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

A detour of no inconvenience

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Snow on the Appalachian Mountains.

By Bruce Stambaugh

This winter’s wicked weather altered many well-laid plans, especially for travelers. My wife and I were no exception.

We delayed our trip south by a day due to a winter storm in the Appalachian Mountains. The extreme cold air followed us all the way to northern Florida.

As we readied to return home at vacation’s end, yet another major winter storm was chugging up the Ohio Valley. We weighed our options about our return trip. It would have been delightful to remain in place. But we needed to return home. It was time.

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Game night.
South Carolina and North Carolina were still recovering from one-two punches of unusually extreme wintry weather that downed thousands of trees and caused massive power outages. We didn’t want to risk being stranded there either.

Fortunately, we had an attractive option that would take us well out of the way home. We decided to visit our grandchildren in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, a year-round scenic place. It was a big sacrifice, I know.

We hadn’t seen our grandkids since Christmas. It was only logical that we should avoid the storm by detouring to Harrisonburg. It didn’t quite turn out that way.

Oh, we had a lovely two-day drive to their hillside home near the university where their daddy, our son-in-law, works. But the storm detoured, too. The morning after we arrived we awakened to three inches of snow overtop a quarter inch of ice.

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The heavy snow even cancelled class at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, VA.
It snowed all day, doubling the snowy accumulation. Of course, schools were closed, giving us bonus time with our three grandchildren, Evan, Davis and Maren. It was a vacation within a vacation, like finding a diamond ring in a box of Cracker Jacks.

The backyard where our daughter and her family live is perfect for sled riding. The day we left Ohio a month earlier, it was 15 degrees below zero. So I had plenty of warm clothes to wear, including the pair of waterproof shoes I wore while walking on the beach.

We bundled up, grabbed the day glow orange toboggans, and went out into it. We had a riot. Little Maren, the daring four year-old, really isn’t so little anymore. She laid supine in one of the sleds and zipped down the gentle slope and slid right into the neighbor’s backyard.

The boys whooped, and Maren immediately recognized her amazing accomplishment. She jumped up and screeched with glee, “That was just like a rocket booster.”

That’s pretty much how our two and a half days with them went. We would play outside until the cold drove us inside. As soon as his jacket was off, Evan was setting up the game boards, or dealing the playing cards. He loves table games, not only because he is competitive, but mostly because he usually wins.

Davis was content to unwind and warm up on his own, playing his creative, imaginary games with his Lego people and assembled utilitarian pieces. I hope I’m alive when he is awarded the Noble prize in the sciences.

If she’s not playing with Davis, Maren knows all the buttons to touch on the screens of the iPad or laptop whichever is available to her. When I get over my pride, I’ll have to have her show me how to operate them.

My wife and I may have arrived home a week later than we expected. But in this case, the delay was no inconvenience at all.

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Deer at sunset.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

Missing the charm and warmth of Amelia Island

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Historic Downtown Fernandina Beach, FL.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’m glad to be home from vacation. But I have to be honest. I miss Amelia Island, Florida and all the charm and variety it has to offer.

I miss waking early in the day to welcome the sun, or rain or fog, whatever weather greeted me. It often changed quickly from good to bad or bad to good, just like in Ohio.

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I miss the rising sun painting with its broad brush, constantly rearranging the brilliant arrays of pinks, blues, oranges, yellows and reds on twilight’s canvas. I miss the sun’s shimmering, silver dance on its forever rolling sea stage.

Equally so, I miss the moon, full or half or quarter, glimmering its creamy, seductive light into our night lives. I miss being transfixed by its profound beauty.

I miss seeing the sun sink behind the trees beyond the Intercoastal Waterway. Unless the fog or rain clouds interfered, the alluring sunsets nearly took our breath away. Like the days began, each evening glow was emotionally evocative.

Morning and evening, I miss the dolphins slicing through the hoary sea, first one, then two, then three, then more, fins intermittently marking their gourmet gallop. Their appearing and disappearing mesmerized me.

I miss the slow walks on the beach with my wife. She hunted for seashells and shark’s teeth while I photographed birds, people, and patterns in the sand. Then I’d hustle to catch up.

I miss the delectable seafood meals Neva created. Locally caught, fresh shrimp sautéed in butter and olive oil, a little lemon and a dash of salt and pepper combined with locally made sweet potato pasta and flax seed rolls beat any pricy restaurant entree.

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I miss the strolls through Egan’s Creek Greenway, a salt marsh wildlife preserve set aside for painters, birders, photographers, joggers, bikers, walkers and admirers of all things nature. The Greenway is home to alligators, snakes, river otters, rabbits, bobcats, deer, wading birds, shorebirds, birds of prey and songbirds.

I miss the drives and walks through well-maintained Ft. Clinch State Park, a marvelous blend of ecosystems and history. It was equally easy on the eyes and wallet. The 3,300 ft. fishing pier that paralleled the inlet to the Amelia River afforded panoramic views and a perfect perch for birding.

I miss the charm of historic downtown Fernandina Beach, the only city on the island, and the nation’s oldest settlement. Founded three years before St. Augustine, the quaint town attracts customers from around the world.

I miss the eclectic mix of Amelia’s people. From tourists to shop owners to fishermen to photographers, everyone, I mean everyone, was friendly, like open books if you took the time to turn their pages.

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The Florida House Inn flies the eight flags that have flown over Amelia Island.
I miss the quirkiness of the island that has seen the flags of eight different nations fly over its humble geography. Florida’s oldest continuously operating hotel and bar stand less than a block apart. Businesses boldly display the scores of football games when Georgia’s Bulldogs beat Florida’s Gators.

Those in the know like to say that Fernandina Beach is the East Coast’s western most port. In other words, drive straight north, you run into Cincinnati, Ohio.

Of course, I miss the warmer weather, too. However, warm is a relative word. Our Florida vacation ended the way it began, wearing winter coats. Still, we had it nice compared to what much of eastern North America experienced in our absence.

I like it so much that I could live there. But I won’t. As incredible as Amelia Island and its people are, I like it right here in Holmes County, Ohio even better.

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Back home.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

Anticipating one thing, finding many

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The predawn light at 6:38 a.m. on Feb. 1, 2013 on Main Beach, Amelia Island, FL.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I stood on the beach bathed in the pale pre-dawn light. I had gone there to photograph the sunrise over the ocean.

The air was chilly, but unusually still for the seashore. The Atlantic shimmered, uncharacteristically placid. With the tide in, the waves rolled gracefully onto the shell-strewn shore.

I wasn’t the only human on the beach at 6:45 a.m. A few other brave souls were also out before sunup. A silhouette jogged in front of me. Another walked the water’s edge towards me in a hitched gate.

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An early jogger zipped by me in the half-light along Main Beach, Amelia Island, FL.

All the while, I snapped away, capturing the thin orange line that divided the dark violet sea from the turquoise sky. I wanted to digitally document the gradual, subtle color changes of the new day’s sun.

We few humans weren’t alone as the sky slowly brightened along the beach.

Groups of first year shorebird chicks scurried at water’s edge, probing and pecking for food. Careful not to get their tiny feet wet, they darted at the ebb and flow of the frothy wavelets.

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Young shorebirds feed at the ocean’s edge.

Not far off shore, Northern Gannets fished for breakfast in their dramatic style. They circled with their long pointy white wings marked black as ink at the tips, and then plunged into the seawater. Satisfied, they again ascended and started the process all over again.

A little further out a pod of dolphins arched in and out of the water. Their fins revealed their foraging path.

faceoffonthebeachbybrucestambaugh
A gull and a Willet faced off on Main Beach in the early morning light.
A lone Willet snagged a snail from beneath the sand. Seeing an opportunity for a freebie meal, a Ring-billed Gull unsuccessfully chased after the skinny-legged bird. The Willet swallowed the morsel before the gull could steal the bacon.

Flocks of Black Skimmers winged just above the ocean surface, their lower beaks breaking the water in their feeding. They were out of sight in seconds.

By now, the lady with the gimp caught up to where I had stood for 20 minutes. Seeing that I had a camera, she berated me for standing pat, and beckoned me to where the water lapped at the firm sand. It was there that the best color reflected in the receding water and against the few clouds in the northeast sky.

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Clouds to the north beautifully reflected the rising sunlight.

As we admired the pastel radiance together, a whale broke the water. This unexpected find disappeared and our eyes searched until the first of many waterspouts blew high into the air.

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Birds circled above the Humpback Whale, making it easier to follow with the naked eye.
The blow spouts drew my attention to a congregation of gulls circling above the whale like an avian tornado. They simplified our whale watching. Just follow the birds, and glimpse the whale. I later learned that it was a Humpback Whale, my first ever whale sighting.

Amid all this activity, I continued to snap picture after picture of the ever-changing sunrise. Just as the sun finally peaked above the horizon, yet one last gem sparkled.

I would have missed it if it hadn’t been for the older lady from New York. She pointed out the sun’s low-angled rays glistening in the crest of the waves as they broke upon the shore. They were golden jewels in an aqua crown.

I remembered seeing the effect in paintings and thought the artists had overdone it. Now I knew they hadn’t. In precious minutes, the bejeweled waves disappeared, replaced by white-capped cousins. The sun was ablaze, bathing the seashore with its warming light.

I had gone to the beach to take pictures of the sunrise. I left enriched with so much more.

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The jewels in the crown of the waves made the sunrise even more spectacular.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

Viewing the leaves in Ohio’s Amish country

Fall from my backyard by Bruce Stambaugh

By Bruce Stambaugh

Ohio’s Amish Country, particularly Holmes County, is a great place to be when the autumn leaves are at their finest. With its many stands of mixed hardwoods throughout the area, the colors can be spectacular if all the conditions are right.

The leaves are usually at their colorful peak by mid-October. Though the summer’s drought may have caused some trees to already change, they seem to be on a normal timetable for coloration. Now through the next two weeks will provide marvelous viewing.

Several great routes can be driven to see the rainbow of leaves. Just consider the rolling hills, rows of corn shocks, grazing cows, romping horses, Amish buggies and silvery streams as backdrops to the main event.

Fall farm by Bruce Stambaugh

Simply traveling the main highways that lead into the Holmes County area and crisscross the county will guarantee beautiful scenery. That’s especially true in the fall.

Trees and shocks by Bruce StambaughState Route 39 cuts Holmes County in half east to west. In many places, the road roughly follows the terminal moraine of the Wisconsin Glacier. To the south, hillsides loaded with maple, oak, walnut, beech and hickory trees are steeper than their counterparts on the opposite side of the road. The glacier filled in the valleys on the north side 10,000 years ago, leaving a gently undulating geography, with rich soil that farmers pamper for excellent crops and lush pasturelands. Stands of woodlots and tree-studded fence lines create magnificent leaf viewing.

Yellow and red by Bruce StambaughState Route 83 bisects Holmes County in half north to south. You will be dazzled by the vistas that change seemingly at every curve. Both north and south of Millersburg, the county seat, the route hugs the eastern edge of the Killbuck Valley. Impressive slopes with ample forests east and west nestle golden marshlands teeming with wildlife in between.

U.S. 62 runs diagonally across the county. From the northeast, pastoral views are aplenty, meandering through Amish farmland on each side. Because the wood industry surpassed agriculture as the number one employer in Holmes County a few years ago, trees are treasured and properly cared for.

Fall scene by Bruce Stambaugh

Follow U.S. 62 from Millersburg southwest toward Killbuck and on to Danville in Knox County and you might think you are in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. In truth, you are. The road follows the area’s main waterway, Killbuck Creek, and then climbs the hills into the Mohican River watershed.

Woods and hills by Bruce Stambaugh

The lesser traveled state, county and township roads provide equal opportunity viewing when it comes to autumn leaves. State Route 520 from Killbuck through Glenmont’s seven hills and on to State Route 514 especially provides a pretty show if the timing is right.

In the east, State Routes 241, 515, 557 and 643 all are winding, hilly and gorgeous in the fall. Farmsteads with white houses and coffin red barns are the norm in any direction on these roads.

Red barn red tree by Bruce Stamaugh

For those who desire more than just riding and looking, the area has plenty to offer. At the Wilderness Center off of U.S. 250 west of Wilmot, you can hike through prairie grass and virgin forests, and explore an education center, where there is fun for all ages.

Mohican State Park near Loudonville affords numerous trails with incredible overlooks to the steep Mohican River gorge. The greens of the thousands of white pines nicely compliment the colorful mixed hardwood forest.

For bicyclists, the Holmes County Trail offers 16 miles of lovely trials from Fredericksburg to Killbuck. Hikers are welcome, too. The trail runs along the Killbuck through the center of the county until it turns southwest toward Killbuck. The wildlife, birding and leaf viewing can all be consumed simultaneously. A note of caution, however. Horse and buggies also use the trail on one side while bikers and hikers are on the other.

Everyone has their favorite spot to view the changing leaves. You’ll enjoy finding yours.

Fall in Amish country by Bruce Stambaugh

This article appeared in Ohio’s Amish Country magazine.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

A most unusual birthday gift

The donkey by Bruce Stambaugh
Robert Troyer, Millersburg, OH, received this unusual birthday gift from friends.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Out of town friends of Robert and Edna Troyer of rural Millersburg, Ohio kept promising him a donkey. When his birthday arrived this summer, he finally got it, sort of.

Around the time of his July 25th birthday, a group of friends from Ottawa, Ohio came to visit. Robert, 67, and Edna, 66, were sitting with about a dozen people in a circle on their concrete driveway when some of the visitors excused themselves to check on the “donkey.”

Robert and Edna are Amish, and their “English” friends thought they could use a donkey even though the couple owns a business, not a farm.

“I was a little suspicious,” Robert said. “I got curious when people started to disappear.” In fact when Robert went to see what was going on, he was politely told to sit back down.

Cement pad by Bruce Stambaugh
The “donkey” was delivered to Robert Troyer on the cement driveway in front of his home.

Soon, the oldest in the group, Leo Schroeder, came riding down the drive on the “donkey.” In truth, the contraption was a jerry-rigged bicycle and hand push lawn mower. To add to the joke, Schroeder wore Robert’s straw hat for effect.

And what an effect it had, too. Everyone burst out laughing.

“You can actually ride the thing,” Robert said, “but it doesn’t turn very well.”

A rotary blade mower head serves as the front wheel with its handle attached to where the front bicycle wheel should be. The rest of the “donkey” is a regular push pedal bike.

About 20 years ago, the group was looking for a harness shop. One of the group members needed harness items for some ponies.

Originally the group consisted of seven couples. In their search, they stopped at a home near Walnut Creek and asked about a harness shop. They were told to keep driving north on state Route 515 to Indian Hill Harness, just north of Trail. They found what they were looking for at Robert’s shop, and they have been friends ever since.

“Robert was a work,” Edna said. “I waited on them and they later told me that they took to us because I was handicapped.”

Edna suffered a spinal cord injury when she was 18.

“I fell through a hole in a barn and onto concrete,” she said. “I was paralyzed at first, but later could walk.” Edna said that as she aged and after an unsuccessful knee surgery, she needed a wheelchair full time.

“They are all members of the Farm Bureau,” Edna said of the group of friends. “They meet here in February, July and August.” Edna said that none of the group farms anymore, but they stay interested in farming.

Harnesses by Bruce Stambaugh
The harnesses are just a sample of some of the custom horse harnesses Robert Troyer makes.

Robert and Edna, who have been married for 46 years, have become such close friends with the group that they go on overnight outings with them, including to other states.

“One of the members even bought a big van so I would be able to accompany them,” Edna said. “It is just he and his wife, so he didn’t really need a van.”

With their gregarious and easy-going personalities, it is easy to like both Robert and Edna. They said they enjoy sharing their hospitality with others.

When she learned that one of the group members likes pineapple pie, Edna baked one for him.

“He liked it so much,” she said, “he ate the whole pie in one day.”

Edna said that the group has even hosted them in Ottawa, located in western Ohio. She and one of their friends, Sharon Lammers, even share the same birthday, August 16.

Edna keeps busy painting scenes and decorating cups, glasses and wooden plaques with flowers and birds. She said she taught herself to paint, and her paintings are available to purchase at Behalt!, on County Road 77 near Berlin.

Robert said most of his business is supplying the Walsh Company in Brookfield, Wis. with fine show harnesses. He had worked for Mast Leather in Walnut Creek, Ohio until Walsh bought the business in 1990, the same year he started his harness shop.

Edna appropriately summed up why their friendship with the group has lasted so long.

“Despite your situation,” she said, “you have to keep going. Life is too short.”

Paintings by Bruce Stambaugh
Edna Troyer’s paintings are available at Behalt! near Berlin, OH.

This article appeared in The Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

A much needed respite at Lakeside, Ohio

Perry Park by Bruce Stambaugh
Perry Park, located at the east gate of Lakeside, Ohio, is a beautiful place to rest, relax, read a book, jog, play tennis or just enjoy the peace and quiet.

By Bruce Stambaugh

After the week we had had, my wife and I needed a respite. The most logical place for that was Lakeside, Ohio, our favorite place to relax.

We had begun our annual weeklong stint at the Chautauqua on Lake Erie. Early the second morning we received a call to return home. Neva’s mother was gravely ill.

The call wasn’t unexpected. We quickly packed up and returned home. Neva joined her sister in watching over their elderly mother, Esther Miller. Esther died the next evening at age 90.
Hollyhocks by Bruce Stambaugh
Expected or not, a death is still a death. All of the grieving emotions overwhelm family members in different ways and at different times. Time seems to stand still. All the while, the necessary preparations need to be completed. They tend to take their toll on already frayed feelings.

My wife and her sister met with the funeral home director about the services. They met with the pastor to plan the funeral. Next day, they cleaned out their mother’s room at the retirement home.

The family arrived at the church well ahead of the visitation time to set up pictures and meaningful memorabilia, followed by the greeting of mourners and the funeral itself. Afterwards, we hosted the immediate family for an evening meal at our home.

As you can imagine, it was all very draining mentally and physically. We needed a break.

Neva and I held a one-sentence discussion. There could be no doubt that the best place to renew and recharge was to return to our beloved Lakeside. The next morning we were on our way.

Lakeside homes by Bruce Stambaugh

Despite the sweltering heat, it was good to be back at Lakeside with its lovely cottages, inviting dock, marvelous entertainment and multiple activity options.

With its shaded parks and marvelous vistas, Lakeside’s location on Lake Erie makes it idyllic. Really, though, Lakeside is more about people than anything else. From staff to strangers to long-time acquaintances, everyone is family at Lakeside.

A television reporter once did an expose on this special town. He wasn’t unfamiliar with the resort. He had vacationed there as a youngster.

The reporter knew how friendly Lakesiders could be. To prove his point, the reporter casually walked into a cottage without knocking and asked for lemonade. He wasn’t quizzed as to who he was or why he had barged in. Nor was he told to get out. No. Without a second thought, the homemaker poured him his icy drink.

Lakeside cottage by Bruce Stambaugh

On our recent extended weekend retreat, my wife and I had a similar experience. After finishing a very informative walking tour of Lakeside, one of the other participants invited us and another couple to tour her newly remodeled cottage. She didn’t even know us, and yet showed us every corner of her beautiful place. That’s just the way people are at Lakeside.

Lakeside flowers by Bruce StambaughAt the end of our visit of this lovely summer home, I realized that the kind lady didn’t even know our names. We made our introductions as we profusely thanked her.

What nicer place than Lakeside is there to sit back and forget your worries? You can read a book, play dominoes, go for a lovely morning walk, or just enjoy the view while eating a refreshing ice cream cone. If you’re at the right place at the right time, you just might get an unexpected tour, too.

That’s just how Lakeside and its gracious summer citizenry are. They invigorate you just when you need it the most.

The column appeared in the Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012