November’s arrival brings mixed emotions

autumn, Amish farm, Ohio's Amish country
October’s golden glow.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I always have mixed emotions whenever November rolls around. Like you, I know what it means.

After the excellent weather of October, I hate to think of what November might bring. I hope November doesn’t take offense.

I so enjoyed the string of amazing days we had during the height of the leaf looking season here in Ohio’s Amish country. Given the traffic jams I encountered, I wasn’t alone.

I cruised the back roads for calendar-worthy snapshots of the naturally painted landscapes. With the predominance of rolling hills and gentle dales, a Currier and Ives setting arose around nearly every corner. In some spots, I merely rotated to take multiple scenic photos.

The truth is I only had to step out my front door for a lovely sunrise photo. In the evening, it was the reverse. I have four seasons of brilliant sunset shots behind my Amish neighbor’s farmstead.

Once the leaves began to color this year, red, yellow, orange, gold and crimson rainbows basked in the sun for all to absorb. Stunning doesn’t begin to describe the landscapes.

Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Those inspiring scenes changed much too quickly for my liking, though. The colorful leaves have mostly fallen, and the dormant season is upon us. Welcome to November.

The Canada Geese fly from farm pond to harvested grain field where they glean to their gullets’ delight or some hungry hunter scares the flock to flying and honking with blasts of his 12-gauge. Given their numbers, I think the geese always win that war.

While the geese stick around, other waterfowl species wing it south. Pintails and Sandhill Cranes often lead the way. It’s a ritual that makes me smile and sad simultaneously. They’re a joy to watch, but it’s a sure sign of what weather is ahead.

I marvel at the majestic flights of all species avian. To have a Pine Siskin make a brief pit stop at your feeder brings momentary elation.

On the other hand, finding the first White-crowned Sparrow of the season checking the same feeder tells me I’d better get ready for another winter. Perhaps that is November’s ultimate purpose.

November’s fickle weather pattern is familiar by now. Its early days seem more like an October extension. A few deciduous holdouts flash the last of the lushest leaves before they drop overnight leaving only the burnished oaks to rustle in the wind.

By the month’s end, the world can suddenly change with the passing of one strong cold front. The silvery down of the milkweed seeds sail through graying skies only to be replaced the next day by the season’s first snowfall.

corn shocks, Amish farm
November’s look.
We’ve returned to standard time, accentuating November’s shorter days. It’s nature’s way of prepping us for colder, darker days to come.

In North America, we have concocted a dodgy purpose for the eleventh month. November ushers in the holiday season here in the United States. Commercially translated, it’s time to shop as if you needed a reminder.

Near month’s end, Thanksgiving rings in the festive mode and the glitzy commercials. Christmas then isn’t far behind.

October’s golden days are gone. The best we can hope for now is a late Indian summer. We’ll take it even if only lasts a day or two.

Ohio’s pleasant weather has melted away like a stick of butter on a hot griddle. It’s time to stack the firewood, put in the storm doors and enjoy a warm cup of mulled cider.

We have to face the truth. November is upon us.

November snows, Ohio
November snows in Ohio are not uncommon.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Spring’s arrival doesn’t guarantee spring weather

Amish buggy, first day of spring
First day of Spring 2014. © Bruce Stambaugh

By Bruce Stambaugh

Spring has arrived, finally. Didn’t we say the same thing last year at this time?

A year ago after a long, cold, snowy winter, we looked forward to spring’s promise. It was long in coming.

Well, here we are a year later, virtually in the same situation. We’ve endured an even more brutal winter with record-breaking extreme temperatures, dangerous wind chills, and snowstorm after snowstorm.

East of the Mississippi River, it was a winter of biblical proportions. Where three or more gathered, complaints, exasperations, and unmentionable utterances about the lousy weather could be heard far and wide, even in church.

Amish farm, early spring
Waiting on spring. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
Schools closed or delayed opening for a multitude of reasons a multitude of times. Local businesses suffered financially.

Even when it wasn’t snowing, the long string of gray days coupled with the dark, frigid ones weighed heavy on people’s spirits. It got so bad that rumors circulated in the statehouse that the all-knowing and all-seeing state legislature was ready to adopt a new motto for Ohio. “I can’t take it anymore” had its second committee reading when Old Man Winter’s grip finally loosened.

Thanks to the second consecutive polar vortex, snow, ice, cold and stinging winds affected folks not used to such stuff. Winter reached far into the southeastern United States.

Snowbirds got their feathers frosted a time or two. Wind chill advisories reached all the way to the southern tip of Florida. Even Key West wasn’t spared.

Amish farmer, plowing
Plowing the snow. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
With the air temperature in the 40s and the winds blowing off of the ocean at gale force, it was cold. Floridians aren’t asking for or expecting any sympathy cards, however.

It is prudent to focus on the passing of the vernal equinox and hope upon hope that the spring weather of 2014 will not repeat this year. My farmer friends need no reminder.

Spring a year ago lasted as long as the frigid winter had. Fields were unapproachable, and crops couldn’t be planted on schedule, not even by horse drawn machinery.

The first cutting of hay for some farmers didn’t happen until early June. I think that was when the last of the snowplow glacial piles finally melted. That’s how cold and wet April and May were a year ago.

Keep calm sign
© Bruce Stambaugh 2015
Let’s hope that there is no replication of that weather pattern this year. Everywhere this winter’s weather pounded, good people are ready for a regular, normal springtime. Nobody can blame them.

It’s nice to see sunrises and sunsets straight east and west morning and evening. I’ll enjoy their slow inch north, and hope that clouds, precipitation, and cold fronts don’t weaken the sun’s warming influence.

Spring will arrive. Forsythias and azaleas have already reached their peak where frost and ice briefly ruled in the south. Crocuses have already bloomed in southern Ohio. Our turn will come.

crocuses
Crocuses. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015
I’ll keep my excitement subdued when the buttery daffodils trumpet their glory. I have too many memories of enjoying their sunny spirit one day, and watching them droop from the weight of heavy, wet snow the next.

I hope that doesn’t happen again this year. I also hope that spring behaves itself and brings us the weather we should get.

I realize that severe thunderstorms, hail, lightning, tornadoes, frost and flooding are all part of that package. I also know that daylight will linger longer, and temperatures will gradually warm to near normal.

To get there, however, we’ll simply have to be patient and hope that fairer weather will prevail.

rural sunrise, foggy sunrise
Foggy sunrise. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Don’t let the gray skies get you down

gray day, dreary day, Bruce Stambaugh
Gray day. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015.

By Bruce Stambaugh

It’s not easy living in the third cloudiest location in the nation. Like it or not, that’s just what the residents of Northeast Ohio have to do.

That’s not good for people with Seasonal Affective Disease (SAD). Recurrent gray days negatively affect their daily outlook. Folks with SAD have to suffer through as best they can. I can’t imagine how they do it. It’s hard enough to wake to one gray day after the other without that affliction.

I speak from experience having been a Buckeye all my life. Strung together like a necklace of discolored pearls, these series of overcast, dull days, can get us all down if we let them. We shouldn’t.

I will be glib and say there is good news anyhow. Minute-by-minute, daylight is increasing. That’s little consolation to all those overcome by the seasonal dreariness.

Winter mornings in Ohio seem darker and colder than ever. A minute of daylight tacked on a day at a time isn’t all that inspiring, helpful or meaningful.

We can always hope for an Alberta Clipper to roll through with a few inches of snow and frigid temperatures. The passage of the front usually brings clear, crisp days.

eastern bluebird, songbirds, Bruce Stambaugh
Songbirds like this male Eastern Bluebird can help cheer up any dull day. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015.
In addition, the fresh coat of light, fluffy snow brightens the dull, dormant ground. A million diamonds sparkle day and night, as long as the moon shows its face. Even if it is cloudy, I find a certain joy in the crunch, crunch, crunch of each step to retrieve the mail or fill the bird feeders.

Indeed, these dreary, damp, cold days are what they are. They don’t have to keep us from keeping on. We have to remember that each day is a gem of a gift to treasure all unto itself.

For me, that is an important reminder. The start of a new year means we enter winter’s hardest times. The season’s coldest temperatures, harshest weather, and often the worst storms are likely yet to come.

All things considered worse scenarios than depressing weather abound in this world. Can we look beyond our personal life space to see them?

A friend of mine has terminal cancer. He unabashedly asks others what they think about each night before they go to sleep. Do they believe they’ll awake in the morning? Are they ready to pass on?

Those are blunt, but necessary questions for each of us at any age, healthy or ill. At the end of another day, what do we contemplate? Can we accept dismal skies or broken relationships, or unsatisfying vocations?

Will we wake in the morning to a new day or a new world? None of us, regardless of our situations, knows. I do know this, however. Time is fleeting, gloomy skies or clear skies.

How will we use each day we are given to the benefit of others no matter our personal station in life? Will we let the weather get us down, or will we radiate sunshine that warms and enlightens others?

Regardless of where we live, that is always a challenge, isn’t it? I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions. But at this stage in my life, I only want to be helpful to others, those in my household, my family, my community, and even strangers I encounter in my daily duties.

My personal challenge this New Year is not to let the gloomiest weather dim the day at hand. What’s yours?

Amish farm, fresh snow, rural landscape
A fresh layer of snow helps brighten rural landscapes. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015.

© BruceStambaugh 2015

When an ill wind blows, persevere

sunnybutcoldbybrucestambaugh
Even sunny days that looked warm were chilled by persistent winds.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The cold and wet of winter and early spring seemed to be unrelenting. The constant breezes made already cold days seem even more so, and damper than they really were. It felt like the wind had blown nonstop since Thanksgiving.

To paraphrase John Heywood, who first penned the words in the 16th century, “It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good.” That’s the way I thought of the many persistent gales that delivered us storm after storm for four months.

We here in northeast Ohio have endured a variety of weather elements for too long. Snow, sleet, freezing rain, ice, fog, torrential rains, flooding, and bone chilling temperatures have all been part of our weather menu. However, it has been the relentless wind that has been the most bothersome. It made even a sunny spring day seem like February all over again.

Day after day the icy wind seemed to go right through you. It was that bad. As much as I love weather, I had about had it with the unyielding gales.

coldplowingbybrucestambaugh
Amish farmers have had some raw days to do their field work this spring.

I am glad, however, that the wind does aid farmers by drying out the mushy soil so planting can begin. But I pity the many Amish farmers who have had to spread, plow, harrow, and plant in the endless blusters. They and their trusty draft horses had to be freezing.

There’s another hazard to wind. Wildfire danger increases when steady breezes dry out already brittle dormant foliage and grasses. That’s one reason why spring’s quenching rainfalls are so welcome, even if they are accompanied by nasty winds.

On a recent trip to visit friends in Leamington, Ontario, a steady wind buffeted our van on the trip north. Along the Ohio Turnpike we spotted a Bald Eagle soaring against the northwest wind over an open field in search of prey.

windyyardworkbybrucestambaugh
Brisk yard work of cleaning winter’s deposits of debris still required coats and gloves in Ohio this spring.

We discovered that the weather in Ontario, including the wind, hadn’t been any better than ours. Indeed, we wore sweaters and jackets during the extended weekend.

The only exception was our last day there, Monday, April 15. That day dawned in beauty and quiet. The sun shone brightly as we said goodbye to our friends.

By afternoon as we reentered the U.S., the wind had once again picked up. At least it helped push us homeward as we traveled.
I was glad to see the sun, and feel its welcome warmth. Perhaps the stubborn winter weather systems that brought the chilling blustery northwest winds had finally been broken.

Shortly after 4 p.m. I turned on the van’s radio to listen to the news. From the announcers’ demeanors we knew that something serious had happened, only neither my wife or I were clear as to what the problem was. As we listened, we learned of the bombings in Boston.

Like most good people of the world, we were horrified. It was an ill wind no good citizen could ever have anticipated.

Tolerating a persistent cold wind is one thing. Enduring a terrible, intentional act of violence is another concern altogether.

We must live our lives as best we can, embracing each new day with gusto, hope and a fearlessness that no harsh wind, natural or man-made, can destroy.

hopefulsunrisebybrucestambaugh
© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

Who knew being grandparents would be so much fun?

grandkidsbybrucestambaugh
Nana engaged our grandsons while our granddaughter entertained herself.

By Bruce Stambaugh

“Who knew it would be so much fun?” That was an email reply to me from a grandparent friend. Indeed, who knew?

Though we have always lived many miles apart, we have tried to be involved with our three grandchildren as much as time and distance allowed. First it was Texas, and now Virginia.

Our daughter, whose husband works for a university in Virginia’s lovely Shenandoah Valley, asked if we would care for her trio of children while they spent the school’s spring break in Florida. We didn’t hesitate. We rearranged our schedules and headed 350 miles southeast.

Like her mother, our daughter is extremely organized. She had the week’s agenda outlined day by day. Of course, life has a way of upsetting the best of plans.

littleshovelerbybrucestambaugh
Even little Maren wanted to help shovel snow.
The upheaval began not long after our daughter and her husband headed south. During the night Davis, the six year old, got sick. Monday it was his big brother’s turn. At first we thought Evan just missed his parents. When the school called to say Evan was ill, we realized he wasn’t just being overly sensitive. The next night little sister, Maren, woke up sick, too.

With the weather cooler than norm for The Valley, we kept the woodstove stoked overnight. Once, though, the smoke detector suddenly screamed. The woodstove apparently was a little too stoked, its temperature needle reaching the danger zone.

multitaskingbybrucestambaugh
Garbage trucks were converted into snowplows to help clear the roadways.
Halfway through our weeklong mission a major winter storm stirred. Harrisonburg became the bull’s eye on the official snow accumulation chart. A total of 15 inches of heavy, wet snow piled up, cancelling school for two days, with a delay the third. Retrofitted garbage trucks morphed into snowplows to help clear the roads.

Fortunately, the sicknesses lessened as the snow depth increased. Sledding and snowman building became the focus of activity. Neighbors loaned slippery sleds that zoomed the bundled up kids down the steep hill behind their father’s office building. They were fearless in their swooshing, especially the youngest.

During down times between sledding excursions Maren kept us busy with her favorite activity, playing a memory card game. No matter how many pairs of cards we laid out, she skunked us all. To watch her consistently recall where the matching cards were, and hear her glee at winning was worth the licking Nana and I took.

We also made good use of the snowy elements. Nana whipped up a yummy batch of snow ice cream using nothing more than vanilla, heavy cream, sugar and snow.

hideandseekbybrucestambaugh
Maren found “hiding” behind the sweeper.
Maren kept us all entertained playing hide and seek her way. She would tell us where she was going to hide, and then insist we close our eyes and count to 10 before beginning the imaginative search.

Sweet Maren had to keep track of her folks, too. At least three times a day she followed the route her parents took from their home to Sarasota on a Google map I had created on my computer. After a while, I merely pointed the curser, and she recited the travel log.

The grandkids enjoyed seeing their parents a few times via Face Time using Nana’s computer on our end and a smartphone in the Sunshine state. Those opportunities seemed to allay any apprehensions the grandkids had about their extended separation from

facetimebybrucestambaugh
Technology helped soothe the distance between the grandkids and their parents.
their loving parents.

For Nana and I, this was one more chance for quality time with our creative and energetic grandchildren. Who knew it would be so much fun?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

Winter wanes with March’s arrival

winterplowingbybrucestambaugh
A young Amish boy gets a head start on spring plowing with his a team of draft horses during a winter thaw.

By Bruce Stambaugh

On my way to dinner with a friend, a simple yet pleasant notice brought a smile to my face. As my car turned the sharp corner, I saw the sign in front of the volunteer fire station. It read, “Baseball sign up Saturday.”

With yet another wintry storm on the way, that was welcome news to me. Just the thought of those youngsters already registering to play baseball got me through the next day’s ugly weather.

pushingthroughbybrucestambaugh
Daffodils peep through March’s melting snow.
That’s what I like about March. It’s both winter’s last gasp and spring’s first breath. That posting was a clarion call for more than little leaguers. It was a sign of hope.

Once we reach March, I feel like a new person. I know winter’s icy grip is behind us, and that spring is peeping.

I’m also old enough to know not to get too giddy too soon. March often offers up some of winter’s heaviest snows. But with the days growing longer, not counting Daylight Savings Time, you know the snow will not last long.

marchsnowbybrucestambaugh
March is notorious for delivering some heavy snowstorms in Ohio’s Amish country.

In fact, March often delivers us a four-star package deal on weather. Wait. You had better make that a four seasons package. March is famous for thawing out winter’s clutch, teasing us with summer-like days, then bringing us back to reality with a fall-like cold front. One day we could enjoy a welcomed spring rain, and the next be dodging tornadoes. March can be as fickle as it is friendly.

eastersundaybybrucestambaugh
Easter Sunday is March 31 this year.
This year March brings us a Trifecta of joy. St. Patrick’s Day, Palm Sunday and Easter consecutively complete March’s Sundays.

There’s much more, too. Early migratory birds begin to make an appearance. The male Red-wing Blackbirds begin to scout out their territories. American Robins come out of hiding and begin their bob, bob, bobbing along.

americanrobinbybrucestambaugh
American Robins begin marking their territories in March.
The Song Sparrows pick their fence post perches, tilt back their striped heads, and let it rip. American Goldfinches brighten as they begin their lemony spring molt.

If the ground is dry enough, farmers begin their plowing in earnest. Crocuses and daffodils poke their pointy green shoots through the crystalized snow remnants and await the sun’s command to bloom.

We humans follow their lead. We shake off our cabin fever, and find any excuse we can to go outside. If we do have an early warm spell, dedicated gardeners will be sure to be planting their peas.

We check our property for any winter damage. Without complaint we pick up sticks deposited by winter’s frequent, fierce winds. We’re just happy to be breathing in the freshness of life, and exhale without seeing our own breath freeze in midair.

earlyridebybrucestambaugh
Bicycles are common on the Holmes Co. Trail on a decent March day.

Bicycles, motorcycles and fishing gear are all dusted off, even if they won’t be used right away. Winter’s smudge is washed off the windows on the first reasonably warm day. Of course, the boys of summer spend March warming up for their April to October baseball games.

High school and college men and women create excitement and celebration with their basketball March madness. We dutifully follow along even if we haven’t attended a game all year.

crocusesbybrucestambaugh
Much to the delight of honey bees, crocuses are often the first flowers to poke through winter’s litter.

As you might be able to tell, I’m ready for some consistently warmer weather. The fact that we have already opened March’s door confidently tells me that winter is well on the wane.

As if we had any say in the matter, March always has her way with us. I for one am ready to be under her seductive spell, and bid a fond farewell to her bully winter cousins.

marchmowingbybrucestambaugh
Last year our yard received its initial mowing on March 23.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

Groundhog Day is February’s April Fools’ Day

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’ve never been a fan of Ground Hog Day. It’s like February’s equivalent to April Fools’ Day.

I see Feb. 2 as an artificial holiday. It is more marketing ploy than weather prognostication, designed to pump up a small Pennsylvania town to help distract those living in the country’s colder climes from cabin fever.

That was a long sentence.

I am pretty sure no one, other than the mayor of Punxsutawney, Pa. perhaps, takes the event seriously. Winter after all is driven more by calendar and climate than it is one day’s sunny or gloomy weather. Whether the groundhog sees its shadow or not, winter will continue until it really is over.

I hope I don’t sound too bitter.

smartgroundhogbybrucestambaugh
This groundhog was a little to cagy for me. No matter what I baited this live trap with, the groundhog resisted and returned to its burrow under our back porch.
Besides, Punxsutawney Phil has developed some competition over the years. Not to be outdone by the silliness, Ohio has Buckeye Chuck, who is more or less the Avis of rodent forecasting. He tries hard, but doesn’t draw the crowds or paparazzi of his Keystone counterpart.

Where am I going with this? For one, back in time.

Many years ago when I was a young man in college who thought he knew everything, one of my roommates and I got into a mildly heated discussion about groundhogs of all things. And yes, we were both sober. We might have been bored or stubborn perhaps, but definitely not delirious.

Nevertheless, we did indeed disagree about this four-legged furry creature. My roommate, Joe, claimed that groundhogs and woodchucks were two entirely different animals. I said they were one in the same.

We didn’t come to fisticuffs, but Joe was pretty sure that he was correct. I was just as certain that I was right.

Finally, after too much verbiage for too long a time, we decided on a neutral determinant. We would look up the two words in my heavy-duty Random House dictionary. The thick reference book was my one major college personal investment. I was, and still am, a notoriously bad speller. Being a journalism major, I knew I needed to have my assignments completed with proper spelling. This was long before personal computers and word processors with built in dictionaries existed.

Since my parents had taught me to share, the dictionary held a prominent place in our little off-campus abode. It sat atop a desk in the dining room for anyone to use. It wasn’t uncommon for us to invite fellow students over to study together. At least we were supposed to be studying.

Since “groundhog” came before “woodchuck” alphabetically, I turned to my word first. I placed my index finger beneath “groundhog” and read, “Groundhog. A woodchuck.”

My roommate was in denial. I stepped away while he turned to “woodchuck.” “A groundhog” the dictionary declared, Joe’s voice cracking in disbelief.

If I recall correctly, the dictionary was closed rather suddenly. Joe surrendered, a bit grudgingly.

I learned much later in life that in Maine groundhogs are colloquially called whistle pigs because of the whistling sound that they make. In other locales in North America, groundhogs are labeled land beavers.

That brings us back to the present.

Just remember that Feb. 2 when you see a man dressed in a top hat and tuxedo holding up a groundhog, woodchuck, whistle pig or land beaver for the cameras, it really doesn’t mean a thing. Spring will officially arrive March 20 shadow or no shadow.

daffodilsbybrucestambaugh

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013