Dreaming about Florida, or was it real?

Sarasota Florida, Sarasota Bay
Sarasota, FL. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I dream a lot, vivid, colorful, goofy dreams. I often remember details of what I dream, too, including people and places.

Recently, I dreamt that my wife and I were in Florida, Sarasota to be exact. It was a very real and an unusually long, Rip Van Winkle type dream.

I must have lapsed into an uncharacteristically deep sleep. This dream seemed to last a week. At my age, sleeping through the night without waking at least once is rare.

But there I was, snapping photographs at my niece’s picture perfect wedding. The setting was on a lush lawn that separated an old money estate from the placid gulf waters.

At the open-air reception, we enjoyed tasty hors d’oeuvres, and a scrumptious, multi-course meal. A crescent moon hung at the end of a string of soft white party lights that illuminated the revelry.

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Just like that, the scene switched to the Celery Fields, a popular spot for birders to view beautiful tropical bird species. There I was standing on a platform practically in the middle of the marsh watching colorful species I’d longed to see.

Purple Gallinules, Wood Storks, Ospreys, and Roseate Spoonbills appeared. I saw more shorebirds, hawks, ducks, and even alligators. Only the scene changed again, and I was back at a lovely house where we apparently were staying.

Everything happened so quickly, yet the details were so clear, and the weather so marvelous, I didn’t want to leave. I hoped I never woke up from this surreal fantasy.

As dreams do, one location meddled into another. My wife and I were enjoying a wonderful lunch with my sister and her husband. Eating outdoors in ideal weather conditions just makes the food taste all that much better, even in dreams.

No trip to Sarasota, real or imagined, is complete without tickling your toes in the warm waters lapping onto picturesque Siesta Key Beach. This had to be a dream because the shorebirds out numbered the people on the normally crowded sugary white sands.

Still on the beach, the scene swiftly switched from the hot overhead sun to a magical sunset with golden rays streaming from behind clouds. Was I in heaven?

No, Pinecraft, the little Amish and Mennonite community in Sarasota. I’d been in the alley before between the Tourist Church and the post office, where the buses deliver the snowbirds from the north. Only the parking lot was empty. No Amish or Mennonite souls could be found.

Now I was in a jungle. Ferns, palms, massive trees with sweeping limbs, and crazy roots, and gorgeous flowers surrounded me. Walkways graced by cooling but strangely shaped canopies beckoned me.

In a blink, there was the bay again, teeming with birds, jumping fish, and boats of all sizes. Everything, sky, water, boats, was awash in some shade of blue, with gleaming white and silver buildings as the backdrop.

sugar maple, bare tree
Leafless. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
Just as quickly, the scene turned horribly. It was cold, windy and rainy. I had to be back in Ohio. However, I was in a panic because I had lost my precious camera. But even this dilemma had a happy ending. I found the camera on a bench outside an airport.

It must have been that fright and the harsh elements that jerked me back to reality. All I know is that when I lapsed into my deep sleep, our stunning back yard sugar maple was at its peak color. When I woke up, not a leaf was left.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

Ready, set, go.

Sandwich Tern, shorebirds, Sarasota Floriada
Ready, set, go. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

On a recent, all too short visit to Sarasota, Florida, I was fortunate to catch this Sandwich Tern on a post in a marina in Longboat Key. The tern looks like it is ready for lift off, but the exquisite bird was only stretching its wings.

I thought the back lighting of the late afternoon sun really highlighted this bird’s beautiful winter plumage, and its distinguishing yellow tip of its bill. Not only that, it was a “lifer” bird for me, meaning I had never seen one before. Sandwich Terns seldom venture into the hills of Ohio’s Amish country, where I live. They tend to stick to the east coast, and especially enjoy Florida’s lovely coastlines.

“Ready, set, go” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

The best thing about vacations

Leaving the harbor by Bruce Stambaugh
Fishermen leave the harbor at Fernandina Beach, FL.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Vacation is one of my favorite words. Perhaps it’s because it’s one of those duplicitous words in the English language that can be used as either a noun or a verb.

I love to go on vacation. We will vacation at the beach. Either way, the end result is still the same. Vacation is vacation.

My wife and I are fortunate to be at a point in our lives where we can get away, if only for a few days, without much hassle. When friends invited us to share a house with them in sunny Florida for a week, we cleared our schedules and confirmed our reservations.

When you live in northern Ohio and it’s wintertime, there’s only one direction to go on vacation, and that is south. Clearly, I’m not a snow skier. At my age, I prefer the warmth to cold, and so do my old bones.

Siesta sunset by Bruce Stambaugh
Sunset at Siesta Key Beach, Sarasota, FL.

It’s more than climate that draws us away from our familiar digs, Holmes Co., Ohio, where up to four million visit annually. Most visitors to our area, however, choose spring, summer and especially fall to roam the bucolic Holmes County hills.

Our curiosity and desire for adventure draw us away from our own congenial vistas as much as anything. We love to explore new places as well as revisit familiar ones.

Our gracious Florida hosts planned plenty of interesting activities for us during our weeklong stay. Fortunately, we enjoy many similar activities as our friends. Like us, they prefer to pace themselves. It was vacation after all. No reason to rush.

I could bore you with a verbal slideshow of our trip. I’ll just say we had a great time, whether we were on the most beautiful beach in the country, which we were, or enjoying an enlightening and informative historical tour, which we did.

Florida House by Bruce Stambaugh
The Florida House, Fernandina Beach, FL, is the oldest operating hotel in Florida.

Instead, I want to tell you about some of the people we encountered along the way. It happens wherever we go. I am fascinated and appreciate the kindness of pure strangers we encounter on our travels. Meeting new people is one of the vacation perks.

Sure, there are a few goofballs almost everywhere. But for the most part, we have found people to be absolutely engaging, matching the gorgeous scenery that surrounds them.

It is hard to single out any one person in Mt. Airy, North Carolina. Everyone we met seemed like a familiar character from Mayberry.

Captain Dave by Bruce Stambaugh
Captain Pajama Dave piloted our Beach Creek tour at Fernandina Beach, FL.
The young and enthusiastic park ranger near Mt. Mitchell on the Blue Ridge Parkway was most helpful. He directed us to Asheville when we found the road unexpectedly closed.

The kind lady at the Venice Rookery who encouraged us to return at dusk to watch the hundreds of nesting egrets, herons and ibises settle in for the night was a pure gem. Even a non-birder would marvel at that experience.

Another amazing individual was our tour boat captain at Fernandina Beach, Florida. Captain Dave was as cordial and passionate about his lovely habitat as the history of the area was interesting. His trademark bright red Elmo pajama pants fit his personality and his passion for nature’s handiwork that he so eloquently pointed out.

Juniper by Bruce Stambaugh
The precocious Juniper.

Finally, there was 2-year-old Juniper, the petite and perky daughter of some friends in Charlotte. We had never met her. Yet by evening’s end, she wanted “Pruce” to read her one more book.

To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, Oh the places we’ve been and the people we’ve met. Together they make vacation a charmed word in our household.

Getting ready for winter

Martins Creek by Bruce Stambaugh
A series of heavy snowfalls hit Ohio's Amish country last winter.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Like it or not, winter is right around the corner. We have already tasted some of winter’s appetizers, snow, temperatures in the teens, and, of course, shortened daylight.

Fortunately here in Ohio’s Amish Country, the snow didn’t amount to much, and the skinny temperatures quickly moderated. Once winter arrives officially next week, that could change. We could have a snow-filled winter like last year, or worse yet, one like 1977 and 1978 when snowdrifts reached 20 feet or more.

Living in Ohio all my life, I have found it helpful to mentally and physically prepare myself for the inevitable. Whether it is prolonged or only stays awhile, the weather will get cold, and it will snow from time to time.

Snowbirds arrive in Pinecraft, FL by Bruce Stambaugh
Snowbirds arrive via bus in Pinecraft, FL.

Those who dislike that harsh reality and who are in a position to do so flee south or southwest to warmer climes. At least the snowbirds hope they will be warmer. Last year proved otherwise. It frosted in Florida and snowed deep in the heart of Texas.

Snow deep in the heart of Texas by Bruce Stambaugh
It even snowed in Austin, TX last winter.

All of us can’t escape the onslaught of winter’s harshness. Some of us don’t want to. Others are involuntarily stuck here to fend for themselves.

I have fond childhood memories of the benefits of winter, like ice skating, sledding, flinging snowballs and digging snow tunnels. Most of them likely were indeed in the throes of winter. But I do remember delivering newspapers in a glorious Christmas Eve snow.

I also recall hustling our young son and daughter into my in-laws’ farmhouse amid stinging, sideways snow, howling winds, and frigid wind chills. There are times when Ohio winters are at their absolute worst in December.

We then anticipate January and February to be utterly horrible. And low and behold they might turn out to be meek and mild, not to mention mucky.

Whether we stay or whether we go, winter, regardless of the weather, will arrive. We might as well get ready for it.

Snow covered cornshalks by Bruce Stambaugh
A typical snowy scene in Ohio's Amish country.

In many ways, we already have. The tomato trellises we erected last spring have long been coaxed out of the ground and stored in the garden shed, thanks mostly to one of our kind, strong young neighbors.

The birdfeeders have been cleaned, filled and hung, and the backyard birds, and a couple of mooching fox squirrels, have already been taking advantage of the freebies. Actually, I am the one that is grateful. Watching the birds, and squirrels, rabbits and occasional deer, enjoy the cracked corn, oil sunflower seeds and suet mixes is my winter’s entertainment.

White breasted nuthatch by Bruce Stambaugh
A white-breasted nuthatch at my kitchen window feeder.

In truth, I feed the birds year-round. With winter’s approach, I merely increase the number and style of feeders to accommodate the various feeding habits of my feathered friends.

Of course, I can’t neglect the vehicles that transport us from place to place during the winter weather. I make sure each is winterized and ready to endure whatever winter has to throw at us.

The woodpile is stacked high and wide, ready to feed the hungry fireplace. I’d rather be shunning the cold elements in front of a warm fire than on the outside shoveling them. Who wouldn’t?

Winter is nigh. Are you ready?