A season of transitions

lily pond, OARDC
The lily pond.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I sat alone on the park bench enjoying the beauty before me. I didn’t realize it then, but now I see that this little break from my regular routines served as a realization that summer had arrived.

I took in the action in this public garden of flowers, woodlots, shrubs, ponds, and meadows. Here life was abundant, evolving, vibrant, verdant, and fragrant.

Still, the hustle and bustle of urban life intruded. Trucks roared by on the nearby expressway. Sirens sounded in the small city below.

In this peaceful island sanctuary, I found relief, joy, introspection, and resolve. Children’s joyous voices that carried above and around the hedges and well-planned plantings of this lovely arboretum broke my spell.

Their mother asked for directions to the giant slide. I pointed them to the children’s forest where I thought it might be, and off they went. I wondered why they weren’t in school. Then it hit me. School’s out for the summer.

I silently laughed at my silliness. It was the time of year I had simultaneously loved and loathed. As a public school educator for three decades, my two favorite workdays were the first and last ones of each academic year.

Wonder, surprises, heartache, celebration and meaningful interactions filled the days in between. All that changed once school dismissed for the summer. In a matter of days, I missed the students.

That, too, changed with the transition into a second career in marketing and writing. Funny how it was so easy to forget the ebb and flow of the once all too familiar educational rhythm.

As the mother and her clutch left, I returned to my leisurely stroll among the various gardens graced with stone and steel artworks. The many transitions of life that this season brings arose all around.

I took another seat in the garden above a hillside amphitheater used for lectures, weddings, and meditation. An unsuspecting chipmunk scampered across my foot, then realizing its mistake, hightailed it for cover, chattering all the way.

Catbirds practiced their best imitations, competing with a distant mockingbird. Honeybees worked the fragrances. Black and tiger swallowtail butterflies fluttered from blossom to blossom, having only recently transitioned from pupa to fresh, crisp, winged beauties.

Like a herd of runaway soap bubbles, dozens of fluffy white puffball seeds floated by me. A gentle northwest breeze freed them from their mother cottonwood according to plan. This spontaneous event, too, symbolized an annual, natural transition from growth to evolutionary distribution.

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Across the ravine, giant wooden statues carved by a tornado’s impact still stood as witnesses to nature’s contradictory might and resilience. In a matter of moments, the storm’s fury bent and broke the once massive trees like number two pencils.

Suddenly a yellow-green something flashed across my gaze. I chased the bird with my binoculars, uncertain about its species. I was thankful the bird lured me into the ravine.

A soaking wet blue jay sat high in an old snag for the longest time preening, uncharacteristically silent, drying baby blue feathers in the afternoon sun. Had it refreshed itself in the lily pond where I first sat?

A robin perched on a much lower branch also absorbed the golden warmth. Again the yellow-green flash appeared. An orchard oriole had revealed its concealed, woven nest near the top of a young horse chestnut tree.

Just then my ears caught multiple contented screeches. Without investigating, I knew the children had found the long, hillside slide.

Their summer of fun had begun, and so had mine.

hillside slide
Summer slide.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Ohio Society of Bluebirds conference sets attendance record

thirstybluebirdsbybrucestambaugh
Eastern Bluebirds frequented a backyard water feature during a cold spell in Ohio.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Marcella Hawkins of Glenmont, Ohio has a passion for Eastern Bluebirds. That passion became productively evident Feb. 23 at the Ohio Society of Bluebirds (OSB) annual conference in Wooster, Ohio. Hawkins is the executive director of OSB.

From the record number of people who attended the conference held Feb. 23, Hawkins is not alone. More than 300 bluebird enthusiasts participated in the all day event, held at the Shisler Conference Center on the campus of the Ohio Agricultural and Research Development Center.

doorprizesbybrucestambaugh
Adrienne Hopson-Gaston of Mansfield, Ohio surveyed the door prizes available at the Ohio Bluebird Society conference.
The day was filled with exhibits, vendors, speakers and presentations, with only a few breaks. Experts and amateurs alike shared their research and experiences regarding some aspect of bluebirds, their predators and habitats.

Darlene Sillick, a conservationist and birder from Powell, Ohio, related her years of experiences with the Ohio Wildlife Center with owls. She explained that owls could turn their head 270 degrees because they have 14 vertebrate, twice the number of humans.

Sillick said owls depend on their keen sense of hearing and large eyes to track prey. She shared that it is the force of the owl’s talons that kills its prey.

Sillick introduced Matthew Wiese of Dublin, Ohio. Wiese, 17, did a nest box project on Safari Golf Club for his Eagle Scout badge. Wiese said he put in a total of 319 volunteer hours in planning, mapping and checking the numerous bluebird boxes he installed. He also learned to band the hatchlings in several of the boxes.

jasonmartinbybrucestambaugh
Jason Martin, head of Cornell’s Nest Watch project, answered questions from participants.
Roger Downer of Wooster, a retired entomologist from the OARDC, gave a presentation on moths. He said the important connection between moths and bluebirds are the caterpillars that serve as a food source for the bluebirds. Those that survive become moths, which other birds also use as food.

Chuck Jakubchak of Strongsville, Ohio gave a pep rally style presentation about how birds know when to migrate. In the case of Eastern Bluebirds, he proposed three scenarios. He said studies show that some bluebirds migrate to the southeastern states with habitat similar to what they have in Ohio. Others only partially migrate, going to warmer but closer states where they compete for food with non-migrating birds.

leucisticredtailedhawkbybrucestambaugh
Volunteers at the Medina Raptor Center displayed several species of injured birds at the conference, including this leucistic Red-tailed Hawk.
Jakubchak said the bluebirds seen in Ohio during the winter are non-migrating.

“They stay put, perhaps because they have had a successful breeding history,” he said. “But we really don’t know for sure, other than the fact that they choose to stay.”

Jason Martin of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, N.Y., spoke on the importance of documenting Eastern Bluebirds by monitoring their nesting boxes. He invited participants to join his project, Nest Watch, by keeping track of what is happening inside the nesting boxes.

“Inside the boxes,” Martin said, “is where the action is.” The Nest Watch project began in 1960 and has progressed to online reporting of nesting activity from around the country.

gregmillerbybrucestambaugh
Noted birder Greg Miller from Sugarcreek, Ohio gave an autograph to Trevor Zook of Mansfield, Ohio.

Greg Miller of Sugarcreek, Ohio closed out the session with a spellbinding account of his Big Year experience. He especially focused on the time he spent as the bird consultant on the set of the movie, The Big Year. He told personal accounts of meeting the movie producers and stars, including Jack Black, who played Miller in the movie.

Allen and Nina Bower of Britton, Mich., received OBS’s Blue Feather Award for their effort in spreading the importance of proper nest boxes for Eastern Bluebirds. The group’s Wildlife Conservation Award went to Charlie Zepp of Dublin. Zepp has built more than 6,000 bluebird boxes with wood he gathered from refuge bins at construction sites.

After announcing several winners of donated raffle prizes, Hawkins thanked the volunteers and sponsors of the conference, which was free of charge for those who had preregistered.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

Rejuvenated in a familiar and changed place

Flowering shrubs by Bruce Stambaugh
By Bruce Stambaugh

I hadn’t been to Secrest Arboretum in Wooster, Ohio since a tornado literally blew it apart September 16, 2010. In the midst of our recent summer-like weather, I decided it was time to reconnect.

Woodlots by Bruce StambaughLike so many others, I always had found the arboretum to be a place of blissful escape and rejuvenation. Its lovely woodlots, pristine gardens and peaceful settings have long served as a place of inspiration and retreat for many.

I knew why it had taken me so long to return to this little paradise. I didn’t want to relive those ugly memories, so opposite of what Secrest was meant to be.

Just an hour after the tornado hit late that summer evening, I had maneuvered in and around the devastation of the Ohio Agriculture and Research Development Center campus, where the arboretum is located. As a volunteer severe weather spotter, the Cleveland office of the National Weather Service had sent me there to photograph the damage as best I could.

I only had about a half an hour before sunset. Rescue crews were still combing buildings for possible victims who may have stayed late for work or study. Sporadic jerky flashes from searchlights sent eerie light beams through holes of broken buildings.

Focusing on my duty, I snapped as many pictures in the dim light as I could. That purposeful concentration was the only thing that stilled my emotions.

OARDC tornado damage by Bruce Stambaugh
Tornado damage near the Barnhardt Rice House on the Ohio Agricultural and Research Development Center in Wooster, Ohio on the evening of Sept. 16, 2010.

Historic buildings were ripped apart. Vehicles had been smashed and tossed like toys. Giant, beloved trees were snapped, toppled and twisted. It was overwhelming to see this peaceful place resemble a war zone.

It was nearly dark by the time I had circled back to the famous and popular gardens. Trees that had stood as sentinels over the flora and fauna had been sheared off or completely twisted out of the ground.

I thought of the many good times past when we toured the gardens with family and friends, admiring the marvelous variety of plants, flowers and trees. Those memories made it all so heart wrenching.

Like thousands of others, researchers and visitors alike, I loved the place. The EF2 tornado stole that, too. I knew that restoration had begun almost immediately. But I wondered if Secrest would ever be the same.

Flowers and stump by Bruce StambaughBuoyed by the unusually warm weather, I laid aside my fears and drove in. As soon as I exited my vehicle, familiar sights and sounds were instantaneous. Young trees had been planted, some adjacent to the sawed-off stumps, testimonial tombstones to those once towering trees.

Exotic tulips by Bruce StambaughThe early onslaught of warm weather had coaxed the blossoming of many flowers and flowering trees. Crocuses, daffodils, hydrangea, forsythia, magnolia and even an exotic tulip were all blooming, some well ahead of schedule. Workers were busy trimming out last year’s dead growth while construction crews continued to repair, replace and expand the lovely gardens.

ricehousebybrucestambaugh
The Barnhardt Rice House is repaired and back in use.
It was a pleasure to walk the paved pathways to explore the remake. I wasn’t the only one to notice the fragrant flowers. Huge bumblebees and honeybees gorged on the nectar of the new blossoms. Mocking birds flushed from one bush to the next, staking out nesting preferences.

It was also nice to see some of the campus building restored, refurbished and back in use. Others, however, remained much as the tornado had left them.

Damaged silos by Bruce Stambaugh
Silos on the OARDC campus stand as they were after being hit by a tornado Sept. 16, 2010.

The restoration of Secrest Arboretum is a work in progress to be sure. In some sections, tornado twisted and toppled trees remain within eyeshot of the ongoing transformations.

The contrasts of nature’s stark fury and inspiring revival filled my soul. In the midst of this resurrection season, Secrest and I were both healing.

Restored and damaged by Bruce Stambaugh
While many areas of the arboretum have been restored, sections of large trees downed by the tornado remain.

Abby Hart has a heart for the environment

Abby Hart by Bruce Stambaug
Abby Hart displayed some of her favorite mementos from Nicaragua.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Abby Hart, of Millersburg, loved science.

“But I didn’t want to be a doctor (like her father, Andy),” she said.

Instead, Hart put her scientific efforts into something she really cared about, the environment. She graduated from Wheaton College in 2009 with a degree in environmental studies.

After spending a year in Nicaragua through Mennonite Central Committee’s Serving and Learning Together (SALT) program, Hart has just begun a new job at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. She is a program assistant for the Eco-Agriculture Working Group under the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell.

She will be working to interconnect conservation and agricultural practices at Cornell. After her experience in Nicaragua, Hart said she considers this job an answer to prayer.

“I thought I would be preparing to go to grad school,” she said. “But now I’ll get to work and attend grad school as well.” Cornell has a graduate school program for employees, which Hart said she plans to take full advantage off.

A friend in California informed her about the job, knowing Hart’s dual interests in conservation and agriculture. Hart thinks her new position will be a good fit.

“They do research on agricultural procedures and conservation practices,” Hart said. “They focus on rural livelihood.”

After her SALT experiences in Nicaragua, Hart should be well suited for the job.

Hart lived for a year in a rural village in the central highlands of the Central American country. She had previously spent three months in neighboring Honduras, also through MCC, in an internship where Hart honed her Spanish skills.

In Nicaragua, Hart was involved in a food security project where she assisted locals in rearing small animals. She helped them learn how to raise rabbits and goats, two animals that Nicaraguans are normally not familiar with. She said they also raised chickens and sheep.

“We also worked in a water security program,” Hart said. “Ensuring clean drinking water there is crucial to prevent disease.”

Hart served as a liaison between department officials and the project beneficiaries, meaning the people who were involved in the programs. In fact, Hart lived with one of the beneficiaries in the small town of San Pablo.

“My host was one of the community leaders,” Hart said. “Thanks to cell phones, I’m still able to stay in touch with her.”

Hart, 23, returned from that assignment in July not knowing exactly what the future held for her. She was able to obtain a short-term job in agricultural research at the Ohio Agricultural and Research Development Center (OARDC) in Wooster. She had worked there previously in other summer jobs.

During those summer stints at the OARDC, Hart worked with a number of international students. It was then that she was able to improve on one of her hobbies, cooking. She also enjoys walking and biking.

“I still wanted to do agricultural and environmental related work or studies,” she said, citing the importance of conservation and agriculture working together.

Hart said she thinks her experiences at the OARC and in Nicaragua helped her in obtaining this new post.

“I am really excited to get this position,” she said. “It will involve working with both developing and underdeveloped countries. She said Cornell focuses its research on strategies in agriculture and the environment.

“They work in Central America and I will help in building social networks,” she said. “They apply the active learning approach to research and it is interdisciplinary.”

“It will be my job to obtain the most optimal solution for both agricultural and environmental processes,” Hart said.

Given her life experiences, her interests and her enthusiasm, the future looks bright for both Hart and those with whom she will be working.

Tornadoes hit Ohio’s Amish country again

Secrest Garden by Bruce Stambaugh
The entrance to the Secrest Garden and Arboretum after the tornado.

By Bruce Stambaugh

For the second time this summer, tornadoes caused significant damage in Ohio’s Amish country.

Shortly before 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 16 a powerful tornado touched down on the south edge of Wooster, Ohio along Prairie Lane. The tornado, which the National Weather Service rated an EF2, proceeded east destroying businesses and homes, and crossed Madison Ave. onto the campus of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, a division of The Ohio State University.

The tornado caused extensive damage to campus buildings, including some historical homes used as offices. It also destroyed the machine shop and heavily damaged parts of Secrest Garden and Arboretum, where many people love to walk and relax among the roses, ornamental shrubs and old age trees. The tornado clipped off dozens of the huge trees 20 to 30 feet above the ground.

The Wooster Twp. Fire chief reported that only one person was slightly injured. But she refused transport to the hospital.

The tornado continued on an east northeast path destroying and damaging several other homes and farm buildings. It did considerable damage to the Riceland Golf Course on U.S. 30 south of Orrville. Altogether, the NWS reported that the tornado was on the ground for 12 miles and reached wind speeds of 130 m.p.h. It left a path of destruction 200 yards wide.

Around 6 p.m., an EF1 tornado hit near the rural town of Farmerstown, Ohio in Holmes County about 25 miles south of Wooster. Several homes and barns were destroyed or damaged there. But again, no one was injured, although some farm animals had to be put down. The tornado was on the ground for three miles and reached a maximum speed of 100 m.p.h. It ranged from 50 to 75 yards wide.

As a Skywarn severe weather spotter for north central Holmes County, the Cleveland office of the National Weather Service asked me to photograph the damage at the OARDC. This was prior to knowing of the tornado in Holmes County. No tornado warning was issued for Holmes County.

I arrived at the OARDC shortly before 7 p.m., which left me a little more than a half an hour to take pictures before dark. I shot as many pictures as I could, but due to darkness, was unable to make it entirely around the campus. As I walked back to my car, parked in the arboretum a half mile east of the damaged OARDC buildings, I cut through open fields. I found several places where debris had hit the ground, leaving large gouges in the fields and grass.

The first tornado of the summer hit Holmes County and continued into Tuscarawas County on June 5. The EF1 and EF2 tornado caused extensive damage along its 10 mile path.

A gallery of some of my shots at the OARDC is shown below. Information about the Farmerstown tornado can be found here: http://www.holmescountyjournal.com/.

brick house by Bruce Stambaugh
Trees were snapped and the old Rice House heavily damaged at the OARDC in Wooster, Ohio.
damaged OARDC building by Bruce Stambaugh
One of the many OARDC buildings destroyed by the tornado
View of damaged OARDC building by Bruce Stambaugh
Another view of the building shown above.
Debris and stripped trees at the OARDC by Bruce Stambaugh
Debris and stripped trees at the OARDC.
Large trees down by Bruce Stambaugh
The tornado toppled large trees on the OARDC campus.
The OARDC's machine shop was heavily damaged by the tornado.
The OARDC's machine shop was heavily damaged by the tornado.
Machine shop destroyed by Bruce Stambaugh
Following the tornado's path to the machine shop at the OARDC.
Damage at the OARDC by Bruce Stambaugh
Damaged farm equipment and trees at the OARDC.
More damage around the machine shop by Bruce Stambaugh
More damage around the machine shop at the OARDC.
Another destroyed building at the OARDC by Bruce Stambaugh
Another destroyed building at the OARDC.
Destroyed machine shop by Bruce Stambaugh
The destroyed machine shop at the OARDC.
Debris littered the OARDC campus by Bruce Stambaugh
Debris from the tornado littered the OARDC campus.
OARDC police station by Bruce Stambaugh
Damage was extensive at the building that housed the campus police station.
The agricultural engineer building by Bruce Stambaugh
The agricultural engineering building was destroyed.
Rose garden by Bruce Stambaugh
The OARDC rose garden was heavily damaged.

A love for agriculture come full circle

By Bruce Stambaugh

It’s no accident that Leah Miller’s life has come full circle. Agriculture runs deep in her genes, personal life and in her professional career.

She grew up on a farm, and now her life is all about farming, both at home and on the job, whichever particular job it is she happens to be doing. In between, her career took a productive, if not circuitous route before Miller, 61, planted her agricultural roots.

Leah Miller by Bruce Stambaugh
In a rare moment, Leah Miller was in her Small Farm Institute Office in Coshocton County, Ohio.

Born in Conneaut, Ohio near her parent’s home farm at Pierpont, Miller followed some pretty big family footprints. Her father and her father’s father were both agricultural teachers, in addition to running separate farms in Ashtabula County.

Miller’s mother, Celia Wright, took charge of the family farm when her husband, Eber, moved into regional planning. Ironically, that is exactly the job Miller took in Lake County after graduating from The Ohio State University in 1971. She became Holmes County’s regional planning director two years later.

There is a bit of double-irony in this scenario. The Holmes County regional planning office was in the front of Hotel Millersburg.

“My parents spent the first night of their honeymoon at Hotel Millersburg,” Miller said. “They got a late start from their wedding reception in Columbus and following U.S. 62, Millersburg was as far as they got.”

Miller served in this capacity for six years. Once she and her husband, Mic, started their family, Miller turned her efforts to community service. She served two terms on the West Holmes Local School Board. Later, she served on the board at Central Christian School. She also served a term on the Ohio Mennonite Relief Sale board of directors, and was a 4-H advisor for a dozen years.

Miller was the first director of the Holmes County Chamber of Commerce, once it expanded from beyond Millersburg proper. In the 1990s, Miller’s leadership abilities became political. She was twice elected as a Holmes County commissioner.

All the while she found solace from her demanding schedule on her 50-acre sheep farm, Blue Bird Hill, east of Millersburg. She also kept bees, as did her father.

Her love for land and the people that farmed stirred within her. In 2001, she worked with former state representative Joy Padgett to form the Small Farm Institute.

“There was a concern about erosion and farming,” Miller explained. “The emphasis was to help farmers do more grazing with their animals.” She said the sod would help reduce run-off, and at the same time provide a natural grass diet for cows, cattle and sheep.

Miller is the director of the Small Farm Institute, which is based at the United States Department of Agriculture’s hydrological station in Coshocton County. She assists small farm operations to improve income by providing helpful information on sustainable environmental practices that support strong family and rural communities. Her focus is on production, processing and distribution of product.

“We encourage people to look for value-added production to enhance profitability,” Miller said. “If they run a produce stand, they can increase their income by making jam or canning instead of selling all their fruit and vegetables fresh.”

Much of Miller’s responsibility revolves around facilitating grazing groups. She said this has been especially successful among the Amish, who tend to form their own peer groups in close proximity to help reduce the need for transportation.

“It’s been a joy to watch them expand,” she said. “They hold pasture walks where they share helpful grazing information with one another.”

As satisfying as that is for Miller, she also supports much larger events. Her skill sets also assist the annual North Central Ohio Grazing Conference for Dairy, which brings in hundreds of people, including many from other states.

Miller also advises the planning committee for the upcoming annual Family Farm Field Day. David and Emily Hershberger will host the event on their farm, located on Saltcreek Township Road 613 in Holmes County, on July 17, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

As if she weren’t busy enough, Miller works part time as stakeholder coordinator in agricultural economic development for the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster. She splits her time between there and the Small Farm Institute. Miller is the executive secretary of the Ohio Forage and Grasslands Council, too.

Miller has traveled extensively, including Australia, Mexico, France and Honduras, touring grazing and farm production operations and doing a little mission work, too. She uses these experiences to expand what she shares about improving local farming practices.

It seemed only logical then that Miller’s leadership abilities be put to use in yet another positive way for the community. Miller has successfully lead Leadership Holmes County for employees of area businesses for several years. In that fact, there is no irony.

This article was first published in the Holmes Bargain Hunter, July 5, 2010.