Spontaneity in a time of pandemic

The Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance mark the eastern boundary of Rockingham Co.

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.

Fog rolled in from the east.
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.

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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.

The trail even featured an ancient basalt columnar outcropping.
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.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Unpacking boxes and memories

The kind of field my father hunted for artifacts.

After three years, my wife and I have finally unpacked all of the boxes since we moved from Ohio’s Amish country to Virginia. It’s another coronavirus sequestering accomplishment that we can check off our “to-do” list.

We weren’t negligent or procrastinating. We knew what those heavy cardboard boxes contained. We just didn’t have a place to display or properly store them. Now that they are unpacked, we still don’t.

My late father divided his extensive Native American artifact collection among his offspring and the grandchildren. He designated who got what primarily based on geography.

Dad marked where he found each artifact he considered “good.” Consequently, Neva and I ended up with the majority of the ones discovered in Holmes County, Ohio, and those from near my wife’s home farm east of Louisville, Ohio.

How Dad marked his finds.

I can’t tell you how many plowed fields Dad and those of us who joined him walked. With heads down and separated six-feet apart, we ambled one end of the field to the other. Yes, we socially distanced before it was even a thing. Doing so allowed us to cover an area more efficiently.

Dad delved deep into historic Native American cultures. His love for history and the near half-century he spent collecting made him a noted amateur archeologist.

As his knowledge and collection grew, Dad began to share what he learned and what he had found. He joined archeology groups. Professional archeologists even invited Dad to join digs to save Indian encampments that would be destroyed for various construction projects or by strip mining.

Dad even spent his lunchtimes on lovely days looking for surface finds near his workplace in Akron, Ohio. When his job required travel, Dad scoured fields in Arizona, California, and many other states.

Dad accompanied our mother on artists retreats to North Carolina. While the artists painted, Dad visited local farmers to inquire about hunting their fields.

The landowners often showed him what they had already found, and Dad would gladly identify and date the points and pottery shards for the farmers. For that, he gained access to their land, made new friends, and expanded his collection.

Our artist mother would occasionally return the favor by accompanying Dad on a dig. One of her paintings graced the book cover that documented one significant excavation.

Dad lecturing at the retirement home.

Dad lectured at schools, church meetings, service organizations, presented at historical society gatherings, and at the retirement home where he died. He even won a few awards for his displays at archeology shows.

I found one of Dad’s notecards that he used in his presentations. It was an impressive list of how indigenous peoples used natural renewable resources. Dad shared how the Indians used the entire animal that they had killed. They ate the meat, fashioned clothing and shelter from hides, and used bones for tools.

Ironically, Dad privately questioned why Native Americans, as intuitive and ingenious as they were, didn’t develop the country the way European immigrants did. With his Germanic linage, I sensed it was a rhetorical question.

I found it curious, even disconcerting that Dad admired and taught about a people and their cultures, and yet he didn’t comprehend their devotion to preserving the environment they so cherished. Nor did he address the horrendous treatment of indigenous peoples that even continues today. In retrospect, I should have pressed my father on those issues.

Marian and Dick Stambaugh. One of my mother’s paintings is on the wall behind her.
I loved my father, and I love that he bequeathed so many of his artifacts to the family. For me, they serve as tangible reminders to universally respect all peoples, no matter their color or creeds, then and now.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Gratitude and concern during the pandemic


I am always happy when we reach May, especially this year. The beautiful blossoms and warming temperatures spur a sense of gratitude.

During the current COVID-19 pandemic, we all must remain grateful. Given the stealth-like nature of the coronavirus, it would be easy for fear and despair to overwhelm us.

We must not let that happen. Those negative feelings can transition into depression unless we come to accept the ugly situation for what it is.

Now, the COVID-19 condition may not be as dire where you are as it is in other parts of the world. Here in Virginia’s lovely Shenandoah Valley, the deaths and confirmed cases are spiking. That, in part, is due to more accurate testing and proper reporting.

Of course, my wife and I have taken the necessary precautions as recommended by state and local leaders. We are grateful for their specific directives in this uncertain time.

I am also thankful that my niece and friends who live in New York City remain safe. Some of them are treating those infected. I am both grateful and concerned for frontline staff and first-responders everywhere who take extraordinary risks in merely doing their daily jobs.


We can’t take for granted public utilities like electricity, water, and sewer that remain consistent and safe. Having power has permitted us to communicate remotely with family, friends, church members, and even doctors if needed.

I am grateful for local businesses that have prevailed in the face of potentially devastating economic conditions. I appreciate both their curbside and home deliveries. The indefinite length of the closure orders for them, however, is disconcerting for their financial well-being.

I am thankful for people’s resilience, creativity, and patience during their unplanned sequestering. It can’t be easy trying to work from home while teaching active, restless children and simultaneously trying to complete household chores. This perspective became more apparent to me when a friend found her son’s homework in the refrigerator.

I am grateful for our daughter and her family, who regularly check in on us via text messages and with social distancing visits. We celebrated our oldest grandchild’s 16th birthday via FaceTime. Evan seemed as pleased as if we were all actually eating ice cream and cake around their dining room table.

I am also glad our son and his fiancée are both safe and well in another New York hotspot, Rochester.

I am thankful for the garbage workers who continue on their regular routes, not knowing what precisely it is they are hauling. I pray for their continued safety.

I am thankful for people who show their love by sending us notes, text messages, emails, and making phone calls. Doing so keeps us connected and uplifted, even if it is only remotely.

I am thankful for the universal generosity of people who share their gifts most graciously. Using their talents to make personal protective products for strangers who need them is priceless.

I am grateful for a safe and secure home and neighborhood where my wife and I can both hunker down and walk for exercise among nature’s artistry. However, I am most uneasy about those who are not as well-off. More critically, this terrible virus is attacking the poor and minorities at a much higher rate than the rest of the population.

On a personal note, I am grateful for the opportunity to share with all of you. I hope you are well and can find ways to be genuinely thankful, too.

May in the arboretum.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Views on life while self-isolated


My wife and I have taken the stay-at-home orders quite seriously. At our age and with our medical history, we must do so.

Besides, our loving daughter keeps close tabs on us even though she lives five miles away. Our son in upstate New York checks in, too, digitally. Neva and I have no choice but to behave.

That’s life in 2020’s pandemic world. Technology keeps us connected without the ill-advised but much desired personal contact. What once seemed like an irritant of life by some is now our lifeline.

Neva and I have gotten more phone calls and texts in the last few weeks of being at home than we did in the previous several months. We, too, have made a few calls, sent texts, emails, and posted on social media.

Not to let go of our rural roots, my diligent wife sends cards and notes nearly every day. Somebody has to keep the U.S. Postal Service in business besides Amazon.

Homemade face mask by Bruce StambaughOur trips away from home are limited, which is as it should be. After ordering online, we pick up groceries curbside or deliver homemade masks to others. Neva has made more than 300 masks for others and local businesses and organizations.

Consequently, our gasoline bill has plummeted along with the prices at the pump. It’s the old supply and demand principle in action.

I have never washed my hands as often or as well as I have in the last few weeks. Our water bill may offset our reduced gasoline costs.

Since I retired three years ago, I thought every day seemed like Saturday. The quarantine orders have made it even more so universally. The days all just seem to run together.

I find myself smiling as I watch entire families walk by our house or ride by on bicycles. Youngsters on skateboards gleefully enjoy our gently sloping street. When Neva and I walk around the neighborhood, waves, nods, smiles, and hales of “Hello” greet us whether people know us or not.

Lilacs and Redbuds.

Everything seems to be blooming at once in the Shenandoah Valley. Daffodils and tulips are already fading. Dogwoods and redbuds are painting the bare forests with dabs of white and pink. Irises and lilacs are flowering much too early.

As pretty as all that is, I need to be realistic. Each of us must view the situation beyond our own living space.

With vehicle travel and entire industries shut due to the coronavirus spread, satellite images show global pollution significantly reduced. But with companies and businesses closed, millions of workers have been laid off or furloughed.

The loss of their employment, income, and benefits gives me pause. As my older brother shared in an email, we retirees with monthly pensions have nothing to whine about during this crisis.

The pandemic should serve as a great equalizer. But that isn’t quite the way it is. Statistics show that the COVID-19 epidemic affects millions of people of color and the poor medically and economically the hardest.

These are precarious, vulnerable, stressful times. But we must keep pressing on, following the guidelines, being patient, kind, grateful, and prayerful.

It’s scary trying to protect yourself against an invisible enemy. We can, however, by following the health rules, enjoying the moment at hand, praying for the safety of all, and proper decisions by our leaders.

Amid this horrid pandemic, we can, we will, we must enjoy our life, moment by moment, breath by breath. That is our only choice day by day, even if it merely means smiling as the next skateboarder whizzes past.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Holy Week emotions mirror those of COVID-19

By definition, Holy Week transitions from the jubilant high expectations on Palm Sunday to the sadness and disbelief of Good Friday to the sacred joy of Easter morning.

This year Eastertime is symbolic of the current world situation. Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, Holy Week mirrors the global state of human existence amid the coronavirus pandemic. We face the same human emotions today as that mixed crowd of humanity 2,000 years ago.

Our lives have been turned upside down in this evolving medical crisis. No one can escape the grasp of the pandemic’s ramifications, whether we contract the virus or not. We are all affected.

A migrating Pine Siskin.
We all had high hopes with the advent of spring, especially at Easter. Now, all of that has changed. Unless you are one of the few remaining skeptics, reality has hit hard.

Personnel on the frontlines of helping to stem the epidemic are stressed and very fearful for their patients, their families, and themselves. Even following all of the recommended precautions has not been enough for some.

Schooling has taken on a very different and dynamic atmosphere for students, teachers, administrators, and parents alike. Challenging doesn’t begin to describe it. Nor does frustration, especially for those denied the much-anticipated pomp and circumstance of graduation ceremonies.

For those who live alone, the elderly, those who struggle with mental issues, or live with special needs, fear invades the interactions of daily living. Coping has never been harder.

Many have lost their jobs, income, and insurance benefits. Others employed in businesses deemed essential encountered the ignorance of others. The outrage of service workers filled social media as entire families show up to buy a hammer or just browse big box stores, clearly ignoring the social distancing safety recommendations.

Misinformation stokes the fear and invites unfounded rumors, which only leads to more confusion and doubt. Opportunists who price-gouge only see personal and financial gain in this time of crisis.

Where then is the Easter joy? We must look through the numbing heartache to see it.

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The warming weather, the blooming flowers, and budding trees, the emerald green grass, the colorful migrating birds, the friendly waves, and well-wishes of walkers as they pass by are but a few expressions of hope. Springtime’s renewal parallels that of Easter morning.

We should sing prayerful praises for those who tirelessly toil to save lives and defeat this virus. First-responders, law enforcement, pharmacists, doctors, nurses, utility workers, grocery store owners and their employees, and delivery people are only a few of today’s heroes.

Globally, folks with a passion for helping have unselfishly responded. Scores of caring people are making homemade masks and donating them to local service agencies.

Here in Harrisonburg, Virginia, many people have sewn and donated thousands of masks for businesses, the hospital, medical offices, fire departments, the volunteer rescue squad, and not-for-profit groups that shelter the homeless. My wife is one such person, though I doubt she would want me to tell you that.

In a pandemic, contagion ignores race, ethnicity, politics, borders, and social status. We all are potential victims and potential helpers. Our humanness makes us vulnerable, afraid, uncertain and exposed. And yet, it is those very qualities that inspire us to join as one at this most difficult time.

Together we must use our gifts and skills for the common good to rise to this once-in-a-lifetime threat. Only then will the anguish of Good Friday transform into the gratefulness of Resurrection Sunday’s love.


© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

‘Safe at home’ has a new meaning


Safe at home. It’s a phrase I always associated with my favorite sport, baseball. A player sliding into home plate trying to score around the catcher is one of the more exciting plays in baseball.

There will be none of that this spring. Whether watching my beloved Cleveland Indians or our grandson pitch for his high school team, baseball, along with most everything else in life, has been put on hold or canceled altogether due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Today, of course, safe at home has a much more significant meaning than scoring a run in a game. Clearly, our routines like yours have all been altered because of the virus.

Instead of bemoaning those facts, Neva and I have chosen to self-quarantine. Instead of venturing out much, we are playing it safe at home. We have sequestered ourselves for the duration of the coronavirus threat, however long that lasts.


Given our age and medical histories, it’s the right thing to do. Since we are both retired, it was an easy decision for us. Plus, given the medical guidelines, we both are in the high-risk category for catching the virus.

We feel for those who are required to follow the shelter-in-place and stay-at-home orders issued by officials. The loss of incomes and the unfamiliar routine of merely being at home can be frustrating and fearful. Anxiety can play havoc with our psyche.

The most essential survival directive is to take care of yourself. We each own the responsibility for our individual mental and physical health. Radical times call for well-reasoned decisions.

Consequently, Neva and I have doubled-down on our daily exercise routines. We eat three meals a day. We stay hydrated, always a significant element in staying healthy, whether a pandemic is raging or not. We keep our bedtimes as consistent as possible and wake about the same time each morning. Of course, at our age, sleeping through the night is a coin toss.

Since we stay at home, our daughter includes our food or hygiene needs in her grocery shopping, done either locally in person or pick up, which requires several days’ advance notice. She often delivers our items, too.

My curbside-delivered gluten free waffle.
Like many other states, Virginia requires only carry-out orders from restaurants. To help them during these tough times, we order from some of our favorite eateries at least once a week. They bring the food right to the curb.

Another vital aspect of holing up at home is to not isolate yourself. We are social beings, after all, created to help, serve, and respect one another.

Bonding with others doesn’t have to be complicated. Phone calls, text messages, FaceTime, social media, even snail mail letters, and cards can uplift people and help you stay connected.

People find creative ways of helping others during these crazy times. They show kindness and compassion by placing teddy bears in windows for neighborhood children to enjoy discovering, like a scavenger hunt. They make and donate cloth face masks for local hospitals and medical personnel.

We are living in tough times. People are suffering, having lost jobs, income, and a sense of normalcy. Fear and frustration can haunt them. We all need to help others see this pandemic through.

As you have likely heard before, we are all in this together. Keep the faith. Hold on, be kind and compassionate to yourself and those you love each and every day.

By showing empathy and gratitude, we will endure and persevere together. That simply is how a caring community works.

youth baseball, grandson
Our grandson was safe at home.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Self-quarantined on our big day


My wife and I just celebrated our 49th wedding anniversary. I had planned a quiet night out at a nice restaurant with my bride to mark the momentous occasion.

Of course, we nixed those plans since we have self-quarantined during the coronavirus health emergency. You can probably relate.

Instead, we spent the day like all our other social distancing, self-quarantined days. We read a little, played games, watched some television, I wrote, Neva quilted.

Unprecedented, uncharted territory each describe the current coronavirus pandemic. We all have had to make adjustments, sacrifices, lifestyle changes, hoping against hope they will be temporary.

We hope, too, that as many people as possible will stay healthy and alive. But the numbers of casualties from this horrible contagion keep multiplying daily. The curve has yet to be flattened in too many locales.

bride and groom
Just married.
Neva and I are grateful to have lived these 49 years together. Over those nearly five decades, we each had to make adjustments and changes to ensure the partnership worked. That’s the way marriage is meant to be.

We each made those sacrifices for the benefit of the other. In marriage, you live not for yourself, but first for your spouse. However, our modifications paled in comparison to what others are having to do in the current coronavirus situation.

During our homebound times, I thought a lot about our marriage as our anniversary approached. We have much for which to be grateful. We have two marvelous children who are both successful adults in every way.

We love our energetic and talented trio of grandchildren. They keep us on our toes and fill us with joy and pride in living out their young lives. Of course, baseball, dramas, concerts, soccer, high-fives, and hugs have all been put on hold for now. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before those happenings can be renewed.

We had to get creative with our communications. Text messages, FaceTime chats, and occasional visits with them and their parents on our back porch, always keeping a safe distance, have to suffice for now.

Taking a break in Alaska.
Neva and I have traveled to many places as a couple. We have strolled on beaches, walked many trails, and climbed literal and figurative mountains together. None of them were as steep and challenging to traverse as this current global crisis.

We have many, many folks to thank for helping us along this marital march. Family, friends, churches, communities. We wouldn’t be where we are without them.

I thought it a bit ironic then that we would simply celebrate number 49 all alone. Our daughter changed that scenario by picking up carryout dinner at one of our favorite restaurants and dining with us on our back porch. Of course, we kept our distance.

Neva and I have been through a lot since that beautiful day in March 1971. But, like you, we have never endured anything like this pandemic.

In our quietude, we silently said a gracious thank you for all those strangers, friends, and family, living and dead, who have blessed and enriched our lives with joy, love, and understanding.

Neva and I are forever thankful for all that the good Lord has bestowed on us. Our gratitude is beyond measure, but continually overflowing. We’re hoping our 50th anniversary will be even more rewarding.

In these challenging, unusual times, we all need to work in harmony for the common good. Our prayers go out to each and everyone, whatever and wherever your situation may be.

Social distancing may keep us physically apart, but we are all in this together, and together, we will persevere. Blessings, and thanks to each of you.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Trying to make sense of things


I could hear my wife’s sewing machine humming in the guest bedroom. Neva was piecing together yet another one of her lovely wall-hangings or comforters. She hadn’t yet decided which it would be.

I frequently darted out of the room that is my office and announced to her breaking news about the coronavirus pandemic. None of it was good.

The disturbing information flowed in like a tsunami. It arrived on the TV, the internet, text messages, emails, and social media. The latter was a jumble of emotions, some folks trying to keep comments on the lighter side of life, while others were angry, confused, hurt, disbelieving.

All of those reactions were legitimate, and through this global pandemic, we all have no doubt experienced the full range of human emotions. It feels like September 11, 2001, all over again, only in slow motion.

One of my wife’s many creations.

However, unlike that infamous day, we could see this coming. The many forms of media basically did their job. They kept and are keeping us informed with the latest updates. That’s their job. Some people openly denied the warnings of the obvious, while others tried humor to relieve the tensions. Nothing seemed appropriate. Nothing seemed right.

So much news came in so fast that my head spun. It all felt like a bad dream, only I couldn’t wake up. It just kept getting worse.

Here in Virginia’s bucolic Shenandoah Valley, the weather was spring-like. I needed to get outside, away from all of the clatter and news of economic, medical, and political calamity. I told Neva that I was going for a walk, and she eagerly joined me. She, too, needed a break.

Neva and I immediately became aware that this was no ordinary stroll. Though sound occurred, the atmosphere felt eerily strange and heavy. It was like an episode of the Twilight Zone.

As we ambled along, we saw no other people. No vehicles passed us. Social distancing was a moot point. We usually see several others as we wander around the paved streets of our sprawling neighborhood. Today, not even the usual dog walkers were out.

A thousand robins chirped with every step. Other sounds caught our attention in the eeriness. A quarter-mile away, a pile-driver pounded away at the thick blue limestone bedrock at a construction site.

A neighbor’s daffodils.

So did a single hammer at a new home going up three streets over. It drew us like two curious kids wanting to check out the action. We surveyed the house already framed and roofed, intrigued by the noises of wood against wood, metal against metal preparing for the next building stages.

When we returned home, the news continued to pour in. The NCAA canceled the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments canceled. The Major League Baseball season would be delayed. An acquaintance from our church had died. Nursing homes were quarantined. Schools were closing one state after the other.

Governors of multiple states prohibited large gatherings. No more than 25 in California. It was 500 in New York, 100 in several other places. The stock market continued to plunge in fear of the unknown.

That’s what fear does to humans. It riles us up, makes us think, do, and say crazy, unhealthy, panicky things. It’s no way to live.

That’s why we took our little walk to clear our hearts, minds, and souls of the fallout from the cascading crisis. All we could do at that moment was to breathe. Out of new habit, I washed my hands for the longest time before Neva’s sewing machine began to hum again.

It was the sweetest, most comforting sound of the day.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020