Given the crazy assortment of weather we have had in the Shenandoah Valley this summer, photographic sunsets have been hard to comeby. Any hint of a possible colorful evening sky, and I headed to my favorite sunset spot. Too often it was to no avail.
Recently, however, that changed, even with few cumulous clouds to reflect the setting sun. I was glad for this recent sunset, and I am happy to share it with you.
One thing about photographing sunsets is certain. You have to be at the right place at the right time to capture the beauty.
As I was driving desperately trying to find the perfect spot to capture the quickly fading sunset, the colors suddenly brightened. I pulled in the nearest farm lane, pointed my camera and clicked away. Once was enough, as this shot shows. Seconds later, the western sky went gray over the Allegheny Mountains that create the border between Virginia and West Virginia.
One of the joys about being in the out-of-doors is experiencing the unexpected. Nature’s ways never cease to pleasantly surprise me.
Such was the case recently when I went out to photograph the sunset. Doing so is always an adventure. You never know what the results will be. When I arrived at my chosen destination not far from our home near Harrisonburg, Virginia, I had a feeling my quest would be disappointing. I was wrong, not in the sunset so much as the aura of the setting.
I parked at the entrance of a nearby farm that doubles as an event center. I could see a thick bank of clouds hovering over the Allegheny Mountains 20 miles to the west. Usually, that means that the sun’s rays will be blocked from reflecting off of the congregation of cumulus clouds hanging in the evening sky. But I’ve learned that when it comes to sunsets, patience is a valuable virtue.
So while I waited, I watched the steers grazing in the sweeping, limestone-studded pasture. Other than the lone bull, they paid me little heed.
Soon, my attention was diverted to another source. An Eastern Meadowlark was belting out its evening song. At first, I had a hard time locating the bird. Just as the sunset reached its color peak, I spotted the bird high atop a deciduous tree whose leaves were in their infancy of unfurling. The song mesmerized me. It was as if the bird were serenading the setting sun. I have included a link to give you an idea of what I heard here.
If you can’t spot the Eastern Meadowlark, please click on the photo to enlarge it. Look for the bird center-right at the very top of the tree.
When I turned 70, I received lots of celebratory wishes and unsolicited advice. Like a 70-year-old needs advice.
One ditty was the seven and 70 rule. The idea is that seven-year-olds will say anything, and 70 year-olds have earned the right by default to espouse whatever they want. Clearly, I didn’t know or obey that tenet. Wanted or not, I’ve been offering my opinions my entire life.
Nevertheless, I’ve done a lot of thinking since hitting that personal milestone. I feel fortunate, grateful, honored, humbled as I review my life. I have many, many kind people to thank for giving me challenges I didn’t think I could meet, opportunities I never expected, and critiquing I didn’t want to hear but definitely needed. To steal a movie title, it’s been a wonderful life.
Best of all, life continues, but for how long? None of us really knows for sure. As the saying goes, embrace each day as if it were your last. It just might be.
That somber thought used to bother me, scare me even. As a teenager, I thought I’d live forever. I know that’s not going to happen. I read the obituaries every morning, and I find the life summaries of too many people my age or younger.
Death where is thy sting? Many a sermon has already been preached on that topic. I won’t add to that litany.
Instead, I want to share a purposeful phenomenon that seems to resonate with many seniors. Generally speaking, we’re not afraid of death anymore.
After I retired as a public educator, I began my second career in community relations and marketing at a retirement community near my former Ohio home. I wasn’t there long until a common philosophy became apparent among the residents. As they aged, they were happier in their lives, despite increased physical and mental afflictions, reduced agility, and less energy overall. I recently learned that gerontologists confirm these observations. As people’s bodies decline, instead of feeling worse about themselves, they feel better.
Given their settings and expected elderly ailments, logic would dictate the opposite. Why had death indeed lost its sting for them? In general, they needed less in life and from life. They had given their all and were genuinely happy for that. Also, they looked forward to what they called “going home.”
Regrets? Sure, they had a few, just as I do. But that alone could not deter their enthusiasm for whatever came their way. They still expressed anxiety about all of life’s catastrophes they saw on TV, in the newspapers, and online.
But these were folks who had survived The Great Depression, who knew the value of work, being thrifty, conserving for the future and for future generations. They may not have liked many of the social changes that flew in the face of what they believed. But for the most part, neither did they let that bother them or think less of those who behaved or felt differently than they did. Their knowledge and experience taught them that. In my book, that is the very definition of wisdom.
I admired their gumption, fortitude, love of life, and their focus on being in the presence of each moment. They were ready for whatever came next. I’m trying my best to model that attitude, too, to my wife, my family, my friends, my neighbors, to whomever I meet.
Like my octogenarian friends at the retirement community, I’m ready for the next chapter of my life to unfold, one day, one person, one event, one glorious sunrise, one breathtaking sunset at a time.
Photography helps keep my mind sharp. It motivates me to see the beauty that is all around me, to photograph scenes that I couldn’t even imagine existed.
With a few wispy clouds in the evening sky, my intended mission might be to capture a lovely sunset, only to be disappointed as the sun sinks below the horizon with unremarkable results. Nevertheless, I stick to the objective, looking for opportunities for creative shots as I traverse the countryside.
I arrived at the Pleasant View Old Order Mennonite churchyard shortly after sunset. Baren deciduous trees and a few evergreens populated the property, planted in part to shade the horses during the Sunday morning worship service. This was a weekday. I had the place to myself.
I could see the Allegheny Mountains to the west outlined by the evening’s golden light. When I came to this particular spot, I was transfixed. The trees seemed to guide my focus through the opening in their canopy far above and beyond the lovely skyline. There was no irony here whatsoever. The modest, horse-and-buggy driving Old Order Mennonites were spot on to declare this vista a pleasant view. For me, being in this moment was a spiritual experience, one of those spontaneous happenings in life that catches you by surprise and stirs your soul.
I have too many hobbies. Besides photography and writing, I enjoy biking, birding, wildlife, wildflowers, hiking, weather, sunrises, and sunsets, just to name a few. Every once in a while, I am fortunate to be able to combine some of those activities into one outing.
Recently I explored a new location for sunsets. Though lovely, the promise of a blazing sunset diminished as the sun sank lower and lower behind the Allegheny Mountains 17 miles away. To the north, a rogue thunderstorm drifted over northwestern Rockingham Co., Virginia. The last of the day’s light dappled the outer edges of the billowing storm cell.
Being outside in the cooling evening air on this hillside cattle farm brought me much joy. Capturing a photo of a growing thunderhead highlighted by the setting sun in this idyllic setting capped another lovely day in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.
It’s been four months since my wife and I moved from Holmes Co., Ohio to Rockingham Co., Virginia. I’ve enjoyed exploring our new retirement location, looking for new spots to photograph sunrises and sunsets. I’m especially happy when I’m rewarded with a glorious morning or evening sky. I am grateful to be able to share the beautiful results with you.
“Reflections on a Farm Pond” is my Photo of the Week.