Never Give Up on Hope

The first rain after weeks of drought in the Shenandoah Valley. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh.

I remember standing on our back porch watching an approaching thunderstorm. It was the middle of July 1988, and we hadn’t had any substantial rain for weeks. Ohio and adjoining states were in a severe drought.

Temperatures were consistently in the 90s, sometimes reaching 100. The humidity was oppressive, yet we had no rain.

I stood there watching the lighting in the west, hoping that the rain would reach us. But it wasn’t to be. The storm fizzled out that night, and my heart sank.

A storm that fizzled.

That exact scenario occurred here in the Shenandoah Valley this summer. June turned warm and dry after a chilly, wet spring, and July followed the same pattern. Even if it did cool down for a few days, no rain came.

Crops withered. Lush cornfields turned ugly with curled, stunted, sickly-looking cornstalks. Farmers reported small ears of corn or none at all. The times seemed desperate, hopeless even.

And then there is the awful wildfire situation out west and in some Canadian provinces. Millions of acres of land have been burned, along with hundreds of buildings that included two entire small towns. The resultant injuries and deaths only added to the catastrophe.

In these trying times, it’s easy to give up hope. People are at their wit’s ends. Emotions and frustrations can run as high as the hot temperatures.

Instead, what I have observed here is farmers making the best of a bad situation. They made fodder out of the cornstalks while some green remained. Farmers harvested the outer edges of cornfields and sometimes entire fields of standing corn, chopped it, and filled their silos for livestock feed.

A withered cornfield in the Shenandoah Valley.

What they will do for field corn remains to be seen. But from my lifetime of observations, hope is a necessary prerequisite for farming.

The dictionary defines hope as a feeling of expectation and a desire for a sure thing to happen. In other words, hope points to the future, not the past.

Hope puts us all in the present moment, observing, touching, participating, listening, learning from all around us. We absorb it all and look to tomorrow, hopeful that the life we are experiencing will improve no matter our situation.

Just like I had anticipated rain that Ohio night long ago and was disappointed, I continued to hope. Ironically, a few days later, the rains arrived in torrents.

We had over six inches in less than two hours, and flash floods ensued. In that space of time, we went from no water to too much too soon.

And just like those former Ohio days, a similar pattern happened here in Virginia this summer. It didn’t rain for weeks, and then the heavens opened up multiple times in a few days. Later came the remnants of Hurricane Ida, and we had even more rain.

For some of the crops, it was too late. Late ripening varieties drank up the moisture. Lawns went from crunchy brown to lush green. A few brown spots still linger, but hope and patience won out.

Perhaps there is a lesson here for all of us. We must hang on to hope. Hope keeps us going. Hope inspires us to focus on the future while still acknowledging our current situation, whatever that may be.

Just when you think you are at the breaking point, hope will come. Much like the rain, hope will find a way for you. Though we cannot see it on the horizon, the rain will eventually arrive, filling our hope to overflowing.

As summer yields to autumn, hope shines forth regardless of the weather.

No matter what comes your way.
There is hope on the horizon.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Living Up to its Name

The Dry River in Virginia’s Rockingham County really is dry. It isn’t always.

With heavy and persistent spring rains, the river often runs strong and bank full. When that happens, the river is not crossable. That’s because no bridge spans the waterway. Rather, a large cement slab has long been in place for vehicles to pass over the riverbed. “Road Closed” signs are posted when the water is running too high and fast over the concrete crossing. Appropriately, the road that runs across the river is named “Slab Road.”

Precipitation has been greatly lacking here in the Shenandoah Valley since early June. Consequently, the Dry River has been bone dry for quite a while.

“Living Up to its Name” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

After this June and July, do we really need August?

Ohio chaparral by Bruce Stambaugh
Parched pastures in Ohio more resembled California chaparral.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The dog days of August are upon us. The month is notorious for hot, humid and mostly dry weather. Haven’t we already experienced enough of that without adding to the enduring misery?

Once June arrived, the lovely spring weather we had enjoyed literally evaporated. The weather turned unusually warm and dry, not just in Ohio, but also across much of North America. Many record high temperatures were recorded. Geographic areas that had been moist quickly joined other regions that have had ongoing, long-term drought conditions.

Artesian well by Bruce Stambaugh
This artesian well normally runs steady year-round. It dried up by the end of July.
Water became a precious commodity. Wells were taxed. Perpetual springs slowed to a trickle. Local streams, normally gurgling with water from occasional rains, displayed more creek bed than flow.

I pitied those who had to work outside for a living. Many businesses had their employees arrive early to take advantage of the morning coolness, and then let them leave mid-afternoon at the height of the heat.

National Weather Service offices all across the country regularly posted heat advisories and excessive heat warnings. In the cities, where concrete and steel intensified the heat, people sweltered.

It was bad enough here in the country. Lawn care services, usually swamped for work or used to rushing to beat the rain to complete their jobs, simply lost business. They were used to mowing green, not brown. Indeed, there was no need to do so.

Brown lawn by Bruce Stambaugh
Lawns that were mowed short took a beating from the heat.

Farmers watched helplessly as their corn curled and parched pastures more resembled California chaparral. In America’s breadbasket, farm animals were sold off since feed and hay prices soared. By July’s end, two-thirds of the country was in some stage of drought.

Wild animals sought cooler climes, too. Groundhogs abandoned their normal burrows in hayfields and ranged outside their normal habitat for scarce food and water. A young one dug a hole under our back porch for protection from predators. It munched on our herbs and flowers, and boldly drank from our little garden pond in broad daylight.

Curled corn by Bruce Stambaugh
Field corn was so stressed from the heat and drought that it curled.

A pose of raccoons was more cautious. Being nocturnal, they regularly fished and splashed at night. The groundhog and seven of the masked bandits were captured in live traps baited with a gourmet meal of apple slices and marshmallows.

What really stood out though was how people seemed to adjust to the oppressive conditions. Sure complaints were lodged to nobody in particular. The only moisture to fall on some farmland was from farmers’ tears. Still I found people overall to be as congenial as ever. They seemed determined not to let the heat get the best of them.

One exception to that was on the highway. Drivers appeared more aggressive than usual, perhaps incited by the blazing sun and warm car interiors. In my various road trips, I noticed an unusually high number of vehicles, large and small, abandoned along highways or sitting with their hoods up. Their operators peered into the engines or talked on cell phones while waiting for help to arrive.

Brown grass by Bruce Stambaugh
Burned out lawns and parched flowerbeds like these were common all across the midwest part of the United States.

Trees and flowers, too, were stressed. Leaves turned yellow or brown. Some gave up the ghost altogether. When I walked to the mailbox to get the mail, the grass crunched beneath my feet like snow. Right now, I’d rather have the snow. Can’t we just skip the dog days of August and sashay right into a normal fall?

Given such a notion, maybe the heat has gotten to me after all.

This column appeared in The Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

A drought of a different kind

Miller farm by Bruce Stambaugh
The farm of my late in-laws, Wayne and Esther Miller, as painted by my recently deceased mother, Marian Stambaugh.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Our family has experienced a drought far beyond the on-going dryness that our area and much of the country is currently enduring. My mother died in April, and now my mother-in-law, Esther Miller, recently passed away. Both were 90.

The word drought is usually defined as a long period of dry weather. Wherever they live, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania or Virginia, all of Esther’s grandchildren have had to endure this drought. In some areas, the drought is considered moderate while in others it is much more serious.

Funeral flowers by Bruce StambaughThe second definition of drought encompasses a much wider, deeper meaning. Drought is a lengthy serious lack of something. When you lose your mother and your mother-in-law within three months of each other, one cannot help but sense a serious lack of something.

I know I do. My brothers and sisters do. Now my wife and her sister do as well. All of our parents are gone. We are now the elder generation. I’m not sure I’m ready for that distinction yet.

I also know the grandchildren, though they are scattered across the country pursuing their various careers, feel that certain dryness, too. They don’t have to say anything. I can see it in their eyes, their non-verbal sorrowful expressions.

Like my mother, Esther was a good, God-fearing person, dedicated to rearing her family the best way she knew how. She learned those loving skills from her mother, and perhaps her own grandparents.

Reality has set in for all of us. The torch has been passed. It is up to us to carry on what was modeled for us for all those years.

Esther Miller by Bruce Stambaugh
Emotion overcame Esther Miller at her 90th birthday celebration.
I remember the very first time I met my future in-laws at their 80-acre farm east of Louisville, Ohio. I hadn’t been there long when Neva’s father asked me if I wanted to see the pigs. How could I turn down that offer?

I not only got to see the pigs, but also the milk cows and the heifers, too, and the grain bins and hayloft and the tiny milkhouse. At the time I thought Wayne was just being nice. On the way home, Neva told me that she knew her father liked me because I got to see the pigs on the first visit. It took other suitors at least three visits.

Esther welcomed me with equal warmth. Excellent host that she was, she offered me a beverage and a delicious homemade snack. She could have written a book on being a homemaker. When Neva and I announced our engagement to her parents, Esther responded in a most amicable way.

“We are glad to have you in the family,” she said. “If we had had a son, we were going to name him ‘Bruce’.” I was at home away from home.

I remember hustling our young daughter and son into the Miller farmhouse one Christmas Eve in the teeth of a blizzard. Once inside, the warmth of the gracious hospitality far exceeded that of the comfortably heated home.

Farm sunset by Bruce Stambaugh

During our times of loss this year, we have experienced the kindness and thoughtfulness of many, many others. They each found their own ways to share in our mourning via food, flowers, cards, emails or calls. We felt blessed by those expressions of sympathy.

In addition, the family has found a wellspring of refreshing comfort despite our maternal losses. We rejoice that our parents enjoy an eternity that will never know any kind of drought whatsoever.

This column appeared in The Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012