Enjoying spring’s aviary adventures

Amish farm by Bruce Stambaugh
A typical springtime scene in the heart of Ohio’s Amish country near Mt. Hope, OH.

By Bruce Stambaugh

We are fortunate to live where we do here in northern Ohio, especially in the Holmes County area. Our manicured farmlands, brushy fencerows, dense woodlots, numerous lakes and the wetlands of the Killbuck Valley provide an abundant variety of habitats that attract an equal abundance and variety of birds.

In our busyness, we should stop, look and listen to the free show that is all around us. The many birds, some just passing through, others that will make their summer home here, can fill our senses with amazing music, incredible color, and entertaining activity. No admission charge is needed.

canadagoosebybrucestambaugh
A Canada Goose and a lone gosling glide in the marshy Killbuck Valley north of Millersburg, OH.

Even before sunrise, the chorus of songbirds begins to warm up like a pre-concert symphony. Usually the American Robins are first to welcome the new dawn with their varying songs. Soon others like the Northern Cardinals and Song Sparrows join in. By first light, a cacophony of warbling fills the morning air. Everyday brings a new chorus.

Once the morning brightens, the birds mix a paint palette of colors into the recital. Now at their height of intensity for procreation purposes, the colors of the birds are positively stunning. Their appointed markings are a pleasure to behold.

White-crowned Sparrow by Bruce Stambaugh
A White-crowned Sparrow stopped for fuel on its way north.
The male White-crowned Sparrow, with its alternating bold black and white stripes atop its head, could serve as a referee amid all the commotion and scramble for seeds at the backyard feeders. Instead, it is intent on fueling up for its long flight deep into the Canadian northlands.

Pairs of Cardinals forage for their breakfast of cracked corn and oil sunflower seeds. Like two teenagers in love, the bright red male feeds his adoring but duller mate in their courting ritual.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak by Bruce Stambaugh
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are regular visitors to backyard feeders.
Without hesitation, the impressive Rose-breasted Grosbeak sallies onto the feeder hanging only inches from the kitchen window. Even in a brief glimpse it is easy to see how this bird got its name, its rosy breastplate all too obvious. The female, on the other hand, is awash in rich creams and browns, all for protection against hungry predators.

Baltimore Oriole by Bruce Stambaugh
A female Baltimore Oriole enjoys frequent visits to the bird grape jelly feeder.
The Baltimore and Orchard Orioles enjoy quick snatches of a grape jelly concoction housed in upside down bottle caps on the porch railing. A couple of quick gulps and they are gone, but never far away. Their liquid warbling says they’ll be back later for more.

The regal Red-headed Woodpeckers command attention from humans and aviary audiences alike. Without being bossy, they clear the feeders all to themselves. No doubt their brilliant red, white and black attire and their size have a lot to do with that.

Red-headed Woodpecker by Bruce Stambaugh
A male Red-headed Woodpecker visits the peanut butter suet feeder several times per day.

The Red-bellied Woodpeckers are bolder, both in sound and behavior, their iridescent red head stripes as flashy as strobe lights on patrol cars. Their noisy chatter serves as a warning siren announcing their arrival.

Even the little Black-capped Chickadees come dressed for the dinner party. Their tuxedo-like coloration is fresh and ready for the spring prom. They zip back and forth from tree branch to feeder, neatly holding the seed with their feet, while their tiny beak chisels for the main course, the sunflower heart.

Chipping Sparrow by Bruce Stambaugh
Even the little Chipping Sparrow is a joy to observe.

One hates to turn away from the aviary activity to see what might be passing overhead. An American Eagle, a Great Blue Heron, flocks of Mallards? It’s springtime in Ohio. All options are open in this intermingled habitat.

It is amazing what we can observe, especially when our feathered friends enter our life space. We just need to stop, look and listen.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

Lakeside daisies are in early bloom

Lakeside Daisy Nature Preserve by Bruce Stambaugh
Daisies in full bloom at the Lakeside Daisy Nature Preserve near Marblehead, OH.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Bee and daisy by Bruce StambaughThe Lakeside daisies are in full bloom. That may not sound like earth-shattering news. But apparently due to the unusually warm winter here in Ohio, the daisies, like most other flowers, plants and trees, are blooming early. Plus, if you are a lover of all things nature, and especially wildflowers, you don’t want to miss this yellowy exhibition.

The Lakeside daisies are particularly special. They only bloom in a limited number of locations on or near the Marblehead Peninsula in northwest Ohio. In addition, their buttery blooms only last a week before they begin to fade. If you want to see them in person, you had better make tracks to the Lakeside Daisy Nature Preserve near Marblehead. My wife and I were there Sunday, and the preserve was a splash of yellow against the dull limestone gray ground.

The daisies growing in a small patch inside Lakeside were beautiful, too. They’re located right along the Lake Erie shore at the east end of Lakeside near Perry Park.

Lakeside daisies by Bruce Stambaugh
A bee enjoys one of the daisies in a clump of Lakeside daisies in a small preserve in flower’s namesake, Lakeside, OH.

Unfortunately it looks like the blooms will be gone before Marblehead’s annual Daisy Days scheduled for Mother’s Day weekend. Naturalists will lead walks through the preserve, so you can still learn a lot about the lovely little flower even if they aren’t blooming.

The Lakeside daisy (Hymenoxys herbacea) has been listed as an endangered species by Ohio since 1980. If you can’t make it to see this beautiful flower in person, enjoy the photos I took Sunday. If you look closely, you’ll notice some of the petals on the flowers are already starting to wilt.
Nature Preserve sign by Bruce Stambaugh

Lakeside Nature Preserve blooms by Bruce Stambaugh

Clump at Lakeside by Bruce Stambaugh

Daisies at Lakeside by Bruce Stambaugh

Daisies at Lakeside, OH by Bruce Stambaugh
© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

Minding our Ps and Qs, 21st century style

Williamsburg VA by Bruce Stambaugh
By Bruce Stambaugh

I couldn’t help but sense the irony and wonder in it all. My wife and I were visiting my older brother and his wife near Williamsburg, Virginia.

We all were enjoying a pleasant spring evening on the back porch of their lovely home. My wife was using her iPhone. My sister-in-law toyed with her iPad. My brother and I each were surfing around on our MacBook Pro laptops.

The evening was dark and still, except for the occasional distant rumble of thunder. The only light on the porch was the glow from the screens of our electronic gizmos.

My brother and sister-in-law own a lovely home just minutes away from Colonial Williamsburg. Founded in 1654, Williamsburg played a significant role in the development of our country to say the least.
Williamsburg home by Bruce Stambaugh
We had spent the heart of the day walking the streets of the historic town. If you have never been there, it’s a bucket list kind of place, beautifully restored and maintained with lots to do for children and adults alike.

Williamsburg actor by Bruce StambaughEven though I had visited Williamsburg before, I again thrilled at just the thought of strolling the same streets that a young Thomas Jefferson once did. With so many guides and actors dressed in period attire, it was easy to imagine being back in time.

Plush carriages pulled along by noble teams of horses plied the once muddy streets, now paved for the comfort of the tourists and the convenience of the staff. The night before we had enjoyed a delicious meal in Shields Tavern, where we were careful to mind our Ps and Qs.

That old saying, still heard today, could very well have had Williamsburg roots. In those days, a tavern’s bartender simply kept a chalkboard ledger of what customers consumed. If they drank a pint, a P was lettered under their name. If a quart, then a Q was marked. At evening’s end, the bill was tabulated and the customers properly minded their Ps and Qs by paying their bill. Today it simply means to take care of your own business.
Williamsburg carriage by Bruce Stambaugh
As the four of us sat quietly on the darkened porch, we could have been minding our own Ps and Qs by paying our bills online. With the rumbling thunderstorms growing closer, it seemed a bit surreal using our 21st century technology to check in with the world while sitting in the shadow of a bygone era. The town crier was definitely no longer needed to announce the time.

I thought about other familiar sayings we utter without knowing their origin. We derisively chatter about big wigs without contemplating the phrase’s original meaning. For the record, “big wigs” came from the 17th century society custom of wealthy people wearing expensive wigs made of human hair. The taller the wig, the more aristocratic you were.
Williamsburg hats by Bruce Stambaugh
You could say we went the whole nine yards at Williamsburg. That reference was attributed to a bolt of fabric, which equaled nine yards. Clearly I enjoy linking the past with the present.

As the line of storms hit our area, it rained cats and dogs, but not long. Even well before colonial times, superstitious persons believed cats symbolized the rain and dogs the wind; thus, the saying.

Back on the porch, we powered down for the night, thankful for both the generous hospitality and the opportunity to reconnect with the origins of our democracy. I wondered if somewhere, someplace Thomas Jefferson and Steve Jobs were both smiling.Williamsburg wisteria by Bruce Stambaugh

Celebrate all of spring’s colors, trees included

Red roof barn by Bruce Stambaugh
By Bruce Stambaugh

I feel a touch sorry for the budding leaves of the many varieties of deciduous trees. My sympathetic compassion isn’t confined to the recent series of frosty morning temperatures either.

As my wife and I drove home from Virginia’s beautiful Shenandoah Valley after visiting our daughter and her family, we were in awe of the rainbow of colors that exploded before us at every turn. Traversing the old wrinkled mountains of Virginia and West Virginia, there are more turns and twists than in a pretzel factory. In the spring, the mountains are loaded with colors.
Redbuds by Bruce Stambaugh
The most obvious were the amazing redbud trees, which were in full bloom, a lavender testimony to spring’s arrival. Against the dull gray, brown and black trunks of towering oaks, maples, wild cherry and ash, the diminutive redbuds’ beautiful blooms radiated glory on the steep hillsides.

We drove for miles and occasionally only saw a loner blooming as robustly as it could, like a child demanding adult attention. Without warning we would round a corner or top another hill and a burst of redbuds greeted us on both sides of the highway, as if a purple curtain had been drawn for us to pass.

As much as I appreciated that kindness, I couldn’t help but notice streaks and blotches of background colors, more muted, but rich nonetheless. After months of dormancy, the leafy buds of stately hardwoods were just beginning to unfurl.

Though subdued and understated, they too added to nature’s ever-changing paint palette. Hints of lemon, lime, russet, auburn, scarlet, gold, orange and brown were bursting forth. At wood’s edge, the branches reached out from top to bottom. At the thick forest canopy, the trees stood as freshly dabbed artists’ bristles awaiting application to canvas.
Budding trees by Bruce Stambaugh
In the valleys, the dogwoods and wild apples were beginning to compete with the redbuds. They added a lacy texture to the purple hue where the species cohabitated. In towns and villages, ornamentals were well ahead of schedule in blooming their reds, whites and crimsons.

The further north we drove the trees and flowers were less showy, but still emerging. Buttery daffodils and jonquils were in various stages along our route, from dying in Virginia to perfect bloom in Ohio. Every now and then, congregations of coltsfoot and dwarf dandelions lined either side of the road brighter than the yellow centerline striping.
Dwarf dandelions by Bruce Stambaugh
The flowers of spring get photographed, picked, and adorn coffee tables, bringing the outside inside. The unfolding leaves, rich in their own hues, tend to take a back seat to the flora extravaganza. For me, that’s the injustice.

It’s the fall when people generally start to pay attention to the kaleidoscope of colorful leaves. It was intriguing that these emerging spring beauties mimicked the same colors exhibited in the fall.

Just like autumn, the spring’s natural art display will disappear all too quickly. Only instead of falling, the leaves magically transform to various shades of green.

I was fearful these picturesque landscapes would go unnoticed or even unappreciated. I need not have worried.

When friends of ours arrived for a visit shortly after we returned, they proclaimed, “Did you see the leaves coming out? It looks like fall.” Yes indeed it does.

Connecting the dots in unexpected ways

By Bruce Stambaugh

Life has a way of connecting dots in unexpected ways.

Nearly three weeks ago, our two-year-old granddaughter became ill. Her mother, our daughter, took her to the doctor on back-to-back days.

Maren by Bruce StambaughUnsure of the problem, the doctor thought it best if Maren were hospitalized for observation and tests. It was to be an overnight stay. When her fever didn’t subside, and the tests proved inconclusive, another night in the hospital was needed. Of course, we stayed in close contact with our daughter, albeit long distance via emails, text messages and occasional phone calls.

When Nana heard the news that Maren was to spend a second night in the hospital, her helper mode ratcheted into high gear. Nana hastily threw together her traveling items and headed to Harrisonburg, Virginia, where our daughter and her family reside.

I stayed behind. I had long-scheduled doctor appointments, meetings that convened only monthly, and other community commitments. Besides, I believe that too many adults in the same household at the same time can be, well, sometimes touchy, especially with youngsters.

The situation with Maren grew worse. She was transferred to a noted children’s hospital for further examination. Nana took care of our two grandsons while our daughter and her husband watched over sweet Maren.

Of course I was anxious to join them. We had previously planned on leaving for a weeklong visit with the grandkids anyhow. Maren’s illness just bumped up the trip’s urgency. But I didn’t necessarily want to have two vehicles 350 miles from home if we could help it.

Arriving home by Bruce Stambaugh
It was nice to have Maren arrive home, even though she was tired and peaked.
Being the workhorse that she is, Nana kept busy with household chores in Virginia. When the recycling piled up, she decided to take it to the recycling center. One other person was there, a middle-aged man who noticed Nana’s Ohio license plates.

The man said that he used to live in Ohio, Kidron to be exact, 12 miles from our house. The assertive person that she is, Nana asked this nice person if he happened to know of anyone coming down to Harrisonburg from Ohio on Sunday afternoon.

To her astonishment, and mine once she told me the story, the man replied that indeed he and his wife were visiting in Kidron, Ohio that very weekend and would be returning on Sunday afternoon, the exact time I had wanted to leave. He said he would be glad to have me ride along if I could find a way to Kidron.

As it turned out, my ride and I discovered we had mutual friends who lived near Kidron and who just happen to attend church with us. Our friends shuttled me to the rendezvous with this charitable couple. Like clockwork, we met up and transferred all my belongings I needed for the extended stay in Virginia from my friends’ car to my new friends’ car.

Given all the mental stress I was under, I was relieved to have someone else do the driving down the winding path to the

Feeling better by Bruce Stambaugh
Maren was glad to be home, playing and active as her strength would allow.
Shenandoah Valley. He proved an excellent driver, and delivered me right to my daughter’s door. It couldn’t have worked out better. The next day, Maren returned home, having been diagnosed with a perforated appendix, a difficult and unusual illness for a toddler.

Thanks to a common household errand and the interchange of two gregarious strangers, I got to welcome Maren and my daughter home. I am exceedingly glad those two divergent dots got connected.

This column appears weekly in the Holmes Bargain Hunter.

Things don’t always go as planned

Monticello by Bruce Stambaugh
Pastel blooms accented Monticello's architectural beauty.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’m a planner. So is my wife.

When we arrange a trip, like we did for our 40th anniversary that we recently celebrated, we share completing the travel details. We also recognize that not everything can be foreseen.

We have come to expect the unexpected, especially in our travels. The motel room doesn’t look half as good in person as it did on the website. Highway construction forces us to take an alternate route. A storm cancels our scheduled flight.

Those examples of inconveniences can be amended. Add in the human factor, however, and unanticipated events can throw a real curveball into the most detailed itinerary.

Robert Burns immortalized this phenomenon in his poem, “To a Mouse,” when he wrote, “The best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray.” That’s what happened on our anniversary trip.

Our 11-day Virginia vacation seemed simple enough. The first couple of days we would watch our grandchildren while our daughter was away and her husband had several business meetings. We would then escape a few days for our anniversary, and finish up the trip back at our daughter’s place.

We devised all sorts of ideas to occupy the trio of grandchildren, ages six, four and one and a half. Before we left Ohio, we knew the oldest one was ill. By the time we arrived, the youngest had a double ear infection.

Obviously our activity scheme had to be altered. Baby-sitting now included health care. I did squeeze in some individual playtime with the middle child. But even that was limited due to the raw, dank weather. The south had had a harsh winter, too, and although spring had officially arrived, winter still held its heavy hand on the Virginia landscape.
Virginia snow by Bruce Stambaugh
On our anniversary morning, we awoke to four inches of fluffy white snow and the third grandchild also sick. Things weren’t going the way we had hoped.

With reservations made in the historic Charlottesville area, we reluctantly headed out, but only after the temperature warmed enough to slowly melt the snow. Knowing our son-in-law would be home to help a couple of days lessened any grandparent guilt for leaving.

We enjoyed our time away, visiting just some of the several significant places in the history of our country. The weather cleared for our visits to the architecturally amazing University of Virginia campus, picturesque Montpelier, Thomas Jefferson’s masterpiece, Monticello, and James Monroe’s estate.

Montpelier by Bruce Stambaugh
James and Dolly Madison's Montpelier.

Then it was off to quaint, revitalized Staunton for a night before returning to our daughter’s place further up the beautiful Shenandoah Valley. At Staunton, our plans were again derailed. The flu bug caught up to my wife, and when we awoke the next morning snow was again flying. On top of that, I wasn’t feeling the best myself.

Fortunately, the snow didn’t reach the forecasted amount. Unfortunately, our daughter let us know that she was on the way to the doctor with the four-year-old.

By the time we arrived back at our daughter’s, the kids were playing and glad to see us. Our granddaughter kept calling my name, Poppy. Poppy just wished he had felt well enough to answer her call.

Instead, after a bowl of chicken noodle soup, it was off to bed. Like much of our time away, that’s not what I had wanted or planned, an all too personal example of what poet Burns had penned.

Giving praise where praise is due

Marigolds by Bruce Stambaugh
Marigolds highlight an Amish homestead.

By Bruce Stambaugh

It had been a difficult day.

As the silvery sunset melted into the horizon, I reflected on the last few days and the people and events that had occurred. In reviewing the various situations, it hit me that like it or not I was entering the October of my own life, and that got my attention.

Days earlier I had met my friend Steve in a Mexican restaurant in the city where I was born and raised. Steve is a long-time buddy connected to my school principal days. Steve and I have a lot in common. First and foremost is that we both like to talk, at least according to our spouses.

If for no other reason than that alone, Steve and I have agreed to meet periodically without the wives. We get more talking done that way.

Steve is the kind of friend every guy should have. He doesn’t let you get away with anything. He is a self-appointed critic of my writing, and is unabashed about finding any mistakes that somehow make it through to publication. Well, at least he thinks they are mistakes, but he usually is mistaken.

Bright Angel Canyon by Bruce Stambaugh
Bright Angel Canyon at the Grand Canyon, AZ is a favorite spot for hikers, painters and photographers alike.

That’s the kind of friends we are. He has the same theology about technology that I do. He loves to frequent the western United States and does so annually, months at a time, mostly hunting for arrowheads. Archeology and travel are other mutual interests.

At bat by Bruce Stambaugh
Baseball is my favorite sport.

Another thing we have in common is baseball. He hates it. I love it. Also, we enjoy discussing politics, until the conversation gets too political, then we switch to a more congenial topic, like baseball.

We talk about our late fathers and how our mothers are doing. And of course, we extol our wives, and try not to roll our eyes too much. Did I mention we laugh a lot?

A few days later, I took my mother on a short drive around the colorful countryside near the retirement home where she lives in Walnut Creek, Ohio. Mom always enjoys getting out when one of us “kids” can take her.

Mud Valley by Bruce Stambaugh
A typical scene in Ohio's Amish country, this one near Walnut Creek, Ohio.

This day was exceptional. The sky was pure blue, allowing the sun to heighten the already vivid colors. Since Mom was an avid and prolific watercolor painter, I always hope these short rides spark a memory of those days gone by when she and her friends would find a spot to paint, set up their easels and spend the day communing with nature and one another, beautifully interpreting what they saw.

Besides the warm hues of the leaves, a stunning red-tailed hawk flew right across our path. Around the curve, Mom spied some flashy marigolds. All in all, it was an invigorating jaunt. Seeing that Mom enjoyed the little excursion, I chose to tell her a comment that Steve had shared with me at the Mexican restaurant.

Marian Stambaugh by Bruce Stambaugh
Marian Stambaugh, 89, taught me to see and share in creative ways.

Knowing my mother was an accomplished landscape artist, Steve said, “You have your mother’s eye.” I non-verbally asked for clarification. “Instead of a brush, you paint with words and through the lens of your camera.” I don’t know if Steve noticed or not, but tears welled in my eyes. I was honored with the keen compliment. When I shared the kind words with Mom, tears welled up in her eyes, too. Despite her advanced dementia, knowing that Mom had understood at least a little of the depth and breadth of Steve’s insight made the compliment all the more meaningful.

The circle of blessing was now complete. It had returned to its rightful owner, the creative and artful woman who had taught me to see and share Creation’s beauty.

Suddenly, this difficult October day didn’t seem so difficult after all.