Tag Archives: nature

Appreciating the daily gifts we are given

birdersatsunrisebybrucestambaugh

A beautiful sunrise greeted these birders in search of a Snowy Owl.

By Bruce Stambaugh

For much too long already we’ve been enduring an avalanche of cutesy commercials and gimmicky advertisements foisting an assortment of products from A to Z on us. Each one is pitched as the perfect Christmas gift to give.

snowyowlbybrucestambaugh

Snowy Owl.

Catalogues, newspapers, magazines, radio, television, the Internet, even emails push various products for us to purchase for our loved ones. I do my best to ignore them. It’s a bold statement from someone who spent part of his career in marketing.

I understand why all the product promotions are done. Retailers often need productive holiday sales to ensure a profit for the year. I certainly don’t begrudge them for trying.

At my stage in life, I find greater joy in a brilliant but brief sunrise than a glitzy ad. Sometimes on the coldest rural Ohio mornings, the pinks and blues that quickly morph into warm oranges, reds and yellows stir me more than any new car wrapped in a big red bow could.

Joy comes in many packages if we just take the time to notice them, even on the grayest of days. Amid this entire holiday hullabaloo, I have to remind myself to stop and take a deep breath.

Advent is the perfect time to slow down our lives, not speed them up, rushing around trying to find just the proper gift. It might already be right in front of us.

I speak from experience.

When our daughter, now a mother with young children of her own, was two-years old, she would stand on the kitchen counter at our home in Killbuck, Ohio. Together we would watch the birds devour the birdseed we had put out for them. Young as she was, Carrie could correctly identify each species.

Teetering on the rim of the Grand Canyon is an awesome feeling. Sharing that incredible vista with a person who is viewing it for the first time is even better. When it’s your son, seeing his smile is priceless.

When my wife and I braved a frigid winter’s night with a dear couple to search the dark sky for a rare comet, I was cold but hopeful. We rejoiced when we found it, quietly celebrating the event together. No words were needed.

When you go in search of a Snowy Owl, a rare avian visitor to our area, your hopes are high. Even when the bird can’t be located, the camaraderie of other birders on the same search makes up for the whiff. There are no wild goose chases in birding.

When you receive a hand-made card that includes drawings of a cardinal, an eagle and a blue jay, all appropriately colored by your grandchild, you know you are loved. You keep and display that precious gift where you can see it daily.

lookingupbybrucestambaugh

The gifts of life are all around us. We just have to look for them.

When a long-lost relative unexpectedly contacts you, you rejoice and reconnect with someone you may have only ever met once or maybe never. Surprise gifts rule.

When you stand in line for an hour or more to offer your condolences to the family of someone you have never met, you are blessed by the grace and appreciation shown to you by the mourners. Even in grief, great gifts are exchanged.

Advent is a time for reflection, renewing, remembering. It is a holy gift, freely given, gladly embraced.

The din of commercials not withstanding, Christmastime models what it means to give and to receive. I wonder what gifts will unwrap themselves for you and me today.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

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Filed under Amish, birding, Christmas, column, family, news, Ohio, photography, weather, writing

All quiet on the home front

quietsunrisebybrucestambaugh

A spectacular sunrise on the “quiet” morning.

By Bruce Stambaugh

We live in a frazzled world, full of hustle and bustle and lots of noise. Even in the country, the noise of a busy world drowns out the normal peace and quiet.

Of course there are people that seem to prefer noise. They’re the ones that can’t stand a natural lull in a conversation, or dead silence in a room full of people, so they feel obliged to fill the air with idle chitchat. They’re happy as long as someone is talking, even if it’s them.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been a bit long winded at times myself. But having lived in rural America all these years, I’ll take peace and quiet every time.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I enjoy music, though I’m no musician. I enjoy cheering for my favorite sports teams. I enjoy lively table talk, especially around a meal.

But age has a way of shushing you, quietly encouraging you to embrace the silence. I’ve learned to feel comfortable in absolute quietness, whether I’m home alone or with a congregation of contemplators.

quietbarnbybrucestambaugh

The normally bustling barn was even quiet.

Silence is good. I was reminded of that recently. Since it was a Sunday morning, the traffic on our busy county highway was minimal. In fact, only one car and one horse and buggy passed me on my regular two-mile stroll.

Normally I dodge construction trucks, straight bed trucks, semis, cars, bicycles, and several horse and buggies. This day was astonishingly different.

Less traffic meant less noise. And less noise meant the few sounds that I did hear really, really stood out. I heard a motorcycle accelerating far off in the distance, and a horse clopping on the county road a half-mile from where I was walking.

It was at that point that I stopped and realized the full breadth and depth of the stillness around me. The compressor from the neighbor’s barn wasn’t running. No cows were mooing. Not even a bird so much as chirped.

For a minute I thought the rapture had come, and I figured I had indeed been left behind. I smiled at the idea, and continued my lonely, but not lonesome walk.

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A quiet stream.

Walking affords me more than physical exercise. It clears my mind, fills my body with bountiful goodness, and sharpens my senses. Even my age-diminished hearing seemed more keen. I could hear crickets and the last of the season’s katydids singing in the tree-lined stream that meandered through the crops and pasturelands.

On the return trip home, I fully embraced the quietness. I felt richer, fuller, and more alive, all because of hearing nothing at all. I was reminded of the importance of listening, of paying attention, of appreciating the good earth of which we have been assigned to nurture.

Our world is filled with too much noise. Televisions and radios blast away with the talking heads, stirring up people when life’s recipe says to let the sauce simmer.

Even from my countryside home, I see too many people with cell phones pressed to their ears while driving their cars, or cords from ear buds leading to a denim pocket of a passing biker.

That Sunday morning walk instilled in me just how important a little quietness is in our clamorous world. That silent experience said stillness is more than golden. It is a priceless pearl to the soul.

I’m glad I’ve come to appreciate the quality and value of silence. Please kindly remind me of that next time I start to ramble.

quietschoolbybrucestambaugh

The Amish schoolhouse stood quiet in the morning light.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

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Loving fall: Let me count the ways

fallinamishcountrybybrucestambaugh

A typical fall scene in Ohio’s Amish country.


By Bruce Stambaugh

Plain and simple, autumn has her way with me. I’m in love with fall for so many reasons. Let me count the ways.

The dazzling leaves mesmerize me. I could sit and ponder the various color patterns and striations of a single leaf for hours on end, but only if my wife isn’t home.

I am captivated by how rapidly the leaves on some trees alter their colors, while the same species nearby stands pat as if it were still July. Still others give up the ghost altogether, and simply shed all of their leaves within hours. It’s both a marvel and a mystery.

mixedresultsbybrucestambaugh

Leaves at various stages of color in Ohio’s Amish country.

Neighbors have a lovely sugar maple shade tree that holds a majority of its leaves verdant well into October. The rest blush blotches of fire engine red as if the tree’s perfect canopy had chicken pox. In the end, all the leaves succumb, temporarily covering the ground below with a warm blanket of red, yellow and orange.

The usually boisterous and bossy Blue Jays fly stealthily in pairs from one hardwood grove to the next. Back and forth they go in pairs, uncommonly silent. Are they storing acorns for the winter ahead? They wouldn’t say.

Not so with a gang of American Robins, long absent from our yard. They suddenly reappeared, chirping and chasing one another from treetop to yard to creek bank like it was spring again. I enjoyed their little entreaty even though, like the Blue Jays, I had no idea what they were up to.

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Black-capped Chickadee with sunflower heart.

I’m content to sit on the porch during fall’s balmy weather, watch the American Goldfinches, Black-capped Chickadees and White-breasted Nuthatches devour the expensive sunflower hearts. So doing enhances my daydreamer image.

With windows open on temperate nights, the crickets and the luscious coolness lull me to sleep until my wife pokes me to stop the snoring, or the Screech Owl startles me from the backyard pines. I note both admonitions, roll onto my side and dream on.

The grass is spring green one week and dull and prickly the next. Blessed fall rains ensure the difference.

Fox squirrels and chipmunks scurry to find whatever they can to hoard for the coming cold. I wish they had better memories. Next May dozens of red oak and black walnut saplings will verify the varmints’ mental lapses.

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Canada Geese on the wing.

Flocks of Canada Geese sail in imbalanced V’s over burnished treetops, cackling their way from one farm pond to the other. Lore says that near-sighted and neurotic Puritans imagined them as witches flying on broom handles. It’s ironic that the religious runaway paranoia inadvertently created a very successful commercial Halloween tradition.

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Heavy morn dew reveals overnight cobwebs.

Foggy mornings bring cool moisture that transforms secreted spider’s webs into glistening gems. The stunning natural artistry leaves me speechless, which may be for the best.

A sudden gust blows through the fragile leaves of a poplar tree, cascading a golden shower onto an emerald carpet that had only been raked hours before. Eventually, heavy rains or perhaps an early snow will bring them all down, ringing in the barren times once again. It’s a necessary part of life’s endless cycle.

Fields of corn, once huge waves of tasseled emerald, now show more brittle brown. Corn shocks already dot fields farmed by those who distain machinery.

Hungry birds have devoured all of the bright red berries of the dogwood trees. In protest, the dogwoods’ crimson leaves have one by one fluttered to the ground.

I’m in love with fall. Can you tell?

fieldcornbybrucestambaugh

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

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Autumn is upon us in more ways than one

foggymorningbybrucestambaugh

Foggy morning.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Fall is definitely in the air here in northern Ohio. The telling signs of autumn are everywhere.

A drive through our luscious countryside or a leisurely hike or ride along the Holmes County Trail or just a peek out a window all sing the same song. Fall has arrived.

The leaves have begun to change. Dense morning fog magically gives way to bright, sunny days, only to reappear the next morning to begin the misty process anew. The days cool, warm and cool again in alluring rhythm.

I marvel at nature’s humor.

I bask in the warmth of the morning sun high on a rural road. To the west, residents have to feel socked in. A thick, cottony cloud stretches the full length of the Killbuck Valley. The morning’s colder, heavier air spreads the wet blanket over the precious marsh teeming with its mix of migrants and year-round residents.

foginthevalleybrucestambaugh

Fog in the valley.

Fields of golden rod and patches of wild daisies bring a warming brilliance to the once verdant landscapes. The lessening sunlight and cooler temperatures tell the foliage it’s time to morph into the secreted richer colors. Once emerald stalks fade fast from a sickly yellow to a dormant brown even before the first frost of the season.

Wildlife sense nature’s urgings, too. Small flocks of Eastern Bluebirds, still flashing their azure brilliance, congregate, searching for both sustenance and winter cover. A few Cedar Waxwings still buzz from the tops of their favorite playgrounds, while the chatty Chimney Swifts have already checked out for the season.

changingleavesbybrucestambaugh

Changing leaves.

Despite having access to calendars and electronic device reminders, humankind seems to be in denial. Men and women clad themselves in t-shirts and shorts as if it were still July. Are they naïve or hopeful that fall will imitate summer? I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

No matter my activity, I dress in layers or carry extra apparel with me. I suspect it’s more me than the weather. I’ve noticed that the older I get the colder the days seem, even though the temperatures remain near their seasonal norms.

Further reflecting tells me that I am entering the October of my life as well. Transitioning from the long summer of busy workdays mingled with family meals and overlapping activities have evaporated like those morning mists. My good wife seems to have made the adjustments better than me.

waningmoonbybrucestambaugh

The waning Harvest Moon.

I enjoyed my career as an educator. In the 30 years of serving youngsters and cajoling adults, I learned a lot. I embraced my second career in marketing and writing with equal zeal.

Now reality is finally setting in for me. My parents are gone. My wife’s parents are gone. Friends from the Greatest Generation are fading fast, not to mention acquaintances from my own generation. I must ready to face the fall.

This certain transition hasn’t been easy. At times I have emotionally struggled with entering life’s October time. Yet facts are facts. My diminished hearing, loss of nimbleness and achy knees tell me that my autumn has arrived, too.

However long I have, I want to live life out with zest, energy and productivity. Fall is in the air. The harvest full moon is waning.

Whatever your age, together let us greet each day with a song and a smile. Let us celebrate the goodness that surrounds us regardless of whatever circumstances or personal season we encounter.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

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Like it or not, beach vacations rule

atthebeachbybrucestambaugh

By Bruce Stambaugh

If I had to choose between vacationing in the mountains and spending a week on the beach, I would always head to the mountains. But you don’t always get your way in life, especially when consistently out-voted three to one in a democratic family.

I thought about that recently while relaxing, you guessed it, on a beach. A towheaded little girl jumped in glee as the next lapping froth of a broken wave tickled her toes. The roar of the crashing surf drowned out her joyous squeals.

challengingthewavesbybrucestambaugh

Our four-year-old granddaughter was fearless at the beach.

Sandy-haired young boys, already tanned from summer baseball games, challenged the powerful surf head-on and lost. Deposited several feet down shore, the pair still celebrated in the foamy residue. The gamey boys shook their heads like wet dogs, and went back for more.

The excited little girl and the rollicking boys were our grandchildren. Watching them soak up the benefits of a beach vacation scarcely differed from the memories of our own daughter and son savoring the seashore when they were young. The infectious laughter and shrieks of oceanic ecstasy displayed by the grandkids perfectly mimicked those of our son and daughter.

Clearly, the family beach vacation tradition continues. The seashore in the summer is always mesmerizing. Senses are invigorated.

capehatteraslighthousebybrucestambaugh

The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is an iconic symbol for vacationers on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

The sight of whitecaps frosting the rolling water, the sound of wave after wave pounding the beach, whiffs of salty sea air, the texture of gritty sand beneath your bare feet, incredible sunrises and awesome sunsets, animated shorebirds, and picturesque lighthouses soothe even the harshest of souls.

Growing up, our children certainly had plenty of opportunities to catch ocean fever. Once the kids were old enough to enjoy extended trips, the beach seemed to be the destination of choice, no matter what dad suggested. We fitted in informative historical spots and intriguing geographical venues in route to the shore. The beach, however, was the main allure.

Our family beach escapes could actually serve as a partial chronology of our life together.

The first such jaunt was to Ocean City, New Jersey. The kids were hooked, on the beachy benefits, not the historic landmarks of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania that we visited on the way. Intriguingly, our son-in-law and his family had vacationed there, too.

siestakeybeachbybrucestambaugh

Sarasota, Florida’s Siesta Key Beach is rated one the world’s finest.

After that we did Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Cocoa Beach and Siesta Key Beach in Florida. Each year the kids upped the ante in where they wanted to plop their beach blankets. Eventually, it was California here we come.

I was all for visiting the left coast of the country. It truly would be a family vacation since both my wife and I had relatives and friends in the Golden State.

Besides, this would provide an excellent opportunity to get the family into some real mountains, Yosemite National Park being the main destination. Though they wouldn’t admit it then, our son and daughter loved Yosemite as I had hoped they would.

summersolsticesunrisebybrucestambaugh

The Summer Solstice sunrise on the Outer Banks was a beauty.

Still, it was being on the beach with their cousins that drew them. Our children were pleased until they hit the water at Huntington Beach. Even though we were in southern California, the ocean was a bit too chilly for swimming. Nevertheless, they soaked up the Orange County suntan time and the lively interacting with their kin.

Another crashing breaker swamped the grandsons. Their fair-haired sister kept building her Outer Banks sand castle. I continued to snap the camera’s shutter capturing the unfolding fun while I mentally recalled the many pleasant scenes on the beaches of our family life.

buriedinthesandbybrucestambaugh

Being buried in the sand is a part of every beach vacation.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

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In memory of an impulsive father

thecottagebybrucestambaugh

By Bruce Stambaugh

My late father was a loving, loveable guy. His impulsive actions, however, often masked those admirable traits.

Combined with his affability and innate friendliness, his good intentions sometimes wrote a recipe for embarrassment if not potential disaster. Even when in the wrong, Dad would turn a negative into a positive.

Dad was definitely gung-ho about everything he did in life. With his many interests, he did a lot in his 89 years of living. He went full force, no holds barred. Dad was simply passionate about life.

If he knew this about himself, Dad certainly never acknowledged this reckless abandon approach to life as a fault. The way he lived, he had to have seen this passion as an attribute.

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My wife and I surprised my parents on Father’s Day in 2009 with a visit to the cottage they had built. We had purchased it from them, and remodeled the cottage. Dad died on Dec. 21 that year.

Dad loved sports, especially outdoor activities like hunting and fishing. He also amassed an extensive Indian artifact collection. Dad was involved in many community activities, almost always in leadership positions. The end result was that he made many friends in his lifetime.

Dad’s enthusiasm sometimes got the best of him, and others, too. The story my nephew shared at Dad’s memorial service three and half years ago pretty well summed up my father’s impulsiveness. The story is true with no hyperbole interjected.

Mom and Dad had a cabin on Clendening Lake in southeast Ohio. They loved to host friends and family as frequently as possible. My younger brother and his family attended one such outing.

pontooncolorsbybrucestambaugh

A favorite activity of Dad’s was to pile everyone onto his pontoon boat for a combination cruise and fishing trip around the 14-mile long lake. The scenery was always enjoyable. The fishing on the other hand often was more bait than catch.

On this particular voyage, Dad had found a spot right across the lake from the cabin. My nephew reported that the fishing was good until my father’s impetuosity intervened.

Dad cherished interacting with people, often to the point of being late for supper or forgetting an appointment altogether. I think he invented the word “relational.”

While my brother and his family were concentrating on catching croppies, Dad noticed another boat on the opposite shore. He thought it looked like the owner of the cabin next to his.

fallfishermanbybrucestambaughDad suddenly announced to his surprised passengers, “Hey, that looks like Bennett over there,” and up came the boat anchors. Lines were reeled in, and across the lake they went at full throttle.

Since Clendening isn’t a very wide lake, it didn’t take too long to reach the spot where Mr. Bennett was fishing. My nephew recalled wondering why his grandfather wasn’t decreasing the pontoon’s speed as they got closer and closer to the south shore.

Seeing the inevitable, my brother motioned for Dad to slow the boat or change coarse. He did neither.

Dad instead responded by yelling a series of “Hellos” to Mr. Bennett, who at first waved back, then tried frantically to wave Dad off.

Dad greeted his neighbor by ramming the pontoon boat into the much smaller bass boat, tipping it and its owner into the murky lake. Fortunately the water was shallow there. But all of Mr. Bennett’s rods, reels, tackle boxes and stringer sank straight to the lake’s bottom.

Dad had finally stopped the pontoon by the time Mr. Bennett had popped up soaking wet. What was my father’s first comment to Mr. Bennett after the crash? An apology? Not exactly.

Dad matter-of-factly hollered, “Hey, Bennett, are you catching anything?”

fatherandsonsbybrucestambaugh

My older brother, Craig, and I accompanied our father, Dick Stambaugh, on an Honor Flight trip to Washington. D.C. on Sept. 12, 2009. We posed in front of the Ohio pillar at the World War II Memorial.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

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Birds and birders: Two of a kind

boardwalkentrancebybrucestambaugh

The west entrance to the Magee Marsh boardwalk is a great place to begin the birding.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Birds and birders have a lot in common. This thought struck me on my latest trip to northwest Ohio’s birding mecca, Magee Marsh Wildlife Area.

Billed as the Greatest Week in American Birding, the event coincided with the peak of the spring warbler migration. Warblers, and other migrating birds, use Ohio’s airspace as their launching pad to their northern breeding grounds.

Before the birds cross Lake Erie, they tend to rest along its shores. There they replenish their strength by devouring insects that flit around the budding and blooming deciduous trees, shrubs and wildflowers. Shorebirds scour the marshes and shores for their nourishment.

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This American Woodcock chose the median of the parking lot to make her nest.

As an amateur birder, I enjoy watching backyard birds and observing passers through with equal zeal. But if I want to see a multitude of colorful migrating birds packed into one location, Magee Marsh is the place to go.

The marsh and its 2,200 surrounding acres serve as a sprawling wildlife sanctuary with varied habitat types, including estuaries, marshes, scrub lands, woodlots, rocky areas, beaches and of course the lake itself. The area also provides sportsmen with seasonal controlled hunting and fishing.

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Magee Marsh has many habitats that attract several species of migrating birds.

During bird migration season, the only shooting of birds permitted is with cameras. Believe me, plenty of shots are fired in search of the perfect picture of the incredible songbirds, shorebirds, and birds of prey.

In my meandering around the boardwalk, trails and beach, I discovered something that should have been obvious. Birders have a lot in common with the birds they watch.

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Birders checked out warbler on the boardwalk at Magee Marsh

Like their feathered friends, birders come in all shapes, sizes and ages. Just like the birds, birders sport different hues and clothe themselves in a variety of colors, including camouflage, worn more to soothe the birds than hide from predators.

There are other comparisons, too. Some birders maneuver and forage in solitude for their targets. Others travel in organized groups. Most birders are quiet, but some let loose with an effusive chatter when a flashy warbler or rare bird is spotted.

When a shorebird captures a fish, it often finds itself quickly surrounded by others hoping to also steal a bite. When a birder discovers a coveted find, others gather around hoping to capture the image through their spotting scopes, binoculars, or cameras. Those without scopes are graciously invited to better view the often-concealed bird. Birders are genuinely kind people.

youngbirdersbybrucestambaugh

A young family took a break from their birding at Magee.

When a bird is located along the boardwalk at Magee, birders bob and weave, stretch and stoop to get just the right viewing angle. Birds do the same in search of food or checking out habitat. Most birders go in search of birds, like the many warblers that flit from limb to limb decreasing the insect population. Others sit and wait for the birds to come to them, like a Great Blue Heron patiently waiting for a fish to spear.

Camaraderie and sharing are normal in the sport of birding. Staunch birders make life lists, month lists, day lists, yard lists,

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This Cape May Warbler dined on insects before heading across the lake.

state lists, annual lists, and just about any other kind of list you might imagine. That’s how serious they take this popular sport.

If someone finds a bird they can’t identify, a more expert birder gladly assists in teaching how to properly confirm just what species it is. Teaching and learning are just as important as appreciating the birds and their habitats.

Perhaps that is why birding is one of the most popular sports in the world. During the Biggest Week in American Birding, global citizens flock to northwest Ohio in hopes of seeing a special species.

To hear the various lyrical birdsongs and behold the flashy mating plumages first hand is truly a treat. To see the smiles and satisfaction on the faces of the elated birders is equally rewarding.

happybirdersbybrucestambaugh

Birders tend to be pleasant, engaging people.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

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Celebrating a creative mother and sporting father

dadandmombybrucestambaugh

Dick and Marian Stambaugh at their 65th wedding anniversary.

By Bruce Stambaugh

When I was asked to give a talk to volunteers for a local retirement community on April 23, I didn’t hesitate. My mother had died on that day at the nursing home a year ago.

I thought the opportunity more than appropriate to share about how much the volunteers meant to residents like my mother. After all, some in the audience likely delivered needed and appreciated services for my both my mother and father as they finished out their lives.

My assignment was to show some of the many photographs I had taken over the years around Holmes County, Ohio. I offered to include some shots of other places in the world where I had traveled. The organizer said just Holmes County scenes would be fine.
That would be no problem at all. I had thousands of shots from every season from around our bucolic countryside. In some cases, I had photos of the same scene in different seasons, and sometimes from multiple views. I thought that would serve my purpose very well.

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An Amish buggy crests a hill amid a rainbow of colors in Holmes Co., Ohio.

My aim was to honor my loving mother and gregarious father, not to hype my photographic abilities. Dad had taught my siblings and me to appreciate our environment, to respect nature, and to understand the careful balance between harvesting her resources and preserving the earth’s beauty. Hunting and fishing, along with conservation, had been priorities in his life, especially in his retirement years while he was still able.

Mom, on the other hand, was more reserved but equally adamant about appreciating and sharing nature. She just chose a different venue. Mom skillfully captured her love for God’s good earth on canvas.

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A shocking but typical scene in Holmes Co., Ohio.

Mom painted hundreds of landscapes from all around the country, mostly in vivid watercolors. She skillfully replicated scenery as she saw it, and if you were familiar with the local geography, you could often identify the location of the setting. Mom was that good.

Ironically, none of her five children caught the artist’s gene or desire. Mom once patiently tried to teach me to paint. But given my poor efforts, she wisely encouraged me to “paint” with my camera and through my writing. It was sage advice.

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A long, muddy Amish farm lane in Holmes Co., Ohio.

Mom taught me to have her artist’s eye by understanding perspective and composition through the camera’s lens rather than smearing colors on a canvas. Believe me, smearing was the appropriate verb for my practice runs at watercolors.

On April 23, I complied with the organizer’s wishes. Only three of the 170 shots I shared on screen with the volunteers were from outside the county. To set the tone, the first slide was a picture of Dad and Mom at their 65th wedding anniversary gathering.

Though family members were the only humans shown in my photo presentation that day, I asked those in attendance if they had seen themselves in the slides. Not surprisingly, I got looks of bewilderment.

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Draft horses on a cold, snowy day in Holmes Co., Ohio.

I told the volunteers gathered that they were the forests and the lilies of the fields, the sparkling brooks and crimson trees in the lives of those at the retirement community. Because of their individual situations, the residents may not be able to express their appreciation for the little things the volunteers did. But speaking from personal experience, they do.

I am certain I am not alone in my gratitude to them for all their good efforts. I also wanted them know how much my folks had blessed me with a rich and rewarding appreciation for the Creation in which we live.

buggyandbloomsbybrucestambaugh
© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

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The little things of spring are spring

springinholmescoohiobybrucestambaugh

After a long, chilly and wet winter and early spring, true spring has arrived in Ohio’s Amish country.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Finally, it really is spring! I was beginning to think we would never receive its blessings.

I for one am certainly glad to embrace May. In Ohio, it’s the calendar’s conduit between a long cold, wet winter and early spring, like we have experienced this year, and summer’s usual balmy offerings.

Springtime has much to offer nature lovers. She is especially mesmerizing. Spring lulls you to sleep with her vivaciousness, her lusty beauty and verdant perfumes.

unfurlingleavesbybrucestambaugh

Once the weather warmed and the days brightened, the leaves of the deciduous trees quickly unfurled.

However, you have to be alert, or you could miss a few of her best offerings. In our hustle and bustle to catch up to what we think is important we may miss her most amiable samplings.

May is one of the main accomplices to this annual transition from hibernation to horticulture. The month has a lot to offer.
We have to pay attention though to absorb it all because the transforming processes evolve so quickly. One day we notice the maple tree buds swelling. The next, it seems, the full canopy has unfurled. How and when did that happen?

To grasp the full measure of spring requires the honing of all of our senses. For those poor souls with pollen or grass allergies, no reminder is likely needed.

Spring, and especially May, is anything but quiet. The spring peepers are the first to break loose. Their noisy outbursts are their celebrative acknowledgements that spring has arrived. The amphibious cacophony is music to our ears.

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Wild yellow and purple violets are in full bloom now in Ohio’s woodlots.

Just one sunny spring day beckons buttery coltsfoot and dainty spring beauties. They brighten dusky roadsides and carpet forest floors and spacious yard-lots alike. Yellow and purple wild violets and lacy trilliums soon follow in all their grace and glory.

Clumpy lawns have already been mowed, evening the emerald patchwork from one neighborhood to the next until the prodigious dandelions appear and reappear. Try as you might, there is no obliterating them. Overnight, their yellowy blooms turn to silky seedpods, which succumb to certain spring gales and find a home just around the corner.

malebaltimoreoriolebybrucestambaugh

The beautiful sights and calls of the Baltimore Orioles fill the woods and neighborhoods in Ohio’s Amish country in and around Millersburg, OH.

For avid bird lovers, this is prime time for migrating birds, especially songbirds. A whole host of magnificently colored wood warblers, Golden-winged, Yellow-rump, and Black and White among them, pass through our area on their way north. A few, like the convivial Yellow Warbler and gregarious Baltimore Orioles, will stay to nest and brighten the days with their vigorous choruses.

American Robins have already chosen their first nesting spots, and not always in the choicest locations. Mud-based nests on door wreaths or porch lights are only temporary inconveniences to those who enjoy their early morning wake up calls without setting the alarm clock.

The sooty Chimney Swifts have returned and chatter as they snatch dinner with spring’s first batch of insects. American Goldfinches seemingly changed to their day glow yellow and contrasting black overnight.

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For once the magnolias bloomed without fear of a killing frost in northern OH.

Native shrubs and ornamental flowering trees light up the landscape with their rainbow of colors. One day the neighbor’s giant Magnolia is bursting in pink bloom. The next, her Cinderella gown morphs into a colorful comforter spread on the ground beneath.

Just like a fast moving thunderstorm, the rubies of spring don’t last long. Will we grant ourselves the privilege to gather them in?

It pays huge personal dividends to be alert and watch as spring magnifies the hills and hollows with sights and sounds and fragrances for all to behold. Spring is here. Let’s enjoy it before it’s gone.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

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When an ill wind blows, persevere

sunnybutcoldbybrucestambaugh

Even sunny days that looked warm were chilled by persistent winds.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The cold and wet of winter and early spring seemed to be unrelenting. The constant breezes made already cold days seem even more so, and damper than they really were. It felt like the wind had blown nonstop since Thanksgiving.

To paraphrase John Heywood, who first penned the words in the 16th century, “It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good.” That’s the way I thought of the many persistent gales that delivered us storm after storm for four months.

We here in northeast Ohio have endured a variety of weather elements for too long. Snow, sleet, freezing rain, ice, fog, torrential rains, flooding, and bone chilling temperatures have all been part of our weather menu. However, it has been the relentless wind that has been the most bothersome. It made even a sunny spring day seem like February all over again.

Day after day the icy wind seemed to go right through you. It was that bad. As much as I love weather, I had about had it with the unyielding gales.

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Amish farmers have had some raw days to do their field work this spring.

I am glad, however, that the wind does aid farmers by drying out the mushy soil so planting can begin. But I pity the many Amish farmers who have had to spread, plow, harrow, and plant in the endless blusters. They and their trusty draft horses had to be freezing.

There’s another hazard to wind. Wildfire danger increases when steady breezes dry out already brittle dormant foliage and grasses. That’s one reason why spring’s quenching rainfalls are so welcome, even if they are accompanied by nasty winds.

On a recent trip to visit friends in Leamington, Ontario, a steady wind buffeted our van on the trip north. Along the Ohio Turnpike we spotted a Bald Eagle soaring against the northwest wind over an open field in search of prey.

windyyardworkbybrucestambaugh

Brisk yard work of cleaning winter’s deposits of debris still required coats and gloves in Ohio this spring.

We discovered that the weather in Ontario, including the wind, hadn’t been any better than ours. Indeed, we wore sweaters and jackets during the extended weekend.

The only exception was our last day there, Monday, April 15. That day dawned in beauty and quiet. The sun shone brightly as we said goodbye to our friends.

By afternoon as we reentered the U.S., the wind had once again picked up. At least it helped push us homeward as we traveled.
I was glad to see the sun, and feel its welcome warmth. Perhaps the stubborn winter weather systems that brought the chilling blustery northwest winds had finally been broken.

Shortly after 4 p.m. I turned on the van’s radio to listen to the news. From the announcers’ demeanors we knew that something serious had happened, only neither my wife or I were clear as to what the problem was. As we listened, we learned of the bombings in Boston.

Like most good people of the world, we were horrified. It was an ill wind no good citizen could ever have anticipated.

Tolerating a persistent cold wind is one thing. Enduring a terrible, intentional act of violence is another concern altogether.

We must live our lives as best we can, embracing each new day with gusto, hope and a fearlessness that no harsh wind, natural or man-made, can destroy.

hopefulsunrisebybrucestambaugh
© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

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