Friends of friends become your friends, too

friends, birthday celebration
Friends Ruth, Don and Ken before Gail arrived for the surprise. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

I contemplated the circuitous route of just how I happened to be sitting beneath a party canopy in this Ontario, Canada couple’s backyard. It’s a long but enjoyable story.

It all started when my wife was 14-years-old. Of course, Neva wasn’t my wife then. We married young, but not that young.

Neva accompanied her youth group to a church conference in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada in 1964. With hundreds of teenagers from around the U.S. and Canada attending, with the teens assigned to sleep in homes of local folks.

That’s where Neva met Ruth. Ruth’s family hosted Neva. Neva and Ruth connected right away, and they kept in touch. Seven years later, Ruth and her husband, Ken, attended our wedding in northeast Ohio.

They returned to Ontario. We set up shop here. We all began our careers and started families. We visited Ken and Ruth once when our daughter was just two. Now her youngest child is five. Time melts away, doesn’t it?

With the internet, texting, email, and online chatting science fiction, correspondence via regular mail diminished over time. Life got in the way of our long distance friendship.

About 20 years ago, that unexpectedly changed. Neva saw an advertisement for a tour. She called the toll-free number and guess who answered? Ruth.

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Meeting place. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
Their personal connection was restored. Ken and Ruth have visited us here in Holmes Co., and we’ve returned to their place in Kitchener. We even vacationed together once. Sometimes we meet in between.

When Ruth learned that Neva and I had become snowbirds to Florida’s Amelia Island, she mentioned that their across the street neighbors also wintered there. That’s where our life circle began to expand.

Ruth exchanged contact numbers with their neighbors and us, and the result was pure magic. In February 2014, we arranged to meet Don and Gail at a coffee shop in Fernandina Beach, the island’s only town.

Before the first sip of coffee, the four of us were yacking away as if we had been lifetime friends. Gail was born in England and still has that lovely disarming accent that is as genuine and gentle as she is. Don was from Bermuda and carries that notorious island swagger with him still, even though he’s been a Canadian now for years.

We chattered like teenagers at a soda shop. It didn’t take long to discover that both Don and I had been volunteer firefighters. As if that wasn’t enough to cement our friendship, photography and nature were also common hobbies.

Having been to Bermuda a couple of times ourselves, we knew many of the locales they mentioned. Don shared stories from his childhood until the present.

true friends
Gail and Neva. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
Gail and Neva got along famously, too. While Don and I were off shooting too many photos, our wives were happy just to shop, browse thrift stores, or sit and share. They clicked like childhood friends.

A carpenter by trade, Don was intrigued to learn that the wood industry was king in our county. Over the next month, we would take day trips together, go out to eat, or just play dominoes. That pattern repeated last winter.

That brings me back to sitting under the canopy. We surprised both Don and Gail by crashing her surprise birthday party.

For that little coup, you can blame Ken and Ruth. That’s what lifelong friends do for one another. They help create other equally robust friendships.

That’s the thing about friendship circles. They enrich your life.

friends
Friends. © Don Brown 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Warm Whispers

spring sunset, orange sunset
Warm Whispers. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

At first glance, this photo appears to be a sunset somewhere in the western United States. In fact, I shot this sunset from my backyard in Holmes County, Ohio. From there, I have a clear view of the pastured hillside on our Amish neighbor’s farm. The windmill, bare trees and fencerow created a wonderful silhouette against the warm, whispery clouds of the multi-hued sunset.

“Warm Whispers” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Tunnel silhouettes

railroad tunnel, silhouettes, photographer, subjects, Bruce Stambaugh
Tunnel silhouettes. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

My wife and another couple came upon this trio in an old train tunnel in Barnesville, Ohio. Our friends have been life-long train enthusiasts. We were exploring the old downtown in southeastern Ohio when we found this tunnel. As we approached one end of the tunnel, we noticed a young couple posing for a photographer at the other. I couldn’t resist photographing the crisp silhouettes of the three as the photo shoot concluded. I especially liked that the couple held hands.

The changing fall leaves and the afternoon’s diffused light that reflected off of the wetted tunnel wall helped accentuate the three subjects, who were holding a brief conversation as I took their photo. “Tunnel silhouettes” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

Morning reflections

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Morning reflections. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

I usually carry my camera with me wherever I go. Yesterday was no exception. I was on my way to a meeting when I passed through Walnut Creek, one of the oldest settlements in Holmes County, Ohio. The morning sun was straining to filter through on-rushing clouds, part of a cold front bringing in some welcomed rain.

When I stopped to take a photo of one scene, I saw this one, the mirror reflection of this nicely kept farm, known as the Jonas Stutzman farm. An official historical marker notes that Stutzman was the first white settler in the eastern section of the county, arriving from Somerset County, Pennsylvania in 1809.

The details in this photo, coupled with the farmstead’s history, made “Morning reflections” my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh

Red barn

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Red barn. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

I had just finished photographing some early evening scenes along the Lake Erie shore in Lakeside, Ohio, when I came upon this brilliant red barn right next to the Historic Lakeside Hotel. Its beauty stunned me. How the sun highlighted the barn’s red color and white trim also grabbed my attention. I loved how the green leaves of the tree limb intersected and nicely contrasted with the bright red. More than that, my wife and I have vacationed every summer at Lakeside Chautauqua since 1987, and I couldn’t recall ever seeing this barn.

I have thousands of photos from this beautiful gem of a town. The surprise of finding this barn, once seemingly hidden, but revealed by the combination of fresh paint and good timing made it my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

Humbly and gladly joining the snowbird migration

snowrollersbybrucestambaugh
The day we left Ohio it was 15 degrees below zero, and the snow rollers, a rare weather phenomenon, still graced open fields surrounding our home.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I never thought I would ever be a snowbird. Snowbirds are old people that head south to Florida or southwest to southern Texas or to Phoenix for the winter to avoid the chilling temperatures and the harsh weather of northern latitudes.

I wasn’t going to be “one of those people.” I liked winter’s Jekyll and Hyde fickleness. In Ohio, a dull, dirty brunet landscape can be magically transformed overnight into a fluffy, frosted wonderland.

Really, I cherish the change of all the seasons. I never tire of seeing the verdant transition from winter’s dormancy, whether brown or white, to spring’s greening and glorious floral colors. Splashes of vivid feathers of our aviary friends enhance spring’s sparkle.

Of course after spring, summer’s cottony clouds come sailing over maturing crops and rainbow gardens full of nascent flowers and luscious vegetables. Then there is fall’s full blaze of glory amid the many stands of hardwoods to behold, too.

We are fortunate that our area offers diverse landscapes, from steep wooded hills to vital marshy habitats for an array of wildlife. I marvel at the hilly farmlands, with their multihued, flowing ribbons of contoured crops, and smart fields of grazing livestock. Contrasting brushy fencerows stitch the agrarian patchwork quilt together.

At middle age, I began to view winter differently. No longer was it the snowy playground of my youth, but a season to appreciate the beauty of white against earthy sepia browns and blacks, and breathtaking sunrises and sunsets.

Even so, I have to confess that my fondness for winter has waned. During February, my wife and I overlooked a sandy beach that gently sloped down to the ever-rolling Atlantic Ocean.

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The view from our condo.

Traveling the interstates to the Sunshine State, we saw many other gray-tinged peers migrating, too. Like us, they fled from Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, New England and Canadian provinces alike.

Some drove vehicles like ours, stuffed to the gills with clothes, food, bikes and any other paraphernalia deemed necessary for their extended winter’s stay. Others steered huge recreational vehicles, towing equally crammed cars.

It’s the fourth consecutive year we’ve made the journey to Florida. Our stays have evolved from the original few pleasing days to several weeks in order to maximize the obvious.

I never thought I would ever say that. If I had my preference, I’m a mountain man. But the mountains are cold in the winter, and the cold makes my arthritis ache, and my bones groan. The modest warmth of northern Florida minimizes those maladies.

So there I was, a snowbird, partaking in the many amenities that Amelia Island, Florida had to offer. And believe me, it’s a lot.

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There I birded without crawling into my insulated coveralls and donning a stocking cap. There we read, wrote, explored, met new friends. There we could stroll the beach for a dozen miles if we wanted. We didn’t.

We were content to walk up and down the same sections of sand, embracing the sounds of the sea crashing the beach, the shorebirds probing for food or skimming the rolling surface for sustenance.

We gathered seashells simply because they were pretty. We embraced sunrises and moon rises shimmering at the ocean’s horizon. A mile west, the harbor sunsets were spectacular.

Our consecutive trips south for part of the winter serve as evidence enough. I readily and happily admit that we are officially now snowbirds.

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My wife and I enjoyed our first lunch at Fernandina Beach, Florida outside, and it was Feb. 1.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

Pumpkins are for more than pie

Great pumpkin by Bruce Stambaugh
Pumpkins, including the Great Pumpkin apparently, are sold in lots of large boxs at a produce auction near Mt. Hope, OH.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Besides the colorful leaves, pumpkins have to be right up there as one of the top icons of fall. The portly orange fruit seems to be everywhere this time of year.

By their sheer numbers, people appear to be in love with pumpkins. Maybe that’s because they don’t have to rake them like they do the pumpkin’s leafy fall compatriots.

Perhaps the pumpkin’s versatility is the primary reason for its popularity. Pumpkins are used for all sorts of things. My favorite, of course, is in pumpkin pie; hold the whipped cream please.

Pumpkin pie by Bruce Stambaugh
My wife's fabulous pumpkin pie.

I know I’m prejudiced. I’m partial to the pies my good wife makes. That doesn’t deter me, however, from enjoying the baking efforts of others just to prove my point.

Fall is the time of year when real, honest-to-goodness pumpkin pie begins to show up on the menus of local restaurants. There’s good reason for that. It’s pumpkin harvest time. Of course with canning and freezing, pumpkin pie can be made anytime. But given its delicate ingredients, it’s best made in cooler climes.

It’s also worth noting that the pumpkins we see for sale in the market, at roadside stands and in people’s front yards are not generally the kind of pumpkins of which pie is made. For that, you need pie pumpkins, which makes perfect sense to me.

Pumpkin display by Bruce Stambaugh
Homestead Furniture, Mt. Hope, OH used pumpkins in it's 20th Anniversary Sale last October.

These pumpkins have a much higher calling. They are for show. Pumpkins decorate front porches, yard displays, commercial displays and accent fall flower gardens. Their bright orange color warms the coolest autumn morning.

Toward Halloween, people pick the perfect pumpkin for their Jack O’ Lantern. Carving a face into the anointed pumpkin can be a family affair that makes lasting memories for impressionable children. On October’s darkened nights, a single lighted candle sufficiently illuminates the caricature designed and desired.

Colorful pumpkins by Bruce Stambaugh
Pumpkins of different colors.

To be chic, pumpkins now come in alternate colors. There are white ones, gray ones, brown ones and even blue ones. These, too, are prized for their ornamentation qualities, and exhibited indoors and out.

Pumpkins are so highly regarded in our North American societies that they even earn their very own festivals. Towns around the country, especially in the Midwest where most pumpkins are grown, celebrated with contests like the largest pie and the largest pumpkin grown. To date, the record belongs to a young man in Wisconsin with a pumpkin that weighed in at 1,810.5 pounds.

Painted pumpkins by Bruce Stambaugh
Pumpkins even get painted rather than carved so they last longer.

Pumpkins show up on our dinner tables in other forms besides pies and decorations. There are pumpkin cakes, rolls, ice cream, lattes, ravioli and soups. The seeds can even be roasted and eaten for snacks.

We shouldn’t be surprised at this. We are simply repeating history. Native Americans taught early explorers to North America to roast pumpkin slices skewered on long sticks over an open fire. Settlers learned to cut the top off a whole pumpkin, hollow it out, and fill it with milk and spices, and then bake it on hot coals. This entrée was the forerunner to our pumpkin pie.

The indigenous peoples also understood the pumpkin’s versatility. They would dry strips of pumpkin, and then weave them into mats to sit on.

Besides our early history, pumpkins have also played major roles in our folklore. Cinderella’s coach turned into a pumpkin at midnight. The headless horseman in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow threw a pumpkin at poor Ichabod Crane. Of course, Charlie Brown is full of hope, still looking for the elusive Great Pumpkin.

Whether reading, eating or decorating, enjoy the pumpkin variety show while it lasts. Now pass the pie please.

Large pumpkins by Bruce Stambaugh
Pumpkins of all shapes and sizes are sold every fall at the Mt. Hope Produce Auction, Mt. Hope, OH.