Loving fall: Let me count the ways

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A typical fall scene in Ohio’s Amish country.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Plain and simple, autumn has her way with me. I’m in love with fall for so many reasons. Let me count the ways.

The dazzling leaves mesmerize me. I could sit and ponder the various color patterns and striations of a single leaf for hours on end, but only if my wife isn’t home.

I am captivated by how rapidly the leaves on some trees alter their colors, while the same species nearby stands pat as if it were still July. Still others give up the ghost altogether, and simply shed all of their leaves within hours. It’s both a marvel and a mystery.

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Leaves at various stages of color in Ohio’s Amish country.

Neighbors have a lovely sugar maple shade tree that holds a majority of its leaves verdant well into October. The rest blush blotches of fire engine red as if the tree’s perfect canopy had chicken pox. In the end, all the leaves succumb, temporarily covering the ground below with a warm blanket of red, yellow and orange.

The usually boisterous and bossy Blue Jays fly stealthily in pairs from one hardwood grove to the next. Back and forth they go in pairs, uncommonly silent. Are they storing acorns for the winter ahead? They wouldn’t say.

Not so with a gang of American Robins, long absent from our yard. They suddenly reappeared, chirping and chasing one another from treetop to yard to creek bank like it was spring again. I enjoyed their little entreaty even though, like the Blue Jays, I had no idea what they were up to.

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Black-capped Chickadee with sunflower heart.
I’m content to sit on the porch during fall’s balmy weather, watch the American Goldfinches, Black-capped Chickadees and White-breasted Nuthatches devour the expensive sunflower hearts. So doing enhances my daydreamer image.

With windows open on temperate nights, the crickets and the luscious coolness lull me to sleep until my wife pokes me to stop the snoring, or the Screech Owl startles me from the backyard pines. I note both admonitions, roll onto my side and dream on.

The grass is spring green one week and dull and prickly the next. Blessed fall rains ensure the difference.

Fox squirrels and chipmunks scurry to find whatever they can to hoard for the coming cold. I wish they had better memories. Next May dozens of red oak and black walnut saplings will verify the varmints’ mental lapses.

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Canada Geese on the wing.

Flocks of Canada Geese sail in imbalanced V’s over burnished treetops, cackling their way from one farm pond to the other. Lore says that near-sighted and neurotic Puritans imagined them as witches flying on broom handles. It’s ironic that the religious runaway paranoia inadvertently created a very successful commercial Halloween tradition.

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Heavy morn dew reveals overnight cobwebs.
Foggy mornings bring cool moisture that transforms secreted spider’s webs into glistening gems. The stunning natural artistry leaves me speechless, which may be for the best.

A sudden gust blows through the fragile leaves of a poplar tree, cascading a golden shower onto an emerald carpet that had only been raked hours before. Eventually, heavy rains or perhaps an early snow will bring them all down, ringing in the barren times once again. It’s a necessary part of life’s endless cycle.

Fields of corn, once huge waves of tasseled emerald, now show more brittle brown. Corn shocks already dot fields farmed by those who distain machinery.

Hungry birds have devoured all of the bright red berries of the dogwood trees. In protest, the dogwoods’ crimson leaves have one by one fluttered to the ground.

I’m in love with fall. Can you tell?

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© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

No rainy days at Lakeside, Ohio

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From sunrise to sunset, the area around Lakeside, Ohio’s dock is where the action is.

By Bruce Stambaugh

There’s never a rainy day at Lakeside, Ohio, making it the perfect summer vacation spot for all ages.

Sure, it rains at Lakeside. It’s in Ohio after all and on the shallow, sometimes precarious south shore of Lake Erie. That doesn’t mean the weather puts a damper on vacationing visitors, some who come from California and other foreign countries.

The weather, no matter how fierce, can’t quash Lakeside’s infectious community spirit. Sunshine or downpour, you can witness Lakesiders being Lakesiders wherever you go in the little resort town populated with quaint cottages and genial folks.

If it does rain, which it did on more than one occasion during our latest week in the Chautauqua on Lake Erie, no one dismays. Plenty of great activities await, with gaggles of polite people to encounter.

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Steamboat style cottages dot the streets of Lakeside, Ohio.

The new splash park is a cool hit with youngsters on a hot summer’s day. If the weather denies them that chance, you can likely find them sitting on one of the many inviting front porches that distinguish Lakeside cottages and homes.

A wise, gray-haired grandma centers a wicker loveseat, arms embracing grandchildren. They read aloud, do word games, Sudoku, or tell family stories, true and otherwise.

If three generations can’t enjoy a rousing round of miniature golf under the canopy of old-age hardwoods, the family won’t grow bored. They might turn to board games, Scrabble, chess, checkers, or Monopoly.

Thanks to its Chautauqua pillars of religion, education, arts and entertainment, and recreation, Lakeside is known for many engaging activities. Since 1928, shuffleboard has topped the sporting list historically.

Tennis, too, has its fair play at Lakeside. Families, couples, teams, and playing partners ply clay and paved courts for fun and competition.

Should it storm, chairs soon form a tight ring around antique dining room tables, cards are shuffled, and the competitive spirits are expended differently. Instead of power drinks to keep them going, homemade sweet tea and lemonade hit the spot.

Around the two-mile jogging trail that rings Lakeside’s boundary flows a steady stream of fitness. If the weather is too ugly to brave, brainpower replaces muscle power through summer reading or a spirited round of dominoes with family, friends and visitors.

The Lakeside dock is the centerpiece of the summer sun worshippers. Young swimmers, sailors, fishing generations and sun soakers congregate to do their things. In the event that the dock is closed due to inclement weather or northerly gales that swamp the cement pier with crashing waves, alternative plans are made with few complaints.

The handful of Lakeside’s eclectic restaurants and niche cafes, where scores of high school and college students earn a summer’s wage, offer plenty of fare and latitude to accommodate all. Patience whets the appetite for homemade donuts and refreshing ice cream.

Even on the sunniest of days, hundreds of folks hungry for other kinds of food are filled to capacity by the rich stories offered by the weekly chaplains. It’s as cerebral as it is churchy.

Weather-resistant, creatively designed indoor activities abound for children, while adults pick and choose between lectures, programs and displays. Nearly every week, some sort of special community function is offered.

Evenings bring out a large portion of the town’s population for a medley of performances in historic Hoover Auditorium. Others linger dockside basking in the glow of another inspiring sunset, sometimes only minutes after the end of an all-day rain.

Rain or shine, there really are no rainy days at Lakeside, Ohio.

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Watching the sunset from the dock is part of the Lakeside tradition.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

Walking with the grandsons generates more than exercise

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Grandsons Davis and Evan posed for a photo along the way.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Unlike their little sister, my grandsons, Evan, age nine, and Davis, now seven, wake early. No matter how late they stay up the previous night, they always rise with the cows.

On a recent visit from their city-situated home in Virginia to our Ohio rural one, I found the boys quietly playing in the living room as I prepared for my morning stroll.

I asked them if they wanted to walk with me. Davis said he would. Evan said not. So Davis changed his mind. As I headed for the front door, they both reevaluated the situation, likely based on previous walks with Poppy. They joined me after all.

Both are smart, observant boys, full of vim and vinegar. At their age, you never know what’s going to pop into their brains and tumble out of their mouths. They know that the saunter down the chip and sealed country road can resemble an amble in a zoo, with both domestic and wild animals appearing at various spots along the way.

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The boys carefully checked out the dead Screech Owl along the roadway.
Practicing good safety habits, we walked single file. I took the lead on the initial stretch of the stroll along our busy county road. Most motorized vehicles seem to seldom adhere to the posted 45 m.p.h. speed limit.

That is particularly true of cars, vans and trucks heading north toward us down what we affectionately call the Number Ten Hill ski slope. Fortunately, in the quiet countryside, you can generally hear the acceleration approaching well before you see it. We stepped to the side until the traffic passed.

As we did so, we discovered a dead Screech Owl in the neighbor’s grass. It most likely had been hit overnight as it hunted for food. On the way home, I picked up the bird, placed it in a plastic sack and put it in the freezer until delivery could be made to the Wilderness Center in Wilmot where it would be preserved as a hands on educational tool for children like my grandchildren.

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A family of Purple Martins perched high on the snag of a dead decidious tree at the beginning of our walk
We turned east on the township road and soon spied a family of Purple Martins perched high in the limbs of an old snag. Upon our arrival to their station, the gregarious birds greeted us by circling and chattering overhead.

Boys being boys, all things gross always intrigue them. The flattened brownish-green plops of horse manure left on the roadway drew their attention. Davis, the more scientific one of the two, wanted specific details of how it got there. I encouraged him to be patient, that maybe he would learn first-hand how that particular organic operation functioned.

At one homestead, I praised a meticulously manicured vegetable garden. Apparently too tame, the exploring boys barely gave it a glance.

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Always the exacting young man, Evan had to point to the wagonload of firewood to be sure that was the wood that would be delivered to the house.

Further down the road at our neighbor’s farm, I showed them the wagonload of chopped firewood that awaited delivery to our house. Their eyebrows shot up at the bulging cargo.

The mention of home seemed to trigger the fact that we had walked far enough, though we still had a quarter of a mile to go to complete my usual route. Not wanting to disturb the morning’s peacefulness, I relented. Knowing that breakfast awaited, the boys kept a steadier pace on the return trip, virtually ignoring the chestnut mares and Holstein heifers.

Though a horse drawn buggy did pass us, Davis must have forgotten his question, negating having to describe the unappetizing depositing process to their admiring sister. She’s a dainty enough eater as it is.

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© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

Like it or not, beach vacations rule

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By Bruce Stambaugh

If I had to choose between vacationing in the mountains and spending a week on the beach, I would always head to the mountains. But you don’t always get your way in life, especially when consistently out-voted three to one in a democratic family.

I thought about that recently while relaxing, you guessed it, on a beach. A towheaded little girl jumped in glee as the next lapping froth of a broken wave tickled her toes. The roar of the crashing surf drowned out her joyous squeals.

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Our four-year-old granddaughter was fearless at the beach.

Sandy-haired young boys, already tanned from summer baseball games, challenged the powerful surf head-on and lost. Deposited several feet down shore, the pair still celebrated in the foamy residue. The gamey boys shook their heads like wet dogs, and went back for more.

The excited little girl and the rollicking boys were our grandchildren. Watching them soak up the benefits of a beach vacation scarcely differed from the memories of our own daughter and son savoring the seashore when they were young. The infectious laughter and shrieks of oceanic ecstasy displayed by the grandkids perfectly mimicked those of our son and daughter.

Clearly, the family beach vacation tradition continues. The seashore in the summer is always mesmerizing. Senses are invigorated.

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The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is an iconic symbol for vacationers on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

The sight of whitecaps frosting the rolling water, the sound of wave after wave pounding the beach, whiffs of salty sea air, the texture of gritty sand beneath your bare feet, incredible sunrises and awesome sunsets, animated shorebirds, and picturesque lighthouses soothe even the harshest of souls.

Growing up, our children certainly had plenty of opportunities to catch ocean fever. Once the kids were old enough to enjoy extended trips, the beach seemed to be the destination of choice, no matter what dad suggested. We fitted in informative historical spots and intriguing geographical venues in route to the shore. The beach, however, was the main allure.

Our family beach escapes could actually serve as a partial chronology of our life together.

The first such jaunt was to Ocean City, New Jersey. The kids were hooked, on the beachy benefits, not the historic landmarks of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania that we visited on the way. Intriguingly, our son-in-law and his family had vacationed there, too.

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Sarasota, Florida’s Siesta Key Beach is rated one the world’s finest.

After that we did Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Cocoa Beach and Siesta Key Beach in Florida. Each year the kids upped the ante in where they wanted to plop their beach blankets. Eventually, it was California here we come.

I was all for visiting the left coast of the country. It truly would be a family vacation since both my wife and I had relatives and friends in the Golden State.

Besides, this would provide an excellent opportunity to get the family into some real mountains, Yosemite National Park being the main destination. Though they wouldn’t admit it then, our son and daughter loved Yosemite as I had hoped they would.

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The Summer Solstice sunrise on the Outer Banks was a beauty.

Still, it was being on the beach with their cousins that drew them. Our children were pleased until they hit the water at Huntington Beach. Even though we were in southern California, the ocean was a bit too chilly for swimming. Nevertheless, they soaked up the Orange County suntan time and the lively interacting with their kin.

Another crashing breaker swamped the grandsons. Their fair-haired sister kept building her Outer Banks sand castle. I continued to snap the camera’s shutter capturing the unfolding fun while I mentally recalled the many pleasant scenes on the beaches of our family life.

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Being buried in the sand is a part of every beach vacation.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

In memory of an impulsive father

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By Bruce Stambaugh

My late father was a loving, loveable guy. His impulsive actions, however, often masked those admirable traits.

Combined with his affability and innate friendliness, his good intentions sometimes wrote a recipe for embarrassment if not potential disaster. Even when in the wrong, Dad would turn a negative into a positive.

Dad was definitely gung-ho about everything he did in life. With his many interests, he did a lot in his 89 years of living. He went full force, no holds barred. Dad was simply passionate about life.

If he knew this about himself, Dad certainly never acknowledged this reckless abandon approach to life as a fault. The way he lived, he had to have seen this passion as an attribute.

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My wife and I surprised my parents on Father’s Day in 2009 with a visit to the cottage they had built. We had purchased it from them, and remodeled the cottage. Dad died on Dec. 21 that year.

Dad loved sports, especially outdoor activities like hunting and fishing. He also amassed an extensive Indian artifact collection. Dad was involved in many community activities, almost always in leadership positions. The end result was that he made many friends in his lifetime.

Dad’s enthusiasm sometimes got the best of him, and others, too. The story my nephew shared at Dad’s memorial service three and half years ago pretty well summed up my father’s impulsiveness. The story is true with no hyperbole interjected.

Mom and Dad had a cabin on Clendening Lake in southeast Ohio. They loved to host friends and family as frequently as possible. My younger brother and his family attended one such outing.

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A favorite activity of Dad’s was to pile everyone onto his pontoon boat for a combination cruise and fishing trip around the 14-mile long lake. The scenery was always enjoyable. The fishing on the other hand often was more bait than catch.

On this particular voyage, Dad had found a spot right across the lake from the cabin. My nephew reported that the fishing was good until my father’s impetuosity intervened.

Dad cherished interacting with people, often to the point of being late for supper or forgetting an appointment altogether. I think he invented the word “relational.”

While my brother and his family were concentrating on catching croppies, Dad noticed another boat on the opposite shore. He thought it looked like the owner of the cabin next to his.

fallfishermanbybrucestambaughDad suddenly announced to his surprised passengers, “Hey, that looks like Bennett over there,” and up came the boat anchors. Lines were reeled in, and across the lake they went at full throttle.

Since Clendening isn’t a very wide lake, it didn’t take too long to reach the spot where Mr. Bennett was fishing. My nephew recalled wondering why his grandfather wasn’t decreasing the pontoon’s speed as they got closer and closer to the south shore.

Seeing the inevitable, my brother motioned for Dad to slow the boat or change coarse. He did neither.

Dad instead responded by yelling a series of “Hellos” to Mr. Bennett, who at first waved back, then tried frantically to wave Dad off.

Dad greeted his neighbor by ramming the pontoon boat into the much smaller bass boat, tipping it and its owner into the murky lake. Fortunately the water was shallow there. But all of Mr. Bennett’s rods, reels, tackle boxes and stringer sank straight to the lake’s bottom.

Dad had finally stopped the pontoon by the time Mr. Bennett had popped up soaking wet. What was my father’s first comment to Mr. Bennett after the crash? An apology? Not exactly.

Dad matter-of-factly hollered, “Hey, Bennett, are you catching anything?”

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My older brother, Craig, and I accompanied our father, Dick Stambaugh, on an Honor Flight trip to Washington. D.C. on Sept. 12, 2009. We posed in front of the Ohio pillar at the World War II Memorial.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

Birds and birders: Two of a kind

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The west entrance to the Magee Marsh boardwalk is a great place to begin the birding.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Birds and birders have a lot in common. This thought struck me on my latest trip to northwest Ohio’s birding mecca, Magee Marsh Wildlife Area.

Billed as the Greatest Week in American Birding, the event coincided with the peak of the spring warbler migration. Warblers, and other migrating birds, use Ohio’s airspace as their launching pad to their northern breeding grounds.

Before the birds cross Lake Erie, they tend to rest along its shores. There they replenish their strength by devouring insects that flit around the budding and blooming deciduous trees, shrubs and wildflowers. Shorebirds scour the marshes and shores for their nourishment.

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This American Woodcock chose the median of the parking lot to make her nest.

As an amateur birder, I enjoy watching backyard birds and observing passers through with equal zeal. But if I want to see a multitude of colorful migrating birds packed into one location, Magee Marsh is the place to go.

The marsh and its 2,200 surrounding acres serve as a sprawling wildlife sanctuary with varied habitat types, including estuaries, marshes, scrub lands, woodlots, rocky areas, beaches and of course the lake itself. The area also provides sportsmen with seasonal controlled hunting and fishing.

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Magee Marsh has many habitats that attract several species of migrating birds.

During bird migration season, the only shooting of birds permitted is with cameras. Believe me, plenty of shots are fired in search of the perfect picture of the incredible songbirds, shorebirds, and birds of prey.

In my meandering around the boardwalk, trails and beach, I discovered something that should have been obvious. Birders have a lot in common with the birds they watch.

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Birders checked out warbler on the boardwalk at Magee Marsh

Like their feathered friends, birders come in all shapes, sizes and ages. Just like the birds, birders sport different hues and clothe themselves in a variety of colors, including camouflage, worn more to soothe the birds than hide from predators.

There are other comparisons, too. Some birders maneuver and forage in solitude for their targets. Others travel in organized groups. Most birders are quiet, but some let loose with an effusive chatter when a flashy warbler or rare bird is spotted.

When a shorebird captures a fish, it often finds itself quickly surrounded by others hoping to also steal a bite. When a birder discovers a coveted find, others gather around hoping to capture the image through their spotting scopes, binoculars, or cameras. Those without scopes are graciously invited to better view the often-concealed bird. Birders are genuinely kind people.

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A young family took a break from their birding at Magee.
When a bird is located along the boardwalk at Magee, birders bob and weave, stretch and stoop to get just the right viewing angle. Birds do the same in search of food or checking out habitat. Most birders go in search of birds, like the many warblers that flit from limb to limb decreasing the insect population. Others sit and wait for the birds to come to them, like a Great Blue Heron patiently waiting for a fish to spear.

Camaraderie and sharing are normal in the sport of birding. Staunch birders make life lists, month lists, day lists, yard lists,

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This Cape May Warbler dined on insects before heading across the lake.
state lists, annual lists, and just about any other kind of list you might imagine. That’s how serious they take this popular sport.

If someone finds a bird they can’t identify, a more expert birder gladly assists in teaching how to properly confirm just what species it is. Teaching and learning are just as important as appreciating the birds and their habitats.

Perhaps that is why birding is one of the most popular sports in the world. During the Biggest Week in American Birding, global citizens flock to northwest Ohio in hopes of seeing a special species.

To hear the various lyrical birdsongs and behold the flashy mating plumages first hand is truly a treat. To see the smiles and satisfaction on the faces of the elated birders is equally rewarding.

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Birders tend to be pleasant, engaging people.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

Celebrating a creative mother and sporting father

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Dick and Marian Stambaugh at their 65th wedding anniversary.

By Bruce Stambaugh

When I was asked to give a talk to volunteers for a local retirement community on April 23, I didn’t hesitate. My mother had died on that day at the nursing home a year ago.

I thought the opportunity more than appropriate to share about how much the volunteers meant to residents like my mother. After all, some in the audience likely delivered needed and appreciated services for my both my mother and father as they finished out their lives.

My assignment was to show some of the many photographs I had taken over the years around Holmes County, Ohio. I offered to include some shots of other places in the world where I had traveled. The organizer said just Holmes County scenes would be fine.
That would be no problem at all. I had thousands of shots from every season from around our bucolic countryside. In some cases, I had photos of the same scene in different seasons, and sometimes from multiple views. I thought that would serve my purpose very well.

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An Amish buggy crests a hill amid a rainbow of colors in Holmes Co., Ohio.

My aim was to honor my loving mother and gregarious father, not to hype my photographic abilities. Dad had taught my siblings and me to appreciate our environment, to respect nature, and to understand the careful balance between harvesting her resources and preserving the earth’s beauty. Hunting and fishing, along with conservation, had been priorities in his life, especially in his retirement years while he was still able.

Mom, on the other hand, was more reserved but equally adamant about appreciating and sharing nature. She just chose a different venue. Mom skillfully captured her love for God’s good earth on canvas.

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A shocking but typical scene in Holmes Co., Ohio.

Mom painted hundreds of landscapes from all around the country, mostly in vivid watercolors. She skillfully replicated scenery as she saw it, and if you were familiar with the local geography, you could often identify the location of the setting. Mom was that good.

Ironically, none of her five children caught the artist’s gene or desire. Mom once patiently tried to teach me to paint. But given my poor efforts, she wisely encouraged me to “paint” with my camera and through my writing. It was sage advice.

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A long, muddy Amish farm lane in Holmes Co., Ohio.

Mom taught me to have her artist’s eye by understanding perspective and composition through the camera’s lens rather than smearing colors on a canvas. Believe me, smearing was the appropriate verb for my practice runs at watercolors.

On April 23, I complied with the organizer’s wishes. Only three of the 170 shots I shared on screen with the volunteers were from outside the county. To set the tone, the first slide was a picture of Dad and Mom at their 65th wedding anniversary gathering.

Though family members were the only humans shown in my photo presentation that day, I asked those in attendance if they had seen themselves in the slides. Not surprisingly, I got looks of bewilderment.

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Draft horses on a cold, snowy day in Holmes Co., Ohio.

I told the volunteers gathered that they were the forests and the lilies of the fields, the sparkling brooks and crimson trees in the lives of those at the retirement community. Because of their individual situations, the residents may not be able to express their appreciation for the little things the volunteers did. But speaking from personal experience, they do.

I am certain I am not alone in my gratitude to them for all their good efforts. I also wanted them know how much my folks had blessed me with a rich and rewarding appreciation for the Creation in which we live.

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© Bruce Stambaugh 2013