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.

sheep grazing
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

November Sunset

sunset, November, Holmes Co. OH
November Sunset.

With the stubby brush and the windmill, this sunset scene looks like it could be “out west.” Not really. I shot this photo a few days ago here in Ohio’s Amish country.

In fact, I merely had to step into the backyard for the shot. I used my telephoto lens. The setting is the top of a hillside pasture about a quarter of a mile behind our home. The “brush” is simply the top of a tree that protrudes from the other side of the hill.

“November Sunset” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Finding peace and joy

Farmers Produce Auction, Mt. Hope OH
Auction in action.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Most folks go there to either buy or sell. I go for peace and joy.

The Farmers Produce Auction west of Mt. Hope, Ohio is heaven on earth for me. Given the size of the crowds and the non-stop activity, I have a feeling I’m not alone in that sentiment.

This little spot of paradise, located dead-center in the prettiest township in Ohio, bustles with business. That’s especially true in fall, the summit of the harvest season.

That it is so raucous this time of year should come as no surprise. The skid loaders, the bins, the baskets, the boxes, the trucks, the wagons, the carts, the pallets overflow with all of Creation’s botanical creativity.

Though they may not look like it, the auction grounds and buildings are the Garden of Eden April to November. Fall is its horn of plenty.

Growers of all delicious fruits and vegetables and eye candy fall flowers gather their goods and come to the auction. As diverse as the produce varieties, attendees represent a microcosm of society. Men, women, children, black, brown, white, young, old and in between, workers, buyers, sellers and admirers harmoniously intermingle.

Once the auctioneers’ voices begin to resound, all eyes and ears swivel to attention. Buyers from small urban markets, major grocery stores, and mom and pop stands along country roads stay glued to the rhythmical cadence of the hucksters.

They want to make sure they’re going to get the best produce for the best possible price. They know what their customers want and what they’ll pay for quality fresh food and flowers. It’s entrepreneurship at its finest.

Finer still is the paint pallet of colors of the gourds, squash, pumpkins, mums, watermelon, tomatoes, plums, apples and cucumbers. Together they create a biological masterpiece.

Click on the photos to enlarge them.

I wander through the grounds absorbing this end of the rainbow experience. The raw aromas of the fruits and veggies mingle with those of the resting horses and the scrumptious offerings of the beckoning lunch stand.

As if this ever-changing live landscape painting weren’t enough, the singsong crackle of the auctioneers’ voices over the loudspeakers lead the melody of the moment. The hum of the electric loaders, the dozens of sidebar conversations, and the hailing of one person to another across the way sing in harmony.

I glide through as those around me keep to their appointed tasks of loading and unloading, of buying and selling. I am unhindered as I zigzag my way up and down the aisles careful not to interfere or offend.

When I stop and admire the artistry in the earthiness of the individual brush strokes of this organic collage, I come alive. I am at peace. I find joy in the natural patterns of the speckled, striped, plump, oblong, elongated brightness nestled in this temporary harvest home.

The scene could be a Monet or a Rockwell with one exception. It’s real, and it’s all around me, intoxicating all who partake.

Once the bidding ends, a patented rush begins in two directions. One is to quickly but carefully load the delivery trucks to ensure freshness to the awaiting customers miles away. The other is to the food stand, where the chefs are generous with their portions and their geniality.

From still life to landscape to abstract renderings, this produce market offers much more than edibles. In the course of the procurement, peace and joy surreptitiously enrich the colorful treats.

Farmers Produce Auction, Mt. Hope OH
Full view.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Misty Sunrise

mist, sunrise
Misty Sunrise.

When I awoke just before dawn a few days ago, I thought there would be no chance whatsoever for a lovely sunrise. Fog surrounded us. Nevertheless, I kept my eye on the east as I prepared for the day. I wasn’t disappointed. In a matter of minutes, a breeze stirred, the atmosphere warmed, and the fog rapidly dissipated.

I could see the sun about to break through. I hustled across the road to the neighbors to catch a glimpse of another inspiring sunrise in Ohio’s Amish country.

“Misty Sunrise” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

August in Amish country

oat shocks, Holmes Co. OH,
Oat shocks. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Scenes such as these make iconic Amish country photographs. However, fields of shocked grain like this are less and less frequent. Rules for the Amish farmers are changing, allowing them to make use of equipment like combines to harvest oats and wheat.

Only the lower order Amish still shock wheat and oats. This method permits the grain to dry in the warm, often hot, August sun. Once the moisture content is low enough, the shocks are pitchforked onto a wagon and hauled to the barn. There a thrasher separates the grain from the chaff.

I hope this process remains, if only for its marvelous beauty.

“August in Amish country” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Details in Patterns

Amish farm, details
Details in Patterns. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

I love to look for patterns in photos. There are plenty on display here, even if you only look at the various textures of the roofs on the congregated buildings. Also note the details that enhance the plain red and white buildings. Did you see the brown horse against the barn wall? How about the Rock Doves, aka pigeons, on the roof of the outbuilding in the foreground? Or the smoke coming out of the chimney?

See how many other details you can find as you explore this photo.

“Details in Patterns” is my photo of the week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Summer weather in Ohio is as variable as life’s events

flower garden
Summer bouquet. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

After another wonderful summer day with partly sunny skies, pleasant temperatures, light breezes and little humidity, I’m watching the rain pour down.

It’s July. It’s Ohio. It’s the way weather happens here.

After the harsh winter and cool, damp spring, we were ready for an old-fashioned summertime. To be clear, that meant nothing but clear skies and warm sunny weather through September.

Of course, that never really has happened, never will. But we can dream can’t we?

The truth is we need to be honest with ourselves about summer weather in Ohio. We can have good days, better days, and then there’s the rest. Some of Ohio’s summer weather can be downright nasty, if not hazardous.

The consequential weather can be fearsome, and put a kink into your best-laid plans. A picture perfect day can morph into our worst nightmares. Tornadoes, hail storms, damaging thunderstorm winds are among the wicked weather menu options.

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The July 1969 flood comes to mind. I didn’t live in Holmes County then. Still, the storm was widespread, and I saw damage and destruction. I was an intern reporter for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland. I headed to the Chautauqua Institution near Jamestown, New York for the holiday weekend.

I didn’t stay long. All the activities got rained out. On the way back to my apartment in a western Cleveland suburb, I passed several ConEdison power company trucks in New York heading west on the interstate.

I stopped at the newspaper on the way back and saw photos of boats being bashed against the rocky lakeshore. Power was out in much of the Cleveland area, including my neighborhood. In fact, one of those ConEdison trucks that I had passed was parked in front of my apartment.

Powerful winds drove the pouring rain right through the old, thick brick walls of our building. Huge trees snapped in a nearby park, and teenagers directed traffic at busy intersections.

Six weeks later I saw the damage done in Killbuck, my new home. Folks were still trying to recover from the devastating flood that touched nearly every building in the creekside town.

Weather is to be both appreciated and respected when it interrupts our human plans. When we hear thunder, we need to take cover. Avoid those treacherous floodwaters and find another way around.

Click on the photos to enlarge.

As a weather buff, I cringe when I hear of people being struck by lightning playing golf or baseball, and when I learn of youngsters being swept away playing in swollen streams. Those are sad stories that need not have happened.

Weather is a lot like life, isn’t it? A wise Amish farmer once told me, “We just have to take whatever weather comes our way.” I think that philosophy applies to other aspects of our lives as well.

How do we respond when one of life’s happenings strikes us like a lightning bolt?

A surprise medical diagnosis by the doctor, an unexpected budget-breaking bill, a broken relationship, the death of a loved one can all wash over our emotions like a flash flood.

It’s summer in Ohio. Not every day will be sunny, nor will everything that happens to us be fair. We can’t change the weather, and sometimes can’t even alter our personal circumstances.

What we can do is keep on hoping for sunny summer days. It won’t be all cloudy and miserable forever.

It’s July. It’s Ohio. It’s the way weather and life happen here.

Summer sunset
Summer sunset. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015