Colorful sunsets have been far and few between this spring in the Shenandoah Valley. We have had strings of days when we hardly see the sun. It’s been that cloudy, and often chilly.
The few times the evening sky did offer hope, I headed out. I wasn’t disappointed on June 6. I felt fortunate to capture this shot long after the sun had hidden behind the Allegheny Mountains that mark the boundary between Virginia and West Virginia.
The texturing and laying of the clouds seemed to mimic that of the folded mountains below. The north face of the private two-room school reflected the heavens above.
“Sunset at Mountain View School” is my Photo of the Week.
My wife and I came upon this scene on a recent morning walk around the neighborhood. The slanting rays of the early sun perfectly highlighted this patch of Clustered Bellflowers and one lone, brave Lamb’s Ear.
No calendar is needed to know what month it is. Doors and windows are flung wide open. Summer’s pleasing sounds and pleasant aromas waft in. It must be June.
Sit by a stream where the cottonwoods grow. A summer breeze stirs, and suddenly it’s a blizzard of cottony seeds drifting everywhere. The situation can be as aggravating as it is beautiful.
Once the dew dries, a cacophony of motorized humming ensues, seemingly lasting all day. All the neighbors want to get their lawns mowed before the anticipated rain arrives. It never does. At least the yards are manicured.
To protect their precious eggs, grackles and American robins perform Kamikaze raids on the backyard squirrels who are in search of lunch. The rabbits munch the tender grass undisturbed and unknowing nearby.
The leaves of the deciduous trees appear to have fully unfurled overnight. Contented with their newfound shade, grazing livestock swish their tails, flicking flies left and right, left and right.
Dinner tables brighten with outdoor bouquets brought indoors. Red roses, pink and white peonies, blue salvia, and lavender snapdragons proudly show their colors and intermingle their delicate fragrances.
On the stove, kettles of fresh-picked mint disperse organic menthol. Thirsty throats endure the wait, knowing lunchtime will bring refreshing minty sweetness.
Even the gray catbird pauses for a sip from the birdbath, having warbled all morning from the depths and darkness of the neighbor’s dense yew. The territorial northern mockingbird cuts short that respite, however.
Balmy mornings slip quietly into steamy afternoons. Cumulous clouds build and billow, dappling the landscape with their speeding, oscillating shadows.
By late afternoon, the cooling breezes have retreated. A sultry stillness is ubiquitous. Even the birds grow quiet in anticipation of the coming storms.
A line of darkness fills the western horizon. Soon thunder rumbles the squall line’s approach. Sweaty farmhands work faster still if that is even possible. Saving the first-cutting of hay becomes the day’s primary objective.
After the storm, a double rainbow temporarily shines in the east. Thankful for the cooler air, the rectangular bales stack the haymow higher and higher. Those abandoned in the flattened field will have to wait until they dry.
In the city, waitresses hustle to dry dampened outdoor tables and chairs, all spaced safely according to coronavirus standards. Soon, the customers return, jackets in hand as a precaution for the cooling evening.
In the Allegheny, the Blue Ridge, and the Massanutten Mountain ranges, plump little Louisiana waterthrushes fill the air with luxurious songs. They serve as soliloquies to the music of the rushing mountain streams.
Mountain laurel bushes are at peak bloom, while other wildflowers are only now appearing. The valley-to-mountaintop elevations allow June’s sweetness to thrive all month long.
Honey bees and bumblebees enjoy all the blooms, whether domesticated or wild. They are not picky. Ruby-throated hummingbirds zig and zag at sugar-water feeders to the delight of bird-lovers young and old.
House wrens continue their month-long chatter of courtship, nest-building, incubation, and non-stop feeding. Once the constant rattling goes silent, the brood has fledged, and the cycle begins anew.
We humans of the northern hemisphere enjoy the extended daylight June affords. We work and play all day.
When the sun yields its daytime dominion, the moon, the stars, and the planets light up the heavens. We can enjoy the sparkling show until the neighborhood skunk sends us inside.
Given all of this, it’s no wonder this month is the favorite among brides and grooms. In every aspect, June is a welcomed date.
I had to let the birds come to me during this year’s spring bird migration. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, I only occasionally ventured out on short excursions that often included a grocery pick up after a brief search for migrating birds.
So, I decided to look back in my photo files for a bird that I had never shared before. This Prothonotary Warbler caught my attention and sent me back to when and where I had photographed it. It was a cool, damp day at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area along Lake Erie’s shore in northwest Ohio. The boardwalk was crowded with other birders of all ages from around the world. The cameras clicked away when this bright yellow fellow appeared. Unfortunately, Magee Marsh is closed this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Prothonotary Warblers are only one of two warbler species that nest in tree cavities. They prefer marshy thickets as their habitats. They are named for Roman Catholic papal clerks known as prothonotaries who wear bright yellow robes.
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.
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?
During these days of staying at home, my wife and I occasionally take short trips to break up our routines of being sequestered. Recently, we drove to the Edith J. Carrier Arboretum at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where we live.
We knew the many varieties of flowers and trees would be in bloom, and we wanted to take advantage of the beautiful day. We weren’t alone. Several other folks, young and old, had the same idea. So, we kept the proper social distancing as we strolled around the grounds. I was torn between birding and photographing the many beautiful flowers.
When I came to this scene, I snapped the photo based on its composition as much as its beauty. I loved the backlighting of the leaves and the lacy, delicate blossoms. I found the every-which-way intertangling of the intricate limbs striking. Plus, the tops of the tall pines and the bright blue sky in the background gave the photo the depth it needed.
Viewing the photo on my computer, I realized what a fantastic and challenging jigsaw puzzle this piece would make. So, I chose “The Jigsaw Puzzle” as my Photo of the Week.