At this age, I appreciate every step I take

Main Beach Fernandina Beach FL, beach walking, beach bike
The beach where we walked.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Aging can be a pain.

By the time my wife and I had returned from our winter’s stay in northern Florida, we both had unintentionally joined the ranks of the walking wounded. It was as uncomfortable as it was annoying.

I love to walk. It’s one of the few times I can actually multitask. I can walk and talk, walk and listen, walk and learn, walk and think, walk and snap pictures. Walking is an easy exercise for young and old alike.

There’s only one catch. If you are physically ailing, walking isn’t so much fun. Towards the end of our two-month Florida stay, my wife and I both began having problems getting around.

In my wife’s case, walking has long been a chore for her. Arthritis in your feet tends to do that to you. Since Neva’s left foot was particularly touchy, our walks on the beach together were shorter and less frequent than in previous years.

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Soon, I began to feel discomfort, only in my right foot. I thought it was the hiking boots that I had brought along. They weren’t new, but I actually hadn’t worn them regularly until we got to the Sunshine State. I figured they would be useful to tromp around Egans Creek Greenway where I love to bird, hike, and take too many photos of birds, landscapes, people, alligators, and any other critters I encountered.

I also wore those clunkers on the beach when we first arrived. The weather was chilly and often foggy. The high-topped boots steadied me in the soft sand and kept my feet dry when the tide suddenly surged further onshore than anticipated. The longer I wore them, the more my right foot hurt. So I switched to my gym shoes, which seemed to lessen the pain.

That didn’t last long. The pain in my right foot increased substantially no matter what I wore. As we packed the van to return home, I noticeably limped.

When you live on an island that’s only 13 miles long and two miles wide, vehicular trips are usually of short duration and caused me no discomfort. As we headed north on the interstate, it didn’t take me long to realize just how much pain I was in. By the time we reached Charleston, South Carolina, my foot was numb and pain shot up my right leg.

Fortunately, an urgent care facility was just up the road from our hotel. When I described my symptoms, the kind physician’s assistant said, “You don’t have a foot problem. You have a pinched nerve in your back.” Lab tests affirmed the diagnosis.

evening on the beach
Smiling through the pain.
I had already made an appointment with my podiatrist in Virginia. Neva took that spot while I visited my family doctor. Neva had reason to complain. She had a hairline fracture in her foot and exited the doctor’s office with a walking boot. She had no recollection of when she might have incurred the injury.

My doctor prescribed muscle relaxers and sent me to physical therapists. For a month now, expert therapists have worked their magic, and my pain has subsided.

Neva got the all-clear after wearing the walking boot only three weeks. She still wears it if the pain returns. We’re just thankful she is finally finding some relief.

With the limp and pain eliminated, I’ve begun short walks to get back into shape. Given our age and these experiences, we more than appreciate every step we take.

shorebirds, beach
Worth the pain.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

The unforeseen rewards of sleeping in

Amish homes
Pleasant morning.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I slept in. It was Saturday after all. It’s the way lots of folks begin their weekend.

For me, though, arising after 7 a.m. was abnormal even on weekends. I like to beat the sun to its dawn.

I needed the sleep after two consecutive late night outings. Now, the terms “late night” take on significant and liberal interpretation when you are a grandparent and not a teenager.

Thursday I attended another fun night in Cleveland with a good friend. I arrived extra early to avoid the guaranteed congestion since the Indians weren’t the only act in town. Sir Paul McCartney was playing next door to the Tribe, and the Browns lost another football game in front of their faithful mass of masochists.

In other words, the town was full of excited folks. Having lived and worked in the city many moons ago, I walked around the downtown area a bit to kill time and to view the remade public square. I was impressed with the space and the all-around cleanliness of the place.

Downtown Cleveland
Fun in Cleveland.
People sat at street side tables in front of restaurants enjoying the cuisine, drinks, and one another. I found the corner where three decades ago I had crossed the street with 30 first and second graders and their teacher. A religious street barker with hand-printed signs and tracts stopped his doomsday bellowing and moseyed up to me. He quietly asked me if the children were Pilgrims. I stoically replied that they were Amish, and followed the class across the intersection.

I spent a marvelous evening at the ballpark with my friend Rob. Happily, it was another last at-bat win for the Indians.

Elvis, Mark Lonsinger, Millersburg OH
Elvis.
Friday evening was just as much fun. My buddy Tim and I went to hear our friend Elvis perform his last gig for the summer in Millersburg. We weren’t disappointed and met lots of other friendly fans.

Both nights I was up way past my bedtime. So I wasn’t surprised that I had slept through sunrise on Saturday. I needed the rest.

Well behind my usual start time, I wanted to get my walk in before the late summer Saturday warmed too much. I discovered that being tardy had its enjoyable rewards.

I usually walk uninterrupted. Not this day.

morning walk
Where I walk.
Good neighbor Mary was already weeding her roadside flowerbeds. We chatted a while as Baltimore Orioles chased one another in the grove of trees at the south edge of my property. Their brilliant orange blazed neon in the sharp-slanting morning light.

An Eastern Phoebe called from a cluster of hardwoods just as I ran into Brian, another neighbor. We talked about his work, the warm weather, and the exhilaration of yet another fantastic Indians comeback victory.

I turned the corner and met my next-door neighbor, Trish, who was in the home stretch of her morning walk. I didn’t delay her long.

Girls in cerulean dresses pedaling bicycles and families in jet-black buggies silently greeted me with head nods and quick waves of hands. It felt good to be alive.

On the return trip to home, another young neighbor caught up with me on his four-wheeler. He was out scouting hunting spots with the season about to begin. A mourning dove sat atop a snag of a dying ash tree, perhaps eavesdropping on Tyler’s hunting secrets.

Annie Yoder
Annie.
I floated with elation the short distance remaining to my house. I was that invigorated by the gorgeous morning, the multitude of spontaneous interpersonal connections I had had, all after two enjoyable evenings with friends.

In the afternoon, I drove to Wooster to celebrate with my friend Annie on the release of her new album “Thousand.” True to form, she belted it out to the delight of all who attended.

Maybe I need to sleep in more often.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Same walk, new results

Ohio's Amish country, Holmes Co. OH.
In my “hood.”

By Bruce Stambaugh

I love to walk outdoors. Treadmills don’t do it for me.

I guess I’m a multi-sensory walker. I need to exercise my listening, my observing, my sensing, my thinking as well as my muscles and my entire bony being.

Walking is an easy sport unless you’re a fair-weather walker. That’s me. I don’t do well in wet, windy, cold conditions.

My pickiness has its consequences, however. My body complains in multiple ways. My achy bones cry out in rebellion. My hamstrings tighten in protest. My soft tissue succumbs to gravity.

tulip
First tulip.
Other symptoms sneak up on you, tricking you into sullenness. Blood pressure is one of those conspirators.

All my life people would offer to buy my low blood pressure scores. I never fully appreciated the physicality of high blood pressure or the corrective medicinal ramifications. I do now.

Age apparently has caught up with me. At a routine check-up, my blood pressure was the highest it had ever been. Thinking it an anomaly, the nurse took it again. It went even higher.

I drove straight to the pharmacy and purchased a new digital wrist blood pressure cuff. My old manual one with the stethoscope had given up the ghost. I didn’t want to join it, so I began daily recordings of my blood pressure and pulse.

My good doctor tweaked my medication according to those results and my body’s physical reactions. I wasn’t ready for what followed. I hated the melancholy, lackadaisical feelings, the fuzziness and body fatigue, though I had done little physically.

I had a new appreciation for those with the same condition. I longed to return to my daily walks, but the weather was as uncooperative as my new pills. I brooded beneath the seemingly perpetual steel gray Ohio sky.

phlox in woods
Wild phlox.
Then, a week after the last snow, spring broke through. Daffodils sprang back. Spring beauties and phlox carpeted woodlots and pastures. The season’s first tulip brightened our yard. It was time to walk again.

The warmth alone drew me outside. I was in heaven again once I got past the roadside dead deer decaying in a woodlot south of our house. When I turned onto the little township road, I hit my stride.

I crested the first knob, and my favorite valley opened before me. The gently undulating and curving road reflected the morning sun. The road resembled a silver ribbon as it ran through the vale beyond the comely farms and up and over the eastern hill that separates one watershed from the other.

red-bellied woodpecker
Male Red-bellied Woodpecker.
The birds rejoiced with me. A dozen species regaled and entertained me with song and their territorial acrobatics. I rejoiced in the many varieties of the spring birds that had returned to mingle with the year-round residents.

At the halfway mark, the stream gurgled its own refreshing tune, too, though it hadn’t rained for days. The artesian well ran strong into the roadside trough. The willow tree teased yellow with its drooping canopy of leafy buds.

When I reached the little rise at the first farm, a familiar fragrance freshened the morning air. An invigorating mix of soap and cotton wafted all the way to the road from a recently hung line of laundry.

A few more steps and purple martins greeted me with salient salutations and arching flyovers. In contrast, the one-room Amish school stood silent, scholars already having completed another year of studies.

I felt incredible, transformed. My blood pressure was thankful, too.

valley, Ohio's Amish country
Evening in my favorite valley.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Reflections along a mountain stream

autumn leaves, back lighting
Backlit leaves.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Recent rains made the sparkling mountain stream joyfully sing its way through the sylvan hollow to the broad valley below. The late morning sun’s reflection shimmered as the cold water rushed over and around ancient boulders.

I had driven to this little paradise on the advice of my daughter. She recently had hiked with her family a trail that crossed the creek and scaled one of the precipices of the old, rounded Blue Ridge Mountains. I wasn’t that ambitious.

I was content to drive the 22 miles out of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley to the end of Port Republic Road to enjoy a morning stroll. I took the much easier firebreak road that shadows the meandering stream.

Stepping stones across the usually placid braided stream broke the trail my daughter took. Today the stream roared rather than lapped its way into the valley.

The native brown trout had to be happy to play in other pools for once. I was happy, too.

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The temperatures warmed as the sun rose higher above the foothills. The shedding oaks, maples, dogwoods, sycamores and quaking aspens filtered the sun’s splay. Sunrays backlit the remaining colorful leaves. They glowed against the drab earth tones of tree trunks, ferns, and long shadows.

The creek drew me down from the road to its shallow banks. Sapling undergrowth made the way tricky, but not hazardous. I was surprised by both the speed of the stream’s flow and the water’s clearness, especially after recent steady rains. Weeds and reeds normally rustled by the wind swayed submerged.

In the shade, the cooler creekside temperatures chilled me. I didn’t linger there for long.

I returned to the more inviting sunny, well-maintained service road. At times, the stream ran against the narrow berm. In other places, the road curved slightly north while the creek twisted south and out of sight, but never out of earshot.

No car horns, no train rumbles, no jake brakes, no jetliner noise overhead, no boom boxes interfered with the numerous natural sounds. A fox squirrel skittered from the road to the safety of a tree trunk as I approached. It barked at me, and I shot it with my camera.

Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Up ahead, birds flew across the firebreak. To keep my load light, I had left the binoculars in the vehicle. Fortunately, the birds sat still even as I quietly approached.

I smiled at sighting my first of the year Dark-eyed Juncos, freshly arrived from the Canadian tundra. The flash of their outer white tail feathers against their slate-colored revealed their identity.

The mountain’s granite core stood exposed from time to time. Whitish-gray outcroppings reflected the morning sun both at manmade cuts and in natural talus slopes. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near the latter if the massive rock pile decided to slide.

Soon hikers a decade older than me approached from the opposite direction. We bid each other adieu, and I asked them how far the road reached.

“Ten miles,” they said, “But it’s an easy walk to the top,” referencing the mountain. The road ended at the Skyline Drive. I took their word for it.

A few trails flared off in either direction. I was content to stay the course for a while before returning to the car for lunch under the noonday sun.

The earthy fragrances, the laughing stream, the vibrant colors pleasantly seasoned my simple fare, which was only right. It had been a sumptuous morning in every aspect.

mountain stream, Shenandoah NP
Sparkling stream.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Walking runs in the family

longputtbybrucestambaugh
Our son, second from left, hits a long putt on one of the 100 holes of golf he played recently in one day. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I have found walking soothes the soul. It’s my favorite form of exercise.

As I’ve shared before, I wander regularly on a nearby township road that runs east and west down into a wide, fertile valley. The majority of the land serves as pasture and cropland.

A few residences stand along its path, close to the frontage. Long gravel lanes grace a couple of the homesteads, one on a hill overlooking the splendor, the other where an unnamed creek lazily flows beneath the chip and seal roadway.

redheadedwoodpeckerbybrucestambaugh
Red-headed Woodpecker. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
It’s there that Red-headed Woodpeckers squawk from an ancient sugar maple tree, and swoop across the road to groves of black locust and black walnut trees, locusts on one side, walnuts on the other, the curvy creek trickling in between. There, too, Holsteins often slurp the pooled water they have just muddied.

I usually keep to the center of the road where the footing is flatter. Even with my diminished hearing, I can detect motorized vehicles and horse-drawn carts and buggies long before I need to scoot to the side.

It’s the quarter mile from my house to my walking road that scares me, which is why I wear a bright yellow hat and a reflective armband, even in the daytime. Still, I step aside when cars and trucks whizz by.

I enjoy my walk for more than exercise. Melodious songbirds, dashing flycatchers and gregarious swallows seemed to have grown used to me. They seldom leave their perches on phone lines and tree snags as I pass. Even the horses and cows pay me little heed. I embrace their acceptance.

Given all that, I appreciated a challenging trek my son, Nathan, recently completed even more. I walk for personal, positive health. Nathan’s effort was for a regional charity, Big Brothers and Big Sisters of East Central Ohio. They connect volunteer mentors with children desiring proper adult guidance.

Nathan walked 100 holes of golf in one day. He wasn’t alone.

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For the second year in a row, Nathan and another member of the charity’s board of overseers completed what is officially titled the Hundred Hole Hike. Each golfer recruited people and businesses to pledge money for the event to raise funds for this good cause.

If you’re familiar with the game, golfing 100 holes in a single day sounds insane. The sponsor organization’s rules required they walk the entire time.

The two had excellent assistance throughout the day. Caddies kept them hydrated in the hot August sun, and provided energy foods along the way. To save time, they also produced the right club to play each shot.

morningridebybrucestambaugh
Morning ride. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
Even then, the entire effort took 13 hours, and for Nathan, 424 shots. They started before sunup in the fog, and finished in the twilight beneath the glow of a brilliant, ivory half-moon.

By then, Nathan and his partner were exhausted. Their feet were blistered and their muscles ached. They logged 33 miles each.

My wife and I, riding in a golf cart, joined them for the last 20 holes. The fairway gallery also included three deer, russet in the evening sun. At the last hole, we joined other supporters in congratulating Nathan and Josh as they concluded the humanitarian, fatiguing endeavor.

I’m grateful to live where I can walk regularly in a lovely rural setting. I’m even more grateful for a son who cares enough for others that he walked far beyond the second mile for them.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

All quiet on the home front

quietsunrisebybrucestambaugh
A spectacular sunrise on the “quiet” morning.

By Bruce Stambaugh

We live in a frazzled world, full of hustle and bustle and lots of noise. Even in the country, the noise of a busy world drowns out the normal peace and quiet.

Of course there are people that seem to prefer noise. They’re the ones that can’t stand a natural lull in a conversation, or dead silence in a room full of people, so they feel obliged to fill the air with idle chitchat. They’re happy as long as someone is talking, even if it’s them.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been a bit long winded at times myself. But having lived in rural America all these years, I’ll take peace and quiet every time.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I enjoy music, though I’m no musician. I enjoy cheering for my favorite sports teams. I enjoy lively table talk, especially around a meal.

But age has a way of shushing you, quietly encouraging you to embrace the silence. I’ve learned to feel comfortable in absolute quietness, whether I’m home alone or with a congregation of contemplators.

quietbarnbybrucestambaugh
The normally bustling barn was even quiet.

Silence is good. I was reminded of that recently. Since it was a Sunday morning, the traffic on our busy county highway was minimal. In fact, only one car and one horse and buggy passed me on my regular two-mile stroll.

Normally I dodge construction trucks, straight bed trucks, semis, cars, bicycles, and several horse and buggies. This day was astonishingly different.

Less traffic meant less noise. And less noise meant the few sounds that I did hear really, really stood out. I heard a motorcycle accelerating far off in the distance, and a horse clopping on the county road a half-mile from where I was walking.

It was at that point that I stopped and realized the full breadth and depth of the stillness around me. The compressor from the neighbor’s barn wasn’t running. No cows were mooing. Not even a bird so much as chirped.

For a minute I thought the rapture had come, and I figured I had indeed been left behind. I smiled at the idea, and continued my lonely, but not lonesome walk.

quietstreambybrucestambaugh
A quiet stream.

Walking affords me more than physical exercise. It clears my mind, fills my body with bountiful goodness, and sharpens my senses. Even my age-diminished hearing seemed more keen. I could hear crickets and the last of the season’s katydids singing in the tree-lined stream that meandered through the crops and pasturelands.

On the return trip home, I fully embraced the quietness. I felt richer, fuller, and more alive, all because of hearing nothing at all. I was reminded of the importance of listening, of paying attention, of appreciating the good earth of which we have been assigned to nurture.

Our world is filled with too much noise. Televisions and radios blast away with the talking heads, stirring up people when life’s recipe says to let the sauce simmer.

Even from my countryside home, I see too many people with cell phones pressed to their ears while driving their cars, or cords from ear buds leading to a denim pocket of a passing biker.

That Sunday morning walk instilled in me just how important a little quietness is in our clamorous world. That silent experience said stillness is more than golden. It is a priceless pearl to the soul.

I’m glad I’ve come to appreciate the quality and value of silence. Please kindly remind me of that next time I start to ramble.

quietschoolbybrucestambaugh
The Amish schoolhouse stood quiet in the morning light.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

Walking with the grandsons generates more than exercise

davisandevanbybrucestambaugh
Grandsons Davis and Evan posed for a photo along the way.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Unlike their little sister, my grandsons, Evan, age nine, and Davis, now seven, wake early. No matter how late they stay up the previous night, they always rise with the cows.

On a recent visit from their city-situated home in Virginia to our Ohio rural one, I found the boys quietly playing in the living room as I prepared for my morning stroll.

I asked them if they wanted to walk with me. Davis said he would. Evan said not. So Davis changed his mind. As I headed for the front door, they both reevaluated the situation, likely based on previous walks with Poppy. They joined me after all.

Both are smart, observant boys, full of vim and vinegar. At their age, you never know what’s going to pop into their brains and tumble out of their mouths. They know that the saunter down the chip and sealed country road can resemble an amble in a zoo, with both domestic and wild animals appearing at various spots along the way.

checkingitoutbybrucestambaugh
The boys carefully checked out the dead Screech Owl along the roadway.
Practicing good safety habits, we walked single file. I took the lead on the initial stretch of the stroll along our busy county road. Most motorized vehicles seem to seldom adhere to the posted 45 m.p.h. speed limit.

That is particularly true of cars, vans and trucks heading north toward us down what we affectionately call the Number Ten Hill ski slope. Fortunately, in the quiet countryside, you can generally hear the acceleration approaching well before you see it. We stepped to the side until the traffic passed.

As we did so, we discovered a dead Screech Owl in the neighbor’s grass. It most likely had been hit overnight as it hunted for food. On the way home, I picked up the bird, placed it in a plastic sack and put it in the freezer until delivery could be made to the Wilderness Center in Wilmot where it would be preserved as a hands on educational tool for children like my grandchildren.

purplemartinsbybrucestambaugh
A family of Purple Martins perched high on the snag of a dead decidious tree at the beginning of our walk
We turned east on the township road and soon spied a family of Purple Martins perched high in the limbs of an old snag. Upon our arrival to their station, the gregarious birds greeted us by circling and chattering overhead.

Boys being boys, all things gross always intrigue them. The flattened brownish-green plops of horse manure left on the roadway drew their attention. Davis, the more scientific one of the two, wanted specific details of how it got there. I encouraged him to be patient, that maybe he would learn first-hand how that particular organic operation functioned.

At one homestead, I praised a meticulously manicured vegetable garden. Apparently too tame, the exploring boys barely gave it a glance.

wagonloadofwoodbybrucestambaugh
Always the exacting young man, Evan had to point to the wagonload of firewood to be sure that was the wood that would be delivered to the house.

Further down the road at our neighbor’s farm, I showed them the wagonload of chopped firewood that awaited delivery to our house. Their eyebrows shot up at the bulging cargo.

The mention of home seemed to trigger the fact that we had walked far enough, though we still had a quarter of a mile to go to complete my usual route. Not wanting to disturb the morning’s peacefulness, I relented. Knowing that breakfast awaited, the boys kept a steadier pace on the return trip, virtually ignoring the chestnut mares and Holstein heifers.

Though a horse drawn buggy did pass us, Davis must have forgotten his question, negating having to describe the unappetizing depositing process to their admiring sister. She’s a dainty enough eater as it is.

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© Bruce Stambaugh 2013