Celebrating a Big Birthday

Sunset as viewed from Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park.

When you have a big birthday, you celebrate it in a big way. At age 75, however, it’s best to do so gradually.

That’s not usually how I approach things. Given the circumstance, going slow and steady was the formula I needed and certainly enjoyed. Pacing myself proved to be the best alternative to enjoying each moment.

My oldest grandson gave us an early jump on my birthday. He was home from college for Thanksgiving, so we ate at a local restaurant on Thanksgiving eve. The family time around a chef-prepared meal allowed everyone to enjoy the evening together.

Celebrating my birthday with the family well before the big day.

My birthday extravaganza continued. My dear wife secretly arranged an overnight stay in a neat bed and breakfast less than an hour away the next weekend.

On the way there, we drove southeast across country roads that wound through Civil War battlegrounds fought on land still farmed in rural Shenandoah Valley. To the east, the Blue Ridge Mountains rose majestically, guiding us onward. Farther to the west, the Allegheny Mountains marked the state line between Virginia and West Virginia. The ancient mountains east and west provide an innate sense of security.

We made sure we stopped at Milmont Greenhouses in Stuarts Draft. They always display colorful poinsettias and other lovely flowers for the holidays. We selected a few small pink and white poinsettias for our daughter and headed for our bed and breakfast. We met our gracious hostess, who showed us our spacious and comfy second-floor suite. We had a great view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Poinsettias galore at Milmont Greenhouses, Stuarts Draft, Virginia.

My wife also had scoped out the town’s eateries and made reservations at the top-rated spot. Since we had plenty of time, I suggested we take a short ride to Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park and hope for an inspiring sunset despite the mostly cloudy day.

There were a few west-facing overlooks not far from the park’s southern entrance. We found the second one more favorable than the first and kept watch there.

As often happens over the mountains, the clouds thickened as daylight waned. Still, we noticed a break in the clouds just above the farthest mountain range.

The brief burst of orange.

The wind picked up just as the sun briefly broke through. From the overlook, we saw first-hand how the Blue Ridge Mountains earned their folklore name. A series of blue ridges led right to the setting sun’s soft orange glow. I snapped a couple of shots before darkness overtook us.

More than satisfied, we headed south but soon had to stop for a doe and her yearling to cross in front of us. Their brown coats naturally blended in with the dormant roadside vegetation.

Blending in.

Despite the minor delay, we arrived at the downtown restaurant right on time. Our delicious meals and our friendly waitress, who knew how to care for her customers, made for a splendid outing.

When we arrived back at the bed and breakfast, our host’s husband entertained us with the history of the old brick mansion. He then cranked up the beautiful player piano with a few Christmas tunes. He talked a lot but said very little. I preferred the piano.

At this point, I must confess that spreading out my birthday celebration was advantageous to my health. For unknown reasons, my blood pressure had significantly risen in recent weeks. Following my doctor’s orders, I took things easy. It was all I could do anyhow. This day had been good for me, though. My evening blood pressure reading was the lowest it had been in weeks.

In the morning, our hosts provided a scrumptious meal of shirred eggs and bacon, and they even had gluten-free fruit-infused bread for me. It was an excellent way to start the new day.

We said goodbye and drove into town to the P. Buckley Moss gallery. Since Waynesboro was ringing in the holidays this particular Saturday, the famous artist greeted patrons for part of the day. We arrived shortly after the store opened and had a friendly chat with Ms. Moss. She even signed the Christmas tree ornament we purchased that she had painted. The artistry depicted a winter scene only a few miles from our home, the historic Silver Lake Mill.

P. Buckley Moss.

We caught lunch just down the street, and it was time to head home. With the sun shining brightly through low broken clouds, I had to stop and take a few scenic photos. We spent the rest of the day watching football and basketball and enjoying the birds at the feeders.

I awoke much too early Sunday morning. I could tell I would have to take it easy on my birthday. My blood pressure had spiked again.

Many friends on social media expressed their best wishes for me on my big day while we attended church. I greatly appreciated all of their kind thoughts. They came from former students and teachers, friends and family, and people I have never met. That’s how social media is supposed to work.

After an uplifting worship service, we went to our daughter’s home, which is just up the hill from the church. We dropped off the poinsettias and popped two casseroles into the oven. I enjoyed some quiet time with our grand dog, Millie. We visited with our daughter and her family and then drove to a friend’s house for one of the small groups to which we belong. Neva had baked my favorite cake, an upside-down pineapple cake. I blew out the lone candle, and we enjoyed the carry-in food and genuine fellowship until mid-afternoon.

We wound down my big day quietly, watching more sports and fixer-upper TV shows. Just as we settled in for the night, our son sent a text that made my birthday complete. Our six-month-old grandson had his first solid bowel movement.

I couldn’t think of a better way to end my progressive 75th birthday celebration.

Teddy, our grandson.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

Cattails at Dusk

I was searching for a rare bird when the setting sun caught my attention. When I noticed how the last of the day’s sunrays illuminated the ragtag fringes of the cattail heads, I forgot the bird to capture this shot.

The golden tint of the sun on the lake highlighted the rich and varied browns of this late November scene. I didn’t see the bird, but this moment made the trip worth it.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

Happy Thanksgiving!

The last Thursday in November in the United States is proclaimed Thanksgiving Day. Tomorrow, my wife and I will gather at our daughter’s house with her and her family. Our son-in-law’s family will join us to celebrate the day, too.

We will have all of the usual Thanksgiving meal trimmings: roasted turkey and dressing, homemade mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, and an assortment of homemade pies. It will be scrumptious.

We are grateful for this bounteous meal and warm home where we will feast. But more importantly, we will be most grateful to share it with family. Loving family relations can never be taken for granted.

We will also remember those who have passed on and those who aren’t as fortunate. Gratitude must come with the recognition, responsibility, and desire to help the least, the last, and the lost.

Happy Thanksgiving!

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

All Eyes

I enjoy taking photos of my grandchildren, especially when they are participating in their various activities.

We recently attended our granddaughter’s middle school concert. Of course, the brass instruments were in the back row. Maren plays a euphonium. Given her seating assignment, I figured I better take some snapshots before the program started.

I especially liked this shot of her peeking over her music stand as the music director gave preliminary instructions. The reflection in the euphonium’s bell added splashes of color. Maren was all eyes!

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

At Pond’s Edge

We are fortunate to have the Edith J. Carrier Arboretum as part of the James Madison University campus here in Harrisonburg, Virginia. It is a green sanctuary among an ever-expanding campus.

People, young and old, go there for family outings, personal reflection, birding, walking, and photography in any season. It is a wonderland of color, textures, and nature’s pure beauty.

Even after most of the lovely leaves had fallen, Plecker Pond served as a receptive temporary host for the leaves to continue their fall show.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

The Fork in the Road

The late Yogi Berra, the Baseball Hall of Fame catcher, famously told Joe Garagiola, another former Major League Baseball catcher, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

Well, here’s a fork in the road. Right or left?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

On Shenandoah Mountain

A colorful curve on Shenandoah Mountain.

What a difference just a few days make. A friend told me that the colors on Shenandoah Mountain were exceptional. A man I could trust, I took his comments to heart.

Viewing the colorful leaves of autumn is a long-standing tradition for me. Of course, living most of my life in Ohio’s Amish country spoiled me. I was surrounded by brilliant colors nearly every fall without having to leave home.

The view from our backyard at our former Ohio home in Amish country.

I needed to satisfy that desire to participate in autumn’s color fest. The Saturday morning after my excursion on Skyline Drive, I headed west on US 33. It’s not just the main route west out of Harrisonburg, Virginia. It is the only roadway west that traverses the Allegheny Mountains into West Virginia.

The drive to the summit of Shenandoah Mountain takes about half an hour from my home. I headed out mid-morning, and as I reached where the road runs parallel to Dry River, the main waterway of Shenandoah Mountain, I changed my course. It was evident that the afternoon light would better illuminate the beauty of the leaves.

Not wanting to waste my attempt, I turned into a locally popular park, Riven Rock. In the summer, families go there to cool down from the heat and humidity by playing in the clear, placid waters of the braided stream. Here the morning sun proved me correct. Only the southernmost leaves were highlighted while I stood in the shade on the eastern bank. I decided to try again in the afternoon.

The Dry River, Riven Rock Park, Rockingham Co., Virginia.

Before venturing out again, however, my wife and I attended a high school marching band concert at nearby Bridgewater College in the town from which it derives its name. We watched our second grandson and his bandmates perform a great show. So did some of the sugar maples on campus.

Our grandson after the performance, the marching band, and sugar maples.

I headed out again just after 3 p.m. I planned to drive to the top of Shenandoah Mountain, where there is a parking lot for a trailhead. On the way up the twisting road, I noted places where I could pull off to photograph nature’s glory. And I could see that the higher I went, the richer the colors. I was pumped.

Vehicles nearly filled the small parking lot. I wasn’t surprised. It was a great day for hiking and enjoying nature’s beauty in the George Washington National Forest. The trailhead leads from the parking area to the only remaining fire tower on Shenandoah Ridge. The hike up to High Knob Fire Tower is popular. The crowded parking lot said plenty of hikers were on the trail.

Please click on the photos to enlarge them.

I took a few photos at the top of the mountain and returned to my car to capture the beauty. Going down showed me just how right my friend had been. The trees along the two-lane winding road were gorgeous.

Nature was in her glory, and so was I. I stopped in the few safe places I had spotted. The afternoon sun bathed the crimsons, golds, yellows, and reds. I tread carefully along the narrow, curvy roadway as cars and trucks whizzed by.

I rejoiced in my good fortune. The colors were incredible. The leaves that the afternoon sun backlit also caught my attention. I happily snapped away.

After only a few stops going a fourth of the way down the mountain, the colors drastically faded. Just as meeting people on Skyline Drive energized me, knowing that I had reached my goal of capturing the turning of the leaves filled my spirits.

Fall is my favorite time of year, and these experiences are why.

Autumn’s glory along US 33 on Shenandoah Mountain, Virginia.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

An Afternoon on Skyline Drive

The long view from Skyline Drive.

I was hoping to see the Blue Ridge Mountains painted in shades of red, yellow, and orange in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park. What I discovered were only splashes of brilliance here and there.

Most of the mountain forests were dull in color. I was a bit early.

Of course, I wasn’t alone in my quest. Others were out and about, cruising the roadway for the same reason. I spotted vehicles from several states and even a Canadian province at the various overlooks where I stopped.

The day was bright and beautiful. The park’s early afternoon temperatures were in the 60s and high 50s. The bright sunshine warmed lower elevations in the Shenandoah Valley 10 degrees higher.

The excellent weather and a good report from a morning doctor’s appointment put me in an exceedingly good mood. The people I met wherever I stopped only increased my joy. Everyone seemed to be in a jovial mood.

Folks were snapping selfies with the coloring trees as their background. I took time out from my photography with offers to take portraits of couples, families, and a woman with her dog. Of course, engaging conversations ensued as they thanked me.

It didn’t matter what state of origin or type of vehicle they drove—Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Georgia, or Ontario; camper van, motorcycle, Mercedes, or clunker. Everyone seemed to be on the same emotional page. That connectivity made the day and the scenery even prettier than they already were.

The first family I came across was from the deep south. They were on their way to Williamsburg and wanted their two boys, 17 and eight, to experience at least a little of the storied national park.

I asked the younger one if he knew he was walking on the Appalachian Trail. Indeed, he did. I told him he could go back to his second-grade class and report that he had hiked the AT and see if they knew what that was. He just giggled.

I started at the southern entrance to the park at Rock Fish Gap. Go north, and you will be in the park. Go south, and you travel the Blue Ridge Parkway. Either direction, it’s a beautiful, leisurely drive that soothes the soul and eases the mind. The 35 miles per hour speed limit contributes to that cause.

That’s what the woman with the dog was attempting to do. She drove southeast from Philadelphia towards Charlottesville for the parkway. When she realized Shenandoah National Park was so close, she changed gears and spent a night camping in Big Meadows, nearly in the center of the park.

As we chatted, she voluntarily confessed that she had turned left out of Big Meadows without realizing she was going in the wrong direction. Reality caught up to her when she arrived at the park’s northern entrance south of Front Royal, Virginia.

Undaunted, she merely turned around and headed south. She laughed at herself for trying to rely on GPS when there was little to no cell phone service in the park. She was happy to know she could get internet at Waynesboro, her destination for the night. The next day, she could begin her journey on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

A retired couple on a motorcycle was thrilled with the photo I took of them with crimson leaves of oaks, maples, and dogwood as the backdrop. They seemed most pleased, however, that I had included their bike in the photo.

Ironically, the colors dulled as I cruised north and to higher elevations. Only patches of sunlit staghorn sumac brightened the roadside.

I had stopped at most overlooks, snapped many photos, and talked so much that it took me three hours to drive the 40 miles to Swift Run Gap. No matter. It was an afternoon well spent and one I’ll remember for a long time.

Staghorn sumac caught the fall fever.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

A Weekend with the Grandchildren

Maren serving.

On my way out of the old gym, I walked across the wooden floor and put my arm around Maren, where she had gathered with some of her volleyball teammates. Her seventh-grade team had just lost an ugly two games against a team they had beaten only two days prior. Maren’s eyes met mine, and her tears flowed. For once, I knew words weren’t necessary or even appropriate. I lovingly squeezed her shoulder and smiled through my eyes behind my Covid mask.

Before the match began, I sat with Maren’s brother, Davis. I showed him some photos I had taken the previous night as the marching band lined up to play the National Anthem before the Friday night football game. I also had a few I took during the band’s creative halftime show. I had Davis point out where he was in the formations so I knew where to look in the photos. Even with my camera’s long lens, it was hard for this old guy to recognize his grandson. All the tall band members looked similar to me in their striking blue and white uniforms. Giant feather plumes flowed from their headgear. In those few moments, Davis graciously explained the music program, the instrument he plays, and where he was positioned as the band changed formations.

Davis is out there somewhere.

Before I left, his father asked me to take care of their family dog in the evening while they drove to Richmond to watch our oldest grandson, Evan, pitch a scrimmage game at his university. Of course, I agreed but was called off with a text from Davis just as I was about to leave for their house. They were already on their way home from the game. Daryl told me in a text that Evan pitched one great inning and then struggled with his control in the second. I could relate.

The college grandkid.

My wife and daughter visited grandson Teddy in Rochester, NY, while I held down the homeplace. I had scheduled my third Covid booster before Carrie headed north to see her nephew for the first time. Of course, Neva volunteered to go, and I supported her decision since I didn’t want our daughter driving seven-plus hours by herself.

They kept me in touch with their visit by sending lovely photos via text messages of Teddy with various people. First came a shot of our friend Dick Beery holding Teddy and smiling in my place. I was envious but not jealous. Dick and Sandy had moved from Ohio to Rochester for the same reason we moved from the Buckeye state to Harrisonburg. They wanted to be close to their only granddaughter. They live a mile from our son and his lovely wife and enjoy hosting us when we visit Rochester. This time it was Carrie and Neva that enjoyed their hospitality.

Other photos filled my text thread over the next few hours. The first was one of Nathan carrying Teddy on his shoulders the way I used to hoist him. Nathan was smiling at the joy of lifting his son into this crazy world. Nathan once sarcastically asked me why people have children. Nathan’s broad smile showed that now he knew.

Teddy and his happy father.

Teddy looked more astonished than pleased at four months in some of the shots. After that came precious photos of Carrie and Nathan with Teddy and one of just Carrie with Teddy basking in the morning sunlight. Soft sunrays kissed their faces, illuminating their already brilliant smiles. Photos of Teddy and Nana and a family photo ensued.

Though I longed to be there, my fatigue and the soreness in my left arm told me I had made the right decision to stay home. I had spent time with Davis and Maren. Plus, revisiting the photos in the texts, I realized I was as happy as if I had taken them myself.

I enjoyed my weekend with the grandchildren, in person and virtually.

The gang in Rochester.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

A Barn (Wood) Owl

Please click on the photo to enlarge it.

While visiting the Marbry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Meadows of Dan, Virginia, I spotted this creature staring back at me. The knotty apparition in the weathered barn wood sure resembled the face of a real Barn Owl.

For comparison, here’s a photo of a real barn owl.

What do you think? Does it look like a Barn Owl to you or perhaps some other creature?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

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