Muses on a fall day

landscape photography, barns, Holmes County Ohio
Red barn. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014

By Bruce Stambaugh

Low, thick rain clouds dampened any chance for a pastel sunrise. Overnight, a steady rain silently soothed the dry Ohio countryside.

The precipitation continued on the backside of a cold front that had passed before dawn. No one in the family restaurant when I met a friend for breakfast grumbled about the morning’s sogginess.

White-breasted Nuthatch by Bruce Stambaugh
White-breasted Nuthatch. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
With the rain and accompanying breeze, golden leaves tumbled down everywhere, sticking precisely where they fell, manicured yards, glassy roadways, muddied farm yards.

The polka dotted landscapes complemented the already picturesque scenery. You would think that red, yellow, crimson and orange spots on green and brown foregrounds would color clash with the soft leafy linear swaths of the rainbow backgrounds. But they didn’t.

One needn’t go out into the mushy elements to inhale the dampened beauty. Leaves cascaded diagonally outside eight-paned rectangles creating natural kaleidoscopes. Out of sight far beyond the windows, a Pileated Woodpecker squawked.

Breaks in the clouds, blue and gray skies
Blue and gray. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
By noon, the rain transitioned to intermittent drizzles. A strengthening sun burned occasional breaks into the misty layers. Glimpses of indigo broke through the unstable gray breeches.

The precipitation regrouped, however, and quickly closed ranks, healing the cracks in the overcast. The quenching rainfall continued off and on the rest of the day.

Strong southerly breezes kept the temperatures tolerable, enough so that windows still stood partially opened to catch what could be the last of autumn’s real warmth. Even when the air chilled in early afternoon and clouds continued the gloominess, fall’s vivid colors boldly splashed bright beauty.

The entire situation seemed improbable, if not impossible. The grayness continued, but the colors radiated as if the dullness invigorated them. Decorative pumpkins glowed more orange. Burgundy mums became potted beacons, like so many buoys, and we were nowhere near a harbor.

Acres of field corn, once rolling waves in emerald oceans, now stood brittle dry and tan, mimicking sandy beaches awaiting high tide. It didn’t rain that much.

cornfield, Amish County, brittle corn stalks
Cornfield. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
Life in Holmes County, Ohio continued unabated by either the showers or the splendor. Traffic actually appeared heavier than normal, both on the highways and at the bird feeders.

Commerce bustled. White-breasted Nuthatches scurried headfirst down a sugar maple’s crackled trunk, hopped to the feeder, and back to the tree satisfied. Blue Jay acorn wars ensued with flashes of blue and clarion victory calls amplified by the dampness.

Nightfall came even sooner than it should have. The persistent cloud deck manufactured more rain. With colder days too soon ahead, any farmer will tell you that it is much better to have the ground well moistened before it freezes.

With no prior killing frosts before this day, I didn’t want to even think that way. But I knew the farmers were right. The rains were welcomed.

It was only one day out of many such fall days. Yet the wet weather, the peeks of sunshine, the brilliant colors, and the lushness of the yards and pastures for this late in the season became a compilation of the cyclical suite we call autumn.

My choice would have been a wind still day filled with fluffy clouds sailing through cobalt skies, a bike ride in short sleeves or a walk in the woods, binoculars and camera in tow. Fortunately, the weather is not yet under human control.

Like my farmer friends love to say, “We’ll take what comes.” It’s what we did, and I was more than grateful to be able to do so.

fall colors, changing leaves by Bruce Stambaugh
Gold and red. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

Breathe in breathe out, a routine too easily forgotten

autumnafternoonbybrucestambaugh
Autumn afternoon. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll just have to do it for them.

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

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

Fall has arrived, but we already knew that

attheproduceauctionbybrucestambaugh
At the produce auction. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Ready or not, fall has arrived. It is an understatement to even say that the signs of autumn are all around us.

Even so, I couldn’t be happier. I love almost everything about fall. The colors, the cooler, less humid weather, the crispness of the air, the foggy mornings followed by clear, lustrous skies, the lulling sounds of crickets, and the rich, airy fragrances all captivate me.

verdantfarmsbybrucestambaugh
Verdant farms. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
On one recent morning, when the fog filled the lowlands long before dawn, I decided to take a drive around the countryside. I wanted to see what I could see, read autumn’s early signs like so many billboards. They weren’t hard to miss.

By the time I began my trek, the strengthening sun had melted the mist away, revealing a cloudless, deep blue sky, the kind you see in paintings, but seldom take note of when it’s right overhead. I wanted to put my busyness aside, and truly absorb all this glorious day had to offer.

It offered much. I rejoiced that I had traded my time for her blessed offerings.

If I looked close, butterflies zigzagged around the abundant autumn blossoms. They adored domesticated gardens and roadside wildflowers indiscriminately.

Lush fencerows of oaks, maples, ashes and sassafras seemed a tad thinner, losing single leaves with every pulse of the morning breeze. A few trees showed signs of succumbing to the shorter and cooler days. They blushed while their neighbors held fast, verdant.

Commercial businesses joined the celebration, too. Showy seasonal displays of mums, corn shocks, and pumpkins bedecked old vehicles or wagons or wheelbarrows in front of stores. Nature’s natural marketing had friendly competition.

Along roadways, streams and farm fields, remnants of summer’s floral display stood stark and brown, even before a killing frost. Winged insects and assorted animals would munch the seeds of this unsightly bounty.

The rays of the late morning’s sun created beautiful landscapes. Bright red barns, though not newly painted, boldly contrasted with the green, green pastures that surrounded them.

Many a farmer outside our area would love to see such a scene given their parched situations. Years of drought have taken their toll. I am grateful we have been under the extended cooling care of the polar vortex since last winter.

Like giant puffy marshmallows, large, round hay bales covered in white plastic rested side by side along outbuildings and edges of fields. It’s just one more reminder of how productive the hay harvests have been this year. It’s also good to know that the plastic covering can be recycled.

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Migrating birds fall out of the morning sky to feed and rest in freshly mown hayfields, or in marshy woodlots. They’ll be off with the next weather front or a favorable north wind to help speed them on south.

Prudent caretakers have lowered and cleaned Purple Martin houses, and covered them for the season. Come the Ides of March, they’ll be spruced up and hoisted for their tenants return.

That may seem like a long time away with the fall only just begun, and dreaded thoughts of winter pondered. However, the older I get, the faster time seems to fly.

That’s why I wanted to spend this morning just seeing what I could see, before October’s steely clouds rush low overhead, spitting fat flakes. That thought alone makes me shiver.

If fall has a fault, that’s it. It leads to winter. Until then, I’m going to enjoy every minute of everyday fall sends our way.

How about you?

nutritionandbeautybybrucestambaugh
Nutrition and beauty. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

Loving fall: Let me count the ways

fallinamishcountrybybrucestambaugh
A typical fall scene in Ohio’s Amish country.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Plain and simple, autumn has her way with me. I’m in love with fall for so many reasons. Let me count the ways.

The dazzling leaves mesmerize me. I could sit and ponder the various color patterns and striations of a single leaf for hours on end, but only if my wife isn’t home.

I am captivated by how rapidly the leaves on some trees alter their colors, while the same species nearby stands pat as if it were still July. Still others give up the ghost altogether, and simply shed all of their leaves within hours. It’s both a marvel and a mystery.

mixedresultsbybrucestambaugh
Leaves at various stages of color in Ohio’s Amish country.

Neighbors have a lovely sugar maple shade tree that holds a majority of its leaves verdant well into October. The rest blush blotches of fire engine red as if the tree’s perfect canopy had chicken pox. In the end, all the leaves succumb, temporarily covering the ground below with a warm blanket of red, yellow and orange.

The usually boisterous and bossy Blue Jays fly stealthily in pairs from one hardwood grove to the next. Back and forth they go in pairs, uncommonly silent. Are they storing acorns for the winter ahead? They wouldn’t say.

Not so with a gang of American Robins, long absent from our yard. They suddenly reappeared, chirping and chasing one another from treetop to yard to creek bank like it was spring again. I enjoyed their little entreaty even though, like the Blue Jays, I had no idea what they were up to.

blackcappedchickadeebybrucestambaugh
Black-capped Chickadee with sunflower heart.
I’m content to sit on the porch during fall’s balmy weather, watch the American Goldfinches, Black-capped Chickadees and White-breasted Nuthatches devour the expensive sunflower hearts. So doing enhances my daydreamer image.

With windows open on temperate nights, the crickets and the luscious coolness lull me to sleep until my wife pokes me to stop the snoring, or the Screech Owl startles me from the backyard pines. I note both admonitions, roll onto my side and dream on.

The grass is spring green one week and dull and prickly the next. Blessed fall rains ensure the difference.

Fox squirrels and chipmunks scurry to find whatever they can to hoard for the coming cold. I wish they had better memories. Next May dozens of red oak and black walnut saplings will verify the varmints’ mental lapses.

canadageesebybrucestambaugh
Canada Geese on the wing.

Flocks of Canada Geese sail in imbalanced V’s over burnished treetops, cackling their way from one farm pond to the other. Lore says that near-sighted and neurotic Puritans imagined them as witches flying on broom handles. It’s ironic that the religious runaway paranoia inadvertently created a very successful commercial Halloween tradition.

cobwebsbybrucestambaugh
Heavy morn dew reveals overnight cobwebs.
Foggy mornings bring cool moisture that transforms secreted spider’s webs into glistening gems. The stunning natural artistry leaves me speechless, which may be for the best.

A sudden gust blows through the fragile leaves of a poplar tree, cascading a golden shower onto an emerald carpet that had only been raked hours before. Eventually, heavy rains or perhaps an early snow will bring them all down, ringing in the barren times once again. It’s a necessary part of life’s endless cycle.

Fields of corn, once huge waves of tasseled emerald, now show more brittle brown. Corn shocks already dot fields farmed by those who distain machinery.

Hungry birds have devoured all of the bright red berries of the dogwood trees. In protest, the dogwoods’ crimson leaves have one by one fluttered to the ground.

I’m in love with fall. Can you tell?

fieldcornbybrucestambaugh

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

Autumn is upon us in more ways than one

foggymorningbybrucestambaugh
Foggy morning.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Fall is definitely in the air here in northern Ohio. The telling signs of autumn are everywhere.

A drive through our luscious countryside or a leisurely hike or ride along the Holmes County Trail or just a peek out a window all sing the same song. Fall has arrived.

The leaves have begun to change. Dense morning fog magically gives way to bright, sunny days, only to reappear the next morning to begin the misty process anew. The days cool, warm and cool again in alluring rhythm.

I marvel at nature’s humor.

I bask in the warmth of the morning sun high on a rural road. To the west, residents have to feel socked in. A thick, cottony cloud stretches the full length of the Killbuck Valley. The morning’s colder, heavier air spreads the wet blanket over the precious marsh teeming with its mix of migrants and year-round residents.

foginthevalleybrucestambaugh
Fog in the valley.

Fields of golden rod and patches of wild daisies bring a warming brilliance to the once verdant landscapes. The lessening sunlight and cooler temperatures tell the foliage it’s time to morph into the secreted richer colors. Once emerald stalks fade fast from a sickly yellow to a dormant brown even before the first frost of the season.

Wildlife sense nature’s urgings, too. Small flocks of Eastern Bluebirds, still flashing their azure brilliance, congregate, searching for both sustenance and winter cover. A few Cedar Waxwings still buzz from the tops of their favorite playgrounds, while the chatty Chimney Swifts have already checked out for the season.

changingleavesbybrucestambaugh
Changing leaves.
Despite having access to calendars and electronic device reminders, humankind seems to be in denial. Men and women clad themselves in t-shirts and shorts as if it were still July. Are they naïve or hopeful that fall will imitate summer? I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

No matter my activity, I dress in layers or carry extra apparel with me. I suspect it’s more me than the weather. I’ve noticed that the older I get the colder the days seem, even though the temperatures remain near their seasonal norms.

Further reflecting tells me that I am entering the October of my life as well. Transitioning from the long summer of busy workdays mingled with family meals and overlapping activities have evaporated like those morning mists. My good wife seems to have made the adjustments better than me.

waningmoonbybrucestambaugh
The waning Harvest Moon.
I enjoyed my career as an educator. In the 30 years of serving youngsters and cajoling adults, I learned a lot. I embraced my second career in marketing and writing with equal zeal.

Now reality is finally setting in for me. My parents are gone. My wife’s parents are gone. Friends from the Greatest Generation are fading fast, not to mention acquaintances from my own generation. I must ready to face the fall.

This certain transition hasn’t been easy. At times I have emotionally struggled with entering life’s October time. Yet facts are facts. My diminished hearing, loss of nimbleness and achy knees tell me that my autumn has arrived, too.

However long I have, I want to live life out with zest, energy and productivity. Fall is in the air. The harvest full moon is waning.

Whatever your age, together let us greet each day with a song and a smile. Let us celebrate the goodness that surrounds us regardless of whatever circumstances or personal season we encounter.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

Leaves may change, but appreciation for them does not

Rural leaves by Bruce Stambaugh

By Bruce Stambaugh

When I was a youngster, each fall my father would pack the family into the old jalopy and head to Holmes County, Ohio from Canton to view the leaves.

The trees were gorgeous, the pastoral vistas delightful. It was like stepping back in time once we crossed the county line. I suppose some people still feel that way today.

Amish country by Bruce StambaughLike my father, I loved coming to Holmes County. The colorful leaves, the tangy Swiss cheese, the horse and buggies, and the images of a simpler life left a lasting impression on me, even as a juvenile.

The air was crisp and clean, the views splendid, the people quaint. With Mom a landscape artist, Dad kept pointing out scenes she could paint, as if Mom needed any help noticing.

Before entering the county seat, Millersburg, we always stopped at the same place. Dad would pull off to the side of the road by the golf course so we could all admire the giant, vibrant sugar maple tree that stood on the course near the highway. It was a stately fixture to be sure, aglow with yellow, orange and red leaves. Against the manicured green fairways, it was a picture of beauty.
Bucolic by Bruce Stambaugh
Dad would pull out his pride and joy eight-millimeter movie camera and film away. He loved to show the home movies over and over again at family gatherings. I don’t need to view the old footage to recall the moment. The memories are as vivid as the leaves on that old maple.

Perhaps that’s because irony of irony I ended up spending my adult life here. I pass by the memorable spot frequently. The natural beauty is a nice reminder, especially in autumn.

I don’t have to pile in the car and drive 35 miles to see the living artistry. I just have to look out the window. With the leaves at their peak, the real life painting outside our door is ever changing.

Fall sky by Bruce Stambaugh

Of course, I do like to tour the hills and valleys of our county to take in the complete show. I have my favorite routes.

I especially enjoy traveling around taking digital photographs on partly cloudy days. One minute everything seems dull, then the sun breaks through, and I can’t snap the camera shutter fast enough. My father would probably tell me to get a camcorder.

I love the brilliant fencerows dotted with burgundy ash, yellowy white oak, crimson red oak, sunny sassafras, and red, green, yellow and tangerine sugar maples. The hardwood rainbows highlight emerald hayfields and stands of brittle corn shocks.

White farm by Bruce Stambaugh

I also enjoy occasional drives through the heavily forested Killbuck and Black Creek valleys. The steep hillsides are loaded with the same mixed hardwoods as in the eastern end of the county.

White clapboard farmhouses and weathered barns, surrounded by lush green lawns, lay at the feet of the dappled hills. More often than not chocolate soybean fields fill in the narrow bottoms.

By Millersburg by Bruce StambaughEven with that much splendor, I still return to the side of the road by the golf course. Though the old tree my father loved is gone, time has matured others nearby.

Buoyed by the beauty and the memories, I snap a few shots of the delightful scenery. I am keenly aware of being in both the present and the past. Like the changing seasons, the ebbs and flows of life’s ironies have that everlasting effect.

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

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

Fall is upon us in every way

Pumpkins and buggies by Bruce Stambaugh

By Bruce Stambaugh

Officially it’s still summer for a few more days. Reality says otherwise.

Fall is upon us. The signs are everywhere. They have been for sometime now.

Warm, pleasant days give way to cooler, quiet evenings. Only a few remaining crickets and an occasional Screech Owl break the night’s silence.

The morning wake up call suddenly switched from a chorus of American Robins to cheery Carolina Wrens. The effect is still the same.

Morning fog by Bruce Stambaugh

Dense fog quickly lifts from valleys, giving way to white cottony clouds highlighted pink, peach, gold and gray by the strengthening sun. Morning mists betray the garden spiders’ artsy trap. The miniature droplets soon yield to the day’s brightening warmth.

While most show a slight tinge, some entire trees have already had their leaves turn a dull orange or dirty yellow. No doubt the stress of this summer’s oppressive heat and extreme dryness forced this premature metamorphosis. Some leaves seemed to go green to brown overnight. The deepening blue sky offsets these anomalies, making them almost acceptable.

Tinted tree by Bruce Stambaugh

Fall is not a time to quibble. It’s a time to appreciate, to work and to reorient yourself and the world as we have come to know it.

Dewy web by Bruce StambaughScholars head to school, each in their own way. Young boys, red and white lunch buckets swaying by their sides, walk in groups, tan straw hats bobbing rhythmically. Smart girls wearing pastel dresses glide by on mute bicycles. They left home later than yet arrived simultaneously with the boys.

Bumblebee painted buses inch past the pedestrians until the next stop. Somewhere behind sheer curtains, home-schooled children take it all in.

The hum of school seems to settle society, put it back in sync. Family vacations end. The students, though not likely to admit it, enjoy the familiar routine, save for a handful of frequent flyers who already know the path to the principal’s office.

At the produce market, giant pumpkins now outnumber the red, plump tomatoes and the ubiquitous zucchini. Despite the protests of the regal morning glories, crimson and gilded mums are the flowers of choice and the season.

Field corn by Bruce Stambaugh

Despite the drought, farmers are smiling, assuming they indeed have crops to gather. They live for the harvest. It’s their bread and butter, their paycheck, their livelihood. They relish the work and consider comparing their bushels per acre numbers as an exercise in status. If their neighbor needs help, however, they’ll be the first to respond.

Kitchens fill with the aromas of snappy salsa, and pickles and vinegar. Canning shelves are replenished with jars of winking peaches and cherries, sandwiched by rows of golden corn and tart applesauce.
Peach salsa by Bruce Stambaugh
Life in the fall in the rural Midwest in mid-September is as fulfilling as it gets. Pride and gratitude are the human harvest for rural folks. No blue ribbons, even if bestowed, can provide the same satisfaction. Those ancillary awards politely confirm what we already believe.

Where coloring stands of hardwoods mingle with fencerows and cornrows, life is good. We acknowledge our connection to creation and to one another. We also sense the real and urgent necessity to care for mother earth as we prepare for whatever winter brings our way.

Fall is upon us. Stop, look, listen, inhale and enjoy. The rest of life will take care of itself. It is an equal opportunity seasonal transition we all need whether we know it or not. I humbly thank autumn for the abundant and timely cues.

Amish scholars by Bruce Stambaugh

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

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012