Heath Barren Beauty

Stunning fall colors in a wasteland

To look at this photo, you would never suspect that this is the top of a mountain. But it is.

This beautiful landscape is at Bear Rocks Preserve in the Dolly Sods Wilderness in West Virginia. Dolly Sods is managed by the U.S. Forest Service, and they describe this preserve as “a diverse and complex ecosystem of windswept heath barrens.” Heath barrens are vast areas of uncultivated land, and are consider by some as wasteland because they cannot be used for agricultural purposes.

High above the Canaan Valley, this amazing preserve is a mix of giant rocks, stunted red spruce, mountain laurel, bogs, and blueberry bushes with their brilliant crimson leaves. Such landscape is usually found much further north in Canada.

Bear Rocks is a much-photographed area because of it stunning vistas. “Heath Barren Beauty” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Make October a Month to Remember

While still remembering those of the past

Fall comes to an Amish farmstead in Ohio’s Amish country.

By its very nature, October holds a storehouse of memories for people. It’s a month on nostalgia steroids.

Who doesn’t remember raking leaves into giant piles in the yard and then jumping into them? Guilty as charged.

I have fond memories of our father loading his brood into the family station wagon and heading southwest along the winding, hilly roads to Holmes County, Ohio. That was before the state eliminated the undulating curves between Berlin and Millersburg.

I distinctly remember stopping along the road on the east side of Millersburg at Briar Hill Golf Course to view the vibrant colors of the changing leaves. Dad especially loved a giant sugar maple’s warm oranges and reds.

Years later, when I found myself teaching in Holmes County, I ventured out after school to explore the backroads for scenic views myself. It was a two-fold way to enjoy the colorful landscape and learn my way around.

I always found the hills around Glenmont to be stunning when the leaves were exceptionally bright. I also found them difficult to scale as a volunteer firefighter when a passing train sparked a woods fire up a remote and steep pass.

I remember standing on schoolhouse hill overlooking Killbuck, where I taught. Billowing smoke from burning leaf piles filled the valley from one end of town to the other. My eyes watered from the fragrant stinging. Fortunately, outdoor burning like that is no longer permitted.

Once my wife and I moved to the county’s eastern end, I found the trees were just as beautiful as in the west. Rows upon rows of corn shocks enhanced the bucolic scenes all the more.

When my wife retired 15 years ago, we were freer to explore October’s natural wonders far beyond our limited Holmes County horizons. We discovered our beloved county wasn’t the only pretty place on earth.

Friends invited us to share a condominium with them in Arizona in early October. In locales like Sedona and the Grand Canyon, we discovered vibrant autumn colors in rocky ridges and spires instead of leafy trees. It was gorgeous, just the same.

Of course, October offers more than brilliant colors. I remember hayrides down Panther Hollow with our church youth groups on dark and chilly nights. Hot cider and fresh donuts at the outing’s conclusion sealed the spooky experience.

Not to let nostalgia carry us away, October often brought the first frost and the first snow. I recall embarking on a conservation field trip with a busload of underdressed fifth graders. By the end of our farm tour, we all were tromping through inches of snow.

October highlights come in so many flavors and textures. Various festivals abound celebrating harvest time, including cheese, wine, pumpkins, and apples. It’s all about socializing.

Produce stands and greenhouses hold customer appreciation days before they close for the season. Dodging the yellow jackets can be as challenging as bobbing for apples.

October is in the middle of fall migration for many birds species. Shorebirds and birds of prey use sunny day solar thermals to aid their southern journey. The last of the Monarch butterflies wing it to Mexico.

Halloween, though, seems to overshadow all of the beautiful interactions between humankind and our environment. Entire towns decorate for Halloween comparable to Christmas. I’m not against that, but I simply prefer the daily unfolding natural beauty.

October provides plenty of opportunities to get outside and enjoy the crisp air, golden sunsets, and changing foliage. Consequently, October stirs lots of emotions.

Perhaps the best October memories are the ones we make today.

October’s blue and orange.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Signs of Fall

How many can you see?

Signs of fall are everywhere in this photo of an Amish farmstead that I took five years ago while living in Ohio’s Amish country. The standing corn still waiting to be picked, either by hand or horse-drawn corn picker, is the most obvious. In the background, the tops of the deciduous trees had started to turn red and orange. In the center of the photo, the purple martin house has been lowered for the season, the birds long-parted for Central and South America.

Can you find other signs of fall in this photo?

“Signs of Fall” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Starstruck at Heavenly Wonders

A mountaintop experience

The Milky Way and Perseid meteors. Photo by Michael Mancewicz on Unsplash.

When was the last time you went out and sat under the stars and just enjoyed the evening?

We used to do that as kids regularly. But as adults, not so much. Come 10 p.m. or sooner, it’s lights out for this baby boomer.

Of course, enjoying and appreciating life often occurs outside our comfort zones. When my wife and I received an invitation to view the Perseids meteor shower on its peak night, we couldn’t refuse.

Our friend Edgar asked us to accompany him to his mountaintop cabin to watch the meteoric show. We left early to take in all that nature had to offer on Shenandoah Mountain.

The 30-minute trip was worth the drive alone. We traveled U.S. 33 west through a forested tunnel of hardwoods and pines, crossing the Dry River multiple times as it winds its way down into the Shenandoah Valley.

With a moderate drought in full swing, the rocky riverbed indeed was dry. We passed parks and gated lanes into the George Washington National Forest and zigzagged our way up the mountain slope.

Before reaching the summit, we turned a hard right into the private road that led to Edgar’s cabin. He unlocked the gate, and we began our rock and roll ascent on the two-lane drive, one track for right tires and the other for the left.

Soon the incline smoothed to wave-like rolling. We stopped at Big Hill, Shenandoah Mountain’s summit. My GPS read precisely 3,800 feet in altitude.

I was surprised to find that much of the rounded old mountain top was a meadowland full of wildflowers and butterflies despite the lack of rain. The verdant views in every direction were hazy but still impressive.

The best was yet to come. After a light dinner in Edgar’s cabin, we talked the evening away. When our daughter sent a text that she had seen a meteor from the city’s high school parking lot, we hightailed it outside.

We didn’t stay long. Residue clouds from afternoon thunderstorms lingered over the mountain ridges.

We retreated inside to continue our enlightening conversation. Edgar related the cabin’s history and how his wife’s family had acquired the property and built the place. Once they became owners, Edgar and his late wife remodeled it. The view from the deck was incredible.

At 10:30, we turned out the lights and headed outside. The three of us sat in the sloping yard and looked northeast. We knew the peak time of the meteor shower was yet to come.

We hoped for some early meteors, and we weren’t disappointed. Our lively conversation quickly filled in the gaps between the intermittent flashes in the night sky.

Crickets and katydids waged a surround-sound insect symphony. Soon an out-of-tune screech owl grated their nocturnal harmony.

A singular cry interrupted the concert from the tree line that marked the Virginia/West Virginia boundary 30 yards to our west. Several meteors later, the bobcat bid farewell from much farther down the ridge.

Even if there had been no meteors, the night sky’s sparkling diamonds captivated us. The clouds had dissipated, and stars, planets, constellations, and the Milky Way served as our canopy. Both the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper shone brightly as the mountain coolness enwrapped us.

The meteors put on a splendid show for this trio of grandparents. Some streaked long and brilliant, others short and dull. Grateful for one last bright burst from the heavens, we headed home, full of grace and in awe of nature’s wonders.

My wife and I felt honored to be under the spell of the starry universe and Edgar’s gracious hospitality.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

The view to the east from the cabin as the setting sun reflected off of clouds.

August came early this year

The calendar didn’t change, but the weather sure did.

Wheat shocks glow in the evening sun in Holmes County, Ohio.

August came early this year. The calendar didn’t change, but the weather sure did.

The three H’s customarily associated with August, hot, humid, and hazy, have been around off and on since this June. Unfortunately, the dreaded trio has been mostly “on” all across the continent and beyond.

The results haven’t been pretty or even healthy. Record high temperatures fed massive wildfires, more typical for the fall months. The fires have been burning all across the West and in several Canadian provinces. A wildfire completely obliterated the small town of Lytton, B.C.

The wildfires have fed the brilliant sunrises and sunsets in recent days. Brisk winds aloft have spread soot particles eastward, creating that giant orange ball in the sky that we usually can’t look at directly. The August haze is extra heavy from Maine to Florida.

A wildfire-enhanced sunset.

August’s weather seemed both more predictable and tolerable a half-century ago. Global warming and climate change weren’t household phrases back then. They are now.

In those days, the school year ran from the day after Labor Day until Memorial Day weekend. The school district seldom used up the permitted allotment of snow days. So, we knew we had the whole summer season to enjoy.

As a youngster, I always welcomed August even though it was the last month of school vacation. The neighborhood gang of baby boomers took the hot, hazy, and humid weather in stride.

You are never too young to help husk corn.

We were content to sit beneath giant shade trees and play cards and board games instead of more strenuous adventures. We saved our more energetic shenanigans for cooler evenings. I’ll skip the details since the statutes of limitations haven’t expired. No harm to life or property occurred, however.

August always gave us suburban kids pause. August was our reality check. It forewarned us to use our last remaining days of freedom wisely. We usually didn’t.

A few of us, of course, had jobs associated with youth, like paper routes and mowing lawns. My older brother and I both delivered newspapers. In those days, I had ink on my fingers and not in my veins.

County fairs and street fairs began in earnest. Our county fair was always the last week of August and ended on Labor Day. When the fair closed, the schoolhouse doors opened.

Our father usually grew a garden well away from our suburban home. After supper, my siblings and I crowded into the family car, and off we would go to help hoe, weed, and hopefully pick my favorite vegetable, sweet corn.

If we had a bumper crop, we headed to a strip mall parking lot, popped the trunk, and sold our excess at a dollar a dozen. Dad usually threw in an extra ear for free, the gardener’s equivalent of a baker’s dozen.

Back home, our dear mother had the pressure cooker ready. All we had to do was husk the corn. It’s another job that I still relish. My wife says I will be applying that apt skill as soon as the bi-colored corn is ripe.

Occasionally, Dad would also load the family into the car, and we headed to Holmes County. I always admired the platoon of golden wheat shocks standing at attention in the fields of Amish farmers.

I had no idea then that I would be spending most of my adult life living there. It served as a foretaste of many good things to come for me.

I look back on my lifetime of Augusts with pleasant memories. None of the three H’s can bake, wilt, or obscure them.

An August sunrise in Ohio’s Amish country.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

That Golden Moment


Sometimes a photogenic scene comes to you. In a way, that’s what happened in this photo. I was watching my grandchildren swim on a recent summer evening when the western sky caught my attention. With other adults present, I excused myself and walked to the only open spot on the property. The sky was rapidly turning orange with the sun nearing the tip of the Allegheny Mountains, which were beyond the little ridge before me.

I was entirely satisfied to let the tree and shrubs fill the foreground and let the sky do the rest. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed two women walking towards the opening. They would provide the perfect scale for this frame if they stayed in view. Fortunately, they sat on the picnic table just as the sun disappeared below the ridge.

My subjects certainly had a better view of the sunset than I did. However, I was perfectly happy to capture this scene.

“That Golden Moment” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Hope


There is nothing particularly spectacular about this photo, although it is pretty. The photo’s details make for a diverse composition: The deflected sunset rays, the fog rising from the hollows of the Allegheny Mountain foothills, and the overall pastoral setting itself. Throw in the fact that this shot was taken on the 2020 summer solstice, and the landscape photo becomes even more meaningful.

So why the title “Hope?” I never expected to be able to take this shot. We had had a string of relatively chilly and cloudy days in the Shenandoah Valley. June 20, the date of this year’s summer solstice, continued that trend. However, after heavy rain moved through, pinks, yellows, and oranges began to appear in the evening sky. I grabbed my camera and headed to my favorite sunset spot, Mole Hill, an extinct volcano core that is a local landmark. It’s higher elevation affords an impressive view of the rolling valley, the foothills, and the mountains themselves.

Though this is not a particularly stunning sunset, it was one that I never thought that I would be able to capture. Consequently, “Hope” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Green on Green


It must be spring! Farmers in Virginia’s pastoral Shenandoah Valley are out and about preparing their fields for this year’s crops. In fact, farmers in Rockingham Co., Virginia, have already made their first cuttings of hay for silage to feed their livestock.

This farmer, riding his ubiquitous John Deere tractor, was heading back to the farm.

“Green on Green” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

It’s always good to be home

A new day dawns in Ohio’s Amish country.

Home. It’s a four-letter word that conjures up both good and sad emotions. It all depends on one’s circumstances.

I was fortunate. Returning home has always been a rewarding, meaningful experience for me.

I have no recollection of living in my first home on a channel of a lake near Akron, Ohio. But I recall many stories told to me in my adolescent years. I still get chided for grinding up coal cinders from the driveway. Apparently, I thought they tasted good.

My earliest childhood recollection was when I was about four years old. My father handed me a cold Coca Cola while I sat overhead on a rafter of the house my folks were building.

I spent my formative years in the little red-brick bungalow in Canton, Ohio. Baby boomer families like ours filled that middle-class neighborhood. Pick up Whiffle ball, baseball, and football games were commonplace, along with hide and seek sessions that went long into warm summer evenings.

That modest home was always a welcome sight returning home from college. Though the house was sometimes filled with shouting and disagreements, I always felt safe there. It was my home and my family, after all.

All of that changed once I graduated and started teaching in Killbuck, Ohio. I met and married my wife, and we built our own home just out of town next to an old cemetery. My school principal built right next to us. I loved to tell people that at least we had good neighbors on one side of our home.

We spent 10 incredible years there. It’s where our daughter and son learned to walk, talk, and play. Oh, the stories I could tell of those good old days in that hardscrabble town. For now, it’s best to let them remain dormant.

After I became a principal in East Holmes Local Schools, we moved to near Berlin, Ohio. The house we bought was on an Amish farm, and all of our neighbors spoke Pennsylvania Dutch as their primary language. That wasn’t a hindrance at all.

Just like when I grew up, our daughter and son had plenty of children to play with. They often met at the giant old black oak tree across the road from us. It was a joy to be able to watch them interact and quickly solve any squabbles without an adult having to intervene.

We lived there for 38 years, longer than any other place, including our childhood homes. Our neighbors were friendly and helpful. Amazing sunrises and sunsets enhanced the already beautiful views that we enjoyed.

Despite our deep roots in the community, we decided it was time to be nearer to our three grandchildren, who were growing all too fast. We found a home only five miles away from them in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

We bought and remodeled a little ranch house amid nearly 500 other homes. Just like their owners, each one has a personality all its own. Instead of being in the heart of Ohio’s Amish country, we now live in the heart of the beautiful Shenandoah Valley.

We can watch our high school grandson strike out batters in a baseball game. We enjoy a middle school concert in which our other grandson plays the French horn. We watch and listen with pride as our granddaughter sings in a prestigious children’s choir.

In the words of Maya Angelo, “I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.”

Indeed, it’s good to be home, wherever that is. I hope that’s true for you as well.

At home in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Half empty and half full’s juncture

An iconic mid-summer scene in Ohio’s Amish country.

It’s July, and you know what that means. We are already halfway through the year. How can that be?

It seems like only yesterday that it was cold and rainy, and folks from Florida to Ontario were all tired of wearing winter jackets. But here we are at the beginning of July, the year half spent like a jar half full, or is it half empty?

I suppose the answer is a matter of personal perspective. Given all that has happened in 2019 so far, I could respond either way. It’s been that kind of year.

Sometimes life is a question mark.
The half emptiness comes from the loss of long-time friends, people who lived productive, generous lives of service. They meant so much to not only me but to so many others that they also touched so tenderly. Others who have passed on were much too young. Their deaths caused heavy, burdensome grief, and raised imploring questions and inquiries of the Almighty about life’s fairness.

The unruly weather caused miseries more disastrous than prolonged cold spells. Extensive record flooding indiscriminately inundated homes, businesses, fields, and overflowed the largest lakes.

Ohioans came to the aid of their waterlogged Nebraska compatriots. Weeks later, it would be the Buckeyes who watched and waited for their fields to drain. Crops that managed to be planted risked rotting in the soggy soil. Other ground may simply go fallow.

My wife and I have found that the half-fullness overflows with bounteous joys of exploring new places, meeting new people, having others reach out in friendly ways. To say we are grateful would be insufficient in expressing our appreciation for what life in the first half of 2019 has brought us.

In mid-January, a sun pillar brightened the already gorgeous sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean outside our snowbird rental. The ever-changing scene served as a reminder to breathe deeply and to embrace each moment as 2019 unfolded.

After a light late February snow, the sun strained through trailing clouds and turned the rolling Shenandoah Valley landscapes into a spectacular sparkling winter wonderland.

A pastel March sunset bid us farewell as we said our last goodbyes to the family cottage in Ohio. Generations of family and friends helped fulfill the dreams that my folks had had for their quaint lakeside-gathering place. But as that chilly sunset waned, we shed tears of gratitude and appreciation for the memories made and wished the new owners the very same.

Each spring, I had enjoyed the showy lavender blooms of redbud trees that adorned still barren forests and neighborhood landscapes. However, I had never noticed how each individual blossom so closely resembled tiny hummingbirds on the wing until a kind neighbor showed me in April.

A state bridge engineer directed us to a cascading waterfall we would have surely missed had we stayed on the main highway. In the quintessential New England town of Jackson, New Hampshire, Jackson Falls became one of the many highlights of our May vacation.

The same kind neighbor who pointed out the redbud hummingbirds brought over a couple of puffy pastries she had made using the sour cherries she had recently picked. Her tasty treats made this June day even better than it already was.

You likely have a comparable list. What challenges and surprise blessings are in store for us the rest of 2019? We really don’t know.

Like July is to the calendar, we encounter life’s happenstance experiences at the juncture of our half empty and half fullness. Our job is to be alert to explore and savor those serendipitous, joyous moments.

An end of June sunset marks a fitting demarkation for any year.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019