Ambivalent about August

August in Ohio’s Amish country.

I’ve always been a bit ambivalent about August. I’m especially so this year, given all the ramifications of the ongoing pandemic.

When my wife and I lived in Ohio, August kept us busy as career public school educators. We each geared up for the start of a new academic year. As a principal, I created schedules and rosters and attended too many meetings. The excellent teacher that she was, my wife spent many hours preparing each classroom to be an inviting learning haven.

Canned peaches.
August also ushered in the food preservation season. We froze dozens of containers of sweet corn and apple sauce. We waited for the canning lids to sound the seal of approval with satisfying “pops” for the tomatoes, grape juice, beets, and peaches. Rainbows of goodness adorned our shelves.

Of course, we weren’t alone in these endeavors. After I retired, I savored sale mornings at the local produce auction. I loved the hustle and bustle of men and women unloading their trucks and horse-drawn wagons. The rhythmical cadence of the auctioneers barking out their persuasive banter was sweet music to my ears.

The growing season here in the Shenandoah Valley where we live now is a couple of weeks ahead of Holmes County, Ohio. So, we don’t have to wait as long to enjoy our first taste of locally grown veggies.

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

August is more than agriculture, though. The three H’s rule the eighth month: hot, hazy, humid. That’s not the main reason for my ambivalence, however. With the coronavirus continuing to run rampant, uncertainty abounds in everyone’s life.

The city schools where our grandchildren attend here were set to open with a combination of in-person and online instruction. The latest surge in COVID-19 has altered that plan. They’ll start the year learning remotely.

Mask-wearing is the norm, especially when entering stores or buildings. Neva and I have continued to be extra cautious about keeping our physical distancing. We truly miss the close socialization of friends and family.

Some states are doing better than others at slowing the virus. States that reopened with too few restrictions or where few people followed the guidelines are unfortunately paying the price.

A migrating black tiger swallowtail butterfly.
Since the governors have had to take the lead in issuing orders and health guidelines, rules and suggestions vary significantly from state to state. In part, that’s what has fueled our consternation.

We haven’t seen in person our son and his wife, who live in New York State, in more than a year. We have friends and relatives who have tested positive, but fortunately, they have all recovered so far. Too many others weren’t as fortunate.

County and street fairs, high school football, band shows, concerts, vacations, have all been canceled. Major League Baseball is trying to play a shortened season with no fans in attendance.

Virus or no virus, August will be August no matter what. Golden sunsets will blaze away in the hazy evening skies. Migrating birds and butterflies will begin to wing their way south.
We’ll continue to meet with friends, relatives, and worship remotely through technology.

Under the current dire circumstances, it’s the best and safest we can do. We’ll continue to do our shopping curbside.

Even given all that, I know that my August ambivalence must yield to patience, and patience to resolve. We have to see this global health crisis through for however long it takes. I’ll continue to be cautious, careful, and diligent. I am not ambivalent about COVID-19.

My challenge is not to let my melancholy deter my joy for living, for sharing, for helping others, even if it is with an altered daily lifestyle.

An August sunset.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Spontaneity in a time of pandemic

The Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance mark the eastern boundary of Rockingham Co.

My wife and I have closely followed the stay-at-home coronavirus requirements since they began in mid-March. We hadn’t even been out of our county until just the other day.

Even though Rockingham is the second-largest county in square miles in Virginia, we stayed close to home nevertheless. We have taken the pandemic and the safety recommendations suggested by medical professionals seriously.

While waiting for the predicted rain to arrive, Neva and I went about our regular homebound routines. She sewed and read. I wrote and spent too much time on social media, including sorting my many daily emails. When our church’s weekly newsletter landed in my inbox, I got an idea after reading it.

Friends had recently visited Shenandoah National Park, which stretches 105-miles along the Blue Ridge Mountains. The mountains grace and mark the eastern boundary of Rockingham County. The mountain laurel bushes were in full bloom.

That’s all that I needed to read. With the afternoon half gone and the forecasted rain failing to appear, I suggested we head to the park, too. Neva gladly agreed.

Fog rolled in from the east.
We dressed for the cooler weather that we were sure to encounter in the higher elevations of the park. We were glad we did. Fearsome black clouds hovered over the mountains as we headed east.

We have lived here long enough to know that the mountain weather’s main characteristic is fickleness. The weather changes quickly in those blue mountains.

Sure enough, in the 25 miles we drove on Skyline Drive to Limberlost Trail, we dodged in and out of the sunshine, clouds, fast-moving fog, mist, and even a little rain. We kept going.

We were so glad we had. Only a couple of other cars were in the parking lot of the handicapped accessible trail. Limberlost is a 1.3-mile loop trail that is beautiful in every season.

I had never been on the trail in the spring when the mountain laurel bloomed. Neva had never been there at all. We were both in for an awe-inspiring treat.

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We only had to walk a short distance before we encountered the beautiful blooming bushes. We were glad that we had dropped what we were doing and followed our friends’ advice.

Individual bushes and thickets of blooming mountain laurel flourished all along the circular path. They overwhelmed other, more subtle wildflowers that I almost missed.

This area of the park had burned several years ago. Many of the old-growth trees were gone, replaced by patches of spindly saplings. The trail ran through them, creating a fairy-like world. Colorful fungus grew out of tree stumps, and fallen timber left lying right where they landed.

Lush Christmas ferns carpeted the forest floor. The fragrant pink and white blossoms of the mountain laurel painted a lovely contrast to the emerald of the tree canopy above and the sea of ferns below.

We noticed no bees or butterflies, however. I later learned that this variety of rhododendron is toxic to both pollinators and humans. Look, but don’t touch.

A chorus of warblers, vireos, and other woodland birds serenaded us on our enchanting stroll. We were clearly in a national park, but it felt like paradise. Our spontaneity had certainly paid off.

The trail even featured an ancient basalt columnar outcropping.
I realize not everyone has a national park to hurry off to in less than an hour. But you likely have a special place that you have meant to visit, someplace you haven’t been since a child.

So, pack up the kids, the snacks, drinks, and don’t forget the hand sanitizer, masks, gloves, and your camera. You just might find paradise, too.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

What will the summer bring?

A summer solstice sunrise.

Summer is here. That short sentence constructed of three little words strung together usually conjures up fond anticipation of good things to come with the passing of the summer solstice.

Summer usually means vacations to both familiar and foreign places, family reunions, children joyously shouting as they splash each other in the local public swimming pool.

Summer means a lazier time with no school for students, and longer, warmer days to garden, read, visit, and work. It means weddings and picnics, hikes in state and national parks, children sleeping in tents instead of their beds.

Alpenglow at Mt. Rainier National Park won’t be on our summer schedule.

All of this and much more usually comes on the heels of graduation celebrations and Memorial Day gatherings. We graduated, partied, and then commenced into summer. This year, not so much.

The summer of 2020 is shaping up to be very different thanks to the pandemic. We saw that coming in so many ways, given the sequestering and necessary physical distancing of the last three months.

It’s going to be a different kind of summer for all of us. My wife and I have already missed our grandchildren’s canceled spring plays, concerts, and soccer and baseball games. Summer opportunities for their sporting events also seem limited.

Sadly, we won’t be attending our son’s forthcoming wedding in New York State. Out of an abundance of caution, my wife and I will watch the small ceremony via Zoom. We’ll offer a silent blessing with the exchanging of the vows.

For the first time since 1987, we will skip our annual summer stay at our beloved Lakeside, Ohio. The Chautauqua on Lake Erie canceled most programming due to the Covid-19.

Since my wife and I are in the high-risk category, we have to put our health ahead of our desires. We will dearly miss our Lakeside friends and the gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, not to mention the magical Lakeside spell of peace and calm.

A summer sunset at Lakeside, OH.

Despite those disappointments, we will not lament those paradigm shifts. We will approach this summer with open arms and cautious optimism and careful actions. Our focus must be adjusting for the long haul, on celebrating each moment, whether in person six feet apart or via Zoom.

What will the summer of 2020 hold for us all? I suppose it depends on your age, situation, location, and just how seriously you consider the coronavirus crisis to be.

As for us, my wife and I will pray for a summer of calm, healing, and reconciliation, given the political rankling and the global unrest due to racial tensions. Each one of us must make every effort to confront our prejudices, hear the criticisms of others without harsh rhetorical defense.

For the summer of 2020 to be a success, each one of us bears the responsibility to restore civility. It is incumbent upon each one of us to treat everyone we meet and encounter with respect, fairness, and honor, just the way we want to be treated. Decency and kindness must prevail regardless of skin color, race, religion, and cultures.

“Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18 and Mark 12:31). In other words, let’s live summer to the full as best we can for everyone’s safety, health, and well-being.

We can begin to make that happen by practicing these five suggestions:

1. Ask others, how can I help?
2. Be a positive person.
3. Communicate in uplifting ways.
4. Be thankful.
5. Express your appreciation of others personally.

Summer has begun. Let’s all work together to make it the best one possible.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

The advantages of staying home


There are advantages to staying home. The obvious, of course, is it lowers your risk of acquiring the coronavirus.

There is another positive upshot of being homebound. It can stimulate our mental psyche. We just need to be observant.

Being retired for a few years now, I quickly grew used to being at home. I thought I knew how to relax and make the best use of my time. The COVID-19 crisis taught me differently.

Having to stay at home, I learned to really pay attention, to simply be thankful, even when the weather was damp and cold. We had a lot of that in April and May all across the eastern U.S. The typically sunny Shenandoah Valley didn’t escape the dullness either.

I savored the stillness and the lack of interruptions to my new sequestered routines. The steady hum of my wife’s sewing machine transfixed me at times. Altogether, she has made over 700 face masks. Others have made many more and donated them to businesses, medical facilities, agencies who assist the homeless, local institutions, and Mennonite Disaster Service.

Rather than grumble about being at home so much, I tried to appreciate each moment at hand. I would often sit at my desk where I write. I raised the Venetian blinds and observed whatever came into view.

Despite the weather, I saw kids on bicycles, people walking dogs, dogs walking people, delivery trucks, northern cardinals searching for food, American robins bobbing along, and gathering nesting material.

I couldn’t count the number of squirrels that came to dig up their buried food caches. Most of the squirrels are gray busybodies. One particular squirrel, however, stood out.

This squirrel was blond, especially its bushy tail. Its pigmentation had to be an anomaly. The squirrely rodent even acted differently, sometimes like it didn’t have a care in the world.

The sun seemed to bleach the squirrel’s tail as it bounded through neighboring backyards on its way to ours. I had seen the squirrel in late winter searching for morsels beneath our birdfeeders. “Blondie” continued to frequent our yard even after I took down the feeders.

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The blond squirrel scurried across the open backyard in the middle of the day, its tail flapping in the wind like a golden, glowing flag. The squirrel played at the birdbath, apparently happy for the opportunity to wash its paws and face. Did it somehow know about the coronavirus?

The unusual-looking squirrel felt at home in our maple trees. On the hottest day of the year so far, it stretched out on our green grass, apparently to cool off in the shade of the maple.

Showing off.

Once rested, it returned to its squirrely antics, devouring juicy maple seeds that had just twirled to the ground. Some of its repertoire of poses were almost comical. Its playful personality matched its coloration.

It’s not like the squirrel had it made, however. Other squirrels chased it, not because of its fur color, but because that’s what squirrels do.

The blond always got away unscathed. When the coast was clear, it reappeared looking for food, or another drink, or just to lounge on a crook in the maple tree, taking in the limited sunshine.

I enjoyed the squirrel’s behaviors and resilience. Unlike the gray squirrels, the blond one somehow seemed contented, satisfied, unfettered, detached from the life of the survival of the fittest of all things wild.

There are valuable lessons to be learned from watching this fantastic squirrel. No matter what life throws at you, relax, enjoy each moment, and above all, don’t worry.

“Blondie.”

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Keeping Memorial Day memorable during a pandemic


I am glad we have Memorial Day. Its intent is like no other U.S. public holiday.

There is no popping of champagne bottles, no chocolate bunnies, no fireworks, no unwrapping presents. Originally known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day was set to honor the Union soldiers lost in the Civil War.

Now, of course, Memorial Day has a much broader purpose. In 1968, Congress established the last Monday in May as Memorial Day to honor all who served. The legislation also created a three-day weekend for federal employees.

A Civil War monument.
Consequently, Memorial Day morphed into a long weekend with picnics, barbeques, family gatherings, patriotic parades, and other assorted gatherings. Miniature American flags mark the graves of veterans.

Memorial Day always meant a lot to my parents. They made sure fresh flowers were placed or planted at the graves of close relatives. It was a time of solemn, respectful remembrances.

I embraced that lesson. After Dad died, I took it upon myself to carry on the family tradition of commemorating family graves with flowers. By then, most cemetery rules had changed to only allow artificial arrangements and wreaths at headstones, and only for so long.

I suppose real or plastic floral displays weren’t the point. The act of remembering was what mattered.

Since we no longer live in Ohio, that physical act of remembering has ended for me. Like most everything else in our current COVID-19 world, I’ll do a virtual visit through my photo library to pay my respects and refresh my memories.

The pandemic will definitely make this a different kind of Memorial Day for most. Many parks and playgrounds will rightly remain closed as a necessary precaution against the spread of this invisible virus.

There will be no baseball games to attend or watch, no picnics to enjoy the fellowship of family and friends. Concerts and parades have been canceled. Nevertheless, we can still carry on the intended spirit of the day.

I will sit on our patio and contemplate the good times of the past. I will especially remember those who are gone. I’ll recall memorable family stories that my parents told about relatives that I never met. Grandpa Frith died from accidental electrocution six months before I was born. A thoughtless prank in a steel factory killed a great uncle. Every family has similar sad stories.

In many places, our western society views Memorial Day as the end of the school year and the unofficial start of summer. Both of those may be true, but the classes of 2020 won’t have the pomp and circumstance of traditional commencement ceremonies or the celebration of graduation parties.

As much as we would like to be out and about for such events, my wife and I will continue to play it safe. We will continue to social distance and mostly stay at home for the duration.

Vacations, weddings, celebrations, and sports activities, to name a few, have all been canceled, delayed, or postponed due to the spread of the deadly virus. Many may happen virtually using today’s innovative technology.

For that, I am happy. However, many will mourn either a recent loss or a loved one who died long ago. I will grieve, too.

Memorial Day is for remembering and honoring. For those who survive this momentous universal event, however long it lasts, I hope they look back to this Memorial Day in awe. I hope, too, the day will etch a more meaningful, profound, and indelible mental mark.

Wasn’t that the primary point of Memorial Day? Isn’t it still?

Making memories.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Finding a treasure while sequested

Our infant daughter sitting on a 105-pound pumpkin was just one of the old photos we found while sorting.
Whether by hook or by crook, our dynamic daughter models many of her mother’s positive qualities. Keeping things tidy and organized through sorting is just one of them.

Our daughter has been cleaning, discarding, donating, organizing, selling, and otherwise giving away items from her home during the pandemic. I suspect you all have to some extent as well.

My wife and I have followed that trend, too, since we have the time during this health crisis sequestering. So far, we have sorted old slides and photos, books, clothes, and files.

My wife and I chuckled at long-forgotten moments captured on slides and photos stuck in boxes buried deep in a closet. The feelings they evoked ran the gamut of emotions.

All of this reordering has stirred memories and even uncovered a mystery. Our daughter found a children’s book published 55 years ago. The author had even signed it.

Carrie couldn’t remember where the book came from but suspected we had given it to her as she began her elementary teaching. Of course, Carrie passed it on to us to contemplate. The book didn’t register with either my wife or me.

“Deneki: An Alaskan Moose” by William D. Berry had a nicely illustrated jacket cover, which was torn at the binding. I examined the skinny book for clues of its origin. The hardback cover and pages were well-preserved.

I read the enlightening story and enjoyed the many illustrations, also done by the author. The storyline revolved around the encounters of a yearling bull moose near Denali National Park.


It was a first edition book, and I found that Berry had autographed the book twice. One signature was on a card with a moose he had drawn and pasted on the inside right-hand cover. He also signed by his name on the author page.

Neither Neva nor I could remember the book, where we got it, or when. Carrie was sure we had given it to her. Since Neva and I were both educators, there were plenty of options. We just all drew blanks.

Berry’s writing was crisp, the story factual and informative, and his illustrations superb. A signed, first edition book was a treasure. The question was, whose prize was it?

I was intrigued. The setting was near one of the areas where Neva and I had visited last August on our tour of Alaska. I easily imagined the geography and topography the young moose and its mother traversed.

I Googled the author and found he had a studio in Alaska. I clicked on the website and discovered that William D. Berry had died in 1979. Berry’s son, Mark, and his wife Diane now ran the studio, located in Gustavus, Alaska.

I emailed them from their webpage, telling of the book’s discovery, and offered to donate it to them. By morning, I already had a reply.

Mark was thrilled to learn about the book. He said that the studio ironically never had a signed copy of “Deneki.” They had to buy one off of eBay for more than the book had earned in royalties in its initial year of publication.

Mark said he would donate the book to the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, once it reopens from the COVID-19 emergency closures. The university houses an archive of his father’s field sketches and other items.

The book arrived safely in Alaska by U.S. mail. It’s a treasure that might have remained hidden without the methodical house cleaning of our daughter and the foggy memories of her parents.

I reckon “Deneki” will be glad to be home, too.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Gratitude and concern during the pandemic


I am always happy when we reach May, especially this year. The beautiful blossoms and warming temperatures spur a sense of gratitude.

During the current COVID-19 pandemic, we all must remain grateful. Given the stealth-like nature of the coronavirus, it would be easy for fear and despair to overwhelm us.

We must not let that happen. Those negative feelings can transition into depression unless we come to accept the ugly situation for what it is.

Now, the COVID-19 condition may not be as dire where you are as it is in other parts of the world. Here in Virginia’s lovely Shenandoah Valley, the deaths and confirmed cases are spiking. That, in part, is due to more accurate testing and proper reporting.

Of course, my wife and I have taken the necessary precautions as recommended by state and local leaders. We are grateful for their specific directives in this uncertain time.

I am also thankful that my niece and friends who live in New York City remain safe. Some of them are treating those infected. I am both grateful and concerned for frontline staff and first-responders everywhere who take extraordinary risks in merely doing their daily jobs.


We can’t take for granted public utilities like electricity, water, and sewer that remain consistent and safe. Having power has permitted us to communicate remotely with family, friends, church members, and even doctors if needed.

I am grateful for local businesses that have prevailed in the face of potentially devastating economic conditions. I appreciate both their curbside and home deliveries. The indefinite length of the closure orders for them, however, is disconcerting for their financial well-being.

I am thankful for people’s resilience, creativity, and patience during their unplanned sequestering. It can’t be easy trying to work from home while teaching active, restless children and simultaneously trying to complete household chores. This perspective became more apparent to me when a friend found her son’s homework in the refrigerator.

I am grateful for our daughter and her family, who regularly check in on us via text messages and with social distancing visits. We celebrated our oldest grandchild’s 16th birthday via FaceTime. Evan seemed as pleased as if we were all actually eating ice cream and cake around their dining room table.

I am also glad our son and his fiancée are both safe and well in another New York hotspot, Rochester.

I am thankful for the garbage workers who continue on their regular routes, not knowing what precisely it is they are hauling. I pray for their continued safety.

I am thankful for people who show their love by sending us notes, text messages, emails, and making phone calls. Doing so keeps us connected and uplifted, even if it is only remotely.

I am thankful for the universal generosity of people who share their gifts most graciously. Using their talents to make personal protective products for strangers who need them is priceless.

I am grateful for a safe and secure home and neighborhood where my wife and I can both hunker down and walk for exercise among nature’s artistry. However, I am most uneasy about those who are not as well-off. More critically, this terrible virus is attacking the poor and minorities at a much higher rate than the rest of the population.

On a personal note, I am grateful for the opportunity to share with all of you. I hope you are well and can find ways to be genuinely thankful, too.

May in the arboretum.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

‘Safe at home’ has a new meaning


Safe at home. It’s a phrase I always associated with my favorite sport, baseball. A player sliding into home plate trying to score around the catcher is one of the more exciting plays in baseball.

There will be none of that this spring. Whether watching my beloved Cleveland Indians or our grandson pitch for his high school team, baseball, along with most everything else in life, has been put on hold or canceled altogether due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Today, of course, safe at home has a much more significant meaning than scoring a run in a game. Clearly, our routines like yours have all been altered because of the virus.

Instead of bemoaning those facts, Neva and I have chosen to self-quarantine. Instead of venturing out much, we are playing it safe at home. We have sequestered ourselves for the duration of the coronavirus threat, however long that lasts.


Given our age and medical histories, it’s the right thing to do. Since we are both retired, it was an easy decision for us. Plus, given the medical guidelines, we both are in the high-risk category for catching the virus.

We feel for those who are required to follow the shelter-in-place and stay-at-home orders issued by officials. The loss of incomes and the unfamiliar routine of merely being at home can be frustrating and fearful. Anxiety can play havoc with our psyche.

The most essential survival directive is to take care of yourself. We each own the responsibility for our individual mental and physical health. Radical times call for well-reasoned decisions.

Consequently, Neva and I have doubled-down on our daily exercise routines. We eat three meals a day. We stay hydrated, always a significant element in staying healthy, whether a pandemic is raging or not. We keep our bedtimes as consistent as possible and wake about the same time each morning. Of course, at our age, sleeping through the night is a coin toss.

Since we stay at home, our daughter includes our food or hygiene needs in her grocery shopping, done either locally in person or pick up, which requires several days’ advance notice. She often delivers our items, too.

My curbside-delivered gluten free waffle.
Like many other states, Virginia requires only carry-out orders from restaurants. To help them during these tough times, we order from some of our favorite eateries at least once a week. They bring the food right to the curb.

Another vital aspect of holing up at home is to not isolate yourself. We are social beings, after all, created to help, serve, and respect one another.

Bonding with others doesn’t have to be complicated. Phone calls, text messages, FaceTime, social media, even snail mail letters, and cards can uplift people and help you stay connected.

People find creative ways of helping others during these crazy times. They show kindness and compassion by placing teddy bears in windows for neighborhood children to enjoy discovering, like a scavenger hunt. They make and donate cloth face masks for local hospitals and medical personnel.

We are living in tough times. People are suffering, having lost jobs, income, and a sense of normalcy. Fear and frustration can haunt them. We all need to help others see this pandemic through.

As you have likely heard before, we are all in this together. Keep the faith. Hold on, be kind and compassionate to yourself and those you love each and every day.

By showing empathy and gratitude, we will endure and persevere together. That simply is how a caring community works.

youth baseball, grandson
Our grandson was safe at home.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020