November: The contemplative month

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The fall election is over. Daylight Savings Time has come and gone, and so have most of this fall’s colorful leaves. It must be November.

We can thank the pelting rains and wicked winds of a raucous cold front for dislodging most of the leaves. We can thank Congress for the time change.

I never adjust well to this convoluted toying of time. I wake up early and am ready for bed before dark that Sunday afternoon.

When we lived in the heart of Ohio’s Amish Country, I always chuckled at the various reactions to this contrived notion of messing with clocks to supposedly save energy. The Amish had that down to a science.

Some Amish complied with the change to stay connected with the rest of society. Others compromised and moved the time back a half an hour. Some never changed time in the first place.

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I miss that kind of contrariness. I haven’t checked with local buggy-driving Old Order Mennonite farmers here in Virginia to know if they mess with time in the same manner.

With the time changed and the leaves disappearing, our attention turns to Thanksgiving preparations. At least it should if we aren’t too distracted by all the Christmas gift-giving commercials already on television.

It can be for that very reason alone that I become contemplative in November. I think it’s the colder weather though. I do appreciate the cleaner, clearer air. Thanks to a couple of killing frosts, I can breathe again.

Then, too, the early darkness readies me for bed way before bedtime. These are the days of the earliest sunsets of the year until we get to the winter solstice.

I do appreciate the clear evening skies, too. I love to watch the moon creep across the darkened sky surrounded by sparkling jewels and winking planets.

The month of November ushers in the dormant season. By month’s end, the deciduous trees will be bare. We’ll see things in the landscape we had totally forgotten about, like houses we didn’t remember were there.

cropped-dsc_0555.jpgThe longer evenings give me time to reflect on the activities of the day. I do miss my fireplace, though. There is truly nothing like warming your backside sitting on the hearth in front of a roaring, crackling fire.

I used those evenings to think and reflect on our past, present, and future. With that, we recognize November’s other holiday, Veterans Day.

November is like recess at school. It’s the needed break between all of the action of October and December.

Soon Black Friday advertisements will blitz our mailboxes, newspapers, TV commercials, and annoying social media ads. Thanksgiving will be no more than a prelude to that glorious commercial day. Too bad there’s not an app to eliminate that.

As you might have surmised by now, I’m well into my contemplative shtick. I have a brain. I try to use it every now and then. November’s dark days seem like a good time to do that.

Come to think of it, whatever happened to Indian summer? With nine of the last 10 years the warmest on record globally, maybe the weather gods decided we don’t need it anymore. It’s just a thought.

Everything seems to slow down in November. From my point of view, that’s one of the eleventh month’s purposes. Let’s all take a little time to sit back, relax, talk with your spouse, listen to your children, play with your grandchildren, and be kind to one another.

Christmas is only a few weeks away.

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© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Fickle fall foments melancholy mood

falling leaves, autumn
Office view.

By Bruce Stambaugh

A day after I cleaned up the leaves from our yard, the rain, the wind, and gravity conspired to undo my work. It was to be expected, especially when a grove of deciduous trees surrounds your house.

I sat by the office window and watched the spent leaves rain down like snow showers in January. A gusty northwest breeze twirled the faded leaves every which way, performing independent pirouettes in a splendid ballet. Their curtain call played out on the front lawn.

I’ve seen this performance before of course. Every year about this time. However, this fall’s frolic struck anew at the melancholy that I felt about the scene, the season, my station in life.

Perhaps the steely sky with its dense layer of leaden clouds set the mood for the day. It couldn’t have been the Indians loss in the seventh game of the World Series or the lack of sleep from watching the previous week’s worth of late-night contests. When you’re a Cleveland sports fan, denial is an all-consuming trait that blinds and dulls one’s wits.

Yet, here I was in my stupor enjoying the unfolding act, blah as the elements were. The living picture painted before me seemed just about right for the occasion, and definitely for the season.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one hung over from too much adrenaline-driven loyalty and sleep deprivation. However, I couldn’t help but sense that my malaise was so much more than that.

Seasonal changes do that to us, especially as we age. Like the falling colorful leaves, the Greatest Generation is also fading fast. They bequeath their burdens to their progeny, unworthy boomers who think they have changed the world for the better when it’s clearly the other way around.

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Perhaps it was because my wife was still fulfilling her autumnal obligations in Virginia. Only the delicious day before I had taken lunch and supper alone on the porch. I missed her company and her cooking.

The blustery day wore on as dreary days can do. But in the process, a slow metamorphosis transpired. I would have noticed it earlier had it not been for my manly self-pity.

Patches of blue began to divide the gray cotton rolls roiling overhead. Even the wind subsided, providing an intermission to the leafy operetta. I began to take notice, to think outside myself, to seek the wisdom of others through writings and paintings and photos.

I called my friend Dan, who only recently had lost his father. I had missed the viewing and wanted to visit to express my sympathies. He invited me up to his place in the early evening, which I accepted.

Dan wanted me to arrive about an hour before I showed up. I wanted to shoot the sunset first. The sky had significantly cleared by early evening except for a few high clouds, the kind that often makes for a splendid sunset. Just when I thought the western drama had waned, a fiery encore danced across the sky.

I stopped the car just a quarter of a mile from Dan’s. His observant wife Anna saw the vehicle and figured it must be me. It’s a good feeling when your friends know you so well. They welcomed me into their humble home, and I gleefully shared my photos.

When the clock struck 8, I knew it was time to leave. Otherwise, I’d likely still be there, conversing and listening and laughing, though life had fallen heavy upon us like the morning’s leaves waltzing to the grass.

melancholy sunset
Fiery enchore.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Reflections on a rare sunny fall day

Amish farm, wash day
Wash day.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I couldn’t resist. I had plenty of inside chores to complete, but the golden brightness of the glorious fall day drew me outside. With the sun dazzling in the clear blue sky, it would have been sinful not to soak it in. So I did.

Sunny days in late fall in northeast Ohio are rare. November and December are historically our cloudiest months. I wanted to take advantage of the beauty. I soon discovered that I wasn’t alone.

Of course, preparations for the holidays ahead already had people out and about. Folks seemed to double down on this beauty of a day. Traffic of all types kept the byways busy.

Amish buggy
Going home.

It was a day of contradictions. I passed an Amish man eating an ice cream cone while cruising along in his black buggy. It wasn’t even 10 a.m. It was 47 degrees Fahrenheit, proving once again that temperature is not a prerequisite for enjoying yummy ice cream.

Congestion reigned at the square in Mt. Hope, not an uncommon sight on sale day at the livestock auction. The sun spotlighted a farmer on a tractor chatting on his smartphone. The conversation must have been agreeable. He grinned like a Cheshire cat.

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Grazing sheep.
Up the road a piece, a flock of sheep grazed in the hollow of a broad, bowl-shaped field. The wooly coats glistened against the straggly spent vegetation that still stood above the close-cropped grass of the pasture.

Amish farmsteads turned uncharacteristically patriotic. A curtain of Navy blue sky served as the backdrop for the starched white clapboard houses and coffin-red barns.

faded barn
Faded and not.
The sun bathed everything everywhere. Even long-neglected faded siding begging for a proper coat of paint stood out. Rusty windmill blades glinted in the brightness.

A pair of Red-tailed Hawks circled and soared low over a woodlot and disappeared. Pigeons claimed barn roof ridges, white and gray backs to the radiant warmth.

By afternoon, sunbeams streamed in on a factory office desk. The busy boss himself beamed in the glory of the day’s beauty.

A pair of Amish preschoolers, probably brother and sister, fearlessly coasted their wooden wagon down the gently sloping township road. It may have been late November, but their joy said summer.

An Amish worker skillfully wrapped a finished piece of machinery in clear plastic to protect its fresh coat of paint during shipping. He was more than glad it wasn’t snowing.

Windows on a passing school bus were all down where the students sat. I doubt the jolly driver cared.

Downy Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker.
Near dusk, a stand of hilltop trees filtered the southwestern glow. Nevertheless, the sun’s strength still outlined a downy woodpecker’s fine feathers like an angel’s halo. The usually nervous bird seemed to relish the moment unless it simply wanted to pose for a cameo photo.

The sun set too soon and unspectacularly. On the opposite horizon, November’s frosty moon rose full. Its soft illumination stunningly highlighted thin wispy clouds, a pale but dramatic imitation of sunrise.

By day, the sun radiated more than welcomed warmth. It energized humans, Holsteins and wallowing hogs. By night, the recycled solar rays washed the earth in a rich beauty not often seen without a sparkling snow cover. I hated to do it, but I had no choice. I pulled the bedroom drapes.

I wasn’t shutting out the light so much as keeping the bright beauty of the day internal. Its brilliance still burned within me, an immeasurable, lustrous love that lulled me to sleep.

frosty full moon
Frosty full moon.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Is it the end of November already?

sunrise, November
November sunrise

By Bruce Stambaugh

I know I’m getting old. I have a birthday soon to prove it.

I thought I just wrote about what November would bring us, and here it is done and gone already. How can that be? I think I have some answers, all of them as lovely as the month itself.

Given the last two winters, we began this November with more than a little trepidation. We had good reasons for our collective unease.

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Last November’s snow.
Would we be blasted with another surprise snow in the middle of the month like last year? Could we even begin to hope that November would be half as beautiful as October was?

As you happily know, November gave her best to replicate October’s stunning weather here in Ohio’s Amish country. The eleventh month wasn’t quite as bright and pretty as October, but she sure tried hard.

Even with standard time returning and the daylight hours growing fewer by the day, November was a welcome, pleasant surprise. It exceeded all expectations.

Overall, the month turned out to be a much better than average November if only measured by weather. November charmed me with its hospitality, a welcome relief from the state of affairs on the national and international political front.

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It’s not too many Novembers in Ohio that you see a father and his young son walking along a sidewalk in short sleeves mid-month. Last year they would have been bundled up throwing snowballs.

Municipalities, stores, and homeowners took advantage of the decent days to put up their holiday decorations. It beat trying to hang banners and Christmas lights in blizzard-like conditions.

In some locales, Christmas decorations and Halloween displays stood side by side. I wasn’t going to judge. I just enjoyed the intended spirit each reflected, even if the timing was a little off.

The horses and cattle had to be enjoying the extended stay in the open pastures. Frequent November rains made the grass as fresh as after April showers. In fact, folks were mowing their lawns this November on the same day they were plowing out their driveways last year.

Pine Siskin, birding
Looking up.
I took advantage of the excellent weather, too. I cleaned and readied my multiple bird feeders. I was hardly inside when I spotted a few infrequent Pine Siskins on the cylinder feeder by the kitchen window. They feasted on the cracked sunflower hearts.

With my firewood supply tenuous, I had three pickup loads of split and seasoned hardwoods delivered. Over the space of three days, my wife and I had it all neatly stacked behind the garden shed. Remember, I said I was getting older soon.

November’s brisk winds made regular appearances. That was good news for those who hadn’t yet raked their leaves. Their eastern neighbors may have a different viewpoint on that, however.

We had days of rain and drizzle. We had clear blue-sky days, too. And we had those days of cloudy one minute and sunny the next. None required a snow shovel.

Driving around the November countryside, the landscape seemed wider, more open. Perhaps that was due to the leafless trees affording a three-dimensional illusion, no special glasses needed.

This November frequently offered amazing sunrises and sunsets for all to enjoy. Sometimes they lingered for the longest time. Mostly, though, you had to look sharp, or you would miss the colorful show, just like the month itself.

Like Thanksgiving, November has come and gone. Bring on December and hope that it learned a little kindness from its closest sibling.

November sunset, windmill
Glorious sunset.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

November’s arrival brings mixed emotions

autumn, Amish farm, Ohio's Amish country
October’s golden glow.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I always have mixed emotions whenever November rolls around. Like you, I know what it means.

After the excellent weather of October, I hate to think of what November might bring. I hope November doesn’t take offense.

I so enjoyed the string of amazing days we had during the height of the leaf looking season here in Ohio’s Amish country. Given the traffic jams I encountered, I wasn’t alone.

I cruised the back roads for calendar-worthy snapshots of the naturally painted landscapes. With the predominance of rolling hills and gentle dales, a Currier and Ives setting arose around nearly every corner. In some spots, I merely rotated to take multiple scenic photos.

The truth is I only had to step out my front door for a lovely sunrise photo. In the evening, it was the reverse. I have four seasons of brilliant sunset shots behind my Amish neighbor’s farmstead.

Once the leaves began to color this year, red, yellow, orange, gold and crimson rainbows basked in the sun for all to absorb. Stunning doesn’t begin to describe the landscapes.

Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Those inspiring scenes changed much too quickly for my liking, though. The colorful leaves have mostly fallen, and the dormant season is upon us. Welcome to November.

The Canada Geese fly from farm pond to harvested grain field where they glean to their gullets’ delight or some hungry hunter scares the flock to flying and honking with blasts of his 12-gauge. Given their numbers, I think the geese always win that war.

While the geese stick around, other waterfowl species wing it south. Pintails and Sandhill Cranes often lead the way. It’s a ritual that makes me smile and sad simultaneously. They’re a joy to watch, but it’s a sure sign of what weather is ahead.

I marvel at the majestic flights of all species avian. To have a Pine Siskin make a brief pit stop at your feeder brings momentary elation.

On the other hand, finding the first White-crowned Sparrow of the season checking the same feeder tells me I’d better get ready for another winter. Perhaps that is November’s ultimate purpose.

November’s fickle weather pattern is familiar by now. Its early days seem more like an October extension. A few deciduous holdouts flash the last of the lushest leaves before they drop overnight leaving only the burnished oaks to rustle in the wind.

By the month’s end, the world can suddenly change with the passing of one strong cold front. The silvery down of the milkweed seeds sail through graying skies only to be replaced the next day by the season’s first snowfall.

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November’s look.
We’ve returned to standard time, accentuating November’s shorter days. It’s nature’s way of prepping us for colder, darker days to come.

In North America, we have concocted a dodgy purpose for the eleventh month. November ushers in the holiday season here in the United States. Commercially translated, it’s time to shop as if you needed a reminder.

Near month’s end, Thanksgiving rings in the festive mode and the glitzy commercials. Christmas then isn’t far behind.

October’s golden days are gone. The best we can hope for now is a late Indian summer. We’ll take it even if only lasts a day or two.

Ohio’s pleasant weather has melted away like a stick of butter on a hot griddle. It’s time to stack the firewood, put in the storm doors and enjoy a warm cup of mulled cider.

We have to face the truth. November is upon us.

November snows, Ohio
November snows in Ohio are not uncommon.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Cozying up to that time of year

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The lane to the cottage.

By Bruce Stambaugh

It’s that time of year again, and I’m not referring to the general election. A dutiful citizenry casting ballots is critical to maintaining our democracy, dysfunctional as it sometimes is. I relish a more personal season now.

The Chimney Swifts are gone, and I can once again stoke up a roaring fire in the family room fireplace. It’s my favorite leisurely pursuit of the colder months, and one that I eagerly share with family and friends.

This year I had to wait longer than usual to build my first fire. After the resident nesting Chimney Swifts flew south a week after Labor Day, another family of migrating swifts promptly moved in and basked in our fine early fall weather.

I didn’t mind at all. The affable little birds daily devour scores of insects.

I enjoy hearing the flying cigars, as birders affectionately refer to them, chatter as they dive bomb into the stubby brick chimney. I find it fascinating that these birds seem to never sleep. Their powerful swooshing into the chimney rattles the hearth’s damper day and night.

cottagefireplacebybrucestambaugh
The cottage fireplace.
After the chattering subsides, I usually wait a while before building a fire just to be certain no slackers are bringing up the rear of the annual southerly trek. I need not have worried. They all had gone before the first hard frost.

That said, my first fireplace fire this fall wasn’t at home. That honor went to the main fireplace at our getaway cottage in southeast Ohio. Since the fireplace is faced with Briar Hill sandstone, I didn’t feel far from home, however. The stone is mined in the county where I live.

Like my folks who built the cottage, my wife and I embrace autumn there. Set on the north slope of a steep hillside that runs down to a peaceful flood control lake, a forest of mature hardwoods surrounds the family cottage.

The day we arrived was overcast and damp. A cold front was forecast to push rain through Ohio and gradually cool the temperatures enough to warrant a fire.

The soothing warmth of a fireplace fire adds to the cottage ambiance. I gathered the kindling and well-seasoned logs and with one match, my fireplace season began.

The dancing and laughter of the consuming flames, the invigorating pungency of the burning logs, and penetrating heat mesmerized and inspired me. In an hour the inside temperature of the cottage had increased seven degrees.

There is a satisfying routine in my fireplace ritual. Kindling and logs are assembled on the grate. A match is struck, and a transformation from mostly smoke to flames ensues. The fiery hardwood fuel spontaneously hisses, pops, and showers sparks. It’s a fireplace Fourth of July.

I like to let the fire die down to where the glowing embers throw out more heat than the small blue, orange and yellow flares themselves. That’s when marshmallows toast golden brown.

rainingleavesbybrucestambaugh
As the wind picked up, a golden shower of leaves rained down.
After a few nudges of the shrinking logs with the poker, more cordwood is added, and the process begins all over again. Over time, the accumulation of the glowing coals means less wood to keep the room comfy.

The conditions for this year’s first fireplace fire couldn’t have been better. Just as the flames reached their peak inside, outside the wind gusted, and golden leaves and a drenching cloudburst rained down together.

It’s that time of year again. Home or cottage, I’ll rejoice and be glad in cozying up to the captivating charisma of a fireplace fire.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013