Sunrises deserve our attention and praise

sunrise, Amish farm
A winter sunrise in Holmes Co., OH.

I’m a sunrise junkie. Spending most of my life in bucolic Holmes County, Ohio hooked me.

Sunsets can be gorgeous, too, but there is just something special about watching the blackness of night slowly transform into an explosion of shimmering radiance.

Sunrises usher in a new day, every day. No two are alike. Sunrises paint the horizon in majesty, no artificial coloring, chemicals, or preservatives added. Mornings can be brilliant, sometimes dull, and often obscured by clouds or our personal negligence. Nevertheless, sunrises persist.

Sunrises are free. They literally edify people, whether they realize it or not.

I’ll admit that I didn’t fully appreciate the power and gift of a peaceful, awe-inspiring sunrise. Living in pastoral Holmes County quickly instilled a resounding admiration for the daily occurrence. The rural settings east and west accounted for that.

Sunrises, however, enhanced those inspiring countryside scenes. I thrilled at watching a winter’s dawn filter through the little woods behind our Killbuck home. Yesterday’s snow morphed from white to pink to purple and back to fields of sparkling diamonds in a matter of minutes.

rural sunrise
Rural sunrise.

That silent, reverent beauty astounded me, readied me for the day ahead, and fortified me to proceed with whatever I encountered. Naturally, some days were better than others. If I remembered the sunrise, my burden often lightened enough to sustain me.

That existentialism increased along with my responsibilities when I became an administrator, and we moved to East Holmes. Our home was built on an Amish farm with incredible views east, north, and west. Spectacular sunrises made them more so.

I rose each day to arrive at school by 7 a.m. More often than not, a sunrise greeted me on my way. In the winter, the sun appeared as the young scholars arrived. The already rosy-cheeked faces became even more so.

Likely, I am romanticizing those long ago moments. No matter. Like the rising sun’s universal effect, the memories whitewash the darker times of anyone’s career that involves daily interacting with people of various ages, traditions, and beliefs. That doesn’t negate nor diminish the recollections.

For something so brief, sunrises serve as powerful reminders of what was, is, and can be. It’s up to the eye of the beholder to discern and employ the light’s soothing warmth with all those we encounter through justice, mercy, and humility. That’s the potential of a single sunrise.

I found it ironic then that all these ardent thoughts tumbled through my mind like crashing waves as dazzling daylight washed over the Atlantic Ocean. That’s the mysterious point of life’s cosmic magic, isn’t it?

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At first, a hint of paleness divided the dark sky from the sea as billions of celestial jewels sparkled in the heavens above. Soon a thin orange line stretched clear across the distant horizon. Cottony clouds sprinkled high and low caught invisible rays and turned them into a surreal light show that out shown any Disney artificial production.

Black skimmers winged by, flying silhouettes scooping their fishy breakfast from the salt water surface. Forster’s terns hovered, dived, and plopped into the sea for theirs, briefly breaking the glassy waters.

Everything, the sand, the water, the sky turned some shade of purple, lavender, and then pink, orange, and red. I stood frozen and silent on the shore. Awed, I observed, appreciated, absorbed, and offered unspoken words of praise.

My school days have long since passed. Yet, another day was at hand. With each sunrise, I aspire to share the light with anyone anytime I can.

I hope sunrises do the same for you.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

A real road trip down history’s highway

Port Washington Rd., historical trail
Following the trail.

By Bruce Stambaugh

If ever there was a road trip, our day outing down history’s lane was it.

We knew we would encounter historical remnants as we drove the length of Port Washington Road, Ohio’s first state highway. We didn’t anticipate the surprises we found.

Port Washington Road was created to connect Millersburg, Ohio with Port Washington, Ohio. That seems logical enough. Nearly 180 years ago, an accessible route was critical to local farmers who wanted to get their goods to market.

Back then travel was tough. The dirt roads that existed were rutted, dusty, and dangerous. Carrying your product to market was extremely problematic.

The opening of the Ohio and Erie Canal to Port Washington in southern Tuscarawas Co. was designed to improve that process. The canal system, hand dug in the 1820s and 1830s, speeded Ohio’s development. In turn, goods were shipped to New Orleans and New York City, enhancing the local economy.

Another couple joined my wife and me on the excursion. I had driven parts of the road many times, but never the full length. With directions secured from literature about the road, we began our trek across from Millersburg Elementary School on a diagonal street, Port Washington Road.

Signs marked the way we should go. It was a good thing, too, because there were more twists and turns, curves and hills than on any of Cedar Point’s many roller coasters.

Our air-conditioned van took us up, down, and around steep grades. I gasped at the thought of driving a team of horses pulling a fully loaded wagon with a season’s harvest aboard. It was hard enough for me to maneuver.

How in the world did they negotiate those hills safely? No wonder it was a two-day trip from Millersburg to the canal. The halfway mark was a layover in Baltic. That’s where we had lunch, in more comfortable accommodations than those early travelers.

We traversed village, township, county, and state highways. We visited curious crossroads romantically named Saltillo, Becks Mills, Meadow Valley, and Fiat.

Most of the roads were hard-surfaced in Holmes Co. But once we headed southeast out of Baltic, gravel roads became the norm.

Not long after leaving Baltic, we came upon a bald eagle foraging on a carcass in freshly cut oats stubble. I imagined sitting on a hard bench seat glad for the beautiful distraction from the dusty, bumpy road. The magnificent bird flew in sweeping loops over the field until we left.

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The scenery alone was worth the trip. Other than the open areas on high ridges, the landscape likely compared to what those wagon masters must have encountered. We passed through tree tunnels, and by old homesteads long abandoned, well-weathered clapboard siding showing more patina than paint.

We found several cemeteries along the route, too. We couldn’t help but wonder if some of the hopeful farmers didn’t end up deathly disappointed from the ruggedness, and maybe even being waylaid by bandits.

In the middle of nowhere, we discovered a church with a golden dome. The names on cemetery’s tombstones revealed former parishioners. Farther down the road, a sign marked another church cemetery. The structure was long gone.

In the meandering 37 miles we trekked, we had to have traveled in every direction of the compass. The roads were that convoluted. Nevertheless, we made it to our destination, now a sleepy, residential hamlet.

With the actual canal filled in long ago, the only hint of the waterway was a slight depression that paralleled Canal St. Between there, and the Tuscarawas River laid the railroad tracks, the steel trail of the invention that killed the canal.

The steel tracks left the canal to history and the curious to rediscover.

Amish children, pony cart
Pony cart fun.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Guarding the oats

wildflowers, oat shocks
Guarding the oats.

Oats shocks standing at attention in a field during the dog days of summer is a familiar scene in Holmes Co., Ohio. When the border between them and the road holds a row of summer’s wildflowers like chicory and Queen Anne’s Lace, the landscape is all the prettier.

“Guarding the oats” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Where everybody knows your name

poorly addressed letter
The way it began.

By Bruce Stambaugh

There are some definite benefits to living the rural life. The perks will make your life rich, but you won’t necessarily become wealthy.

I recently had a week’s worth of devotions published in a church periodical, Rejoice!. I received an honorarium for my efforts, but that wasn’t the real motivator. I just enjoyed sharing personal and pertinent stories.

What happened after the devotions published became the real reward. A few folks who know me expressed their appreciation for my daily commentaries. An elderly man from Bern, Indiana even sent a nice handwritten note.

He thanked me for my writing and then spent the rest of the letter telling me about his car dealership, now in its fifth generation. That was fun. But it was amazing I received the letter at all.

mail carrier, U.S. mail
The mail cometh.

The kind man simply mailed the envelope with only my full name and Millersburg, Ohio written on the front. No street address. No zip code. And I got it.

The truth is, I wasn’t surprised at all that the letter arrived in our mailbox. It’s not that I’m famous. The fact that my wife and I happen to be the only Stambaughs in the county had to help. However, this was the United States Postal Service, a federal government institution that has had its share of lumps and negative publicity.

That reputation of bigness doesn’t necessarily hold true in Holmes County, Ohio. This isn’t the first time we’ve received a skimpily addressed letter.

Once we had a card from a friend with our name, town and zip on the envelope accompanied by a note scribbled on the envelope that said, “The same road as the restaurant.” When you don’t know the road number, improvise. It worked.

It gets better. Years ago when we lived in the southwest section of the county my ornery older brother sent a letter addressed with only the first names of my wife and me and 44637. That’s the zip code for Killbuck, Ohio. Once again, we got it. My brother couldn’t believe it.

rural life, Ohio's Amish country
Rural defined.

It was a perk of personally knowing the postmaster. A lot of people in the area could say that. In fact, when we moved east to our current location our mail was forwarded far beyond the required time. It stopped the day Bob House retired as Killbuck postmaster.

Bob went above and beyond the call of duty. Not because he had to, but because he wanted to do so. He exemplified the personal consideration and dedication of many folks we have met over our lifetime in this marvelous rural county.

Folks welcomed us into the Amish culture, too, when we relocated to the eastern end of the county. Neighbors invited us to picnics and Amish weddings.

We especially appreciated the invitations to Amish church services. Though we didn’t understand most of what was said, we got the message in the spirit of being treated with kindness and respect.

As educators in the local public schools, my wife and I were shown the highest regard of reverence for our responsibilities with the children of Amish and English alike. Families invited us for meals and visits. We felt more than welcome in both East Holmes and West Holmes.

It’s not always easy living in a county with a population that is less than that of a small city. But as you can see, there are distinct advantages to residing in a locale where everybody knows your name, including the mail carrier.

rural sunset, Holmes County Ohio
Rural sunset.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Good Friday gathering

Good Friday, Amish
Good Friday gathering.

Good Friday is a sacred day in the life of Amish. Most Amish church districts hold a long church service, usually for adults only. The focus is to remember Christ dying on the cross for humankind.

“Good Friday gathering” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Living the rural life and loving it

barn fire, Holmes Co. OH
Barn fire.

By Bruce Stambaugh

When fire destroyed my neighbor’s old bank barn a couple of years ago, all the firefighters could do was protect the outbuildings. The fully-involved structure burned to the ground.

A month later, blessed insurance arrived in the form of neighbors, family, friends and church members who raised a new building in a day. They started at first light and had the barn roofed and sided by evening. It’s the way of rural life here.

Amish barn raising
Barn raising.
I’ve happily lived my adult life in one of the richest agricultural areas in Ohio. That’s a bit ironic for someone born in a city and raised in a suburb.

My parents influenced my appreciation for the agricultural lifestyle. Dad introduced his five children to farm life early on. Being an avid sportsman, Dad loved to hunt and fish.

Dad knew the importance of building trust with the farmers to be allowed to tromp around their property. Dad listened to their stories, and they returned the favor.

sunset, Holmes Co. OH
Rural sunset.
Mom influenced me positively on farming, too. An accomplished artist, she painted lovely landscapes of farmsteads and their surroundings. The scenes Mom created closely resemble the ones I see every day.

My wife and I built our first house on a bluff overlooking two tributaries of the mighty Killbuck. Manicured farm fields fanned out to the west from our front yard. Thick stands of mixed hardwoods that glowed in the fall filled the surrounding, steep hillsides.

When Farmer Bob came around on a hot summer’s day fixing barbed wire fence rows, I ran out with a cold, clear glass of water just for a chance to talk to him. When it was time to till the garden, Farmer Jim came up from his field to do the job. I offered to pay, but he just winked and smiled and advised using Triple 12 fertilizer.

When we moved northeast 16 miles 36 years ago, we hoped to experience the same interactions. We did that and more.

Amish manure spreader
Spreading sunshine.
When I asked Farmer Levi for some manure for the garden, he delivered it on a bitterly cold February morning. By the time I had dressed to go out to help him, a steaming pile of natural fertilizer already sat atop the snow.

I thanked Levi and asked him how much I owed him for his trouble.

“Nothing,” he said. “I don’t have anything in it.”

That earthy attitude is only one of the reasons I’m wedded to this charming, inviting agricultural community. There are many others.

produce auction, Holmes Co. OH
Produce auction.
No one would ever mistake me for a farmer. Yet, I feel right at home whether in milking parlors, bank barns, farmhouses or pastures.

For more than four decades I have admired families and circles of friends gathering crops, and sharing equipment and smiles. They work long and hard in all kinds of weather for narrow profit margins.

Farming is no longer the dominant occupation it once was here. Less than 10 percent of the Amish farm today. The recent uptick of local produce truck patches has helped continue the family agricultural tradition. I’m glad they have produce stands and auctions to turn all their efforts into cash.

As I photograph sunrises on early chilly mornings or sunsets on sweltering evenings, my mind wanders to my mother and father. I’m forever thankful they taught me to appreciate the land and the good folks who cultivate it.

Rural living has more than made its mark on me. It has wholly and wonderfully enriched my life.

sunset, Ohio's Amish country
September sunset.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Sunset Symmetry

trees at sunset
Sunset Symmetry.

Clearly, this sunset was worth the wait. It exceeded all of my expectations. However, the reflections were what caught my eye. The line of trees and white fence reflected perfectly against the glorious sunset. This sunset shot required no filters and no editing.

“Sunset Symmetry” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015