A sign of spring

gulf fritillary butterfly, sign of spring
Gulf Fritillary butterfly. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

With spring set to arrive officially on Friday at 3:45 p.m., Eastern Daylight Time, I thought a splash of natural color would only be appropriate. I captured this Gulf Fritillary butterfly flitting among sand dunes on Main Beach, Fernandina Beach, FL in late January. The white spots on each wing indicate that it was a male.

“A sign of spring” is my photo of the week. Let’s hope we all see many more such signs in the days and weeks ahead.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Breathe in breathe out, a routine too easily forgotten

autumnafternoonbybrucestambaugh
Autumn afternoon. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I sat in the warm sunshine on the back porch steps, eating my simple lunch, taking in all that transpired around me. I basked in the awesome day itself, one of several that we had as summer morphed into autumn.

Typical of fall days in northern Ohio, the day started cool, and took its time warming up. But thanks to skies bluer than my grandchildren’s eyes, the sunshine strengthened to enhance the day to beyond beautiful.

The air warmed, and the wind gently swirled in all directions. Compared to the quiet dawning of the day, everything seemed alive, moving, and vibrant. It was a glorious day, Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, the Day of Awe.

Sunrays streaming by Bruce Stambaugh
Day of Awe. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
I’m not Jewish, but I certainly was in awe. I had just returned from my weekly yoga lesson, where the students were again reminded to breathe in, and breathe out. It’s a way to encourage each of us to be conscious of just how important breathing can be.

Given our hustle, bustle lifestyles fueled by instantaneous updates from the outside world through our addiction to our electronic gadgets, we sometimes forget life’s simplest lessons. Breathing is one of them.

So there I was, enjoying my wife’s homemade hummus with crunchy gluten free crackers, a homegrown tomato, homemade refrigerator pickles, some fresh turkey breast and locally made cheese, washed down with homemade mint tea, breathing in, breathing out the beauty of the day. I felt ecstatic, really.

Dogwood berries by Bruce Stambaugh
Dogwood arsenal. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
My presence had chased away the Starlings and the American Robins, who were at war over the bright red, ripe dogwood berries. Like most conflicts, it seemed neither side won. In the fracas, most of the berries dotted the ground beneath the trees, their leaves growing more and more crimson.

I breathed in, and saw a family of Chimney Swifts skimming the fields behind our home, and circling over and through our stand of trees. I exhaled with a smile, overjoyed to see the friendly birds again. The ones that occupied our chimney had gone missing a few days prior, likely on their way south, like these chattering brothers and sisters were as they devoured every airborne insect they could.

My solitary picnic didn’t bother the ever-present American Goldfinches, now in their duller decor. They ate right along with me as long as I didn’t breathe too hard.

Clouded Sulphur butterfly by Bruce Stambaugh
Clouded Sulpher. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
At the front of the house, I breathed in another pastoral scene. Clouded Sulphur butterflies and bumblebees flitted about the fall blossoms, especially enjoying the blue salvia and bubblegum petunias my good wife had planted in early June. I breathed out a hearty thanks to them and to her for these special, significant insignificancies.

That’s just one of the tenants that I have learned from six months of yoga. Yoga is much more than physical exercise. Your movements, your thoughts, and especially your breathing need to be congruent. I think the pros call it mindfulness.

I don’t know if it was my breathing, the gorgeous day, my tasty lunch, or that combination that put me in such a peaceful mood. I just know that I want to keep breathing in and breathing out as long as I can.

With that, my mind wandered to too many friends I know locally and globally who would love to love this day, yet who have little opportunity to do so. Illnesses and real wars prevent their abilities to breathe in and breathe out the way I was.

I’ll just have to do it for them.

Changing leaves by Bruce Stambaugh
Turning red. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

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.

Revitalization weekend at the cottage

By Bruce Stambaugh

It had been an unusually stressful week for me. You would think that in semi-retirement, stress wouldn’t even be in my vocabulary. But it is.

Without going into the sordid details, here is a sampling of the week’s chain of events that had sent me over the top by Friday’s end. My six-year old grandson got whacked in the face with a metal baseball bat. The next evening, his daddy severely injured his right knee rounding first base in a softball game.

Maren by Bruce Stambaugh
Our 10-month old granddaughter, Maren.

The following day our daughter reported that our 10-month old granddaughter’s first tooth finally had broken through. In and of itself, that was a good thing. However, Miss Maren was still pretty cranky, with other teeth ready to make their appearance.

Other nerve-racking events oozed into our normally quiet lives in Ohio’s Amish country, too. For confidential reasons, I won’t reveal the nasty details, other than to say one of the logjams required a plunger.

Clearly you can see that the weekend getaway to our cottage was just what the plumber needed. It was the necessary salve to my pent up emotional sores.

First of all, my wife and I feel fortunate to have the cottage my parents built in 1975. We purchased it from them a couple of years ago and finished it the way my mother had always envisioned it would be.

The cottage’s location alone has several advantages. Its rural hillside setting on the natural shoreline lake is the most obvious. Having good neighbors who own other nearby cabins is another.

The cottage by Bruce Stambaugh
Our cottage retreat in southeast Ohio.

But the cottage makes for an ideal sanctuary for other reasons. We have no landline. Cell phone reception is marginal at best. There is no television, no email, no Internet. Other than electricity, the cottage is the epitome of electronic reclusiveness.

Right after we arrived Saturday morning, we went to work cleaning up inside and out. Though the cottage was locked up tight and unused for a couple of weeks, insects not surprisingly managed to make themselves at home. My wife soon took care of that.

Meanwhile, I donned gloves and pruners and attacked the weeds with a mission. That’s no easy task on a steep slope that falls away quickly to the graveled lane below. But just being out in the fresh air was invigorating, and the exercise personally beneficial.

The real blessings came at the marvelous supper my wife prepared. We ate the tasty meal on the open-air deck.

For dessert, we simply sat on the porch and watched and listened. Cicadas intermittently sang their monotonous song. Colorful butterflies enjoyed the sweet fragrance of various wildflower blossoms.

Butterfly by Bruce Stambaugh
A tiger swallowtail butterfly enjoyed a variety of wildflowers.

A Carolina wren serenaded us with its luscious calls. Chickadees and tufted titmice played and fed in the surrounding mixed hardwoods. Cardinals sounded their evening songs. A great blue heron grunted from water’s edge, hidden by the forest curtain.

A gentle breeze rustled the nervous leaves of a quaking aspen. Human induced sounds intruded, too. We have accepted the fact that lawnmowers, weed eaters, shouting children, dogs barking in the distance are all part of the cottage life at times.

Altogether this harmonic mishmash of sights and sounds must have worked its magic. I slept 11 hours that night.

With those revitalizing results, we should embrace the cottage’s graciousness more often.

In appreciation of Mother Earth

Oat shocks by Bruce Stambaugh
Oat shocks near Mt. Hope, Ohio.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The deep orange crescent moon sat just above the tree line on the dusky horizon. Fanned out high over its tip, Saturn, Mars and Venus sparkled in the late evening sky.

Lightening flashed suddenly and silently interrupting the cloudless scene. Radar indicated the thunderstorm 120 miles southeast near Parkersburg, West Virginia.

The next morning, this natural display of awe and beauty was enthusiastically discussed among those who know the value of such a free show. They were gathered in the shade of a vendor’s tent at the annual Family Farm Field Day event.

Storm approaches by Bruce Stambaugh
A severe thunderstorm near Mt. Hope, Ohio.

It was more than appropriate and not the least bit ironic that such talk should take place at an educational affair celebrating the goodness of the land. These were people who knew the importance of Mother Earth, who knew how to care for her, appreciate her, and affirm her, even profit from her without rendering her useless or sterile.

The venue was as uplifting as the conversation about the storm. Hundreds of black buggies stood side by side against the woods, their unhitched horses now shaded.

Buggies at a hitching rail in Mt. Hope, Ohio
Buggies lined up at a hitching rail in Mt. Hope, Ohio.

Cars, vans and pickup trucks entered at the east gate. Along the drive, dozens of bicycles leaned against chain link fencing that separated yards from right of way and kept children from wandering into the long, graveled lane.

In between these contrasting parking lots, thousands of people milled beneath several large tents searching for information on how to better care for the earth. The slight bluff on which the action took place created a symbolic subliminal significance of man and land over that of man and mobility.

Though most were dressed in homemade denim with suspenders or pastel dresses with coverings and spoke a language I should have learned long ago, I was both at home and in harmony with them. We were all there for the same reason, to learn more about caring for and nurturing the land that provides us sustenance and shelter.

Jr. Burkholder farm by Bruce Stambaugh
A farmstead in Holmes County, Ohio.

Besides the vendors’ displays, tents for keynote speakers, farmsteads and homemakers were erected in a huge horseshoe pattern around the pastured plateau. Of course, there were food tents, too. I couldn’t decide which I liked best, the sugar and cinnamon hot soft pretzel or the salty sweet kettle corn.

With the hot summer sun beating down, shade was at a premium for those seeking relief. That did not deter them from exploring the inescapable interconnection between humankind and our responsibility of caring for the environment.

To be sure, that is serious business. But it was nice to see it presented in such fun and informative ways for multiple generations. To the point, bird, butterfly and nature walks were filled to overflowing.

A billowing cloud by Bruce Stambaugh
A storm cloud builds.

But what was really special for me was the dialogue on the previous night’s celestial display. Some of us saw what is erroneously called “heat lightening.”

From the backside of the storm, which is always the safest and prettiest angle, others
saw huge, billowing columns sail through the darkening sky. The higher they rose, the more the lightening sizzled in and out of them, brightly illuminating the swelling clouds.

One in the group had actually been under the building storm and arrived home in time to also watch the stunning electrical display. To hear that enthusiasm, plus see the genuine, cross-generational interest in caring for the ecosystem by so many people stirred my soul.

I left thoroughly uplifted, and with one large bag of kettle corn to go.

That’s what friends are for

By Bruce Stambaugh

The sky was clear blue, the morning’s puffy cumulous clouds having moved on. The north wind discouraged any humidity, and helped keep the temperatures tolerable.

Earlier my Amish neighbor had tethered the hay he had mown the evening before, fluffing it up for the breeze to blow away any remnant moisture. The barn swallows that had circled his horse drawn machine still skimmed the ocean of cut hay for insects.

I imagined the next day my neighbor, his family and his circle of friends would follow their given routine of making hay. I have marveled at their consistency each and every harvest of hay, oats and wheat. Their combined labor is as affable as it is proficient.

But isn’t that what friends are for? Like the classic Dionne Warwick/Stevie Wonder song belted out, “For good times, for bad times, I’ll be on your side forever more, that’s what friends are for.”

That pretty well sums it up. Friends want the best for you no matter what. They sympathize with you, empathize with you, are honest with you and you them. That friendly formula leads to trust, understanding and compassion.

As humans, we all need that. We are social beings, and unless you are Ted Kaczynski or Lizzie Borden, friends mean the world to you.

Sitting on the porch alone, I had to think about my circle of friends. I was humbled and honored to recall how many times others had come to my rescue or reassured me or celebrated with me or mourned with me or just took time for a visit.

These may seem like ordinary occurrences. But to me, they are extraordinary events, given that they all involved friends.

Food seems to be an important ingredient in friendship. We have enjoyed many a meal around a table with friends, meaning family, neighbors and acquaintances. No matter how tasty the entrées, the fellowship is always the dessert.

A home in Lakeside, OH by Bruce Stambaugh
A home in Lakeside, Ohio. - Bruce Stambaugh

Years ago when we moved from the home we built in the western part of the county to our current home in the east end, friends clamored to help us. Thanks to them, the difficult task was made simple.

Each time we visit our beloved Lakeside, Ohio we are greeted with hugs and kisses from people we may only see there. They are our vacation friends, but from the reactions you would never know it.

When I pushed my grandsons on side-by-side swings so high they bounced out of their seats, they giggled and laughed like little girls. The bright sun wasn’t the only thing warming me that morning.

Reading the blog by the parents of a special newborn child helped me better understand their critical situation. I marveled at how calm and objective their writings were, especially given their uncertain situation.

A birder friend called to tell me about a very rare bird in the neighborhood. Without his kind gesture, I would have missed the Vermilion Flycatcher.

Butterfy on cornflower by Bruce Stambaugh
A butterfly enjoyed the wildflowers in our backyard. - Bruce Stambaugh

Which reminds me that friends are not confined to human beings either. Pets, sunsets, thousands of blinking fireflies rising from the flowering alfalfa and ripening oats, robins chirping their contentment with the day all qualify as friends by my definition.

All these people and creatures and natural events have abundantly blessed me. Isn’t that what friends are for?

Holmes County sunset by Bruce Stambaugh
A recent sunset taken from our back porch. - Bruce Stambaugh