Hugs worth the wait

A pandemic inconvenience

Sodus Point Lighthouse, Sodus Point, NY. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh

My wife and I had waited two years for these hugs. When we finally embraced our son and his wife, all seemed right with the world again.

We knew we were not alone. Necessary health restrictions continue to keep millions of global people apart.

So, we felt fortunate to travel from central Virginia to upstate New York finally. The scenery was magnificent. The traffic not so much.

The road to Rochester, New York, was a long and winding one. With the heatwave, it was a hot one, too.

Though the city is due north of our home in the Shenandoah Valley, there is no easy way to get there. We can thank the old, folded Appalachian Mountains for that. The lush, forested mountains contrasted with the ripening grain fields we saw.

One highway closely followed the picturesque Susquehanna River part of the way. We even passed through central Pennsylvania’s Amish country. Hand-painted signs advertising quilts and produce reminded me of our beloved Holmes County, Ohio, home of the world’s largest Amish population, and where we used to live.

Upper left to right; The Sam Patch tour boat on the Erie Canal; Williamsport, PA; 100-acre pond; Male Eastern Bluebird; a hike on a hot and humid day.

For us, the mini-reunion was especially sweet. Unable to travel in June 2020, we had to watch our son’s street wedding on Zoom. It wasn’t what we wanted, but what we had to do.

Since the specifics of each state’s pandemic policies and restrictions were unique, we had to be patient to see our son and his bride in person. According to the guidelines, they couldn’t come to us from New York State, and we couldn’t visit them from Virginia.

That all changed once the vaccines became available. Our son and daughter-in-law got vaccinated just as we did. With both states relaxing restrictions due to declining infection numbers, we finally set a date to trek north.

Our daughter-in-law teaches middle school English, and her academic year didn’t end until the last week of June. That worked out perfectly for us. We may have missed their wedding, but we would be there to help celebrate their first anniversary.

And celebrate we did! With the heatwave in progress, however, we scaled back the planned outdoor activities. Still, we enjoyed a pleasant boat ride on the Erie Canal and took anniversary photos at a quaint lighthouse on Lake Ontario.

Food enthusiasts that they are, Nathan and Jess, arranged meals at some excellent restaurants. We were even able to eat outside in the evening’s shade. We savored the food and conversation and watched people stroll along city sidewalks.

We visited a park and toured a wildlife rehabilitation center. A refreshing breeze cooled us as we sat on benches overlooking a 100-acre pond. Before we left, we hugged some more.

Yes, we were inconvenienced all those months by the pandemic and the health restrictions needed to deter it. But with those embraces, all of the pent-up stress evaporated into the steamy air.

Yet, there was more. With each hug, I had to think about all those who haven’t yet had the same opportunity. I also thought about all those thousands upon thousands of mourning folks who would never be able to hug their lost loved ones taken by the pandemic’s virulence.

My wife and I were more than rewarded by merely being with our son and his wife. We were most grateful.

As I drove home, it hit me that the long and winding road to Rochester served as a metaphor for the horrific pandemic. The approaches and responses to the coronavirus have taken many twists and turns since its emergence in December 2019.

Hopefully, science will straighten those pandemic curves soon. Meanwhile, I’ll cherish every hug I get.

Tioga River Valley, Tioga, PA. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Subtly celebrating 50 years together

We couldn’t have done it alone

Our family in Covid pandemic times.

My wife and I had big plans to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary. The pandemic significantly altered them.

In that regard, we know we are not alone. Scores of folks have postponed anniversary celebrations, weddings, vacations, reunions, bucket list trips because of the coronavirus.

Even with having received our second vaccine, we plan to mark our momentous occasion in a much more subtle way than initially planned. Staying safe is paramount.

Instead of an exciting vacation-like shindig with family and friends for our Golden Anniversary, we will overnight at a local bed and breakfast. It’s the prudent thing to do.

Like most couples, we have taken plenty of risks in our life together. Now is not the time to do a highwire act.

Our risk-taking lifestyle began when we married less than a year after we had met. We haven’t let up one iota in all those 50 years, until now.

We were so young then.

Our unified approach to life was a simple one. Neva and I have tried to put our faith into action in service to others. We recognized that doing so meant taking risks, but we were game. That has always fueled our marriage as a couple and as individuals.

After our March ceremony, we spent the summer of 1971 operating a hikers camp halfway up Pikes Peak in Colorado. It was a voluntary service assignment through the Mennonite Church that set the tone and tempo of our life together.

Our marriage has been and continues to be about relationships and service. It’s why we spent careers in public education. It’s why we participated in community non-profit boards and organizations like thrift stores and volunteer fire departments.

Doing so took time away from our family, which was a sacrifice unto itself. Even at a young age, our daughter and son understood. Consequently, they have grown to be creative, productive adults with successful, service-minded careers. We couldn’t have asked for more.

It’s a no-brainer that grandchildren are the long-term rewards of parenting. They were the main reasons we pulled up stakes from our beloved Holmes County, Ohio, to move to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

We wanted to be near the grandkids to watch them grow, participate in extra-curricular activities, and help in any way we could. Evan, Davis, and Maren have been risk-free blessings beyond measure.

The pandemic, however, made it challenging to shift to infrequent interactions with family, friends, neighbors, and church members. We are grateful for the new friendships and renewed friendships we have made since we settled here nearly four years ago.

We were thrilled to find circles of friends, like those in Ohio, who mirrored our shared values. Trusting in one another and graciously encouraging each other to use our gifts for others has been the loving ingredient that has bound us together for half a century.

I was surprised to learn that violets are the 50th anniversary flower. So, I got one for each decade.

Neva and I both know that we could not have made it this far on our own. Family and friends, some now departed, have served as both models and encouragers, especially in trying times.

It’s the little things that have enriched our marriage. After 50 years together, we have learned not to take ourselves so seriously.

Each marriage is different. It’s finding the comfort zones of those differences, sharing household responsibilities, as well as laughter and tears that have kept us forever holding hands.

We have learned that it’s the everyday moments together that truly matter. Being comfortable with extended quiet times, surprised by a tender touch, a smile, or word of appreciation are a few examples. Saying I was wrong, I am sorry, please forgive me, I love you became the icing on the wedding cake.

We have appreciated all of the well-wishes and congratulations that we have received from family and friends. It’s that sure foundation that has kept us loving and living for 50 years together.

A golden sky for our Golden Anniversary.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

How college basketball has helped see us through this long, pandemic winter

We watch a lot of games.

The epitome of how my wife watches college basketball. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh.

I married the right woman. There are many lofty reasons that I can cite. But during this long pandemic winter, there is one that stands out—college basketball.

I am truly fortunate that my wife enjoys sports as much as I do. In the winter, pandemic or no pandemic, basketball has always been our preferred entertainment.

I’m not sure what we thought when we picked the day for our wedding, however. It indeed wasn’t chosen around basketball. We were married on the night of Ohio’s annual state high school basketball tournament finals and the NCAA tournament’s regional games. Despite that, our fathers still attended the ceremony and not the games.

Over our 50 years of marriage, our basketball cravings evolved. When we were first married, we bounced from local high school games to college and even an occasional pro game.

When our daughter and son played in junior high and high school, those games became priority number one. We plowed our way through snowstorms to tiny crackerjacks box gyms in the middle of nowhere to holler our lungs out.

Before the pandemic, we watched our grandsons play basketball.

As empty-nesters, we settled in on snowy evenings and watched college basketball on TV. We’ve kept that habit to this day.

We were all geared up for another round of March Madness last year when officials abruptly canceled the tournament. We were a bit baffled then, but now we know it was the right decision.

We had no idea a year ago what the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic would be. We do now. Experience and knowledge tend to clear your vision and shake your doubts.

My wife and I have appreciated the NCAA and the college sports administrators’ approach to keeping this basketball season alive. It’s been a struggle at times, with teams canceling games and even halting practices for days on end due to the virus.

Limiting the number of fans in the stands ranging from zero to family members only to a few hundred has helped college basketball continue dribbling. That doesn’t count the multitude of cardboard cutouts of people and former players filling the seats. Even play-by-play announcers are often broadcasting remotely.

Nevertheless, college teams are playing basketball, and we couldn’t be happier. Watching the teams compete has helped shorten the long winter nights for us old folks.

After dinner, Neva and I plant ourselves in front of the television and watch our choice of games. She claims the love seat while I wear out the recliner. We’ll have an evening snack of tea and cookies or ice cream at halftime.

Neva multi-tasks, of course. She can assemble a jigsaw puzzle, read on her iPad, and watch the game simultaneously. However, my eyes are strictly glued to the TV, with the remote firmly in hand, ready to channel surf at commercial breaks.

Even after 50 years, I marvel at Neva’s knowledge of the game. She knows a charge from a block better than the referees.

Saturdays are even better than weeknights, with games often scheduled from noon to midnight. We pick and choose the ones we want to watch, of course. We’re basketball fans, not fanatics. I hope there is a difference.

We happily anticipate the start of March Madness this year. We’re hoping that the tourney will indeed go as scheduled. We’ll be cheering for our favorite teams. But if they don’t win, we’ll keep watching.

Following college basketball helps our evenings pass, and we don’t even have to leave the house or buy a ticket. Best of all, my wife is right there with me.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Accepting reality will help us all

I’ll remember January 20, 2021, for a long time.

Yes, it the day we inaugurated a new president of the United States. It was also the day our country passed a sobering, horrid milestone. The number of deaths in the U.S. from the COVID-19 virus surpassed the total number of U.S. military personnel killed in World War II.

That stark and mournful statistic sends a message more significant than its unfathomable number. More citizens have now died of a virus in a year than a four-year-war. What does that say about us as a people?

Indeed, the rest of the world is watching us. And, I can tell you that friends who live in other countries are shocked by what is happening with the spread of the pandemic in our great nation. It shouldn’t have been this way. But it is, and we all have to do something about it cooperatively.

Scientists, medical personnel, and researchers made great strides in developing COVID-19 vaccines in a short time. Of course, they were aided by the federal government with funds and expeditious approval of the vaccines. For that, I give great thanks.

But the facts are facts. To curtail this horrible pandemic, as many people as possible need to get the vaccines. Because of supply and demand, many of us will have to be patient and wait our turn.

Because we are a democratic republic, federal, state, and local authorities must now work together to distribute the vaccines. Consequently, when you get yours will depend on where you live and to which category you belong. Each state has set its particular priority classification requirements for immunization.

In part, that is why my wife and I decided not to be snowbirds this winter. We wanted to stay home for several reasons. Safety and getting the vaccines were high on the list.

A snowbird breakfast.

Yes, we miss our friends and the crashing waves and warmer temperatures on our beloved winter paradise, Amelia Island, Florida. However, we were uncertain if non-residents would be able to be vaccinated in the Sunshine State.

This winter is our first full one in the Commonwealth, even though we moved here nearly four years ago from Ohio. It’s a lot like living in northeast Ohio, except we have more sunny days and less snow.

With all those years of living in much more severe conditions than we have in the Shenandoah Valley, Neva and I are making it through. We are also following all of the CDC guidelines as best we can.

We continue to stay close to home. We continue to do curbside grocery pick up. If we order a meal, we get it via curbside delivery. We much appreciate those services and tip accordingly to show our gratitude.

As for the coronavirus vaccine, we are still waiting.

We know that some people may be leery about being inoculated. We are not. We respect people’s rights not to, but we also expect them to follow the proper guidelines to keep the rest of the population safe.

The reality is that we must all do our part in dampening down this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic to ensure that it is quelled and does not reoccur. Getting the vaccine will go a long way to reaching that end.

We will also wash our hands, and wear masks and keep our physical distance when around others. We will continue to pray for the sick and all those who are working diligently with those infected.

Given the critical circumstances, it’s the best we can do.         

An Amish buggy.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Make this COVID Christmas a reflective one

An Ohio Christmas past.

I’m not sure what Christmas will bring this year, let alone Santa. With the pandemic surging and health guidelines more stringent, it might just be my wife and me enjoying Christmas Day. And that’s okay.

Pandemic or no pandemic, Christmas is still Christmas, whether we are alone or with a gaggle of rowdy relatives. We can still celebrate the sacred day. This year, though, our celebrations will probably be very different since the pandemic is still raging.

Since we likely can’t gather in our traditional ways this Christmas, I have an idea. Let’s enjoy this holiday by joyfully reflecting on Christmases past.

I realize that isn’t always the easiest to do. The holidays bring sad and painful memories for many folks for diverse reasons. Many, like our family, have lost loved ones.

My father and my wife’s father both died just before Christmas. So have close friends, some of them much too young. It’s not hypocritical to miss and mourn as well as celebrate the season, however.

My father loved Christmas. When it came to Christmas, Dad was like a little kid. He couldn’t contain himself.

Dad would overspend on multiple gifts for his two daughters and three sons. I never could figure out how he and Mom afforded what they did for us. They set an example for us that we still follow, though perhaps with more restraint.

It was only appropriate that we celebrated our father’s life well-lived on a cold and snowy December 26. That was 11 years ago already, and it was a Christmastime I will always cherish. The family loved that so many folks took time out during the holidays to pay their respects.

Late one Christmas Eve, I fondly recall delivering the town’s daily newspaper. A fresh six-inches of snow brightened the colorful holiday lights all along my neighborhood route. People seemed extra friendly as I handed them the next day’s paper.

Christmas 1956.

As a youngster, I joined my siblings in excitingly awaiting the appointed early hour of 6 a.m. Christmas morning to bolt downstairs to see what Santa had brought. In minutes, we undid what had taken Mom and Dad hours to assemble and wrap.

Our stockings were always hung with care on the fireplace mantel. We could always count on Santa stuffing it with nuts, candy canes, and an orange at the very bottom. Neva and I continued the same tradition with our own children and grandchildren.

When I was principal at Winesburg Elementary in the real Winesburg, Ohio, the fifth and sixth graders would return to school one evening before Christmas to go caroling to the appreciative elders of quaint Winesburg. The youthful entourage would always end up at the late Mary Ann Hershberger’s house for hot chocolate and yummy cookies. As cold as those nights often were, the memories warm me still.

The weather will determine whether Neva and I can gather with our daughter and her family this year. If it’s fair, we will celebrate adequately distanced on the back porch. If not, connecting using technology will have to suffice.

Besides remembering Christmases past, let’s also reflect on how we can brighten someone else’s holiday today. Connect via letter, email, phone call, or card with someone that you know who finds the holidays especially hard for whatever reasons. It may brighten the season for you both. After all, that’s the true spirit of Christmas in action.

However you celebrate this holiday season, please do so safely and with others in mind. After all, we all want to be around to enjoy many more Christmases to come.

Merry Christmas, everyone!  

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Celebrate a different Thanksgiving differently

A bygone Thanksgiving morning in Ohio’s Amish country.

Thanksgiving season is upon us here in the U.S. The day won’t be the same as in years past, with the pandemic still raging. Nevertheless, we can, and we should celebrate.

I have always relished Thanksgiving. The food, the fellowship, the interplay of cross-generational conversation and gaming made the day special.

Growing up in blue-collar northeast Ohio, my four siblings and I had a boatload of first cousins with whom we communed on Thanksgiving Day. Our maternal grandmother graciously oversaw the gathering of her three daughters and their families.

A buffet of all the traditional Thanksgiving goodies filled the long dining room table at our Aunt Vivian and Uncle Kenny’s place, where we usually assembled. Other relatives occasionally joined us.

Besides gorging ourselves, we played football, hide and seek, and sang at the piano. By day’s end, both our stomachs and our souls were more than satisfied. Laughter and familial love will do that.

As the children matured to teens and then to adults, spouses joined in the festivities. Out of necessity, each family began meeting separately.

Thanksgiving Day resembled a progressive supper. It was one house for a noontime holiday spread and then dinner at the in-laws with an equivalent bounty.

Those traditions evolved even further when our children married or moved hours away. Thanksgiving became an extended holiday to accommodate as many attendees as possible. We would eat our way through Thursday to Sunday.

Regardless of the settings and meeting arrangements, fond memories always resulted. That was true even if the mashed potatoes were lumpy or the dressing was too dry.

This year, those memories will have to flavor Thanksgiving Day whatever, however, and wherever we celebrate. The coronavirus will likely alter any large gatherings, even if they include all family members.

As the contagious pandemic continues to spread and spike, we all have to do our part to thwart its invisible advance. It never was going to evaporate, no matter who won the presidential election.

This Thanksgiving, we have to let go of our traditions, our expectations, and our American pride and do what is best for the common good of all. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention advises against any large-group inside gatherings.

The professional advice is that people not be in an enclosed space with the same people for more than 15-minutes. I’ve been known to be a fast eater, but not that fast.

For my wife and me, that means we will be hoping for a warm Thanksgiving Day to meet outside with our daughter, her husband, and our three grandchildren. We’ll connect as we are able with our son and his wife in New York.

This pandemic has been the paradigm shift of a lifetime for all of us. It’s been hard for us, independent-minded citizens, to accept governmental and medical leaders’ guidelines and restrictions.

Trying to provide accurate safety information about a new and dangerous virus can’t be easy. It is incumbent on all of us to follow the advice to help slow this COVID-19 until an effective vaccine arrives.

Nevertheless, virus or no virus, Thanksgiving Day will arrive, and we should express our great gratitude. How that occurs is an individual choice, of course.

I am grateful for the many blessings received over all these many years. If we can’t meet in person with our family like my nostalgic recollections, I will be disappointed. However, we can still express our appreciation virtually.

The principle of being thankful is the very foundation for Thanksgiving. Let us all keep that tradition alive as joyously and safely as possible.

The traditional Thanksgiving turkey.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

How the pandemic has strengthened relationships

The old saying, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” has never been more apt than in the pandemic. It’s one of the realities of following governmental and health restrictions.

The ancient origin of this aphorism referred to lovers. Today’s version also applies to friends and family. My wife and I have missed the gracious person-to-person hospitality and warm congeniality of close friends and family members.

Since early March, Neva and I have taken great pains to follow the recommended health guidelines to avoid passing or contracting the lethal virus. Those precautions include avoiding entering buildings, including homes.

Following those procedures naturally means limitations. Regularly seeing friends and family has undoubtedly been one of the casualties. Relationships mean the world to us, so we have found coping alternatives.

We are fortunate to live nearby our daughter, son-in-law, and three grandchildren. We occasionally commune with them, mostly outdoors.

Physical distancing with our family early in pandemic.

We have visited and hosted friends, but again, always on patios or well-ventilated venues. With the weather growing colder by the day, that option may soon end.

We are unfortunate in not being able to visit in-person with our son and his wife, who live seven hours north of us in upstate New York. We haven’t physically seen them for a year and a half.

Our siblings, cousins, and close friends fit the same scenario. Virtual connectivity has replaced the real thing.

We so appreciate when folks make special efforts to connect. Unexpected cards, emails, texts, and phone calls from friends and family are great gifts.

Even better is when folks go out of their way to see us face to face. We’ll drive an hour or more to meet long-time friends who are passing through Virginia. We’ll gather at a coffee shop, sit around a table outdoors, and chat for hours about everything from baseball to the weather. We do the same with some local acquaintances monthly.

Though we want to, we don’t shake hands or hug. Elbow bumps and invisible embraces have respectfully replaced the more intimate contact, only for the sake of being safe for all concerned.

For now and the foreseeable future, that’s how we will continue to maintain friendships. Virtual and careful in-person contact will have to suffice until a proven vaccine is available to all. I wish we could do better than that, but that is the way it has to be.

Consequently, my wife and I have spent much more time together than if there were no pandemic. Yes, we still give each other space to breathe and do our own thing. But we also have settled into enjoyable daily routines of just being together quietly.

Am I saying that after nearly 50 years of marriage, I have a newfound and more profound appreciation for my spouse? Yes, I am, and yes, I have. It has taken me a long time to arrive at this station in our marriage. I especially appreciate Neva’s gifts of hospitality and creativity.

If the cautious semi-isolation of the past seven months has taught me anything, let it be this. I love my wife, my children, my grandchildren, my devoted friends more and more each day.

Enjoying quiet time together.

I do so because the pandemic has forced me to finally and fully be aware of each moment as it occurs. I try to minimize idiosyncrasies that I formally found irritating, and instead express my appreciation for those that make my life happier.

Committed and loving relationships with family and friends are critical to everyone’s quality of life. That’s especially true in a pandemic.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

What a year it’s been so far!

After the first year’s first sunrise, it has seemed all downhill from there.

Here we are at the end of August. Is it just me, or have these been the longest eight months ever?

With 2020 being a presidential election year, we knew things could be wacky. However, they quickly became excruciating with the arrival of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The virus has drastically altered all of our lives, some in catastrophic ways. Hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of cases, and both founded and unfounded fear have permeated our lives together on planet Earth.

We have all made changes in our lives, whether they be out of safety or fear, or perhaps both. Most health and government officials have done their best at providing direction and directives to keep us well against a previously unknown health threat.

Some of us have tried to follow the guidelines as best we can. Others have not.

Technology has helped relieve some of the tension of being faced with shutdowns, physical distancing, and other health guidelines by allowing us to share virtually. We have gathered remotely for school, worship, business, and community meetings rather than in-person.

My wife and I have participated that way with church services, yoga, college classes, doctor appointments, weddings, memorial services, and visiting with friends and family. Though we would prefer meeting in person, face-to-face via technology has had to suffice for now.

How long will it last? Las Vegas hasn’t even placed a bet on that one.

As a career public educator, I always looked forward to the start of school. I pity today’s teachers, administrators, and school support staff who have to make hard decisions that are for the best and safest for all.

Some schools, including colleges and universities, are starting with in-person instruction. Others will open with a hybrid version, alternating between in-person and online education. Still, others have chosen all remote learning.

I wish them all well, and the safest of school years. Likely, backup plans are in place if the COVID-19 numbers spike again as students gather.

Parents, grandparents, and other caregivers try to balance the worlds of work, household chores, and instruction for youngsters if schools are not entirely in-person. They need our sincere support.

Employment is another issue that has so far muddled 2020. Many people who were working have been laid off or furloughed. Ironically, some sections of the economy are going gangbusters, while others flounder.

First-responders, nurses, doctors, and all their helpers must take extreme precautions just to treat the sick. I try to be mindful of them every day.

I am most thankful that technology certainly has helped to keep society operating. This old guy even ordered groceries from an app on his cell phone.

Storm clouds have hung over most of 2020.
Of course, the pandemic isn’t the only life-changing event of the year. Historic wildfires have raged in the United States, Australia, and Siberia. Hurricanes and tropical storms have caused death and destruction in their path. Those storms are both more powerful and more frequent than in the past.

Professional sports aren’t the same, either. The NBA is holdings its playoffs in a Florida bubble, while MLB is playing a 60-game season with seats occupied with human cardboard cutouts instead of real paying fans.

I always welcomed September’s arrival with the hope of fairer weather and the sights and sounds of autumn’s appearance. But with the pandemic still raging and the presidential campaign heating up, a face mask won’t be the only accessory in my wardrobe.

A clothespin, a blindfold, and earplugs might also be warranted to reach 2021.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Feeling stressed, fearful? Head outside!

The misty morning view from the Skyline Drive.

Awash with news and information about COVID-19, it’s easy to feel tense, confused, irritable, fearful, or even bored. Due to the global pandemic, millions of people of all colors, religions, cultures, and languages are experiencing similar trepidations.

A sense of hopelessness can be emotionally overwhelming. There’s a way to help overcome that despair. Head outside!

Studies have shown that connecting with nature calms fears, and uplifts spirits. I embrace those findings as often as I can. I recently headed to my favorite get-away place, Shenandoah National Park.

Mine was a twofold mission. Besides going into the wild, this was my first hiking experience since my knee replacement surgery last September.

I started early to beat the heat and humidity. The sun hadn’t yet risen over the Blue Ridge Mountains as I approached the park on U.S. 33. I exit that road into the park at Swift Run Gap.

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Rounding a slight curve on a typically hazy summer morning, I noticed a large dark object in the opposite lanes of the divided highway. I slowed and rolled past a massive black bear standing beyond the grassy medium.

The magnificent creature looked both ways and then bolted across the roadway. It promptly disappeared into the steep, wooded hillside before I could even grab my camera.

Buoyed by that encounter, I arrived at the trailhead in high spirits. Surely, anything that I would experience the rest of the day would be anti-climactic, unless I saw another bear on the hike. I didn’t.

I walked a few yards on the Appalachian Trail to where it intersected with the trail I wanted, the Mill Prong. It was all downhill from there until the return trip.

The forest was amazingly still. No birds sang, and no vehicles hummed along the nearby Skyline Drive. I took in every moment, the wildflowers, the ferns, brightly colored fungus conspicuously growing on dead trees. The distant sound of water gurgling its way down the mountainside lured me onward.

I heard or saw no one else. A gray catbird burst from a bush beside the trail. A feisty squirrel angrily scurried away, flapping its tail in disgust of the human disruption.

I rested at the shallow stream. The morning sun filtered through the forest canopy, sparkling the gently rippling water. I felt exalted.

Farther downstream, I sat on a large rock and just enjoyed the sound of water trickling over ancient boulders. On my return trip, I passed a few other hikers. Each one donned face masks as we passed on the trail. More gratitude and thoughtfulness mutually expressed.


Click on the photos to enlarge them.
When I reached the parking lot, the strengthening morning sun spotlighted some bright orange Turk’s cap lilies just off the trail. Their beauty drew me like a magnet. I snapped my camera’s shutter over and over, trying to preserve the glory I beheld perfectly.

Suddenly, a female tiger swallowtail butterfly alighted on the same flower that I was photographing. Again, delight and gratitude filled me to the full.

In the rest of the world, the pandemic raged. But in the wild, only the big black bear, the forest’s serenity, the kindness of other hikers, and this tango of floral and fauna mattered.

I was thankful for each magical moment, and for the skillful surgeon who had replaced my knee. Gratitude is appropriate anytime, but especially during this pandemic.

Connecting with nature does indeed do wonders for your soul. You can find peace and gratitude in a local park or even your backyard.

Get outdoors, follow the prescribed safety rules, and enjoy all that comes your way.

The splendor at trail’s end.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Ambivalent about August

August in Ohio’s Amish country.

I’ve always been a bit ambivalent about August. I’m especially so this year, given all the ramifications of the ongoing pandemic.

When my wife and I lived in Ohio, August kept us busy as career public school educators. We each geared up for the start of a new academic year. As a principal, I created schedules and rosters and attended too many meetings. The excellent teacher that she was, my wife spent many hours preparing each classroom to be an inviting learning haven.

Canned peaches.
August also ushered in the food preservation season. We froze dozens of containers of sweet corn and apple sauce. We waited for the canning lids to sound the seal of approval with satisfying “pops” for the tomatoes, grape juice, beets, and peaches. Rainbows of goodness adorned our shelves.

Of course, we weren’t alone in these endeavors. After I retired, I savored sale mornings at the local produce auction. I loved the hustle and bustle of men and women unloading their trucks and horse-drawn wagons. The rhythmical cadence of the auctioneers barking out their persuasive banter was sweet music to my ears.

The growing season here in the Shenandoah Valley where we live now is a couple of weeks ahead of Holmes County, Ohio. So, we don’t have to wait as long to enjoy our first taste of locally grown veggies.

Farmers Produce Auction, Mt. Hope OH
Auction in action.

August is more than agriculture, though. The three H’s rule the eighth month: hot, hazy, humid. That’s not the main reason for my ambivalence, however. With the coronavirus continuing to run rampant, uncertainty abounds in everyone’s life.

The city schools where our grandchildren attend here were set to open with a combination of in-person and online instruction. The latest surge in COVID-19 has altered that plan. They’ll start the year learning remotely.

Mask-wearing is the norm, especially when entering stores or buildings. Neva and I have continued to be extra cautious about keeping our physical distancing. We truly miss the close socialization of friends and family.

Some states are doing better than others at slowing the virus. States that reopened with too few restrictions or where few people followed the guidelines are unfortunately paying the price.

A migrating black tiger swallowtail butterfly.
Since the governors have had to take the lead in issuing orders and health guidelines, rules and suggestions vary significantly from state to state. In part, that’s what has fueled our consternation.

We haven’t seen in person our son and his wife, who live in New York State, in more than a year. We have friends and relatives who have tested positive, but fortunately, they have all recovered so far. Too many others weren’t as fortunate.

County and street fairs, high school football, band shows, concerts, vacations, have all been canceled. Major League Baseball is trying to play a shortened season with no fans in attendance.

Virus or no virus, August will be August no matter what. Golden sunsets will blaze away in the hazy evening skies. Migrating birds and butterflies will begin to wing their way south.
We’ll continue to meet with friends, relatives, and worship remotely through technology.

Under the current dire circumstances, it’s the best and safest we can do. We’ll continue to do our shopping curbside.

Even given all that, I know that my August ambivalence must yield to patience, and patience to resolve. We have to see this global health crisis through for however long it takes. I’ll continue to be cautious, careful, and diligent. I am not ambivalent about COVID-19.

My challenge is not to let my melancholy deter my joy for living, for sharing, for helping others, even if it is with an altered daily lifestyle.

An August sunset.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020