Tag Archives: Secrest Arboretum

A season of transitions

lily pond, OARDC

The lily pond.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I sat alone on the park bench enjoying the beauty before me. I didn’t realize it then, but now I see that this little break from my regular routines served as a realization that summer had arrived.

I took in the action in this public garden of flowers, woodlots, shrubs, ponds, and meadows. Here life was abundant, evolving, vibrant, verdant, and fragrant.

Still, the hustle and bustle of urban life intruded. Trucks roared by on the nearby expressway. Sirens sounded in the small city below.

In this peaceful island sanctuary, I found relief, joy, introspection, and resolve. Children’s joyous voices that carried above and around the hedges and well-planned plantings of this lovely arboretum broke my spell.

Their mother asked for directions to the giant slide. I pointed them to the children’s forest where I thought it might be, and off they went. I wondered why they weren’t in school. Then it hit me. School’s out for the summer.

I silently laughed at my silliness. It was the time of year I had simultaneously loved and loathed. As a public school educator for three decades, my two favorite workdays were the first and last ones of each academic year.

Wonder, surprises, heartache, celebration and meaningful interactions filled the days in between. All that changed once school dismissed for the summer. In a matter of days, I missed the students.

That, too, changed with the transition into a second career in marketing and writing. Funny how it was so easy to forget the ebb and flow of the once all too familiar educational rhythm.

As the mother and her clutch left, I returned to my leisurely stroll among the various gardens graced with stone and steel artworks. The many transitions of life that this season brings arose all around.

I took another seat in the garden above a hillside amphitheater used for lectures, weddings, and meditation. An unsuspecting chipmunk scampered across my foot, then realizing its mistake, hightailed it for cover, chattering all the way.

Catbirds practiced their best imitations, competing with a distant mockingbird. Honeybees worked the fragrances. Black and tiger swallowtail butterflies fluttered from blossom to blossom, having only recently transitioned from pupa to fresh, crisp, winged beauties.

Like a herd of runaway soap bubbles, dozens of fluffy white puffball seeds floated by me. A gentle northwest breeze freed them from their mother cottonwood according to plan. This spontaneous event, too, symbolized an annual, natural transition from growth to evolutionary distribution.

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Across the ravine, giant wooden statues carved by a tornado’s impact still stood as witnesses to nature’s contradictory might and resilience. In a matter of moments, the storm’s fury bent and broke the once massive trees like number two pencils.

Suddenly a yellow-green something flashed across my gaze. I chased the bird with my binoculars, uncertain about its species. I was thankful the bird lured me into the ravine.

A soaking wet blue jay sat high in an old snag for the longest time preening, uncharacteristically silent, drying baby blue feathers in the afternoon sun. Had it refreshed itself in the lily pond where I first sat?

A robin perched on a much lower branch also absorbed the golden warmth. Again the yellow-green flash appeared. An orchard oriole had revealed its concealed, woven nest near the top of a young horse chestnut tree.

Just then my ears caught multiple contented screeches. Without investigating, I knew the children had found the long, hillside slide.

Their summer of fun had begun, and so had mine.

hillside slide

Summer slide.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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Rejuvenated in a familiar and changed place

Flowering shrubs by Bruce Stambaugh
By Bruce Stambaugh

I hadn’t been to Secrest Arboretum in Wooster, Ohio since a tornado literally blew it apart September 16, 2010. In the midst of our recent summer-like weather, I decided it was time to reconnect.

Woodlots by Bruce StambaughLike so many others, I always had found the arboretum to be a place of blissful escape and rejuvenation. Its lovely woodlots, pristine gardens and peaceful settings have long served as a place of inspiration and retreat for many.

I knew why it had taken me so long to return to this little paradise. I didn’t want to relive those ugly memories, so opposite of what Secrest was meant to be.

Just an hour after the tornado hit late that summer evening, I had maneuvered in and around the devastation of the Ohio Agriculture and Research Development Center campus, where the arboretum is located. As a volunteer severe weather spotter, the Cleveland office of the National Weather Service had sent me there to photograph the damage as best I could.

I only had about a half an hour before sunset. Rescue crews were still combing buildings for possible victims who may have stayed late for work or study. Sporadic jerky flashes from searchlights sent eerie light beams through holes of broken buildings.

Focusing on my duty, I snapped as many pictures in the dim light as I could. That purposeful concentration was the only thing that stilled my emotions.

OARDC tornado damage by Bruce Stambaugh

Tornado damage near the Barnhardt Rice House on the Ohio Agricultural and Research Development Center in Wooster, Ohio on the evening of Sept. 16, 2010.


Historic buildings were ripped apart. Vehicles had been smashed and tossed like toys. Giant, beloved trees were snapped, toppled and twisted. It was overwhelming to see this peaceful place resemble a war zone.

It was nearly dark by the time I had circled back to the famous and popular gardens. Trees that had stood as sentinels over the flora and fauna had been sheared off or completely twisted out of the ground.

I thought of the many good times past when we toured the gardens with family and friends, admiring the marvelous variety of plants, flowers and trees. Those memories made it all so heart wrenching.

Like thousands of others, researchers and visitors alike, I loved the place. The EF2 tornado stole that, too. I knew that restoration had begun almost immediately. But I wondered if Secrest would ever be the same.

Flowers and stump by Bruce StambaughBuoyed by the unusually warm weather, I laid aside my fears and drove in. As soon as I exited my vehicle, familiar sights and sounds were instantaneous. Young trees had been planted, some adjacent to the sawed-off stumps, testimonial tombstones to those once towering trees.

Exotic tulips by Bruce StambaughThe early onslaught of warm weather had coaxed the blossoming of many flowers and flowering trees. Crocuses, daffodils, hydrangea, forsythia, magnolia and even an exotic tulip were all blooming, some well ahead of schedule. Workers were busy trimming out last year’s dead growth while construction crews continued to repair, replace and expand the lovely gardens.

ricehousebybrucestambaugh

The Barnhardt Rice House is repaired and back in use.

It was a pleasure to walk the paved pathways to explore the remake. I wasn’t the only one to notice the fragrant flowers. Huge bumblebees and honeybees gorged on the nectar of the new blossoms. Mocking birds flushed from one bush to the next, staking out nesting preferences.

It was also nice to see some of the campus building restored, refurbished and back in use. Others, however, remained much as the tornado had left them.

Damaged silos by Bruce Stambaugh

Silos on the OARDC campus stand as they were after being hit by a tornado Sept. 16, 2010.


The restoration of Secrest Arboretum is a work in progress to be sure. In some sections, tornado twisted and toppled trees remain within eyeshot of the ongoing transformations.

The contrasts of nature’s stark fury and inspiring revival filled my soul. In the midst of this resurrection season, Secrest and I were both healing.

Restored and damaged by Bruce Stambaugh

While many areas of the arboretum have been restored, sections of large trees downed by the tornado remain.

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