Four season survival

Woods edge by Bruce Stambaugh
Where field and forest meet.

From the tallest trees
of the interfacing woods,
the red-tailed hawk gleans
the pasture, grain and hay fields,
fallow, fertile, emerging, golden,
winter, spring, summer and fall.

Bruce Stambaugh
Feb. 6, 2011

Red-tailed Hawk by Bruce Stambaugh
A red-tailed hawk glides over a hayfield.

The sickening consequences of getting sick

By Bruce Stambaugh

I hate getting sick, absolutely hate it. But then, who doesn’t?

I wasn’t alone in my winter woes. Lots of people everywhere were sick with a wide variety of ailments.

Initially, I had a minor infection which one doctor had diagnosed and prescribed an appropriate antibiotic. Take the pills and it will get better. I did and it did, except that I started to feel worse, but in a different way.

I had no energy. I started to cough. I sneezed from time to time, too. My wife fled to the guest bedroom.

I slept, but when I woke I felt worse. I also dreamed crazy stuff, worse than the ones where I dream of being in the middle of a large crowd wearing no pants. At least I hope those were dreams.

I ached all over. My stomach rumbled, but fortunately, nothing more. I had gotten my flu shot. Maybe this strain wasn’t in the shot.

I went to bed chilling. The next morning I woke before 5 with a fever. I tossed and turned for a couple more hours until I called the doctor, who told me what I already knew. Go to the emergency room.

I felt horrible. I could hardly stand up straight. My breathing was short and labored.

I coughed and wheezed my way into the emergency room. The personnel there couldn’t have been nicer, even the ones that took my blood. They were just doing their jobs and they did them magnificently.

The doctor told me I had clinical pneumonia. The discharge papers said acute bronchitis. I wasn’t going to haggle over semantics. I was a sick puppy, and I just wanted to go home.

Like a good patient, I drank and drank and drank, hot tea, water, juices. I ate some, too. Mostly, I slept. Of course, I took more prescribed medications, which probably added to my drowsiness.

As time progressed, one symptom led to another. The infection brought the fever. The medication loosened the lungs, which caused me to cough more. The sustained coughing led to some unpleasantries not suitable for family reading. The more I coughed, the worse the headache.

The coughing was the absolute worst part. I sounded like a coon dog chasing a coyote. I didn’t want to be around anybody and nobody needed to be around me. My good wife hid out downstairs.

Once the medications fully kicked in, I slept really well. I would go to bed at 9, wake up at 8 the next morning, get up, clean up, eat breakfast, and take a two-hour nap. I never nap, especially in the morning.

I managed to wake for lunch, which was usually one of my wife’s wonderful homemade soups, chicken noodle, potato, chowder, tomato. After lunch, I’d take another nap.

My eyes watered too much to either read or write. I would cough some more, take more medication, eat supper, watch some college basketball, and then go to bed.

In the slow process of healing that lasted days, I lost track of time. I couldn’t distinguish one day from the other. It was hard to believe that an entire week had lapsed.

I’m hoping this week will be better and that I can get back into a more normal routine. But if that does happen, I’m going to miss those morning and afternoon naps.

Enjoying the cold from the inside out

Bluebirds on maple limb by Bruce Stambaugh
Male Eastern Bluebirds perched on the crooked limbs of the backyard sugar maple.

By Bruce Stambaugh

It was a good day to stay inside. Though the partly cloudy sky revealed a gorgeous sunrise, the thermometer read six below zero, the coldest temperature of the season so far in Ohio’s Amish Country. That alone told me this day would be best enjoyed from the inside out.

Given the fact that I was in the midst of a battle with the annual wintertime crud, I wasn’t about to argue with that logic. The frigid air would do me no good.

Having spent five long hours in the local emergency room the previous morning, I knew I needed to take it easy. Stuck inside, I resigned myself to two main activities. I checked the birdfeeders for visitors and I rested.

Compared to previous winters, it had been a disappointing season at the birdfeeders. I had kept them well stocked and cleaned of any old feed, mold or other potentially noxious particles that would harm or discourage the birds.

Despite my efforts, the usual nice variety and numbers of birds had failed to materialize. Before the snow flew, I had a pair of Red-breasted Nuthatches. But they must have been passing through because they haven’t been back.

Just before the holidays, Pine Siskins chased the American Goldfinches away from the feeder that contained sunflower chips. The siskins never came back either. After one of the series of Alberta Clippers came through, I had a Rusty Blackbird for a couple of days.

Goldfinch by Bruce Stambaugh
An American Goldfinch perched on a porch post.

The usual birds, other than the pesky House Sparrows, seemed fewer in number. A pair of Cardinals made infrequent appearances. The Dark-eyed Juncos, a given at winter feeders, were scarce. A few White-breasted Nuthatches and Black-capped Chickadees came and went irregularly.

A pair of bully Blue Jays could be counted to show up from time to time. A Downy Woodpecker pretty much had the suet feeder all to himself. The Red-bellied Woodpecker that had been a regular seemed to have disappeared since the snowfall.

The goldfinches and the congregation of house sparrows were the only feeder faithfuls. My winter’s entertainment wasn’t as entertaining as I would have liked.

As the temperature of this frigid day climbed into positive single digits, the bird feeders suddenly came alive. Colors flashed in the bright morning sunshine, and I grabbed my camera.

Two sparrows by Bruce Stambaugh
A Tree Sparrow and a Song Sparrow searched for food.

I spent a majority of the morning snapping one shot after the other. Tree sparrows picked at the corn my wife had put out since I was on the disabled list. The secretive song sparrow found a spot in the sun where it could simultaneously feed and warm itself.

The show really picked up at the shelled peanut feeder, which was a section of hollowed out log hanging from a hook on the back porch. The red-bellied returned, and brought along a hairy woodpecker as a sidekick. Tufted titmice and even chickadees grabbed some protein.

Bluebird with peanut by Bruce Stambaugh
A male Eastern Bluebird enjoyed a raw, shelled peanut.

A family of eastern bluebirds stole the show, however. They tried out every feeder. Males and females alike ate peanuts, chipped sunflower
seeds, black oil sunflower seeds and even pecked at the peanut butter-laden suet.

Despite the cold, both in the air and in my body, I had hit the trifecta. I enjoyed the extreme winter weather without having to bundle up, was treated to some wonderful birding, and captured much of it through the lens of my camera. I was beginning to feel better already.

Loathing acts and words of violence

Amish school by Bruce Stambaugh
A typical winter scene in Ohio's normally peaceful Amish country.

By Bruce Stambaugh

In the aftermath of the recent shootings in Tucson, Arizona, fierce discussion immediately followed the quick apprehension of the alleged shooter. To try to make some sense of this despicable act, heated vitriol quickly ensued, trying to focus blame on the rhetoric of popular political talking heads left and right.

I watched and listened. Mostly thanks to the ability to communicate spontaneously through the miracle of modern technology we call social networking, cable TV and talk radio, voices and anger rose simultaneously. So did the sale of guns and ammunition.

I watched and listened because I had sadly seen it all unfold before too many times in my lifetime. John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Bobby Kennedy, George Wallace, John Lennon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, Indira Gandhi, and Benazir Bhutto all came to mind.

These names, these famous folks were merely added to an even longer list of assassinations throughout history, the world’s and ours. Unfortunately, many of the more noted killings occurred in our own republic. Abraham Lincoln, William McKinley, James Garfield, Huey Long only begin the list.

We don’t have to stop at naming people either. Virginia Tech, Columbine, Paducah, and Nickel Mines are too easily recalled.

That’s what happens in the land of the free and the home of the brave where the first two articles of the United States Constitution create freedom of speech and freedom to arm. It is a delicate balance indeed to maintain in a free and open society. Too often, as was apparently the case in Tucson, unbalanced people upend everyday life at the price of innocents.

We cry out to make sense of it all when history has shown time and again that the reasons for shootings are often obscure and obscured. Usually, there is no clear-cut, well-reasoned reason.

Such high profile shootings demand the media’s attention because the public has a right to know and indeed needs and wants to know the details, the who, the what, the when, the why and the where of each and every act of violence. Sadly, because a crazy person chooses one freedom over the other, 9-year-old girls, federal judges, and United States representatives become the victims.

The public outcry is fast and fierce, and the rush on gun and ammo purchases shows an equal and opposite sentiment out of the desire for self-protection. Again, an ugly and unnecessary counterbalance occurs.

The unfortunate truth is, as we have learned in recent days, that these killings, usually via gunshots, happen close to home, too. A 10-year-old boy allegedly kills his mother with a gun. An adult son allegedly shoots his parents to death. An angry man blindly kills a young man hiding in a cornfield.

These last examples, of course, all occurred here in quaint, quiet and safe Amish Country. It doesn’t happen here. Those words were spoken in Tucson, Arizona, Big Prairie, Mt. Eaton and Mt. Hope, Ohio. Of course, “it” does because “it” did. “It” always catches us by surprise. It shouldn’t.

When people are free to speak their minds, to go about their normal business, and others are free to arm themselves and go about their abnormal business until the breaking point, a fateful, fatal crash between bullets and bodies results.

I mercifully dislike violence whether by guns or by vitriol, a word as ugly as its meaning. Both hurt and kill. There is simply no sense for sensible people to join the ranks of the unbalanced. The deranged already accomplish enough harmful havoc all by themselves.

Joe Wengerd set to end his education career

Joe Wengerd by Bruce Stambaugh
Joe Wengerd announced his retirement after 36 years in education.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The day after the school board accepted his resignation for retirement, Joe Wengerd’s ear was either tuned to the bus radio or had a cell phone pushed against it.

He was still handling his duties as superintendent of the East Holmes Local Schools in his calm, deliberate, concerned way. A snowstorm was approaching, and he had dismissed school two hours early.

With safety foremost on his mind, Wengerd wanted to make sure all the students arrived home safely. He also conferred with the athletic director to reschedule a basketball game.

“This wasn’t an easy decision for me,” Wengerd said about his retirement, “but it was the right one.”

Wengerd said he had thought about retirement for sometime. Finally, he concluded that it was time for a younger person to step in and take over the district’s leadership.

“I’m leaving the best job ever,” he said, “especially given this school district.”

However, one thing Wengerd said he wouldn’t miss was getting up at 4:15 in the morning to check for inclement weather. Altogether Wengerd has spent 21 years in the East Holmes Local Schools. He was superintendent for the last five years. He has a total of 36 years in education.

Wengerd began his career as a counselor at a children’s home in Logan County, Ohio. He later received his education credentials and entered the educational field. He taught elementary school in Ada prior to moving back to Holmes County.

He was principal in the West Holmes Local School District at Millersburg, Lakeville and Nashville elementary schools for eight years before returning to his home school district.

Wengerd said that one of the reasons leaving the school would not be easy was because his roots run deep in the East Holmes community. He was born here, attended Berlin Elementary and graduated from Hiland High School, and lives in the home where he grew up.

“It’s a great community to be connected to.”

Prior to serving as superintendent, Wengerd was principal at Charm, Flat Ridge and Wise elementary schools for four years and at Berlin Elementary for a dozen years. He also filled in temporarily at Hiland High School.

“Each of these were unbelievable jobs,” Wengerd said wistfully. “I didn’t want to leave any of them.

“Each leadership position became such a part of me,” Wengerd said. He also said he considered each a new challenge.

Wengerd said he was hoping for a new landscape to draw him. He won’t be alone in that sentiment. His wife, Phyllis, has also decided to retire after 31 years of teaching. She is a teacher at Chestnut Ridge Elementary.

“We will probably do some short term church service projects,” Wengerd said. “We love the national parks and will probably visit some of them, too.” He said they would also spend time with their only grandchild in Columbus.

The Wengerds have three adult children, all of whom are teachers. Daughters Kate and Maggie both teach elementary grades in Pickerington, and their son, Jesse, teaches math at Berlin.

“We didn’t make them go into teaching,” Wengerd said. But he and his wife weren’t necessarily the sole models for their children either.
“Education is the legacy of Phyllis’ family. She and her three siblings were all in education and so were their spouses.”

Wengerd received his bachelor’s degree from Bluffton University, and his Master of Education degree from the University of Dayton.

True to form, he had been thinking about retiring for sometime.

“There wasn’t a single event that lead to this decision,” Wengerd said. “I thought I would retire out of a building.”

Reflecting on being the district’s chief educational leader, Wengerd said, “I thought the superintendent’s position was a great opportunity to influence our students and give back to the community at the same time.

“I will miss working with the kids,” Wengerd said. “I liked to visit every building when I could.

“I love going out to Hiland and seeing former students that I had in Berlin as a principal. It’s fun to see them grow, mature and participate in extracurricular activities.”

Wengerd said he felt his biggest achievement as superintendent was getting the staff and students to all work in the same direction.

“In the five years I was superintendent, East Holmes received either an Excellence or Excellence with Distinction rating,” he said.

“Those results weren’t me,” he continued. “Those were the students and teachers working hard on student achievement goals.”

Wengerd said school board members were gracious in accepting his resignation.

“They told me they valued my leadership,” Wengerd said. “I greatly appreciated their comments.”

Wengerd said the board would work with the Tri-County Educational Service Center and the Ohio School Board Association in formulating a plan to search for a new superintendent.

Shaking the January blahs

swamp walk by Bruce Stambaugh
Friends walked the frozen marsh of Killbuck Creek in early January. (Photos provided by Dave and Kate Findley)

By Bruce Stambaugh

Normally, January is not one of Ohio’s more colorful months. I suppose residents all across North America could say that.

White and brown tend to be the dominant January color scheme here. It’s white if it snows, and basic brown on the bare ground if it doesn’t. Not exactly stuff of which calendar pictures are made.

With that introduction, I was going to write about how depressing it is to see the naked landscape during the winter months. I had my list of the usual suspects at the ready. The lack of color, the repetitive cloudy, dull days entombed with hard to breathe frigid air and the proverbial cabin fever all contributed to the annual epidemic of post-holiday let-down.

I had no sooner started to write when I received an email from a friend. She had attached several pictures of a swamp walk they had just taken in the backwaters of the Killbuck Creek near Killbuck, Ohio.

Most of the shots included the smiling couples that made the trek. I had a sneaky feeling their joy wasn’t just flashed for the camera. There seemed a deeper reason for their cheerfulness.

Though I did talk with my friend and her husband about their walk, the pictures really said it all. They revealed abundant beauty amid the wintry habitat of the marsh.

Buttonbush berries in varying auburn colors and stages of fermentation decorated the burnished host shrubs. By winter’s end, numerous types of wildlife, deer, turkey, robins and cedar waxwings among them, will have devoured the nutritious fruit.

beaver den
A beaver den in the backwaters of Killbuck Creek, near Killbuck, Ohio.

Behind a stand of some of the bushes, a blackish mound covered in tan sticks rose out of the mostly frozen water. The occupants of the beaver’s den were likely deep into their season’s sleep, unaware of their human visitors.

The pictures showed my friends walking on the marsh’s frozen surface, or posing for candid memories to be shared with friends and family. A rainbow of muted colors helped create their smiles.

The ice itself varied both in texture and color, ranging from off-white to clay gray. Nature’s arsenal of elements, wind, temperature, snow, and water flow all play a role in the seemingly dormant, yet ever-changing marshy environment.

swamp walk killbuck oh
My friends were amazed at the colors they found on their frozen wetlands walk.

Behind the low lying swamp, the rounded western foothills of the Appalachian Mountains jutted up like giant loaves of fresh baked bread. Clusters of pines served as a brief but green piedmont between the two.

At that point, a familiar fragrance distracted me from the pictures. I followed my nose into the kitchen to find pan after pan of fresh out of the oven cinnamon rolls cooling on the counter tops. Beside them, tins of golden-topped potato rolls also stood patiently cooling.

In addition, rows of jelly jars filled with cobalt colored blueberry topping for homemade pancakes and waffles sparkled from the light that filtered through the kitchen window. Smaller jars of crimson apple jelly added to the colorful collection next to the stove.

While I had sat sulking listlessly at the computer, bemoaning the dull days and confined activities, my energetic wife and thoughtful friends infused me with unexpected splashes of color. My smile nearly matched those of my friends in the swamp walk photos.

Inspired by digital pictures, picture perfect baked goods and showy glass jars, I realized that the blahs of January were self-induced. If I desired color in my life during the cabin fever time of year, all I really needed to do was to open my eyes.