Giving praise where praise is due

Marigolds by Bruce Stambaugh
Marigolds highlight an Amish homestead.

By Bruce Stambaugh

It had been a difficult day.

As the silvery sunset melted into the horizon, I reflected on the last few days and the people and events that had occurred. In reviewing the various situations, it hit me that like it or not I was entering the October of my own life, and that got my attention.

Days earlier I had met my friend Steve in a Mexican restaurant in the city where I was born and raised. Steve is a long-time buddy connected to my school principal days. Steve and I have a lot in common. First and foremost is that we both like to talk, at least according to our spouses.

If for no other reason than that alone, Steve and I have agreed to meet periodically without the wives. We get more talking done that way.

Steve is the kind of friend every guy should have. He doesn’t let you get away with anything. He is a self-appointed critic of my writing, and is unabashed about finding any mistakes that somehow make it through to publication. Well, at least he thinks they are mistakes, but he usually is mistaken.

Bright Angel Canyon by Bruce Stambaugh
Bright Angel Canyon at the Grand Canyon, AZ is a favorite spot for hikers, painters and photographers alike.

That’s the kind of friends we are. He has the same theology about technology that I do. He loves to frequent the western United States and does so annually, months at a time, mostly hunting for arrowheads. Archeology and travel are other mutual interests.

At bat by Bruce Stambaugh
Baseball is my favorite sport.

Another thing we have in common is baseball. He hates it. I love it. Also, we enjoy discussing politics, until the conversation gets too political, then we switch to a more congenial topic, like baseball.

We talk about our late fathers and how our mothers are doing. And of course, we extol our wives, and try not to roll our eyes too much. Did I mention we laugh a lot?

A few days later, I took my mother on a short drive around the colorful countryside near the retirement home where she lives in Walnut Creek, Ohio. Mom always enjoys getting out when one of us “kids” can take her.

Mud Valley by Bruce Stambaugh
A typical scene in Ohio's Amish country, this one near Walnut Creek, Ohio.

This day was exceptional. The sky was pure blue, allowing the sun to heighten the already vivid colors. Since Mom was an avid and prolific watercolor painter, I always hope these short rides spark a memory of those days gone by when she and her friends would find a spot to paint, set up their easels and spend the day communing with nature and one another, beautifully interpreting what they saw.

Besides the warm hues of the leaves, a stunning red-tailed hawk flew right across our path. Around the curve, Mom spied some flashy marigolds. All in all, it was an invigorating jaunt. Seeing that Mom enjoyed the little excursion, I chose to tell her a comment that Steve had shared with me at the Mexican restaurant.

Marian Stambaugh by Bruce Stambaugh
Marian Stambaugh, 89, taught me to see and share in creative ways.

Knowing my mother was an accomplished landscape artist, Steve said, “You have your mother’s eye.” I non-verbally asked for clarification. “Instead of a brush, you paint with words and through the lens of your camera.” I don’t know if Steve noticed or not, but tears welled in my eyes. I was honored with the keen compliment. When I shared the kind words with Mom, tears welled up in her eyes, too. Despite her advanced dementia, knowing that Mom had understood at least a little of the depth and breadth of Steve’s insight made the compliment all the more meaningful.

The circle of blessing was now complete. It had returned to its rightful owner, the creative and artful woman who had taught me to see and share Creation’s beauty.

Suddenly, this difficult October day didn’t seem so difficult after all.

Signs of fall are everywhere

Fall in West Virginia by Bruce Stambaugh
Fall had arrived along US 33 in the mountains of West Virginia.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Even before we left to visit our daughter’s family in Virginia’s lovely Shenandoah Valley, signs of fall were abundant.

Fall in Ohio's Amish country by Bruce Stambaugh
A lone horse sought shade beneath a changing sugar maple tree near Benton in Ohio's Amish country

A casual drive around the Holmes County countryside provided enough evidence to
convince even an inattentive jury. Autumn had no choice but to plead guilty as charged.

Fall’s natural arrival was indisputable. Leaves had begun their annual transformation from green to some color of the rainbow. Others, due to the late summer dryness, simply fell off the trees altogether.

The regular purr of leaf blowers had replaced the regular whine of lawnmowers, further proof that summer had succumbed to fall. Occasional columns of white smoke signaled smoldering leaf piles.

Fall weather arrived just before we left for our Virginia visit. A strong cold front pushed the warm, muggy air out, and replaced it with cloudy, rainy, cooler days and nights. The annual fall fogs had already begun making morning commutes temporarily treacherous.

Dogwood tree in the fall by Bruce Stambaugh
The subtle greens and purples of the dogwood leaves highlighted the tree's bright red berries.

In my own yard, silky green to purplish dogwood leaves accentuated the trees’ bold, bright red berries. The backyard birds weren’t too pleased with me for disturbing their feasting.

My neighbor was just beginning an early harvest of his field corn, and we had yet to have a frost. Elsewhere, other farmers still resorted to the old-fashioned and nostalgic way of picking corn. They filled their fields with row upon row of shocks, mimicking an encampment of teepees.

Picking corn in Amish country by Bruce Stambaugh
Horse-drawn corn pickers began an early harvest of the field corn.

A month ago already football had replaced baseball as the primary pastime, whether viewed from the bleachers or the couch. Back outside, squirrels scurried across the road. Some of them didn’t make it, casualty to road kill or a hunter’s sharp aim.

Long before the leaves began to change colors, autumn was being ushered in with human flare. Front porches once home to pots of impatiens, petunias and begonias were now decorated with all sizes of orange pumpkins, gold, white and crimson chrysanthemums and multi-colored and curiously shaped gourds.

Fall display of pumpkins by Bruce Stambaugh
A typical fall display found in Ohio's Amish country.

For those desiring more man-made symbols, giant ghouls and inflated spiders hanging on webs big enough to catch a bus popped up almost overnight. The business industry had also begun their annual capitalization of fall with seasonal displays and multi-media commercials.

Inventory at roadside produce stands had changed accordingly. Bound bundles of cornstalks and the aforementioned flowers and squash replaced zucchini and tomatoes.

One place banked on a narrow market share. The good folks only offered the scarce bittersweet. By the number of cars in their tiny lot, they seemed to have found their niche.

Fall festivals, often historically annual events, began to celebrate nearly every conceivable aspect of autumn. A town picked a theme, say pumpkins, apple butter, antiques, wooly worms, quilting, or just good old-fashioned fun, and the festival was on.

These endeavors were not unique to Amish country either. Large banners across the main drags of many a town on our drive from Ohio to Virginia announced their particular local event.

Fall even showed its face on menus with fresh pumpkin pie, locally grown apples sliced and dipped in yummy caramel, and of course the seasonal snack mix of candy corn and salted peanuts.

Fall sunset with geese by Bruce Stambaugh
A flock of Canada Geese cut across a fall sunset in Ohio's Amish country.

Given all these obvious signs of fall, there can be no doubt. From gardens to town squares, fall is in full force everywhere we look.

Taking time to really see

Marblehead Lighthouse by Bruce Stambaugh
Clouds sail by the historic Marblehead Lighthouse at Marblehead, Ohio.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The day after my favorite resort town, Lakeside, Ohio, ended its gated season, which was Labor Day, I began to see the place in a different light.

Like Cinderella’s carriage, the town had transformed into its natural state overnight. Streets that had bustled for weeks with pedestrians, bicycles, golf carts and motorized vehicles suddenly became quiet. Lakeside’s population had dropped faster than the stock market.

Cottages that had housed happy families all summer were now boarded up for the winter. Businesses once crowded with customers were also shuttered for the season.

Lakeside signs by Bruce Stambaugh
Maintenance workers gathered up traffic signs used during the gated season.

Maintenance crews made their rounds undoing what they had worked so hard to ready three short months ago. They picked up the traffic and parking signs needed to control the passage on the narrow streets with limited parking.

The workers seemed to be in no hurry whatsoever. Perhaps sensing the newfound quietness themselves, they soberly went about their business, the crackling of their portable radios occasionally breaking the hushed spell.

Their pace could have been from the day’s extraordinary heat as much as it was lack of ambition. The land wind wasn’t much help, blocked by the combination of the southerly rise of the peninsula itself, the town’s closely packed cottages and buildings and the giant hardwoods that overshadowed everything.

Fishing at Lakeside Ohio by Bruce Stambaugh
Fishing off the dock at Lakeside, Ohio is a popular pastime.

The only relief, if there was any to be had, could be on the dock, which protrudes a football field length into Lake Erie. Normally crowded with sun worshippers, fishermen, and people just wanting to soak in the scene, I nearly had the cement pier to myself.

The afternoon sun blazed away, and the wind was fierce, but cooler than in town thanks to the lake. I faced my folding chair east away from the wind. I was glad I had.

Freighter at Marblehead, Ohio by Bruce Stambaugh
A freighter took on stone at Marblehead, Ohio.

I had taken both camera and binoculars to while away the time. I enjoyed just scanning the broad horizon that stretched from the islands to Marblehead, where a huge freighter was moored at the stone quarry.

The strong westerly wind whipped the waves furiously. Anchored fishing boats bobbed like fishing line bobbers.

Ring-billed seagulls found security from the wind in the lee of the dock. One played King on the Hill. It had landed on a slightly submerged rock, and lorded it over all the other gulls that floated in the choppy water.

Osprey over Lakeside, Ohio by Bruce Stambaugh
An Osprey sailed over the dock at Lakeside, Ohio.

High above, another bird caught my eye. An osprey sailed with the wind, searching the shallow waters near the shore for unsuspecting fish. Its mate soon joined the hunt. They circled and hovered but always wind-driven east were soon out of view even with binoculars.

I put the glasses down and quickly noticed smaller, streamlined birds dive-bombing the water. They zigged-zagged and glided, then rose up and hurled themselves into the lake like rocks, but only for a few seconds. The small flock of migrating Common and Forster’s Terns put on quite a show in filling up for the long journey south.

Suddenly the stack of the freighter let loose sooty puffs of diesel smoke. It had taken on its load and was ready to sail. Even though I was upwind and a mile away, I could hear the huge, powerful props churn the water as the massive boat slipped away.

Common Tern at Lakeside, Ohio by Bruce Stambaugh
A Forster's Tern readied to plunge into the lake at Lakeside, Ohio.

In less than 20 minutes, it had turned northeast for deeper water, destination unknown to me. I, however, knew mine. I returned to our hospitality house for dinner, glad I had taken the time to observe Lakeside in a slower, even more peaceful mode than usual.

From every angle, August is golden

Golden sunset by Bruce Stambaugh
Hazy sunsets in Amish country are the norm in August.

By Bruce Stambaugh

These are what I call August’s golden days. If I only referenced orangey sunrises and the hazy, citrus sunsets, that moniker would apply.

August is so much more than lovely solar appearances and disappearances. It is always full of golden moments that make golden memories.

I realize my reflections are provincial. In a world full of disease, disaster, dismay and hostilities, not all would share my august perspectives. However, I cannot deny what I have observed and experienced in this transitional month in Amish country.

In calling August golden, I mean to take the broadest definition possible. Everywhere you turn, deep, rich yellows and golds appear. August is golden, too, in that it is good, providing success and satisfaction as the harvesting begins.

Mowing oats by Bruce Stambaugh
Mowing and stacking the oats into shocks is the first step in the harvesting process for the Amish.

August is usually a hot month in most of the northern hemisphere. Even the poor people in Moscow, Russia, where temperatures have seemed more like Dallas, Texas, have been especially suffering.

True to form, hot and humid have been the bywords in Ohio, too. Those who have had to work out in these blazing elements would argue for sizzling and sultry as better descriptors. But no matter how we describe the daily dog days of August, the benefits surely outweigh the negatives, no matter how muggy.

Coming and going by Bruce Stamabugh
One wagon heads to the barn while the other returns to the field to be loaded again.

My Amish neighbor’s circle of friends purposefully gathers the air-dried, ripened oat shocks wagonload after wagonload. Their water thermos got a workout, too. With their cooperative efforts, the impressive stand of honey-colored sheaves had disappeared by day’s end.

I always find it a miracle that once the sea of grain is cut and shocked, a carpet of bright green immediately replaces it. The hardy clover thrives all the more once it has the ground to itself.

There are other kinds of gold in August, too. The Incredible sweet corn arrives almost simultaneously with the transparent apples. It’s husking, cutting, cooking and freezing corn one day, making tartly sweet applesauce the next.

Ripe tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh
Heirloom tomatoes ripen on the vine.

The growth of the heirloom tomato plants my wife and son planted in late May is so
prolific, the plant runners get tied daily. Their yellow, red and green-striped fruit add to the festivities.

House wren by Bruce Stambaugh
A house wren leaves the nest after feeding her brood.

The noisy tan house wrens worked frantically to satisfy their last brood of the summer. Their hungry youngsters consumed an amazing amount of worms, caterpillars and insects.

When the little ones began to greet their parents at the entrance to their birthplace, it’s nearly time for them to fly. In our case, the babies were there before church, but not when we got home. The grandsons and I found them learning to forage and hide in the brush pile under the pines near the hammock where other golden moments were made.

Monarch and swallowtail butterflies joined the goodness of the month as they enjoyed the nectar of the milkweed and wild and domestic flowers. Both the black and yellow-billed cuckoo birds announced their arrivals as the tent caterpillars hatched.

The much publicized but often under performing Perseid meteor showers still managed to send enough bright streaks though the new moon sky to extend the month’s goldenness 24/7.

Next week the full moon will strut its stuff, casting a golden glow across landscapes, rural and urban alike. Ready or not, summer vacation has yielded to elongated yellow buses and excited, golden voices of children beginning a new school year.

All things considered, August is a positively golden time of year.

Hammock fun by Bruce Stambaugh
Playing on a hammock in the cool shade serves as a diversion from the August heat and humidity.