The group I was with Saturday morning was nearing the end of our fruitful bird walk. We had seen 44 species in about three hours as we strolled around this lovely acreage of rolling wildflower meadows dotted with woodlots.
As we neared the end of our bird walk, this regal-looking Red-headed Woodpecker flew in front of us. It landed on this fence post at least 50-yards away. I was game for a shot anyway.
My hand-held camera captured this compressed scene with my 1,200 mm lens fully extended. The fence posts were actually several feet apart. Clearly, this photo was a long shot in more ways than one.
I am always looking for new locations to capture sunsets. I accidentally found this spot on a dead end road.
While the sunset wasn’t spectacular, something else caught my attention. The sweet fragrance of growing corn filled my senses. Then I noticed how the soft evening light highlighted the emerging tassels of the cornstalks. The flow of the large cornfield took my eye right back to the Allegheny Mountains and the setting sun.
Weather nut that I am, I check the forecast regularly. Monday looked to be decent weather for hiking. Cooler temperatures in the higher elevations and no rain. That would work out just fine for several reasons.
Our daughter and her husband had left the previous Sunday to take our oldest grandchild to his college orientation in Richmond, Virginia. Of course, the university had nearly four days of activities for the new students and their parents.
That left the middle grandchild, Davis, and our only granddaughter, Maren, to check on. With them both being responsible teenagers, that didn’t require much.
With school out for the summer, Maren loves to help Nana with puzzles, baking, and other hands-on chores. She also mows our lawn. That left Davis and me to find trouble together.
Since we both like to hike, we visited Spruce Knob, the highest point in West Virginia. It’s an hour and a half drive for us. We left mid-morning, but Davis didn’t take long to nod. How he could snooze in all that hilly, twisting driving I was doing, I don’t know. He woke as I slowed to photograph a Ruffed Grouse strutting its stuff on the Forest Service road near the mountain top.
After taking a few snapshots of this often elusive bird, we were soon in the parking lot. Other than a Forest Service employee, we had the place to ourselves. However, we hadn’t even started on the trail when I realized I had forgotten the insect repellent. Fat flies buzzed nearby, but none landed on us the entire time we were there.
Spruce Knob affords beautiful views on a clear day like today. Only a few puffy clouds formed over distant mountain ranges to the west. The air was a pleasant 66 degrees with little humidity and no haze to obscure our views.
We walked the loop trail that leads from the parking lot and back. The scent of the spruce filled the air. Wildflowers and birdsongs were abundant. We basked in both.
I know I slowed Davis down by constantly pausing to photograph wildflowers, birds, and butterflies. Trooper that he is, Davis didn’t complain.
I wanted Davis to enjoy this trip. It was one he was supposed to do at the end of the school year with several students and six teachers. The trip was canceled at the last minute when three teachers came down with Covid-19. In the end, all six were sick.
They were to camp out and visit Spruce Knob, Seneca Rocks, and Dolly Sods. All were in the same geographic area of the old folded mountains and valleys.
So, while Nana and Maren were enjoying each other’s company, and Davis’s brother and parents were occupied with college orientation, Davis and I explored some of the wilds and wonders of West Virginia.
We studied the large piles of giant rocks along the path and at the slope of the mountain, long ago rounded by millenniums of erosion from wind, water, ice, and snow. The teacher in me quizzed Davis about how the rocks got where they did. He graciously played along with my lame attempts.
We saw migrant birds and birds that should be migrants but reside here year-round. Dark-eyed Juncos commonly nest in Canadian provinces. The exception is the Appalachian Mountains.
Because these beautiful ridges hold the same habitat and provide the necessary nutrients, the birds live here and farther up the Appalachian range into New England. Davis wanted to know why the other Junocs migrated when the birds we saw stayed. I hope he seeks a better answer than I gave him.
We enjoyed the views east and west and headed to Seneca Rocks, where we would eat our brown bag lunches. When we arrived at the valley picnic grounds, it was 82 degrees and humid.
From there, we could clearly see the face of the vertical rocks jutting straight up. Eons ago, they had been parallel until the collision of continents forced them to fracture and face the sky.
Unfortunately, no rock climbers could be seen. The day was likely too hot for such strenuous activity.
We gathered our things and headed up. The trailhead started at the North Fork of the South Branch of the Potomac River. The bridge that crosses it goes by the same cumbersome name.
Davis was eager to let his long legs glide him up the well-maintained trail. My old weathered ones weren’t so cooperative. The first third of the path is the steepest. We rested according to my needs. Davis never complained or barged ahead.
We passed other hikers on their way down, and other younger hikers passed us on the way up. I noticed some of them didn’t have hiking shoes or water. We later trekked by some of those same hikers, now fatigued. We reached the top more than an hour after we had started.
The trail leads to an overlook platform that provides gorgeous views of the mountain ridge west of German Valley that the river continues to carve out. We rested and talked with other hikers who soon reached the summit.
Going down took half the time. Davis wondered about going on to Dolly Sods up the road a piece. I wisely said we would save that adventure for another outing. We still had that long drive home.
Adventures like these are the reason we moved from Ohio’s Amish country to Virginia. Now, with the birth of our fourth grandchild in Rochester, New York, we have additional opportunities to watch our grandchildren grow.
Our neighbors recently had us over for an evening of card games. When the late evening sun poured through their west window, my attention turned from cards to capturing this beautiful still-life portrait.
What was supposed to be the last leg of the trip wasn’t.
We woke up to the news that our flight home was canceled. Off to the airport, we went anyhow to rebook. It was chaotic at our airline’s booking counters, to say the least. But with a lot of patience on the part of all of us, it all worked out despite being there several hours.
Lufthansa worked with each group member and allowed us to pick our seats. Three members of our group were six feet eight inches or taller and needed lots of leg room. We were also given vouchers for an excellent hotel, dinner that evening, and breakfast the following day.
We did have to arrange on our own for yet another Covid-19 test since that requirement was still in place when we traveled. That process was equally chaotic. Though it took much too long, we all tested negative again.
Despite the confusion and frustrations of this day, there was a very positive upside for my wife and me. The open evening allowed us to meet some new friends.
Marie-Helene has followed this blog for a few years. She and her husband Oliver lived near Frankfurt and offered to come to say hello. Now that we had an open evening, they took us to a UNESCO World Heritage site, Mathlidenhohe in Darmstadt.
According to the World Heritage Convention, the historic artist colony is at the city’s highest point. The “finger building,” as locals refer to the art nouveau tower, serves as the centerpiece for this most unusual and striking community where much of the architecture is the art.
Our hosts led us on a walking tour of part of the area. We climbed the “finger building” that often serves as a wedding venue. From the building’s pinnacle, we had marvelous views of the city.
The golden dome of the Russian Orthodox Church reflected the evening sun just below the tower. We saw other public and private buildings that made this neighborhood the artistic wonder it is.
Particularly striking was the nearby Waldspirale. It was a sprawling apartment building that spiraled upward into an expansive structure. Erected in the 1990s, it was constructed so that nothing looked level, but everything was. The building even had a green roof where large trees grew. I found it an astounding piece of architecture.
All too soon, we had to return to our hotel in Frankfurt, where we dined with our friendly hosts. We bid them farewell with hugs and words of gratitude for their kind hospitality.
The next day it was off to the airport and a long flight home. The plane left as scheduled this time, and the flight went well. After gathering our luggage, we had a two-and-a-half-hour ride home, and just like that, our European adventure had ended.
Our last full day in Europe was supposed to be one of travel, enjoying a medieval town, and preparing for our flight home early the next day. It didn’t turn out that way.
The plan was to get our required Covid-19 tests before leaving Oberammergau. Unfortunately, a miscommunication occurred, and our 78-year-old tour guide had to scurry around and find testing for our group of 39. She found a mobile testing operation, but there was a problem. Since members of our group were scattered in three hotels, not all the hotels would allow the testers to enter. Fortunately, our hotel was not one of them.
Typical views of Bavarian countryside and a trucker with a sense of humor.
We paid our 40 euros, did the paperwork, got our tests, and waited for our results. In an hour, we learned we were good to go, but others on our tour had to wait and wait for their tests and results. We left close to lunchtime, which put us well behind schedule.
Our excellent bus driver expertly maneuvered us along country roads. We even encountered a closed road with no advanced warning. We had to go several kilometers out of the way on narrow country roads to reach the autobahn.
Sandra, our guide, kept her calm and used her travel wisdom to get us to a proper place for a much-needed lunch break. The highway cut through pristine farmland and along rail lines, biking, and hiking paths. Windmills topped ridge lines, and acres of solar panels occupied areas along the roadway.
We finally arrived at our only tourist objective for the day, Rothenburg, Germany. Rothenburg is the best-preserved medieval town in Europe. The photos show why.
Unfortunately, we ran late since we didn’t leave Oberammergau on time. Consequently, we only had an hour or so to survey the town, and even then, a thunderstorm sent us hustling back to the bus. We didn’t do Rothenburg justice. I could have spent days exploring the old walled city.
From there, it was on to our hotel near the Frankfurt Airport, where we were to depart the following day. As we all know, the best laid plans don’t always work out.
After my Anabaptist cave experience, I figured it was downhill from there for the rest of the trip. Emotionally, that may have been true. A walking tour of Salzburg forced me to refocus.
Even on a cloudy day, the city was beautiful. It was Mozart’s birthplace, after all. Though he preferred the livelier Vienna, the old town still claims the master as its own. The city honors the famed composer in numerous ways.
Our tour began in the lovely Mirabell Gardens. Filled with flowers, statues, and fountains, I could have wandered there much longer than we did.
The gardens were only one of several locations in Salzburg where scenes from the famous 1965 movie “The Sound of Music” were filmed. From the gardens, we could see the abbey where Maria served and then left for the Von Trapp family.
We dodged service vehicles delivering foodstuffs and materials to local cafes, shops, and restaurants in the morning. They have to vacate the pedestrian streets by 11 a.m.
We crossed the Salt River and stopped to admire all of the love locks fastened to the wire mesh fence on the sides of the bridge. Lots of lovers had stood where we did.
We wound our way through picturesque narrow cobblestone alleyways with quaint shops, cafes, and bakeries tucked neatly away. One old baker even waved to us from his second-floor apartment above his business. We strolled by Mozart’s birthplace announced by its flashy golden letters and bright gold paint.
Our local guide had lots to show us in a short period, so we tried to keep pace with her. She finally turned us loose in the 16th-century Residence Plaza and the adjacent Mozart Plaza, where we could relax and watch horsedrawn carriages pass by. I tried to imagine myself back in Mozart’s time and contemplated the untold persons who also lingered here so long ago.
For a light lunch, we found a cozy cafe with my favorite amenity, a water closet. When you get to be my age, you’ll understand. We always enjoyed the many opportunities to dine outdoors. We liked to people watch as much as we did the food.
All too soon, we found our way back to the bus and headed for our next destination, Munich. Many of my fellow travelers used the road time to nap. Not me. I didn’t want to miss anything.
We arrived in Munich late afternoon and again found ourselves following our learned guide around the old central city. We passed beer gardens and a marketplace and strolled through a beer hall.
We marveled at the size and beauty of St. Peter’s Church. Then it was off to Marien Plaza to watch and listen to the huge cuckoo clock that activates its wooden characters at 5 p.m. at the town hall. I was impressed with the universal display of the Ukrainian flags we saw in nearly every city center.
There we also saw the Marian column that dates back to 1638. It serves as a reminder that Munich was spared during the Thirty Years’ War.
I thought it would be nice to have dinner with my wife in a nice restaurant. And that’s just what we did. We enjoyed our fish dinners and an extra-large glass of wine.
It had been a day steeped in beauty, awe, and history. We also welcomed a comfortable bed for much-needed rest.
This was the day of all the days of our trip that I had most anticipated. Visiting the Anabaptist Cave, or Tauferhole, near Baretswil, Switzerland, was a dream come true.
But there was a catch. Long before our group ever left for Europe, our tour organizer had asked me to share my story of how and why I became Mennonite. Mennonites were some of the most radical of the early Anabaptists during the Protestant Reformation. To be able to share my personal story in that historic, sacred place meant more than I can say. I only knew that I would strive to keep it short and to the point.
We left beautiful Lucerne for the quaint village of Baretswel, Switzerland, where we would meet our local guides at the Reformed Church. Our group enjoyed the scenic morning drive, and after a break of necessity, we followed David and Ruth to where the bus could no longer go.
From there, we hoofed it up the hill through meadows full of wildflowers and marvelous fragrances. We passed dairy cows grazing and huge wood piles curing for next winter’s firing. We regrouped in the shade of the forest near the top of the hill before heading out on the trail to the once-hidden cave.
Once into the woods, the incline lessened. More concerning was the steep drop-off into a ravine created by eons of erosion from a stream flowing from and beneath the cave. Fortunately, a wooden handrail had been erected in recent years at the most dangerous spots.
I quickly explored the deepest reaches of the cave, which were no more than a few hundred feet. Once the entire group assembled, save one who declined the hike for physical reasons, our tour host Ed took over.
We sang a couple of meaningful songs, and another member of our group, a Hospice chaplain in Indiana, shared a meditation. It perfectly set the foundation for my sharing.
To the relief of those who know me, I kept my talk to one type-written page, only once veering from the script. I told about coming of age during the Vietnam War in the 1960s. Though my grandfather had served in World War I and my father in World War II, I had no desire to participate in that political conflict.
The week after I met my wife-to-be, Neva took me to the Sunday church service at Beech Mennonite Church near Louisville, Ohio. The sermon was on nonresistance, one of the primary principles of peace churches, which the Mennonite Church still proclaims.
It was what I was looking for, and I gladly accepted. I joined the church nine months later, just a couple weeks before our marriage. Neva has stood by my side for 51 years through thick and thin. I am forever grateful to the late Wayne North for preaching that subject that drew me into the church.
Following my sharing, we sang some more, had a prayer, and took communion together. Had it not been for our ancestors who believed in nonresistance, adult baptism, and service to others to highlight a few critical points, we would not have been there on that special day. It was indeed a bucket list experience.
All too soon, we walked back down the path to the awaiting bus and bid our new friends goodbye. We were off to Innsbruck, Austria. On the way, we stopped along the Rhine River for a late lunch break.
When I learned that Liechtenstein was just across the river, I climbed the many steps to the river levy to at least grab a quick photo. After descending the stairway, a school group bicycling along the levy stopped to rest. Their observant teacher had them wave to me before we left for Innsbruck.
Our stop in beautiful Innsbruck was all too brief. We walked the cobblestone streets around the Old Town section of the city, viewing markets and the Golden Roof home of Emperor Maximilian.
My wife and I strolled along the Inn River, enjoying the pastel-painted homes. The snow-covered Alps hovering above made it a picture-postcard moment.
We knew that the fourth day of our tour would be jam-packed. We couldn’t imagine just how filled the day would be with one wonder after the other.
The day dawned with a bright blue sky and high expectations. We left our hotel in Lucerne and headed into the Swiss Alps. The lovely weather made the incredible scenery all the more amazing.
My wife and I chose seats close to the front of the bus to get a good view of where we were headed. We weren’t disappointed. Snow-capped mountains soon came into view as we traveled along the well-maintained highway system that included several long tunnels.
The scenery was green in more than one way. Farmers made hay and cattle grazed on slanting pastures that ran far up the mountainsides. Hiking and biking paths led away from cities and towns far into the country and highlands. The efficient train systems did as well.
I secretly wanted the bus to stop multiple times so I could take photos without window glare. Of course, that wasn’t going to happen. The bus did stop at one pull out to view the valley and Lungernersee below. As beautiful as that was, the best was yet to come.
We stopped at Interlaken for long enough to know that I want to return someday. I could breathe in that fresh mountain air and those incredible sights for a long time. Skydivers entertained us as they swooped overhead beneath their colorful parachutes, landing in a field right in front of us.
Jungfrau’s 13,642 ft. peak shown brightly in the morning sun. It was all I could do to board the bus. Still, even more fantastic scenery awaited.
Our glorious journey continued as we wound our way through the breathtaking Lauterbrunnen Valley. Unfortunately, we had to absorb all we could from the bus as it passed through the charming village. I was able to get a few shots of the famous Staubbach Waterfalls. It was a scene I had seen many times, and now we were passing right by it.
Soon our very capable bus driver turned onto a more narrow road, and up we climbed to Grindelwald at the foot of Eiger Mountain. It was lunchtime, and while most of the others on our bus opted for a restaurant or cafe, my wife and I grabbed some munchies at a grocery store and sat on a bench that overlooked the famous mountain. The blaze away, but the air was cool, the Swiss goodies tasty, and the company at my side couldn’t have been more pleasing to me.
All too soon, we again boarded the bus and headed for the lovely Emmental Valley to visit the oldest operating Mennonite Church in Langnau. Our hosts shared about their growing church and then invited us to wander the cemetery across the street. Familiar last names appeared on the headstones. Many American Mennonite families can trace their family tree to this location.
From Langnau, the bus navigated more narrow country roads to the Trachselwald Castle, where Anabaptists were imprisoned in the 16th and 17th centuries. The view from the castle was likely more appealing for us than it was for those early martyrs.
We wound our way to the farm of a descendent of Hans Hasselbacker, who was imprisoned in the old castle. His namesake relative greeted us and showed us his farmstead, which has the house and barn connected in true Swiss fashion.
With the sun nearing the horizon, we drove country roads back to our hotel in Lucerne. It had been a great day, made even better by the news that we had a new grandson born late May 14 in Rochester, New York. Welcome to the world, Teddy!