This picture really is worth a thousand words

Overlooking the icebergs in front of the Knik Glacier, Palmer, AK.

Of the more than 2,000 photos that I took on a recent two-week trip with my wife, one single photo stands out for me. It wouldn’t win any photo contests, but it best represents the sentiment of our journey to Alaska and Canada’s Yukon Territory.

The picture could have been of the ubiquitous and colorful fireweed blanketing a misty alpine meadow. During our visit, I captured the brilliant pink flower in every stage of blooming. But that’s not it.

I could have easily chosen one of several digital landscapes of the Knik Glacier. Our friends Doug and Rosene took us there on our very first day in the 49th state. The views were stunning, the experience exhilarating. But, no, that’s not my favorite photo.

The early morning view from Flat Top Mountain overlooking Anchorage, Alaska could certainly qualify, too. I could faintly see the grand mountain Denali through the morning haze. That wasn’t it either.

Other possibilities were the many snapshots of caribou grazing in meadows in Denali National Park and Preserve. For shooting at some distance through the window of a refurbished school bus, I thought the photos turned out pretty well. However, none of those shots could compare to my favorite.

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I had hoped to see a bull moose while on our trip. As we approached the end of our Denali tour, we spied one lumbering through the brush 100 feet from the bus. Even my first bull moose pictures couldn’t match the one that touched me most.

We much enjoyed our walk around the frontier town of Dawson City, Yukon. With its dirt streets and eclectic set of residential and commercial structures, it looked like a set right out of a John Wayne movie. As lovely as that assortment of Dawson photos was, they couldn’t measure up to my pick.

You should see Emerald Lake, a beautiful body of water worthy of its colorful name in the Yukon. Surrounded by mountains dotted with forests and meadows, the shots I got are some of my favorites, but not the favorite.

Shortly after that, we stopped at the quaint village of Carcross, built on a spit of land between two sparkling lakes. I captured a flock of ducks twisting and turning in the sky over Lake Bennett. As ecstatic as I was, those pictures can’t compare to my most precious shot.

Please click on the photos to enlarge them.

The narrow-gauge train trip down the mountain gap from the Canadian border to Skagway, Alaska was breathtaking. With a clear sky and divine mountainous scenery, the shot of the train crossing the trestle over a river is calendar-worthy. Nope. That’s not the one either.

I had high expectations for getting shots of several different glaciers in Glacier Bay National Park. Sea, air, and light conditions made for perfect shots. But as you likely have surmised, they aren’t my choice either.

I was fortunate to capture memorable photos of gorgeous scenery, thrilling wildlife, spectacular glaciers, and eye-catching architecture. Yet, none qualify as my shot of shots. What is?

My favorite photo of our dream vacation is one of the best I have ever taken of my wife. Neva is standing at the stern of our cruise ship as it slowly eases out of port to begin our brief voyage.

The smile on her face is both precious and priceless. As she looks back at the camera, Neva’s radiance lights up the dim evening setting. It wasn’t the anticipation that created that glow. It was the pure pleasure of being there together.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Watching the grandkids grow

Times have changed, and so have the grandkids.
Our grandkids are growing in so many ways. The most apparent transformations, of course, are their physical changes.

On their last visit to Nana and Poppy’s Ohio home, we had family photos taken. That was April 2017. At 5 foot 9 inches, I was taller than all three grandchildren. Not anymore.

When we returned from a recent trip to Alaska, I could no longer make that claim. Both Evan and Davis have outgrown me. Two years makes a big difference when you are growing youngsters.

In fact, Davis is challenging his older brother for tallest sibling bragging rights. At 15 and 13, they both likely have some growing yet to do.

When Nana asked Davis if he was the tallest in his middle school, he said not by a long shot. One classmate is already 6 foot 3 inches.

When I asked what sports the tall teen plays, Davis quickly replied with one defining word: “Guitar!” That’s what I get for stereotyping.

We took the sprouting trio out for our annual before-school-begins breakfast at their favorite eatery. Since it was already going on 10 a.m. by the time we arrived, the outing was more like brunch. Growing youngsters need their sleep.

The discussion around the breakfast table revealed other sorts of growth. They each shared about their recent trip to the west coast.

Back in Ohio.
The highlights they named surprised both Nana and me. They all liked the Chihuly Art glass garden in Seattle. Riding motorbikes and four-wheelers in Oregon was a close second, followed by watching surfers at Huntington Beach, California with cousins they got to meet for the first time.

We talked about the upcoming school year. When asked about the classes they would be taking in high school and middle school, each boy pulled out a smartphone and read off their schedules. Little sister, who isn’t so little anymore, is excited to have her best friend in her fourth-grade class.

As they chattered on and we waited on the food, I couldn’t help but reflect on their younger years in Texas, where all three were born. We enjoyed those infrequent visits, although the hot Lone Star summers often kept us inside playing with Matchbox toys and changing diapers.

Now they live in the heart of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, and so do we. They are the primary reasons we moved here from the beloved Buckeye State more than two years ago. Living five miles apart is much more convenient than five hours by airplane.

Watching the grandkids change so quickly is both gratifying and a bit scary. We relish each moment, even the predictable squabbles of youth and siblings. I’m thankful that the role of grandparent is less harried than that of the parent.

Evan, Davis, and Maren all have their various likes and dislikes, gifts and abilities. It is both a joy and a challenge to keep up with their busy, young lives.

We bundle up and watch Even pitch even if it’s 40 degrees with a stiff northwest wind. I marvel at Davis’ preference for quiet, personal time, whether on a solo bike ride or being in his room. I shake my head in disbelief at Maren’s packed after-school schedule. How she manages soccer and choir practices, and piano lessons that sometimes follow one another is a mystery to me.

The grandchildren are growing. Nana and I relish the rapid changes that seem to occur daily. We anticipate with wonder all that is yet to come, thankful we’re here to help and take it all in.

Kids being kids.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

How to stay warm in the winter

winter weather, Ohio's Amish country
In winter’s grasp.

The polar vortex has had its way with most of us in the U.S. again this winter. Once it sank south and east out of the Canadian Arctic area, record cold temperatures and wind chills were set all across the northern states and some far into the south.

My wife and I watched the TV news in sympathy with those freezing in the frigidness of blinding blizzards and well below zero wind chills. We even had freeze warnings in northeast Florida, where we have spent parts of the last few winters.

Thanks to the Arctic air, it was cold there, too, in relative terms of course. Amelia Island is as far north in the Sunshine State as you can get. So when massive cold fronts spawned by the polar vortex invade the eastern U.S., we often feel the effects, too.

Fernandina Beach FL, Amelia Island FL
Pretty but cold.
With an ocean breeze and air temperatures in the 30s, the beach is no place to be either. Neither is the middle of a blizzard. We watched with dismay as TV reports showed the severity of weather conditions from several different stricken areas. Unfortunately, several people died from exposure to the dangerous cold.

I always liked the winter, and mainly snow. But the blizzards of 1977 and 1978 taught me that winter’s punishing harshness better be respected. Staying warm is always paramount.

That’s a primary reason for becoming a snowbird. I’ve said it before. The older I get, the colder I get. Other senior citizens that we met in Florida concurred. It is a natural consequence of the aging process.

Living in the heart of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley isn’t quite far enough south to avoid winter’s icy blasts. So we continued our snowbird trips after moving from northeast Ohio.

We enjoyed a month’s stay at a rented condo on Amelia Island and then headed to the far south of Florida. We visited the Florida Keys for the first time for a few days and soaked up perfectly warm weather.

With high temperatures in the 70s and 80s, it didn’t take us long to sport a tan. We spent the handful of days we had on the go. We greeted the morning sun and filled each day with as much adventure as possible until well after dark.

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However, we seldom checked off all the items on our wish list of places to visit. Spontaneity overruled preparation. We took advantage of surprises and vistas we came upon, stopped to enjoy and do some birding, and moved on to the next spot.

We especially enjoyed visiting Biscayne National Park and Everglades National Park. Together they protect much of the delicate habitats of southern Florida, preserving a vast variety of wildlife, flora, fauna, and people, too.

I never thought I would ever venture out onto the open ocean waters in a pontoon boat. But we did in both beautiful parks. The combination of generous sunshine and the joy of adding new birds to my life list warmed me through and through.

However, it wasn’t until we returned home that I encountered genuine radiant warmth. The weather had nothing to do with that.

At Sunday dinner, we caught up on our oldest grandson’s basketball season. The middle grandchild chatted on about the books he read and his upcoming band concert, while the youngest seemed contented to merely enjoy her lunch. Our daughter and her husband filled in the happenings in their busy lives, too.

The Florida experiences warmed us physically. That warmth, however, paled in comparison to that of reconnecting with our family.

Everglades NP, sunset, photography
Sunset over Eco Pond, Everglades National Park, FL.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

A Christmas Poem: Do Not Fear

Park View Mennonite Church, Harrisonburg VA.

“We live in fearsome times.” My father told me that when we uselessly practiced nuclear bomb drills by hiding under our school desks, when with trepidation I sat cross-legged on the floor in front of our black and white when JFK called the Russians’ bluff on Cuba, then when Dallas happened, and assassins shot Martin and Bobby, and cities burned, and a president resigned, and revolts occurred, and we always seemed to side with the bad guy, when we chided dictators for gassing people only to bomb the survivors in their mourning.

“We live in fearsome times.” My grandfather told me that when he silently remembered his own gassing in the war to end all wars and died at the age that I am now coughing and coughing and coughing because there were no records that he was poisoned 100 years ago on the western front.

“We live in fearsome times,” I tell my grandchildren in failed efforts to shield them from the constant volleys of lies and accusations and nonsense spewing forth into their innocent world by powerful people who lost their decency, compassion, and empathy long, long ago.

“Have no fear,” I reassure them to ears deafened by headsets and screen time. Still, I think they get it all, the nonsense, the truth-telling, and the untruth-telling. That is my hope in this season of hope. On this darkest day of the year, the winter solstice, there is enough oil now to keep the candles burning. But we have to keep pressing on like those Hanukkah days of old. We must pour new wine into new wineskins, not old. We don’t want to waste the wine by bursting.

We live in fearsome times. We must be patient in the season of waiting. We must choose clarity over certainty, though certainty it is that we too often choose, only to be disappointed, and blame circumstances and others for our wrong choices. Those in the Old and those in the New reported the same. Therefore, in this season of light, hope, peace, patience is the rule as “we live by faith, not by sight.”

Love Advent banner, Park View Mennonite Church, Harrisonburg VAWe live in fearsome times. This is the season of anticipation, joy, love, forgiveness, wonder, when blended, a recipe not to fear. We look for the brightest star to lead us forth, but stars are in heaven, not on earth. Behold the heavenly host is near. Do not fear.

We live in fearsome times. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, not on our terms, but Yours and Yours alone. Our fragility and our insecurity overcome our logic, excite our emotions precisely opposite of what the good tidings proclaim, why the angels yet rejoice. They know the true Ruler is the Lamb, not the lion.

We live in fearsome times. Humans always have, always will simply because we are human, unable or unwilling to listen, to hear, to comprehend the goodness, the freedom, the surety bestowed on us to bestow on others, especially during these dark days.

We live in fearsome times. What will we do? How can we go on? Awareness is enough.

“In the beginning was the word… The serpent was more crafty than any other… Everyone who thirsts… Sing aloud, O daughter Zion… Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah… In the sixth month… In those days a decree went out… In that region there were shepherds… And the Word became flesh… Fear not…” Hallelujah.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

I don’t know how she does it

By Bruce Stambaugh

August is rapidly coming to a close. For our family, that means that Neva is in her comfort zone doing what she does best.

Neva loves to help others. It’s in her DNA. In the fall, our daughter’s busy family becomes the center of our attention. In part, that is why we moved to the Shenandoah Valley.

Carrie is the women’s volleyball coach at Eastern Mennonite University. Her personal and professional schedules are head-spinners. Practices and meeting with players consume Carrie’s time. Once the regular season starts soon, it gets to be grueling.

canning
Neva spends much of her time in the kitchen preparing meals, frozen sweet corn, and applesauce for others.
Of course, our daughter has a family to care for as well. That’s difficult to do, even with a helpful and talented husband. That’s where we come in, especially my wife.

Before our move from Ohio’s Amish country to the Commonwealth of Virginia, Harrisonburg became our temporary home in the fall. Neva lived there August into November. I shuttled back and forth during those months as work duties called.

Now that we are retired and live just five miles away, we can quickly assist our daughter and her family. When it comes to Neva, “assist” is an understatement.

My energetic wife puts all she has into helping our daughter’s home run as smoothly as possible. It’s a must do situation with three active grandchildren and both of their parents working full-time.

creativity,
Neva added a repurposed screen door to a flowerbed.
With Neva taking the lead, my wife and I gladly step in to do what we can. Me? I do whatever I’m asked or told to do. If you are a betting person, wager on the latter.

Of course, the grandkids and our son-in-law all do their part. We fill in the gaps when work and school schedules preclude household chores being completed.

When it comes to domestic skills, I can’t hold a candle to Neva though. She plans and prepares family meals. I set the table and clean up. Occasionally, Neva prepares food for the entire volleyball team. I’m the gopher. I go for this and go for that.

While Neva is cooking or cleaning or shopping, I might be running the oldest grandchild to the gym for workouts or picking up the middle grandkid from after-school activities or accompanying the youngest to her soccer practice.

See what I mean? All that coming and going keeps us active, energized, and helps us sleep well at night.

In addition to all of this activity, our son has taken a new job in a different state seven hours away from us. With Neva leading the way, we helped him ready for this significant transition in his life, too. We were glad to do what we could.

Why does Neva do all of this? It’s all she knows how to do. It’s how she loves. Her compassion manifests into tasty, nutritious meals, quality time spent sharing her gifts and wisdom with the grandkids, and a sense of security for our son, daughter, and son-in-law.

enjoying an evening
Every now and then, Neva takes a break.
I marvel at Neva’s determination, fortitude, skills, and drive to aid others. It’s definitely that time of year again, and we all reap the benefits of Neva’s generous gift of hospitality.

Our fall schedules are hectic to be sure. Neva and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

To paraphrase the late Arthur Ashe, we do what we can with what we have right where we are. At our age, at any age really, that’s all that can be expected. In Neva’s case, she exceeds any and all expectations.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

Remembering the goodness of my mother

mother and children
This photo of my our mother and my siblings and me was taken at Christmas 2011.

By Bruce Stambaugh

My four siblings and I were spoiled. We were very fortunate to have a loving, devoted mother. Unfortunately, not everyone can say that.

Growing up, Mom cared for us in every way imaginable. She fed us, clothed us, nurtured us, played with us, corrected us, loved us, and so much more. Those were the roles and expectations of a post-World War II wife and mother.

In those days, careers for females were pretty much limited to secretary, nurse, or teacher. Mothers were expected to be at home to care for their children. It’s just the way it was.

Marion Stambaugh
Marian Stambaugh.
My brothers and sisters and I were the beneficiaries of Mom’s time, effort, skills, and wisdom. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

Life couldn’t have been easy for her. We weren’t wealthy by anyone’s standards, but we weren’t poor either. We grew up in the suburbs of a blue-collar town in northeast Ohio’s mid-20th-century industrialization.

Mom reassured us when we were scared, nursed us when we were sick, and encouraged us in our schoolwork. How she did all that and kept her sanity, I have no idea. We were five active kids, all with different needs, wants, and interests.

Somehow Mom made time for each one of us, though I remember plenty of times when we wore her patience thin. “Wait until your father gets home” was a familiar tune in our household. Usually, that comment was directed at one of my siblings, not me.

Children of every age filled our close-knit neighborhood. Many times the number of youngsters in our household doubled in number as friends came and went. If we got too loud or rowdy, however, Mom lowered the boom. She not only modeled justice, but she also instilled it in us.

Most likely I am romanticizing those fond memories. Not everything always went smoothly of course. We had personal, relational problems just like every other family.

As much as we admired our father, he wasn’t the most helpful or responsible husband when it came to household chores or repairs. Later in her life, I told my mother that she had raised six children, not five. With no explanation needed, her hardy laugh affirmed my comment.

Mom was a string bean of a woman. She cooked us nourishing meals but seldom ate much herself.

Mom and Dad on their wedding day, August 1942.
Mom could speak her mind, however. She let Dad have it in no uncertain terms when he arrived home from a fishing trip without my older brother, a cousin, and me. Having been left in a raging thunderstorm frightened us. Dad had to weather a storm of his own with Mom.

Mom was a multi-talented person. Besides her homemaking skills, she was an accomplished artist, loved to play cards, bowl, and shop for antiques. In their retirement years, she and Dad relaxed at the cottage they had built on a fishing lake in southeast Ohio.

Not only was our mother talented, but she was also a looker. Some folks actually wondered what Mom saw in Dad. Their 68 years of marriage answered that question.

I don’t mean to paint her as a saint. Mom wouldn’t want that, and she would be the first to say that she made mistakes in her motherhood. I just remember feeling really safe around her. That was no small matter.

In my youthful naiveté, I thought everyone had a mother like the late Marian Stambaugh. My lifetime experiences unfortunately proved otherwise. I wished for their sake that they had. Now, I am forever grateful for my loving mother.

One of Mom’s many watercolors.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

Enjoying traveling in silence

St. Augustine FL
St. Augustine, FL is a favorite destination for us.

By Bruce Stambaugh

My wife and I like to travel. We’re not world travelers by any stretch of the imagination. Mostly we embark on both long and short ventures to visit friends, explore new places, and revisit old haunts.

Given today’s complexity and expense of flying, road trips are our favorite. That means Neva and I spend lots of time together in our vehicle.

Our peers, other retired couples, do the same of course. Most report that they use the road time to chat with one another, plan future activities, and discuss ongoing world events. Not us.

When we travel by motor vehicle, Neva and I have a solemn, implicit pact. We seldom talk. It’s been that way almost from day one of our marriage. I suppose it’s just a habit that we quickly fell into. But we have made it work for us.

From my experience, most folks seem uncomfortable with silence. Neva and I take it in stride, each using the quiet time in different ways. Neva reads, stitches, does word puzzles, or plays games on her iPad. Me? As I drive, I observe, think, and plan. I know that sounds a bit boring, but I find the quiet time refreshing.

We can be spontaneous, though. We don’t necessarily travel from point A to point B. We like to stop if we see something that catches our eye. That’s especially true for me. I’ve even been known to turn around just to photograph a lovely landscape scene or an attractive old building or an eagle snacking in an open field.

WV farm, cornshed
This farmstead in West Virginia is typical of the scenes I stop to photograph.

When we can, we drive the old surface routes, avoiding expressways and interstate highways, especially if we don’t have to be somewhere at a given time. Doing so makes life so much more interesting for us.

We also traveled with our son and daughter when they were young. That was before cell phones, iPads, iPods, and in-vehicle entertainment centers. We would have the typical family verbal interactions. But on long trips, Neva always had individual activities for the kids to fill the road time.

Those trips weren’t as peaceful as the ones we take now by ourselves. No one would have expected them to be, but our son and daughter weren’t rowdy either.

As we’re driving, every now and then I’ll think of something I meant to ask Neva but forgot. I seem to do that more and more these days. So I’ll ask on the go. She does the same with me. That question may lead to further discussion and a resolution to a dangling participle in our lives. Without long stretches of silence, that unresolved issue might not have even been discussed.

I also find sustained silence helpful in flushing out touchy topics I have avoided for fear of disagreement. After all these years together, we know that it’s better to lay all the cards on the table than secretly hold them to fester. Perhaps a moving vehicle keeps conversations progressing, too.

The happy couple
In my younger years, I was a bit uncomfortable with silence when others were around. I tended to fill the space with words like I loved to hear myself talk. I didn’t. Experience has taught me that listening can be more valuable than speaking.

For Neva and me, sustained silence has strengthened our relationship. It’s a nonverbal equalizer where neither dominates, and we both can participate as we choose. In our specific case, it’s been an essential part of our wedding covenant for 47 years and counting.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018