Greens Galore

forest ferns
Greens Galore.

On a recent visit to Hocking Hills State Park, Logan, OH, the many shades of green we encountered astonished us. In this setting in Conkles Hollow, the feathery ferns filled the steep hill beneath massive rock outcroppings and towering cedars and deciduous trees with leaves unfurling. The mosses and lichens added to the natural green pallet as a trio of men did a photoshoot of their own.

“Greens Galore” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

A long answer to a simple question

Garden pond by Bruce Stambaugh
The little garden pond in our backyard.

By Bruce Stambaugh

During his last visit to Ohio, my Virginian grandson, Davis, asked me a simple yet rather analytical question, befitting the inquisitive four-year-old, left-handed boy.

Davis and I were outside filling birdfeeders near the little garden pond positioned a few feet away from the back porch and just outside our kitchen window. Davis approached the pond’s edge, lined with mostly flat rocks scavenged from the neighbor’s farm fields.

“Poppy,” Davis queried, “Why do you have a pond?”

The bluntness of the simple question gave me pause. I straightened up, and thought long and hard before I answered him. The tone and intensity of his uncomplicated question told me that Davis really wanted to know.

As I contemplated my answer, Davis waited patiently, searching for the resident frogs and trying to count the darting goldfish. His long, strawberry blonde curls bounced with even the slightest move.

I was impressed with his youthful inquisitiveness. His question piqued my own consciousness regarding the purpose of the pond. I gave Davis the long answer.

I told him that when I retired as a principal, the staff and students at one of my schools gave me a gift certificate to build a garden pond. Apparently, I had let it slip that the pond was one thing I wanted to create once my school days were completed.

Of course, all that was probably too much information for Davis to process. Perhaps it mimicked a politician’s answer to a reporter’s intrusive direct question. Davis looked at me with his big blue eyes and repeated, “But why?”

I changed tactics. I gave him the words I figured he knew and that I loved.

Red-bellied Woodpecker by Bruce Stambaugh
A male Red-bellied Woodpecker enjoyed a sip from the little waterfalls on a cold December day.

I told Davis that the pond attracts life. I itemized a quick catalog of what I meant. The birds I enjoy watching, squirrels, rabbits, deer.

“Deer?” Davis quizzed long and slow, head tilted, hands thrown into the air.

I explained that although I had never actually seen deer drink there, I had found their hoof marks in the mud and snow around the oblong pool. We stepped away, and soon a chipping sparrow flitted to the gurgling little waterfall for a refreshing sip.

Grandson by Bruce Stambaugh
Davis, my inquisitive grandson.

I could almost see Davis’ gears churning beneath those flowing locks. I knew the inquisition would continue.

“Why do you have goldfish?” Davis asked next.

I lovingly touched his curly head and simply said, “So you and your brother can feed them.” Davis looked up at me and smiled, as if he sensed the patronization.

“The fish help keep the pond clean,” I continued. “They eat things that float in the water.” I prayed he didn’t ask for their scientific names.

My grandson’s pointed question helped me step back and appreciate my little garden pond all the more. I enjoy its abundant life, the alluring sound, the attractive and useful greenery in and around the pond, along with the attraction of fur and feathered wildlife year-round.

Those intrinsic pleasures more than compensate for the necessary regular maintenance required to keep the pond in a habitable state. Now, whenever I clean the pump filters, watch birds revel in the water and hear the frogs croak late at night, I’ll remember Davis’ clear question, too.

I know why I have a little pond with a miniature waterfall, brilliant orange goldfish and complementary water plants. “Because I like it,” which is what I should have told Davis in the first place.

The road to a fresh start

Mixed peppers by Bruce Stambaugh
Boxes of colorful peppers looked too good to resist.

By Bruce Stambaugh

You can find them nearly everywhere in Ohio’s Amish country. Seasonal roadside produce stands are one of the area’s mainstays.

But for probably a sundry of reasons, tourists and local residents alike often ignore these unsophisticated and sometimes spontaneous mini-markets. They shouldn’t. The goods offered provide lasting and tasteful memories of Ohio’s Amish country.

The produce stands offer excellent foodstuffs and canned goods at very fair prices. A bonus is that the products peddled are green, as in locally grown green.

“Locally grown fruits and vegetable are not only good for you,” says Leah Miller, director of the Small Farm Institute based in Coshocton, Ohio. “They also provide families who live on small farms with additional and needed income.”

Blessing Acres sign by Bruce Stambaugh
The sign to Blessing Acres produce stand says it all.

Blessing Acres Produce, a produce stand located about half way between Berlin and Mt. Hope, Ohio on Township Road 362 in Holmes County, is a prime example. Anna Miller and her children operate the 25-acre produce farm. Son, Abe, serves as the manager.

Definitely off the beaten path, the Miller family still has many repeat customers who have found this little Garden of Eden. Homemade signs direct traffic off of two parallel county roads to the business. As different items like beets, cucumbers, corn and tomatoes come ripe, they are added to the bottom of the sign. At times the chain of produce names reaches clear to the ground.

Their season conveniently starts about the time schools dismiss for the summer. Strawberries are their first main crop, and are always in high demand for their flavor, sweetness and freshness.

Those are some of the key customer benefits to buying from the roadside stands, according to the online Ohio Farm Fresh directory at http://www.ohiofarmfresh.com. Freshness, taste and nutrition are all reasons why purchasing from the seasonal stands makes sense. Of course, the farmers appreciate the cash flow, too.

Marion Steiner has operated the Kidron Road Greenhouse and Produce stand for 17 years with help from her 11 children. Located on Kidron Road just south of U.S. 250 in Wayne County, Steiner said a majority of her customers are local, but a few out-of-state people also stop in.

June Hammond of Wooster, Ohio  has been a regular throughout many growing seasons.

“I come here because the people are friendly, the prices reasonable, and the products are fresh,” Hammond said.

Just down the road at Raber’s Fresh Produce similar comments are offered by long-time, repeat customers. Raber’s is located on Kidron Road just south of Harrison Road.

Dave Guthrie drives all the way from Vermillion, Ohio to buy sweet corn simply because he says it tastes better than what he can buy at stores back home. Guthrie’s seven-year-old grandson, Joshua Snyder, came along for the ride, too.

Hold on tight by Bruce Stambaugh
Joshua Snyder held on tight to the cucumbers he selected.

“It’s pretty and it’s fun out here,” Snyder said. “I like looking around, especially seeing the horses and buggies, and the nice houses and fields.”

The youngster actually hit on another benefit to buying from countryside stands. The bucolic ambiance coupled with decent prices and fresh, tasty food that is also good for you adds up to a win-win situation.

Many of the produce stands also offer fresh, homemade baked goods and what Leah Miller calls “value-added products” like home-canned fruits, vegetables and jams and jellies.

Some of the stands like the one that young sisters Anna and Neva Miller manned pop up randomly. The girls brought excess green beans from their garden and set up shop opposite a local bulk food store north of Mt. Hope. It wasn’t long until they had to return home to replenish their supply.

There is yet one other important reason for stopping at a local produce stand. You just might make friends, like Scott Thomas of Fresno, Ohio has.

Thomas has been coming to Blessing Acres for years. He knows each family member by name, and you could tell by the smiles of family members that they are always glad to see him.

“They come down to my place and help me butcher hogs,” Thomas said. In turn, he lets family members hunt deer on his property.

Fresh, tasty, nutritious food and good friends are always a healthy combination. And in Ohio’s Amish country, all that can be found right along the road.

Roadside beans by Bruce Stambaugh
Anna and Neva Miller sold beans from their garden along the highway north of Mt. Hope, Ohio.

This story was first published in Ohio Amish Country magazine, August 2010.

Spring’s multifaceted green abounds

horses and plowing
Horses frolic while others work.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Green is not my favorite color. But I’ll make an exception, especially now when every plant and animal seems to be greening up in some way.

The most obvious change is in the grasses. They all transitioned from bland dormancy to verve seemingly overnight. Once relieved of their heavy snow burden, then drenched with intermittent rains followed by warm, sunny days, the grasses grew emerald uniformly on natural cue.

Whether front yards or rolling pasture fields, the green on green effect is stunning. It may be the greenest green I have ever seen, or maybe the winter was simply so long and so hard, that I forgot what true green really looks like.

Nevertheless, it’s marvelous to see the countryside covered with such a luscious, vibrant carpet. Only problem is mowing will commence shortly, if it hasn’t already. But it will be nice to inhale that fresh cut fragrance again.

In preparation for that initial trimming of 2010, many of the yards in Amish country have already been rolled and fertilized. That was part out of necessity, and part out of relief that winter was finally over. Yes, we had one nasty, last snow that left the roads the slickest of the winter. But my bones say that ammunition has been spent.

Grass isn’t the only vegetation to go green. My wife’s tulips, daffodils, crocuses and lilies have all displayed their various leaves at different intervals. Of course, the crocuses have bloomed and faded, and the daffodils were primed for Easter.

In the woodlots, colts foot were the first to unfold. The giant hardwoods hovering over them have swelled their buds, anxious to let their leaves unfurl. They’ll wait until it’s safe from certain future frosts, unless coaxed open by an extended warming spell.

The evergreens have no such problem. They have already transformed from the deep, mature green of the hibernation months to a lighter, brighter green that mirrors that of the grasses.

Things are greening up around my little garden pond, too. The moss and lichens, long covered by two feet of snow, now look like splotches of paint and bristle brushes, respectively. Water lilies are shooting their first leaves to the surface.

Both the variegated water plant and the variegated reeds are coming to life, with the former having a huge head start. Its bulbs are pushing their pale green and russet pointy leaves profusely, fighting through some soft, velvety grass that somehow homesteaded over the winter.

I would eliminate the grass altogether, except that the pair of resident bullfrogs prefers its lush softness for their sunbathing and bug collection. The frogs’ color, too, has evolved from the mucky blackness of the bottom of the pond to more their natural camouflage.The male tries to woo his mate with his deep throated croaking both day and night. From nearby wetlands, choruses of spring peepers erupt. It’s all music to my ears.

High on the neighbor’s pasture where Holsteins and draft horses grazed earlier in the day, deer come out of hiding at dusk to nibble at fresh green sprouts. By night, they clean the corncobs at my birdfeeders.

Really, just airing out the house with open windows and doors that invite refreshing breezes brings you closer to mother earth. I also glory in the secondary benefits, the simultaneous serenading of birdsongs and echoes of children playing.

Spring doesn’t get any greener than that.

30 Christmas’ on County Road 201

By Bruce Stambaugh

An anniversary of sorts slipped by last month relatively unnoticed. I’m pretty sure Hallmark doesn’t have a card for this one. We have lived in this same modest, utilitarian home on County Road 201 for 30 years. I really didn’t think much about it until we went through our annual tussle with the Christmas tree just a few days after the homey benchmark. We always buy a live tree, which is fitting. The color for a 30th anniversary is green.

This year we selected a lovely Douglas fir raised on a windswept hill on a tree farm in the county south of us. Thanks to the sharp blade of the bow saw, we had our tree in no time. We strapped it to the top of the van for the 20-minute, picturesque ride home. Over the years, we have chosen a variety of evergreen species for our Christmas tree. White and Scotch pine, blue spruce and various firs have all graced our place with their beauty and piney scents.

The first few years, we used balled, live trees, and then planted them once the holidays had concluded. But with the yard deemed full, we went to cut trees. Most were already harvested, but some like this year we sawed ourselves. Both my wife and I grew up with the live Christmas tree tradition. Once married and in our own home, we continued that practice.

Along with that ritual, however, came another unintended and unwanted one. It seemed nearly every year there was some issue that transformed what should be a joyous occasion into a troublesome one. The kind of tree or who had cut it was insignificant. If I had kept a list, which I didn’t, there could quite possibly be 30 different problems in getting the tree set up right. More likely there would be 30 different versions of the same concern. Apparently, stubbornness is impartial to tree species.

Of course, it’s rather easy to blame the string of problems on the trees. They can’t talk back. It’s also hard for men to admit they might be the obstinate ones. Most of the predicaments could be found at the base of the trees. That’s where I tended to work at the annual tree resurrection. Throughout the years I noticed a definite theme to the debacles. Once we had the tree exactly where we wanted it, straight as an arrow, at some point before, during or after the decorating it would fall over.

One year, I think during December’s full moon, the tree toppled two weeks after being erected. I couldn’t blame the kids. They weren’t home. I couldn’t blame the wife. She was fixing supper. I couldn’t blame the dog. He was napping with me. In that particular case, we righted the tree, and in lieu of duct tape, we secured it with thin, clear fishing line. This year I didn’t have to resort to that. The tree fell over as soon as I told my wife it was all right to let it go. She did and it did. After several tries, I finally figured out the problem. The tree trunk was too skinny at the base, which didn’t allow for it to be properly supported by the holder’s four prongs.

Using my best male contemplative skills, I devised a simple but non-festive solution to our problem. I shimmed the tree, and my wife trimmed the tree. And yes, it is still standing. Had the tree not fallen, though, I may have forgotten all about the three-decade watershed of blissful living on County Road 201. Merry Christmas everyone, whether you have a tree or not.

Contact Bruce Stambaugh at brucestambaugh@gmail.com