t that the real reason for spring?