A day in the life and near-death of me

Pileated Woodpeckers at dawn
The Pileated Woodpeckers beat all the other birds to the feeders on my memorable day. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’ve been known to exaggerate. Believe me, there is no exaggeration in this story.

The day dawned bright and cheery. An orange sunrise quickly transitioned into a rare cloudless January day in northeast Ohio.

I was glad for that. I had a wide variety of activities planned. However, I could not begin to imagine how an unforeseen incident would impact not just the day itself, but my life, too.

First and foremost on the agenda was to complete a final draft of yet another newspaper column. Lunch would be early since I had a 1 p.m. appointment in my hometown, Canton, Ohio.

I am fortunate that I married a woman who loves to cook. She rules the kitchen. I help where needed, usually cleaning up afterward. Not this Saturday.

I arrived at my appointment right on time. An hour later I was visiting with my friend and barber, Paul, who was recovering from a severe stroke at a rehab facility near where I had been.

I had a marvelous visit with Paul and his wife. It was great to have him on the road to recovery. Their congeniality energized me.

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The Audubon’s Warbler I was in search of was nowhere to be found. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
Next I went in search of a couple of rare birds reported in the area. On the way, a small flock of American Robins flew across the road in front of me and landed in a crabapple tree loaded with fruit as orange as the birds’ breasts. I imagined the birds devoured the aged apples.

Despite my best attempts, I couldn’t locate the wayward warbler near Massillon. It should have been in tropical climes by now. With the sun shining brightly, I found the cold, sharp January air refreshing.

Next up was my third attempt to locate a Snowy Owl in Sugarcreek. Others had seen it only a few minutes after arriving. Not me. This visit was strike three for me.

I arrived at my final destination near dusk. The friendly property owner, who happened to be outside, graciously welcomed me. I asked his assistance in finding another rare bird near his home.

First though, the glowing sunset caught my eye. Even if I missed this bird, the view of the setting sun from this kind man’s backyard was stunning.

With the light growing dim, my new friend suggested we look for a pair of Short-eared Owls that he had seen on the farm just east of his home. Sure enough, there they were, majestically coursing the snow covered pastures for four-legged varmints. When one of the owls caught one, it buzzed by the other one instead of eating the critter. Was it showing off?

Back home, my wife, Neva, and I basked to the crackling of the fireplace while watching college basketball. It had been an eventful day.

Of course, none of these fulfilling proceedings would have happened if it hadn’t been for my wonderful wife. I failed to tell you that at lunch I choked on a piece of chicken.

Fortunately, Neva was nearby, and her instincts kicked in. With three thrusts of the Heimlich maneuver, the chicken dislodged, and I could breathe again.

Neva’s quick action enabled me to fully appreciate every moment of that day, and all that has transpired since then. Clearly, that is the very model of understatement.

Words are too cheap to express my utmost gratitude. Neva definitely saved the day and my life. There is simply no better way to put it.

winter sunset
The magnificent sunset on my eventful day. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

The day I almost died but didn’t

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Homemade glazed donuts.

By Bruce Stambaugh

It happened in a flash, as scary moments often do. I was mere inches from serious injury if not death. My guess is we all have events like this.

I don’t mean to overdramatize this. The split-second incident helped me further appreciate both what had previously occurred that day and what I was about to encounter.

I had already had an illuminating morning. I got to help my Amish neighbors run some timely errands. They had made dozens of glazed donuts for an open house at a nearby greenhouse. My task was to deliver the golden goodies and their makers to the party. It was hardly a chore.

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Where it happened, without our granddaughter present.
I also got to see the wayward Rock Wren again. Why this cute little creature landed two miles east of my house smack in the middle of the world’s largest Amish population, I have no idea. I just know it did, and the property owners were more than hospitable to any and all who wanted a chance to see this rarity.

Hundreds came to view this bird that belonged in the Rocky Mountains. This was only the second recorded appearance of this species in Ohio. After taking too many photographs of this feathered rock star, I returned home.

I checked to see if the mail had been delivered. With a small hill to the north, I have been especially careful about crossing our busy county highway for 34 years. The vehicles tend to zip along despite the posted speed limit. Just like my mother taught me, I looked both ways, and crossed to the mailbox, which sets well away from the road.

I grasped the handful of letters and turned to retrace my steps. At that exact moment, a car driven by a young man roared by going south in the northbound lane. As he passed two other vehicles, his rearview mirror nearly clipped me.

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Barred Owlets.
I don’t think the young driver ever saw me. He was too focused on getting wherever he was going. At first, I stepped back to catch my breath even though the roadway was now clear.

Then I smiled. Rather than be mad or frightened, I immediately became filled with gratitude for many things. Being kept safe topped the list. Others included the fulfilling experiences and interactions I had already had that day.

I determined to be even more grateful for the rest of the day and all the days that followed. I would he thankful for the people I meet along the way, too.

My life continued. I visited friends near Mt. Hope that had a pair of Barred Owlets roosting on a tree near their home. The afternoon sun beautifully highlighted the cute, cuddling pair.

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Our hardy meal of morel mushrooms, an over easy egg, and locally cured bacon.
Another friend had given my wife and me our first morel mushrooms of the season. Neva sautéed them with olive oil and a dash of salt, and we downed them with over easy eggs and some locally raised and cured bacon.

It may have been one of the best meals I had ever eaten or was glad to eat, given the close call. For dessert I relished the relationships with friends and family as much as the savory mushrooms and bacon.

My mailbox episode was an important universal lesson. We need to express our gratitude whenever and wherever we can as often as we can. We just never know when we will no longer have that chance.

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Rock Wren singing.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014