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.


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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

Welcome to the dog days of summer

An evening thunderstorm over a neighboring county.

In case you haven’t noticed, we have entered those dreaded dog days of summer. It’s hot, humid, and dry almost everywhere across the country.

The Shenandoah Valley hasn’t been excluded from the stifling temperatures and muggy air. Rains have been sporadic, all or nothing events.

The look says it all.
The few times it has rained at our place near Harrisonburg, I could have walked through the widely dispersed drops and not gotten wet. Our backyard is so brown that it resembles a beach more than it does a lawn. Only, the grass crunches rather than squishes beneath your feet.

I understood the meaning of dog days even as a child but also wondered where that term originated. I knew that when adults talked about the dog days, it meant sunny, hot, humid, and dry times.

The Amish still don’t have air conditioning.
Those were days when the neighborhood kids would head for the woods or the creek down over the hill from our little red brick house. Mom wanted us outside playing, and with no air conditioning then, we were glad to oblige her.

But I sensed dog days meant something more profound than being so dastardly hot that the dogs wouldn’t whimper. Naturally, I Googled to find out the source of the saying. As simple as the phrase may sound, its origin is a bit complex.

It turns out that the phrase had little to do with dogs panting or even the lazy, hazy days of summer. There was a muddled mix of astronomy and fantasy involved in bringing in the dog days, not necessarily a heatwave.

A blazing dog day sunset in Ohio’s Amish country.

Dog days first referred to Sirius, the dog star. The appearance of Sirius in the early morning sky just before sunrise ushered in the dog days for the ancient Greeks and Romans. In their time, that occurred in late July.

Back then, sailors, travelers, and stargazers didn’t have to deal with light pollution. They worshiped the heavens, establishing names and stories for stars and constellations.

In Homer’s “The Iliad,” Sirius is referred to as Orion’s dog star. Then, the dog star brought wars and disasters of all sorts. I guess they had to blame something. It might as well be an imaginary culprit.

Still, I can just imagine families gathered around a fire long ago, staring skyward, as an elder told the story of the dog star. Today, of course, most of us couldn’t find Sirius even if we could see the stars.

Whatever tradition you acknowledge and expound, the dog days of summer are here. They have gotten off to a roaring start in more ways than the hot weather.

The comet Neowise has been thrilling people for a couple of weeks now. It should be at its brightest. If you haven’t taken time to check it out, all you need are some binoculars, some keen eyes, and be willing to enjoy the cooler evening air with a good view of the western horizon. You won’t be disappointed.

Summer’s dog days are also hosting the debut of the delayed Major League Baseball season. Even with a 60-game schedule, I’m not holding out much hope for my favorite team, the Cleveland Indians.

Authorities thought that the warmer months would slow the spread of the cursed Covid-19 virus. Instead, the number of U.S. cases and, unfortunately, coronavirus-caused deaths are both increasing as the summer steams along.

I hope the dog days don’t bark too loud or long this summer. Given the state of world events, that would be some welcome news indeed, as soothing as a drenching rain.

Our brown backyard.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Wear face masks for the common good


In conflict resolution, there’s a stage called “deciding to engage.” Instead of continuing to disagree, the parties agree to hear out one another. Wearing a face mask in a time of pandemic sends the same message.

My wife and I wear masks when we’re around other people. We don’t do it to protect ourselves. We wear masks to protect others.

Doing so is both a tangible and personal way to show that you care about others. When others return the protective behavior, I much appreciate it.

An old grist mill in Dayton, VA.

I took my bicycle to the repair shop in the little, historical town of Dayton, Virginia. When I pulled into the parking lot, everyone wore a mask. I was relieved.

I had no doubts whatsoever about entering the shop, only the third public building I had been in since mid-March. All the employees and customers wore masks. We were able to exchange the necessary information with no hindrance or delay at all.

From there, I drove to a favorite coffee shop. I had called in my order and sent a text message with the parking spot number when I arrived. In no time at all, the server brought the order to my vehicle.

We both wore masks and disposable gloves, she for me, me for her. In less than a minute, I had my coffee, she had her payment and tip, and we were both on our separate ways safely.

Our middle grandchild recently celebrated his 14th birthday in an unusual but safe manner. His organized mother requested in the email invitations that his friends could either drive or walk past their house at a designated time to surprise Davis.

Davis stood in his front yard, wearing a mask like everyone else. All kept a safe distance as they wished Davis a happy birthday. Their shouts of best wishes and the sparkle in their eyes were all the presents Davis needed.

The Commonwealth of Virginia has done an excellent job of flattening the curve. As the governor began to phase open businesses and other public places, wearing masks inside those establishments remained required.

Virginia’s success has been in part because so many folks have followed the recommended mask-wearing guidelines. My encounters at the bike shop, coffee shop, and our grandson’s birthday bash confirmed that commitment. I hope those trends continue.

To some, wearing a mask is an inconvenience. Still, it is a necessary one to slow and hopefully stop this invisible, prolific virus. Since a proven vaccine appears to be far in the future, it’s just common sense for the common good to follow the essential guidelines.

Mask wearing doesn’t interfere with one’s constitutional rights, either. Wearing a shirt and shoes into a store are required, and I hope you have pants or a skirt on, too. Buckling up seatbelts is another safety requirement. Safety is paramount with Covid-19, also.

I chatted with a friend about the concept of wearing face masks during the pandemic. He made a marvelous point. Even though a cover conceals their mouths, Steve said he can still tell that other people are smiling.

“They smile through their eyes,” Steve said. What a great concept. Focus on people’s eyes and notice if you see a sparkle radiating.

Let your heart’s love for life shine through bright eyes. That way, the necessary mask can’t hide your friendliness.

Wear your masks. Keep physical distance, and don’t forget to wash your hands. For now, that’s the best we can do for one another and the common good.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

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

What will the summer bring?

A summer solstice sunrise.

Summer is here. That short sentence constructed of three little words strung together usually conjures up fond anticipation of good things to come with the passing of the summer solstice.

Summer usually means vacations to both familiar and foreign places, family reunions, children joyously shouting as they splash each other in the local public swimming pool.

Summer means a lazier time with no school for students, and longer, warmer days to garden, read, visit, and work. It means weddings and picnics, hikes in state and national parks, children sleeping in tents instead of their beds.

Alpenglow at Mt. Rainier National Park won’t be on our summer schedule.

All of this and much more usually comes on the heels of graduation celebrations and Memorial Day gatherings. We graduated, partied, and then commenced into summer. This year, not so much.

The summer of 2020 is shaping up to be very different thanks to the pandemic. We saw that coming in so many ways, given the sequestering and necessary physical distancing of the last three months.

It’s going to be a different kind of summer for all of us. My wife and I have already missed our grandchildren’s canceled spring plays, concerts, and soccer and baseball games. Summer opportunities for their sporting events also seem limited.

Sadly, we won’t be attending our son’s forthcoming wedding in New York State. Out of an abundance of caution, my wife and I will watch the small ceremony via Zoom. We’ll offer a silent blessing with the exchanging of the vows.

For the first time since 1987, we will skip our annual summer stay at our beloved Lakeside, Ohio. The Chautauqua on Lake Erie canceled most programming due to the Covid-19.

Since my wife and I are in the high-risk category, we have to put our health ahead of our desires. We will dearly miss our Lakeside friends and the gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, not to mention the magical Lakeside spell of peace and calm.

A summer sunset at Lakeside, OH.

Despite those disappointments, we will not lament those paradigm shifts. We will approach this summer with open arms and cautious optimism and careful actions. Our focus must be adjusting for the long haul, on celebrating each moment, whether in person six feet apart or via Zoom.

What will the summer of 2020 hold for us all? I suppose it depends on your age, situation, location, and just how seriously you consider the coronavirus crisis to be.

As for us, my wife and I will pray for a summer of calm, healing, and reconciliation, given the political rankling and the global unrest due to racial tensions. Each one of us must make every effort to confront our prejudices, hear the criticisms of others without harsh rhetorical defense.

For the summer of 2020 to be a success, each one of us bears the responsibility to restore civility. It is incumbent upon each one of us to treat everyone we meet and encounter with respect, fairness, and honor, just the way we want to be treated. Decency and kindness must prevail regardless of skin color, race, religion, and cultures.

“Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18 and Mark 12:31). In other words, let’s live summer to the full as best we can for everyone’s safety, health, and well-being.

We can begin to make that happen by practicing these five suggestions:

1. Ask others, how can I help?
2. Be a positive person.
3. Communicate in uplifting ways.
4. Be thankful.
5. Express your appreciation of others personally.

Summer has begun. Let’s all work together to make it the best one possible.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

The advantages of staying home


There are advantages to staying home. The obvious, of course, is it lowers your risk of acquiring the coronavirus.

There is another positive upshot of being homebound. It can stimulate our mental psyche. We just need to be observant.

Being retired for a few years now, I quickly grew used to being at home. I thought I knew how to relax and make the best use of my time. The COVID-19 crisis taught me differently.

Having to stay at home, I learned to really pay attention, to simply be thankful, even when the weather was damp and cold. We had a lot of that in April and May all across the eastern U.S. The typically sunny Shenandoah Valley didn’t escape the dullness either.

I savored the stillness and the lack of interruptions to my new sequestered routines. The steady hum of my wife’s sewing machine transfixed me at times. Altogether, she has made over 700 face masks. Others have made many more and donated them to businesses, medical facilities, agencies who assist the homeless, local institutions, and Mennonite Disaster Service.

Rather than grumble about being at home so much, I tried to appreciate each moment at hand. I would often sit at my desk where I write. I raised the Venetian blinds and observed whatever came into view.

Despite the weather, I saw kids on bicycles, people walking dogs, dogs walking people, delivery trucks, northern cardinals searching for food, American robins bobbing along, and gathering nesting material.

I couldn’t count the number of squirrels that came to dig up their buried food caches. Most of the squirrels are gray busybodies. One particular squirrel, however, stood out.

This squirrel was blond, especially its bushy tail. Its pigmentation had to be an anomaly. The squirrely rodent even acted differently, sometimes like it didn’t have a care in the world.

The sun seemed to bleach the squirrel’s tail as it bounded through neighboring backyards on its way to ours. I had seen the squirrel in late winter searching for morsels beneath our birdfeeders. “Blondie” continued to frequent our yard even after I took down the feeders.

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The blond squirrel scurried across the open backyard in the middle of the day, its tail flapping in the wind like a golden, glowing flag. The squirrel played at the birdbath, apparently happy for the opportunity to wash its paws and face. Did it somehow know about the coronavirus?

The unusual-looking squirrel felt at home in our maple trees. On the hottest day of the year so far, it stretched out on our green grass, apparently to cool off in the shade of the maple.

Showing off.

Once rested, it returned to its squirrely antics, devouring juicy maple seeds that had just twirled to the ground. Some of its repertoire of poses were almost comical. Its playful personality matched its coloration.

It’s not like the squirrel had it made, however. Other squirrels chased it, not because of its fur color, but because that’s what squirrels do.

The blond always got away unscathed. When the coast was clear, it reappeared looking for food, or another drink, or just to lounge on a crook in the maple tree, taking in the limited sunshine.

I enjoyed the squirrel’s behaviors and resilience. Unlike the gray squirrels, the blond one somehow seemed contented, satisfied, unfettered, detached from the life of the survival of the fittest of all things wild.

There are valuable lessons to be learned from watching this fantastic squirrel. No matter what life throws at you, relax, enjoy each moment, and above all, don’t worry.

“Blondie.”

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Finding a treasure while sequested

Our infant daughter sitting on a 105-pound pumpkin was just one of the old photos we found while sorting.
Whether by hook or by crook, our dynamic daughter models many of her mother’s positive qualities. Keeping things tidy and organized through sorting is just one of them.

Our daughter has been cleaning, discarding, donating, organizing, selling, and otherwise giving away items from her home during the pandemic. I suspect you all have to some extent as well.

My wife and I have followed that trend, too, since we have the time during this health crisis sequestering. So far, we have sorted old slides and photos, books, clothes, and files.

My wife and I chuckled at long-forgotten moments captured on slides and photos stuck in boxes buried deep in a closet. The feelings they evoked ran the gamut of emotions.

All of this reordering has stirred memories and even uncovered a mystery. Our daughter found a children’s book published 55 years ago. The author had even signed it.

Carrie couldn’t remember where the book came from but suspected we had given it to her as she began her elementary teaching. Of course, Carrie passed it on to us to contemplate. The book didn’t register with either my wife or me.

“Deneki: An Alaskan Moose” by William D. Berry had a nicely illustrated jacket cover, which was torn at the binding. I examined the skinny book for clues of its origin. The hardback cover and pages were well-preserved.

I read the enlightening story and enjoyed the many illustrations, also done by the author. The storyline revolved around the encounters of a yearling bull moose near Denali National Park.


It was a first edition book, and I found that Berry had autographed the book twice. One signature was on a card with a moose he had drawn and pasted on the inside right-hand cover. He also signed by his name on the author page.

Neither Neva nor I could remember the book, where we got it, or when. Carrie was sure we had given it to her. Since Neva and I were both educators, there were plenty of options. We just all drew blanks.

Berry’s writing was crisp, the story factual and informative, and his illustrations superb. A signed, first edition book was a treasure. The question was, whose prize was it?

I was intrigued. The setting was near one of the areas where Neva and I had visited last August on our tour of Alaska. I easily imagined the geography and topography the young moose and its mother traversed.

I Googled the author and found he had a studio in Alaska. I clicked on the website and discovered that William D. Berry had died in 1979. Berry’s son, Mark, and his wife Diane now ran the studio, located in Gustavus, Alaska.

I emailed them from their webpage, telling of the book’s discovery, and offered to donate it to them. By morning, I already had a reply.

Mark was thrilled to learn about the book. He said that the studio ironically never had a signed copy of “Deneki.” They had to buy one off of eBay for more than the book had earned in royalties in its initial year of publication.

Mark said he would donate the book to the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, once it reopens from the COVID-19 emergency closures. The university houses an archive of his father’s field sketches and other items.

The book arrived safely in Alaska by U.S. mail. It’s a treasure that might have remained hidden without the methodical house cleaning of our daughter and the foggy memories of her parents.

I reckon “Deneki” will be glad to be home, too.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020