The Ice Queen

Yesterday, we had an ice storm in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Schools and many businesses were closed, but for the most part, little harm was done. The power surged just once in our neighborhood.

The ice coated everything from the ground up with at least a quarter inch of ice. There was more ice in some places, while others received much less. The ice accumulation depended on elevation, air temperature, and the amount and types of precipitation in any given area.

One thing was sure at our location. The layer of ice created a crystal palace appearance to all it embraced. It was joyous to look out and see nature’s beauty enhanced all the more.

I was surprised to see so few birds at our many feeders placed strategically around our front and back yards. But by mid-day, they apparently got hungry enough or felt safe enough to venture out from the security of their perches to come to the feeders.

I was ready for them with my cameras. I captured a brilliant red male Northern Cardinal sitting on a branch of a frosted evergreen. But it was his female companion that stole the show.

The female Northern Cardinal perched on an ice-incrusted limb of a young tulip poplar tree we had planted earlier this year. The photograph embodied the whole of the day.

The encasement of the ice is clearly visible, while the thin ice pellets pepper the background. With its burnished tulip-like blossoms frozen in time, the dormant tree beautifully accented the Cardinal’s lovely muted red and olive coloration.

This female Northern Cardinal earned the title “The Ice Queen.”

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

Winter’s variable paint palette

Amish farm, Holmes Co. OH, Ohio's Amish country, snowscape

No matter where you live, winter offers a wide variety of colors across its changeable landscapes.

Often, the colors transform with the weather’s latest tantrum. Given the global climate’s bipolar dysfunctions, winter’s color palette has expanded far beyond its usual earth tones and neutral hues. Wetter and warmer winters convert lawns from frosted brown to April’s greens.

Living in Ohio for nearly seven decades, I intimately learned nature’s dormant color schemes. She usually painted under steely skies, which perhaps limited her range of color options.

burnished leaves laden with snow

Growing up in a blue-collar suburb in northeast Ohio, my memory is filled with a canvas of white on white. We sledded down steep hillside paths beneath stately evergreens laden with inches of snow.

Clumps of yellowy prairie grasses waved in the icy wind as we zoomed by shouting and laughing like the kids we were. Our wind-chapped cheeks and red noses were proof of our gold, silver, and bronze successes.

Besides the fun, we relished a good snow cover that blanketed the grit and grime that most winters brought. The fluffy whiteness enlivened the quiescent landscape, the leafless trees with their non-descript brown, gray, and black trunks and branches. The pure white snow on piney coniferous bows highlighted clusters of chestnut pinecones.

eastern bluebird in winter

Heavy wet snow provided a stark color contrast of white on black. That all shifted in a flash when a wicked winter wind whipped nature’s artwork into layered snowdrifts crusty enough for adventuresome children to walk on.

Ohio winter weather being what it is and always has been, not much changed as I grew into adulthood. Browns and whites alternated dominating the lay of the land with temperature playing the role of the artisan. A mundane scene became a Currier and Ives gem with four inches of overnight snow.

A January thaw altered all that in a hurry. The snow melted into a mushy, muddy mess, and brown soon became the primary color and texture, much to my mother’s chagrin. Usually, though, our inattentive father rightly got the blame for the sticky indoor tracks.

Amish farm, Wayne Co. OH, Ohio's Amish country

Dealing with both the gooeyness and the frozen precipitation as an adult tendered an entirely different perspective than as a youngster. I hated how everything wore the dirt and grime of winter. That was especially true of driving a filthy automobile. Wash it one day, and it was dirty again the next.

Warm, attractive colors in winter did and do exist of course. Think red holly berries against glossy green leaves powdered with fresh snow.

Each new day brings opportunity. Catch a showy sunrise that may last only a few seconds before succumbing to layers of gray clouds. Sunsets are equally stunning, especially if reflected by lakes and streams, which double the orange, yellow, red, and pink pleasure.

Amish, Holmes Co. OH, Ohio's Amish country

Bright colors come alive literally. Is there anything prettier than northern cardinals perched on evergreens waiting their turn at the bird feeders? If eastern bluebirds also arrive, the winter day becomes all the cheerier.

Moving to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley has lessened some of the sting and bland of winter. We tend to have more sunny and warmer days than we did in Ohio. When it does snow, the aesthetic results are still the same. However, the white stuff doesn’t last as long.

Winter’s radiant sunshine enhances any locale just as it can brighten all human spirits.

January can be lackluster if you let it. Just look a little harder for any hint of color wherever you live. Like many TV commercial disclaimers, your results may vary.

white-throated sparrow, Shenandoah Valley,

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Leaves may change, but appreciation for them does not

Rural leaves by Bruce Stambaugh

By Bruce Stambaugh

When I was a youngster, each fall my father would pack the family into the old jalopy and head to Holmes County, Ohio from Canton to view the leaves.

The trees were gorgeous, the pastoral vistas delightful. It was like stepping back in time once we crossed the county line. I suppose some people still feel that way today.

Amish country by Bruce StambaughLike my father, I loved coming to Holmes County. The colorful leaves, the tangy Swiss cheese, the horse and buggies, and the images of a simpler life left a lasting impression on me, even as a juvenile.

The air was crisp and clean, the views splendid, the people quaint. With Mom a landscape artist, Dad kept pointing out scenes she could paint, as if Mom needed any help noticing.

Before entering the county seat, Millersburg, we always stopped at the same place. Dad would pull off to the side of the road by the golf course so we could all admire the giant, vibrant sugar maple tree that stood on the course near the highway. It was a stately fixture to be sure, aglow with yellow, orange and red leaves. Against the manicured green fairways, it was a picture of beauty.
Bucolic by Bruce Stambaugh
Dad would pull out his pride and joy eight-millimeter movie camera and film away. He loved to show the home movies over and over again at family gatherings. I don’t need to view the old footage to recall the moment. The memories are as vivid as the leaves on that old maple.

Perhaps that’s because irony of irony I ended up spending my adult life here. I pass by the memorable spot frequently. The natural beauty is a nice reminder, especially in autumn.

I don’t have to pile in the car and drive 35 miles to see the living artistry. I just have to look out the window. With the leaves at their peak, the real life painting outside our door is ever changing.

Fall sky by Bruce Stambaugh

Of course, I do like to tour the hills and valleys of our county to take in the complete show. I have my favorite routes.

I especially enjoy traveling around taking digital photographs on partly cloudy days. One minute everything seems dull, then the sun breaks through, and I can’t snap the camera shutter fast enough. My father would probably tell me to get a camcorder.

I love the brilliant fencerows dotted with burgundy ash, yellowy white oak, crimson red oak, sunny sassafras, and red, green, yellow and tangerine sugar maples. The hardwood rainbows highlight emerald hayfields and stands of brittle corn shocks.

White farm by Bruce Stambaugh

I also enjoy occasional drives through the heavily forested Killbuck and Black Creek valleys. The steep hillsides are loaded with the same mixed hardwoods as in the eastern end of the county.

White clapboard farmhouses and weathered barns, surrounded by lush green lawns, lay at the feet of the dappled hills. More often than not chocolate soybean fields fill in the narrow bottoms.

By Millersburg by Bruce StambaughEven with that much splendor, I still return to the side of the road by the golf course. Though the old tree my father loved is gone, time has matured others nearby.

Buoyed by the beauty and the memories, I snap a few shots of the delightful scenery. I am keenly aware of being in both the present and the past. Like the changing seasons, the ebbs and flows of life’s ironies have that everlasting effect.

The column appeared in The Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

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