Fall, a time to die and a time to live

Fall in Amish country Ohio by Bruce Stambaugh
By Bruce Stambaugh

For those of us fortunate enough to live within proximity of giant stands of mixed hardwood trees, fall is a glorious time of year to observe life’s constant changes.

The annual autumn spectacular of the once lush leaves magically transforming the emerald landscape into magnificent warm rainbows carries us into nostalgic reflectivity. This year I couldn’t help but note a symbolic similarity in the recent death of the ingenious Steve Jobs, the guru who started Apple Computer.

Rainbow of colors by Bruce Stambaugh
Fall's rainbow of colors on display.

The very first computer I ever used was an Apple. Just the name of the computer endeared educators to these amazing, easy to use personal computers. School systems across the country bought them for student and teacher use. The fact that Apple was wise enough to give teachers and school districts educator discounts on their purchases made them all the more attractive.

One of the schools where I was principal acquired an Apple computer for the library in 1989. Now obsolete floppy discs were inserted to boot programs or software for students to use. I have primarily used Apple computers ever since.
Apples by Bruce Stambaugh
Shortly after hearing of Jobs’ death, the Internet was full of information about his life. I found many of the touching quotes and reflections via posts on Facebook.

One particular poignant clip greatly moved me. It was a 15-minute video of Jobs’ address at the 2005 Stanford University commencement. No one would have mistaken the pure genius that produced innovative personal electronic devises like the iPod, iPhone and iPad for Shakespeare. But his message was prophetic nevertheless.

His words were neither flowery nor convoluted. Like his multitude of popular electronic inventions, his exhortation was straightforward and concise. He had three simple points for the graduating class that day. Each was illustrated by personal stories from his humble yet incredible, creative life.

His final point was perhaps the most powerful and applicable. Just a year removed from having survived pancreatic cancer, Jobs told the sun-drenched audience “death is very likely the single best invention of life.” He told those gathered that if you live each day as if it were your last, someday you’ll be right. Jobs was as pragmatic as he was innovative.

Though he had hoped to live decades longer, Jobs emphasized that remembering that he would be dead soon was the most important motivator for him. He related that view even though he of course had no idea how long he would live. Jobs said no one wants to die, but death is the destination that we all share. Death clears out the old to make way for the new.
Maple tree by Bruce Stambaugh
That’s the way it is with the leaves. They bud in spring, unfold overnight to lush, lovely green or crimson until their predictable fate in the fall. Having done their job of helping the tree thrive and grow another year, the leaves succumb to the inevitable.

The leaves unveil their natural, vibrant colors, keep us captivated for a few precious days, and then drop and wither. Left behind is a tiny bud that will become next year’s new foliage. The old give way to the new, returning to the earth from whence they came.

Our lives follow the same cycle, though most span more than a year. The colors of some leaves are more remarkable than others. In the same way, some lives shine brighter than others for humankind.
Sugar maple leaf by Bruce Stambaugh
Steve Jobs was one of those brilliant leaves.

It’s the plum time of year

Fall sunset by Bruce Stambaugh
The sunsets in the fall are truly amazing.

By Bruce Stambaugh

For those of us fortunate to live in North America’s temperate zone, this is the plum time of year. I mean that literally and figuratively.

The literal part is that locally grown plums are at the peak of their ripeness. I’m just plum crazy for plums.

I remember traveling with my grandfather, who knew as many people in the world as my gregarious father did. Grandpa Merle loved to stop at roadside produce stands, especially where he knew the proprietors. If they had ripe plums, he always bought a peck or two.

I loved everything about them, their simple size, their football shape, their blue violet sheen, their light greenish-yellow flesh, their sweet tart taste, and even the pit.

Sugar plums by Bruce Stambaugh
The variety of plums locally referred to as sugar plums.

I liked the size because, especially for a kid, they weren’t too big, which meant we could usually eat more than one. I liked their oblong shape because it was easy to bite in to.

I found the plum’s color inviting. The moist sweetness with the tart aftertaste was both delicious and curious. I liked the texture of their meat and the fact that, unlike other fresh fruit, you could bite into them without having juice run down your arm and drip off your elbow.

Much to my mother’s chagrin, I often plopped a whole one in my mouth. My mother highly discouraged my poor manners to no avail. I often eat the lovely plums the same way today.

Once devoured, that left the seed. I didn’t eat it of course. For whatever reason, I tucked the pit, which mirrored the shape of its fruit, into my left cheek and sucked on it for hours. I could play an entire baseball game with a plum seed nestled between my cheek and gum. It seemed to help keep my mouth moist. Besides, it was better than the usual baseball alternative, snuff.

All those memories resurfaced for me when my wife brought home some plums from the local produce stand. They were accompanied by Bartlett pears, squash, zucchini and preserved sugar beets, too. The fall harvest was on, one of the primary symbols of the season.

Holly berries by Bruce Stambaugh
The holly berries have turned bright red, a nice contrast against the bush's prickly green leaves.

We are enjoying an abundance of tomatoes that have seemed to ripen in our modest patch all at once. There isn’t one heirloom I don’t enjoy, and they can be eaten in so many different ways, right off the vine, fresh salsa, in sandwiches, sauces, and with pasta.

Our neighbors added to the feast by insisting we help them out by accepting and consuming a sampling of the last of their bumper crop of sweet corn. It was amazingly sweet for this late in the growing season.

The days have grown shorter and cooler, both daytime and night. The leaves on the deciduous trees have begun to turn. They started falling shortly after Labor Day.

The webs of black and yellow garden spiders catch the frequent morning mist and then sparkle diamonds in the sun’s rays. The sunrises and sunsets are breathtaking, each one picture perfect.

Golden rod by Bruce Stambaugh
Though weed that it is, golden rod brightens even the haziest of mornings.

The dogwood and holly berries are bright red. Yellow jackets are everywhere. Unkempt fields, once purple with ironweed blooms, have morphed to mustard with thousands of goldenrod heads bending from their fullness. Wild tickseed sunflowers brighten the dustiest roadside.

Autumn has arrived. Either metaphorically or realistically, transitioning from summer to fall in northern Ohio is a plum time of year.

A practical way to give thanks

By Bruce Stambaugh

It was only appropriate that for a full week after the first snow of the year that we experienced a perfect Indian summer here in Ohio.

The extended summer-like days, which seemed to actually improve chronologically until the rains came, served as a picturesque bridge between a superb fall and an inexplicit winter yet to come.

We can only wonder what winter will be like. Will it be as harsh and record breaking as the last? We hope not. Clearly we have no say in the matter.

Snowfall in Ohio's Amish country by Bruce Stambaugh
Snowfall in Ohio's Amish country totaled three feet in February 2010.

Every fall the National Weather Service issues a long-term guesstimation of what winter will bring. But even the scientists hedge their prognostications on percentages, casino like.

In the end, we have no choice but to take what we get. Hushed by the holiday clamor, a certain question lingers unspoken. Will we appreciate what we receive? In truth, that question can and should be applied far beyond the realm of weather.

I remember well the winter of 2004-2005 when the infamous ice storm nailed our area. The accumulating ice snapped giant trees, brought down power lines, halted commerce, interrupted communications, and thinned traffic to emergency purposes only for days.

Those of us who were on the electrical grid were hit hard. Fortunately, an Amish friend saved my family and me with the use of a generator to at least keep the gas hot water heat on. Without the generator’s assistance, the pipes in our home would have frozen and burst, causing extensive damage. Thankfully that did not happen, due to the unconditional generosity of my friend.

All the while, with our communication to the outside world cut, thousands upon thousands of people were caught in the wake of a horrific earthquake and subsequent tidal waves that killed scores of people.

In sorting through an overflowing basket of mishmash the other day, I came upon some handwritten notes I had made about the catastrophe. Apparently, I did so while listening to a battery-operated radio. In reviewing my scribbling, I was reminded that the inconvenience of living without electricity for five days paled in comparison to the plight of millions of fellow human beings halfway around the world.

A sampling of my jottings, dated Dec. 26, 2004, relived the calamity: Banda Ache, 60-foot wave, two miles inland, 30 mph, eight-12 feet deep flood; deaths, 200,000 in Indonesia alone, 400,000 injured; no system to alert people in Indian Ocean rim; 9.3 magnitude earthquake, the world’s deadliest tsunami. Unfortunately, those initial notations proved accurate.

Once power was restored the horrible scenes unfolded on television. I was appalled for the victims, thankful for my family that we had only lost power and a few trees in the yard. Compared to the widespread wreckage and unbelievable totals of death and injuries of so many innocents, we had been fortunate.

Tracks in the snow by Bruce Stambaugh
Horses made serpentine tracks in the heavy snow last Feb. in Holmes County.

Since then, infinite natural and man-made disasters, including the sluggish global economy, have occurred. Others will likely continue to develop as time progresses. Nevertheless, as we begin this holiday season in North America, we still have so much for which we can be thankful no matter our personal situation.

This Thanksgiving perhaps we can express our gratitude by simply helping the less fortunate. We may not have to look clear to the Indian Ocean rim for those opportunities either.

Maybe, just maybe, a proactive generosity can be an Indian summer bridge to brighten someone else’s rainy day life. That would be a practical, productive and prudent Thanksgiving.

It’s beginning to look a lot like fall already

Oats shocks by Bruce Stambaugh
A field full of oats shocks before being gathered for the thrasher near Berlin, Ohio.

By Bruce Stambaugh

With Labor Day upon us, autumn will be right around the corner. In fact, if you look closely, signs of fall are already evident.

Some of the indicators are obvious, others more subtle. Some are predictable with still others seemingly a bit premature.

The days, often the nicest of the summer, have a sly, natural flaw. Day by day, minutes of daylight are silently subtracted from the previous day’s total. By month’s end, daily darkness will outnumber daylight once again.

The sun itself is moving more towards the center of the horizons at sunrise and sunset. Those driving true east and west running roads have already begun to frequently use their sun visors. The fall fogs, too, have clouded crisp mornings, the consequence of cool nights following warm days.

In the fields, the harvesting has begun. My Amish neighbors have long since gathered up the standing army of oats shocks and wheeled them off wagon load after wagon load to the thrasher.

Now it’s the corn’s turn. The field corn seems to have taken on drought status, drying up almost overnight. Brown has overtaken green as the predominant color in the standing sea. Smart farmers have already begun to cut their supply of silage to replenish the silos.

Fall webworms by Bruce Stambaugh
The homes of fall webworms shine in the sun.

In the woods and along highways, once glossy, emerald leaves have dulled and drooped. Some have already begun to drop without even changing color. Now and again a black walnut can be found standing stark naked, save for the cache of fall webworm nests it has involuntarily collected.

In the gardens, the picking of produce is a daily chore. Cucumbers, onions and tomatoes have hit their peek. Kitchens are cluttered with utensils for canning and freezing. The ripened fruits and vegetables that aren’t consumed at the dinner table find their way into jars and containers.

Even the sounds of the season have changed. Only a few American Robins continue to sing, and most likely they are sophomores practicing for next year’s prom. Instead of gathering nesting materials and snagging worms and insects, parent birds lead their fledglings to watering holes for liquid refreshment and necessary bathing.

Well-worn butterfly by Bruce Stambaugh
A well-worn tiger swallowtail butterfly took advantage of some wildflowers.

The volume and frequency of the cicada and katydid songs have lessoned considerably. Even the crickets have quieted down.

Butterfly on phlox by Bruce Stambaugh
A butterfly enjoys late blooming phlox.

Butterflies of all sizes and colors squeeze whatever nutrients they can out of the fading cornflowers and black-eyed susans. The humming birds, too, seem to sense an urgency to store up extra energy for their upcoming southern vacation travel.

Squirrels are in their glory, cutting as many beechnuts, hickory nuts and walnuts as they can. Thrifty creatures that they are, they also bury future meals for harder times ahead. Only they can’t always remember where they put their stash.

Next spring, when the saplings begin to appear, we will learn just how forgetful the squirrels were. But between now and then, many pleasant days lay ahead, and probably some less than desirable ones, too.

There is yet one more indicator that fall is knocking on our door. Campaign signs have already begun to litter urban, suburban and rural roadsides. They are as prolific and unsightly as the ugly webbed homes of the worms.

The obnoxious yet gaudy campaign posters are a human-induced reminder of what nature is about to bring. Autumn will be here before we know it, and there is little we can do about it except to enjoy the ever-changing colorful show.

Cows grazed at sunset by Bruce Stambaugh
Cows grazed on a hillside at sunset.