Mowing snow while mulching leaves

Before the leaves fell.

This time it wasn’t my fault. Every time I went to mulch the accumulation of leaves that covered much of our yard, something or someone else thwarted my good intentions. We all know where that road leads.

First of all, I wanted to wait until all of the red maple leaves in the backyard had fallen. For some reason, they clung like flies to flypaper. The leaves of the front yard red maple had all tumbled weeks earlier.

When the weather was sunny and warmish, which wasn’t that often in the late fall of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, we were gone. When we were home, it was too wet, or other commitments kept me from doing the job.

Even with a couple of gusty windstorms, the leaves clung fast to the tree. Meanwhile, the rest of the neighborhood’s assortment of dead foliage swirled around and landed in our yard like it was a leaf magnet.

The turkey.
It was nearly Thanksgiving before the leaves finally succumbed. Even then, it took almost a week before most of them lay on the ground. The leafy blanket was so thick I could hardly see the grass in spots.

Finally, the timing and weather seemed just right. However, because of a heavy frost, I waited until after lunch to make my move. I shouldn’t have.

I had just started the leaf blower when our yardman arrived. Rain was forecast for the next day, and he wanted to get the year’s last organic fertilizer on the grass despite the carpet of leaves.

He assured me that the rain would wash the fertilizer off the leaves and into the ground. I yielded the yard to him. It rained for three days.

After the rain subsided, it turned cold, freezing the leaves in place. I continued to wait and watch the forecast. It was now early December.

A skiff of snow caused another delay. Most of it melted, except for the snow in the north-slanting shadows of our backyard neighbor’s evergreens and the front of our north-facing house.

A storm with freezing rains was approaching. It was now or never to mulch the leaves.

A few of the neighbor’s leaves.
I set the mower to its highest level so that only the tallest growth of grass would be clipped. I donned my insulated coveralls, put on my waterproof shoes, and cranked up the mulching mower.

Around and round I went, reversing course with each completed trip of the yard’s parameter. The piles of dried leaves that I had blown out of the flowerbeds and shrubbery into the grass easily shredded to bits. The backyard leaves were a different story.

A messy mix of chewed up leaves and dirt began to stick to the wheels. The messiness increased when I hit the patches of thin snow. The pulverized blend of icy moisture and leaves turned to sludge. I stubbornly mulched on.

By the time I had finally finished, the poor mower looked like it had endured a motocross mud run. Brown muck covered much of the mower’s bright red body. The wheels were caked in a sticky mixture of chopped leaves and residue of red clay that poses as Virginia topsoil.

Shreds of green grass clippings topped off the muddy mess like colorful sprinkles on an ice cream cone. It was so sad and ugly that I couldn’t even take a picture of it.

But the mulching was done, and I was a happy man. The unusually difficult task of mowing my lawn had become an existential saga. And then the sun came out.

Not this much snow.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Noteworthy news that didn’t make the headlines in 2019


Well, we made it. You and I have traveled yet one more year around the sun. True to form, 2019 was full of wonder, mistakes, successes, and a smorgasbord of conundrums and craziness.

As usual, I kept track of a few of the lesser but still extraordinary events and findings during the year.

January 20 – A meteorite was recorded striking the surface of the moon during the Super Full Blood Wolf Moon total lunar eclipse.
January 22 – According to a report from nonprofit Oxfam, the world’s 26 wealthiest people are worth the same amount of money as the world’s poorest 3.8 billion.
January 30 – The temperature dropped to -48 degrees with a wind chill of -65 in Norris Camp, Minnesota, making it the coldest place in the lower 48 states.

Early morning sky, January 31.

February 1 – The BBC reported that January was the hottest month on record in Australia and that five days were among the top 10 on record for the warmest.
February 7 – NASA reported that the last five years have been the hottest since records began being kept in 1880, with 2018 the fourth warmest year.
February 13 – NASA announced that it had declared the Mars rover dead after being unable to communicate with it following a massive dust storm on the red planet.
March 25 – A British Airways flight bound for Dusseldorf, Germany, instead accidentally landed in Edinburgh, Scotland, because the company filed the wrong flight papers.
March 26 – UPS began an experimental delivery system using drones in North Carolina.
March 27 – Airbnb, the online home-sharing site, surpassed Hilton Hotels in annual sales.
April 11 – A standup comedian in England died halfway through his comedy routine, only the audience thought it was part of his act.
April 19 – A 10-year-old Fredrick, Maryland girl born without hands won a national handwriting contest.
April 22 – The BBC reported that 23 million people use 123456 as their password for private online accounts, with 123456789 as the second most popular password.
May 22 – The last known ship to bring slaves to the U.S., the schooner Clotilda, was discovered in a remote branch of Alabama’s Mobile River.
May 23 – Longtime Marietta, Georgia, mail carrier Floyd Martin retired, and on his last route, residents decorated their mailboxes and held a block party after he finished his deliveries.
May 31 – After 20 rounds and running out of hard words, the National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., crowned an unprecedented eight co-champions.
June 5 – Tom Rice, 97, of Coronado, California, reenacted his pre-D-Day 1944 jump into Carentan, France, as part of the 75th anniversary of the Allied invasion at Normandy.
June 11 – Kraft announced that it was selling salad frosting, which was French dressing disguised in a colorful bottle to get kids to like it.
June 19 – A survey by YouGov reported that 39 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 hadn’t used deodorant in the last 30 days.
July 3 – The American Automobile Association estimated that a record 49 million people would be traveling the U.S. highways on the Fourth of July holiday.
July 12 – A report on British roadkill showed that badgers were the mammals most likely to meet their end on the highway, although pheasants led the animal roadway mortality rate.
July 22 – Officials near Sandpoint, Idaho removed turtle crossing signs because thieves kept stealing them as soon as the unique warning signs were replaced.
August 14 – A 12-year-old boy attending a family reunion found a rare Ice Age wooly mammoth tooth by a creek near the Inn at Honey Run near Millersburg, Ohio.
August 15 – A new study released by the U.S. Geological Survey showed that 90 percent of rainwater samples in Colorado included microplastic shards, beads, and fibers.
September 6 – A new international study showed that 90 percent of the time eyewitnesses would assist someone assaulted in public.
September 7 – Miami Marlins pitcher Brian Moran struck out his young brother, Colin, pinch-hitting for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
September 21 – When a car fell on his neighbor pinning him, Zac Clark, a 16-year-old high school football player from Butler, Ohio, rushed over and lifted the 3,000-pound auto, saving the neighbor’s life.
One of my proudest moments.

October 7 – After falling at his home in Plains, Georgia the previous day, former President Jimmy Carter, 95, with a bandage above his left eye and a visible welt below, still helped build a Habitat for Humanity home in Nashville, Tennessee.
October 18 – NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir performed the first all-female spacewalk when they ventured outside the International Space Station for five and a half hours to replace a faulty battery charger.
October 30 – Firefighters in Simi Valley, California successfully saved the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library from a wildfire with assistance from a herd of goats brought in earlier in the year to eat away the brush surrounding the library.
November 3 – When midnight shift workers didn’t show up at a Birmingham Waffle House restaurant, several customers jumped behind the counter to help the lone employee serve 30 other customers.
November 8 – The last survivor of the Hindenburg Disaster, Werner Gustav Doehner, died in Laconia, New Hampshire, at age 90.
November 18 – Police in Goddard, Kansas, discovered a camel, cow, and donkey wandering along a rural road.
December 9 – A New York City man removed and ate a banana from a Miami, Florida art exhibit that had sold for $120,000.
December 10 – A 43-year-old Monroe County, Louisiana man, was arrested for fixing the bingo game he was calling so his relatives could win.
December 20 – Emily Williams, a wildlife ecologist in Alaska, was late for work because a moose was licking the salt off of her car.

Here’s hoping 2020 will give us both a better year and better eyesight in all that is happening around us.

Happy New Year!

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Why I never learned to swim


I don’t remember the trauma I experienced nearly 70 years ago. And yet, I can recall it as if it had happened yesterday.

I was two, four years younger than my older brother. We lived on a channel that connected two glacial lakes southwest of Akron, Ohio. Our father was supposed to be watching us while our mother was away for a while. Dad being Dad, he was preoccupied with something else. I still recall the disdain and anger that our usually gentile mother expressed toward our father as this family story was told and retold over the years.

It was this dramatic retelling that etched a lifetime of fear of water into my psyche. Consequently, I never learned to swim. Shoot, I even take showers just to stay safe. It is my only logical explanation of this unfounded, yet realistic phobia.

It was a lovely summer day, warm but not too warm. So Dad sent my brother and me unattended outside to play. Of course, the first place we headed was to the wooden dock that jutted into the canal that connected North Reservoir with Turkeyfoot Lake. The magnetic dock drew my brother and me as if we were steel ingots, not flesh and bones.

We loved to feed the ducks that frequented the waterway that lazily flowed only a few feet behind our waterfront bungalow. This time, however, my brother and I didn’t have any bread to feed the ducks that swam over to the dock where we stood. We must have bent over to get a closer look at them.

Though I was too young to remember it, the next thing that happened was a plop, plop. My brother and I each fell into the water like rocks. The dock wasn’t magnetic after all.

I know these specifics and this sequence of events because our next-door-neighbor, Mrs. Nussbaum, was outside hanging up her wash on the laundry line. She had heard Craig and me talking but could not see us because of the strings of clothes. But she knew what the double-barrelled splashing sounds meant.

Without knowing exactly where we had fallen into the water, Mrs. Nussbaum rushed to the channel and jumped in, her dress flying up like an umbrella. My brother surfaced just as she entered the water, which made it easy for her to rescue Craig. She placed him safely on the shoreline and returned to search for me in the now murky water.

Mrs. Nussbaum quickly found me. She told my father that I was lying dead still on my back at the bottom of the channel, eyes wide open staring straight ahead. She scooped me up and put me on the shore beside my brother.

The conversation between Mrs. Nussbaum and our father was never revealed to me, or if it was, I didn’t understand the meaning of some of the words. However, without knowing the verbal details, the emotion evoked when our mother arrived back home, and Dad had to confess the nearly tragic accident to her remains with me still.

If only for brevity, let’s just say it wasn’t pretty. Mom, of course, was furious and that fury lasted every time the story was told. As the years passed, a little humor was added, but as I recall, very little. Mom was still upset, and Dad, well, he was still irresponsible when it came to domestic duties.

My brother learned to swim. I never did. To this day, swimming means staying alive while I’m in the water because that long-ago trauma still floats in my head.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Seeing my baseball dreams come true

Grandson at bat.

As a kid, I always wanted to play third base for the Cleveland Indians. Bubba Phillips was my hero.

I know. I could have picked a more respectable team like the dreaded New York Yankees. But I was born in a blue-collar steel town in northeast Ohio. Cheering for any other team was tantamount to treason.

I began playing baseball at age seven. Right away I had a strong inclination that I wasn’t major league baseball material. A one-hopper hit me square in the mouth loosening a few front teeth.

Still, I kept at it until my college days where I watched the Kent State University baseball team. A couple of years later the team’s catcher, the late, great Thurman Munson and fellow Cantonian, would become an all-star backstop for the Yankees.

Thurman lived my dream, just in a different position, although I spent most of my Little League and Hot Stove baseball days behind the plate as well. I never took one in the mouth though. Wearing a catcher’s mask helped with that.

Before the pitch.
Imagine my joy when our oldest grandchild took to baseball like a duck to water. He was a natural from little on up. Now he’s 15, a high school freshman, and pitching for the varsity baseball team. Did I mention that he also plays third base, and shortstop, too?

Like other youngsters, Evan started with t-ball and kept playing until he progressed to the varsity squad. Nana and I couldn’t be more proud.

I try to let the coaches do the instruction. I do share stories with Evan from my playing days, usually some of my own baseball bloopers. With my talent, what else do I have to say? Evan always politely listens, often without comment. His parents have taught him well.

At the games, I focus on capturing photos of Evan pitching, hitting, and fielding. It’s harder to yell at the umpires with a camera in your face.

My wife and I have enjoyed this baseball journey with Evan and his family so far. We take in as many games as possible. That means huddled up in winter coats and blankets in the spring to keep warm. In the summer’s scorching Virginia sunshine, we share any available shade and try to stay hydrated.

And the pitch.
Evan goes all out in the sport he loves, sometimes much to his mother’s chagrin. I feel her pain when he slides headfirst into a base. A cloud of red dust rises around him from the powdery Virginia infields.

But the uniform always is ready for the next game, just like the young man who wears it. Win or lose, it is pure joy to watch him play. I don’t mind sharing my dreamy baseball romanticism with Evan at all.

I’m overjoyed that our grandson shares my passion for the game. I am even more grateful that he has had many opportunities to play and performs well, whether in the field, on the mound, or at bat. Sure he makes errors, gives up hits, or strikes out. But he is improving, gaining confidence, learning the game, and living his dream and mine.

Even as a grandfather, I still envision playing third base or perhaps pitching for the Cleveland Indians. Lord knows they could use some decent pitchers right now.

My dream is and was a fantasy. I knew that from the time the ball bloodied my lip decades ago. My grandson’s aspiration, however, is just now unfolding. I’ll let you know when he takes the mound for the Cleveland Indians.

Safe at third.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

A more personal March Madness

Amelia Island FL, sunsets
One of my favorite photos, a sunset in northern Florida.

My wife and I love to watch college basketball. It’s how we often spend many quiet winter evenings together at home.

We’ll watch a college hoops game at 7 p.m. and even switch back and forth to other collegiate games that are simultaneously broadcast on TV. At 9, we start the process all over again, usually until half time when it’s lights out for this tired and retired couple.

When its tournament time, more commonly known as March Madness, we are in basketball heaven. Neva claims the love seat while I relax in the recliner. Now, it’s not like all we do is watch talented athletes run up and down the court making incredible plays and acrobatic shots.

In our 48 years of marriage, Neva has taught me to multi-task. With the game going full blast on TV, she reads or works on her iPad while I often write or edit photos to post on my online blog or social media. Of course, the game gets our full attention if it is close, especially as the game clock ticks down.

The happy couple.

Basketball isn’t the only kind of madness happening in March for us. We just celebrated our wedding anniversary. How and where we met and when we married is the rest of the remarkable story.

It was one of those “meant to be” situations. In June 1970 before we ever knew one another, Neva and I separately agreed to supervise a group of 10 energetic youth from the church I attended. It was a weeklong work-study project deep into eastern Kentucky’s coalmine region. The first time I saw her was when the group assembled to leave.

Our work involved hoeing three acres of cucumbers in the morning’s coolness. We studied and visited local sites in the afternoon when the temperatures and humidity were both off the charts.

To further learn about the Appalachian culture, we visited local homes far up those infamous hollows. We also did home repairs. Short on tools, we used large rocks to pound roofing nails into tarpaper.

It was an inspiring experience. What impressed me most, however, was Neva. Love interfered with logic. We were married the following March at the height of both college and Ohio high school basketball tournaments.

Our fathers had to wonder about our timing. They both loved basketball. We thought for sure that Neva’s father would walk her down the aisle holding a transistor radio to one ear listening to a game.

Somehow we survived that day and all the days that have followed. We haven’t lived a charmed life together, and it certainly hasn’t been perfect. But we have thrived as both a couple and as individuals. Mutual forgiveness, love, and trust will do that.

birds
Male Red-bellied Woodpecker

Our skills and interests have nicely balanced our life together. Neva is a marvelous cook and I am a grateful, hungry husband. Neva prefers reading. I write. She sews. I bird. She quilts. I take photos. You get the picture, no pun intended.

As March plays out into April, Neva and I will be watching how the college basketball playoffs turn out. Of course we each fill out a bracket, making our best guesses as to which teams will be in the final four. The chances of our winning are low. Our marriage, however, has beaten the odds.

Meanwhile, we’ll keep holding hands, and doing what we can to make this world a better place. We have celebrated another personal March Madness milestone and look forward to many more together.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019