At long last, summer!

Breaking through the morning fog.

Summer! Having endured this seemingly eternal winter, that sunny, heart-warming word just rolls off of your tongue with glee and jubilation. It’s June, after all.

The official start of summer is still a couple of weeks away. But North American society can’t wait. Summer it is! As proof, many schools have already dismissed for the year or soon will. Family vacations are being planned.

After a long, damp spring, the weather warmed up rather quickly over a large geographic area in the U.S. In fact, the National Weather Service in two New England states issued weather statements cautioning the public about swimming in streams and ponds with water 20 degrees colder than the air temperature. Hypothermia was the primary concern.

Lawn mowing has become a regular task.
Summer’s fresh fragrances have already caressed most of us. Not only that, it looks like summer, too. Here in the Shenandoah Valley, the deciduous trees are all leafed out, their tender new shoots having turned from their infant lime green to a more vibrant, darker fullness. Shade trees can once again shelter hammocks.

Despite the wet spring, the first big round bales of hay stand rolled up in fields and ready to be hauled to storage. Farmers and suburbanites alike are planting crops and backyard gardens. We’ve already enjoyed fresh, crisp lettuce courtesy of our kind neighbors.

Given the warm days and nights and the frequent rains, lawn mowing has become a full-time profession. The grass is growing that fast.

People walking their dogs have exchanged their coats and stocking caps for shorts and t-shirts. Instead of leading their masters, the canines are lagging behind, tongues dangling.

Anglers have begun to ply their skills in rivers, ponds, lakes, and the oceans wherever and whenever they can. Don’t forget the sunscreen and mosquito spray.

The Knockouts.
Daffodils, tulips, irises, and lilacs have all had their show. Gaillardia, larkspur, coral-bells, and blue sage have taken their places. Loaded with bright, showy blossoms, the knockout roses really are knockouts.

American robin, eastern bluebird, common grackle, song sparrow, pileated woodpecker, and bald eagle chicks have all fledged their nests while other bird species are just now building theirs. The adults are doing their absolute best to protect the youngsters.

Strawberries have come and gone already in the Shenandoah Valley. Further north, folks are just now beginning to stuff themselves with the luscious redness. They are the only fruit with the seeds on the outside. My resourceful wife even made a strawberry pie for her birthday topped with real whipped cream.

Summer’s emergence doesn’t necessarily guarantee smooth sailing. Witness the frequent severe storms that have already brought death and destruction via tornadoes and flooding.

Cutting fresh strawberry pie.
Another negative is the abundant pollen filling the air from oaks, cottonwoods, and maples. Those with grass allergies have had a tough time of it as well. That being said, I can endure fits of sneezing for those rosy summer sunrises and sunsets.

Road construction zones are more numerous than dandelions. Having just driven nearly 2,700 miles on vacation, my wife and I can affirm that U.S. infrastructure definitely needs the repairs.

Summer picnics and reunions will soon occur along with organized and pickup baseball games for young and old. I can satisfyingly attest to the fact that grilling season has definitely begun.

Soon fireflies will begin their annual light display. Small town festivals and big city extravaganzas with outdoor concerts will commence. Festive parades and fundraising races have already started.

Relax on the back porch with a refreshing glass of mint tea and the first of several captivating reads. It’s summer, after all. Let’s all enjoy it together.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Summer is a humbling time

Amish farm, corn, wheat, oats
Grains of Summer.

By Bruce Stambaugh

With all of its positive and pleasant attributes, summer makes it hard to be humble.

We all want to get out and take full advantage of the sunny days filled with warmer temperatures and a wide variety of activities. We fling ourselves full force into each day whether it’s for work or for play. We want to drink in every drop of sunshine, warmth, and blue skies, from dawn to dusk.

Hungry Mother SP VA
At the beach.
Toddlers, children, and teens fill the local swimming pools, both public and backyard venues, while adults keep watchful eyes on the less careful youth. Construction workers bask in the fair weather, narrowing four lanes to one with an arsenal of orange barrels.

Lawnmowers hum morning, noon, and evening throughout global neighborhoods. Contractors and excavators work sunup to sundown. Farmers are in their glory, beginning to harvest the fruits of their labor.

In many places, the corn reached far beyond knee-high-by-the-Fourth-of-July standards. In others, stalks stood only inches tall, drowned out by the super wet spring and early summer rains.

Amber waves of grain really did roll in the wind until giant combines gobbled them up or they formed rows of shocks like so many soldiers standing guard in Amish-owned fields.

Summer, however, has other, more drastic ways to get our attention with her weapons. Summer can humble us lowly humans in many ways. Think floods, wildfires, tornadoes, droughts, golf ball-sized hail, record heat and humidity.

No matter our stature or station in life, we all succumb to those prevailing conditions. Summer humbles us.

humble singFor those unfamiliar with E.B. White’s beloved children’s classic “Charlotte’s Web,” humility played a major role in the book’s plot and dialogue. The spider Charlotte wove “Humble” into the web that served to save the life of the precocious pig Wilbur. She wanted a word that meant “not proud” as Wilbur’s crowning characteristic.

But humility has a second meaning beyond the social one. Humble implies a willingness to learn, and thankfully summer has much to teach us. The lessons are all around us in a more pleasing, useful, and beautiful form than what disasters wrought.

Vegetable gardens and truck patches team with all sorts of goodies that nurture us. Tasty homegrown sweet corn, luscious red tomatoes, green, red, and yellow peppers, and tangles of zucchini are just a few examples.

Roadside produce stands and supermarkets tempt us with juicy peaches and vine-ripened melons. Generations ago indigenous Americans taught us to plant, tend, and harvest these marvels.

For those non-gardeners among us, we sniff and thump and feel and taste to select the best of the bunch like our parents and grandparents did. The poor fruits and veggies pay the ultimate price.

Please click on the photos to enlarge them.

Flower gardens are peaking with hollyhocks and zinnias and cultivated flowers, too. Leafy hardwoods provide shade and refreshing coolness from the oppressive summer heat for humans and critters alike.

Wildflowers and wildlife, too, show their stuff. Dainty spotted fawns venture out on their own while mom watches from more secluded spaces. Parent bluebirds and house wrens ferry insects, worms, and berries to their youngsters nearly as big as the adult birds.

Families crowd beaches and climb mountains on vacations, exploring new venues or returning to old haunts discovered by previous generations.

Where is humility in all of this? Using the educational definition, it’s merely a reminder of the responsibility of the created to care for the creation. That is about as humbled as we can get.

pasture field, cumulous clouds
Summer landscape.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

Behold summer’s sights and sounds

Summer sunrise.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Memorial Day has come and gone. You know what that means? It’s the traditional but unofficial start to summer in the United States.

Public swimming pools will open to the sounds of laughter and joyous splashing by youngsters fresh out of school. They are the envy of those still laboring over mandated tests and counting the days until they, too, can roam free.

Church camps and scout camps and Bible schools will open their floodgates and let the children pour in. Snipe hunts and dreaded memorizations will commence just to get to the real treasures, homemade snacks.

The warning chirps of robins disturbed from their nests resound until inattentive humans continue on their way. The first broods of fledglings squawk and beg for their parents to feed them despite being nearly as big. If a brown-headed cowbird has snuck into a song sparrow’s nest, the scene can be grotesque.

At the feeder.
Lawn mowers, riding mowers, weed eaters, and leaf blowers join the summer society’s songfest, mostly off key. Those willing and able to expend the energy on their hands and knees for hours at a time do less intrusive weeding. Their rewards come in more than tidy flowerbeds. They enjoy the bees and butterflies flitting from bloom to bloom.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds zip from flower to flower, too. They supplement their diet with long sips at the local sugar water fountain to the delight of dedicated bird watchers everywhere.

Many times the best show is when the tiny birds chase one another high and low, zigzagging at light speed after one another even though there are plenty of places to perch and feed. Those in charge of refilling the feeders applaud the performances.

At night, the summer breezes diminish. Fireflies rise up out of the grasses and fields and light up the evening skies blinking their romantic messages. Overhead, commercial jets sail beneath the stars and planets that twinkle brightly.

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On the horizon, faint yellow flashes children like to label heat lightning interrupt the nighttime play. In reality, storms a hundred miles away had already driven other children indoors long before dark.

The next day, the sunrise blazed crimson and orange, signaling a fabled warning to sailors and civilians alike that rain was on its way. Sure enough, a squall line raced through, bending trees to the stress point. A few sacrificed a limb to save the whole.

Lightning flashed and crashed, and hailstones pelted the ripening strawberries to the dismay of both growers and customers. In suburbs and cities, torrents rutted gardens and sump pumps ran overtime.

Those were minor issued compared to the storms that others endure. All of this romanticizing and reminiscing about summer pales in comparison to those whose nights are peppered with gunshots and emergency sirens.

Summer in the city is filled with garden plots, swimming pools, day camps, and library readathons, too. Picnics in the park and taking in a baseball game, Major League or Little League, are also part of the warm weather entertainment.

Bicycling along picturesque country roads or designated bike paths hits its peak. Helmets are always a safety requirement.

Isn’t everything merely a matter of perspective and geography and circumstances?

We still have nearly three weeks until the summer solstice, the scientific start of fun in the sun. It’s also the day with the most daylight, giving us plenty of opportunities to enjoy the sights and sounds of summer yet to come.

Amish girls, Holmes Co. OH
Enjoying a summer’s day.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

Long days and slow sunsets

summer sunset, Holmes Co. OH
Silo sunset.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Summertime. That luscious word rolls off my tongue just as smoothly as butter melting on a steaming ear of sweet corn.

Officially, summer only recently arrived. The summer solstice just slipped by, technically ushering in the season we’ve already been enjoying. In other words, the citizens of the Northern Hemisphere have entered the sacred stretch of long days and slow sunsets.

Geneva-on-the-Lake OH, Lake Erie, sunset
Fun by the lake.
The sunsets really do linger longer than those occurring in other months of the year. Around the solstices, the farther the sun sets from due west, the shallower the angle of the setting sun. We reap the positive consequences with slower, magically glowing sunsets. How much longer? A full, beautiful minute. The same is true at December’s solstice.

That extra minute of bliss is but one of the bonuses of summer. There are plenty of others.

School children have been celebrating summer’s arrival for days. Consequently, lifeguards at swimming pools have already worn out their pool whistles. Lawn mowing, weeding, and gardening are old hat to dedicated growers. The outdoor supply inventories at big box stores and local nurseries alike have dwindled, causing latecomers to scrounge elsewhere or wait until next year.

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Big round bales, the regular rectangular ones, and even haymows prove first cutting successes. Row upon row of field corn stalks desperately tries to catch up to their sweet corn cousins. Tomato plants are simultaneously blooming and showing their first fruits in various shades of green, yellow, pink, and red.

Summer baseball, softball, and golf leagues have long been underway. Seasonal resorts are booming, welcoming newcomers and veterans alike. Multi-generations crowd miniature golf courses to enjoy the sunny days and exotic, extended evenings.

Is it just me or have the backyard bunnies multiplied exponentially this year? They’re everywhere in all sizes. I’ll let you explain that to the kids. Baby birds have long fledged, leaving the nest to begin life on their own. Several species are in the process of constructing their second nests.

It didn’t take me long to fully appreciate the shade produced by a fulsome crown of established maples in our Virginia yard. Either it’s hotter here, or the shade is thicker and cooler. Either way, I’m glad for the fully leafed trees.

scorpionfly, green raspberries
Scorpionfly on raspberries.
Lightning bugs by the billions light up lawns and fields and forests alike. It’s one of the treasures of summer to watch those signals flash while sipping the waning day’s last glass of iced tea. I’ll take decaf, please.

Folks who make their living outdoors, of course, love the summer weather. Road construction workers, farmers, carpenters, excavators, surveyors, delivery personnel, mail carriers, tree trimmers, garbage collectors, and landscapers bask in the sunshine. A rainy day or two gives them a break from the non-stop outside work that beckons to be completed before the fair days falter.

In the meantime, we all reap the benefits of those hazy, crazy days of summer. Fresh bouquets don our dinner tables, along with fresh fruit and vegetables. Shoot. There’s freshness all around.

Spaced somewhere in between all of these pleasantries are family vacations. Some go north to fish. Some go south to visit Minnie and Mickey. Others stand at the rim of the Grand Canyon and just gape.

Scientists, astronomers, and amateur sky gazers may mark these longest days of the year in mere minutes. But the rest of us know better. We count our blessings in buckets of laughter, bushels of berries, and baskets of blooms.

Summertime is here. Let’s enjoy these long days and slow sunsets while we can.

Rockingham Co. VA sunset, Shenandoah Valley VA
A majestic sunset on Majestic View Rd.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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

Where did summer go already?

corn shocks, Holmes Co. OH
Corn shocks already.

By Bruce Stambaugh

It seems like only yesterday that we were asking ourselves, “When will summer arrive?” I think that was in June when it was still cool and very wet.

Well, a lot has changed since then. It seemed like the summertime months turned on themselves. It was a Jekyll and Hyde summer to be sure.

The persistent rains of early summer suddenly ceased. After the deluge that created localized flash flooding in Holmes County on July 14, regular rains were scarce. We lapsed into a dry spell that lasted too long to help the corn kernels swell with sweetness.

July flash flooding, Holmes Co. OH
Flash flooding.
Initially, truck patches struggled with mildew, mold and rot in the chilly dampness of early summer. Later, though, as crops matured, their unquenched thirst did them in. They ripened ahead of schedule, withered on the vine or failed to produce the desired yield.

So here we are, the autumnal equinox upon us, and we’re wondering, “Where did summer go already?” As humans, we can be as fickle and contrary as Ohio’s crazy weather. It’s in our nature, and we have the grievance gene working overtime.

Therefore, now that September is waning, it seems only fair to wonder what happened to summer. My best answer is, “I don’t know.” I do know, however, that the signs of summer’s end have shown for some time.

School started weeks ago for many students, always a sure omen of summer’s demise. Summer flies other white flags, too.

Spurred on by the early rains, rows and rows of field corn sprouted lush and fertile, growing taller than tall. Without regular August rains, they have withered and turned brittle brown overnight. It’s been a long time since I remember seeing cornstalks standing like mustered soldiers this early in the harvest time.

(Click on the photos to enlarge them.)

Fireflies faded, and crickets increased amid the dryness. Our feathered friends have dawned their duller wardrobe for safety sake. Their luxurious singing has muted with their habitat’s colors.

Migration is in full swing for birds and butterflies alike. Look quickly. They won’t stay. They have long, challenging journeys ahead.

Another obvious indication of summer’s passing is just how soon sunset seems to arrive each evening. And that’s after the sun was late in rising daily.

With the reduction in daylight hours, the air has cooled considerably overall. Of course we’ll still have some splendid days ahead. But day-by-day, week-by-week, the evening and morning coolness forces us to dress in layers to adjust to the daily variables.

Summer has gradually been waving goodbye in a very colorful fashion for weeks now. Deciduous leaves have been slowly changing from their summer greens into fall’s warmer fashionable trends of crimsons, yellows, and russets. Many leaves have just simply fallen off.

Healthy stands of goldenrod bend and recoil with the slightest breeze. Wild sunflowers separate highways from pastureland. The American Goldfinches couldn’t be happier, gorging on their fresh fruit.

Funny how we humans too often seem to want what we don’t have, and when it does arrive, we long for something else. I think that pretty much sums up summer and answers our rhetorical questions about summer’s arrival and departure.

We can’t control the weather or the seasons. We can only enjoy them whatever weather they bring. The key is to embrace the moment at hand, so we don’t have to look back and wonder where the time went.

Summer is about to depart. Let’s send her out with joy, as we usher in the harvest season with gladness and thanksgiving.

summer sunset, Holmes Co. OH
Goodbye summer.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

August is a busy, often forgotten month

oats shocks, Holmes Co. OH
Shocking scene. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

Poor August. Like Rodney Dangerfield, our eighth month just doesn’t seem to get any respect.

August is the forgotten month. No holiday graces its 31 days. Still, we often get lost in all that August has to offer and forget the month itself.

August calls to us daily, appealing to our innate senses. The month tantalizes us with good things to eat, smell, see, touch and hear. August is an equal opportunity sensation.

sunflower, August
Backlit sunflower. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
Urban, suburban or country, August flies a multitude of colors. Cultivated and wildflowers grace gardens, country roads and even median strips on interstate highways.

The beauty is ever changing from month’s beginning to end. Cosmos, gladiolas, and hollyhock replace daylilies and daisies. Roadside royalties like asters and chicory are ubiquitous.

The colors of the floral circus attract fluttering visitors. A variety of gorgeous butterflies and exotically patterned insects help pollinate the blooms and entertain us humans.

Tiger Swallowtail, Conflower
Garden beauty. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
August days grow shorter of course. But its sunrises and sunsets are unsurpassed. Often, smoke and gritty particles blown high into the atmosphere diffuse the sun’s rays to create glorious dawn and dusk events.

Locally, the county fair is in full swing. That means fun and excitement for children both in years and in the heart. It also often means at least one good soaker.

In a properly configured growing season, gardens, orchards, and croplands are yielding an abundant harvest. Despite the late start, this year looks like a bumper crop of color and nutrition except for those poor peaches that were frozen out by two consecutive harsh winters.

All harvesting doesn’t always come from the garden. Picking wild raspberries, elderberries, and even blueberries provides a satisfaction all its own. On a recent jaunt through the West Virginia mountains, I witnessed a few folks staining their hands with those precious fruits.

Commercial and domestic kitchens are abuzz with activity. Jellies, jams, applesauce, salsas and many other seasonal delights are all being cranked out at their demand, not always our convenience.

canning tomato soup
Canning tomato soup. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

When they’re ripe, they take priority or there’ll be no goodies to spread on warm bread on a cold January evening. Besides the tasty preserves, generations of families and friends gather for the food frolic.

Back to school shopping makes the August to do list, too. Teachers, students, parents, and grandparents crowd the aisles snapping up pencils, paper, glue, and clothing. If you look closely, you’ll likely find a year’s supply of antacids in the teachers’ carts.

When the calendar flips to August, all of this rushes into our lives. Before we know it, Labor Day weekend will be upon us, and August will be but a memory.

young song sparrow, birding
Juvenile Song Sparrow. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
The oats stand at attention in shocks atop an emerald carpet of alfalfa. The radiant afterglow of another golden August sunset bathed the entire landscape, toasting even darker the already amber grains.

In the evening, choruses of crickets and katydids lull you to sleep. If you awake during the night, you can take in another of August’s wonders. The Perseid meteor showers can entertain you with magical streaks of pure awe.

Only the House Wren, attending its second or perhaps third brood, continues to sing regularly. Other bird species, having done their duties, have mostly grown quiet.

Many migrating birds have already begun their journey south. In the birding world, August is considered the beginning of fall.

See what I mean about August getting no respect?

August sunset, grain field
Russet sunset. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015