Winter’s variable paint palette

Amish farm, Holmes Co. OH, Ohio's Amish country, snowscape

No matter where you live, winter offers a wide variety of colors across its changeable landscapes.

Often, the colors transform with the weather’s latest tantrum. Given the global climate’s bipolar dysfunctions, winter’s color palette has expanded far beyond its usual earth tones and neutral hues. Wetter and warmer winters convert lawns from frosted brown to April’s greens.

Living in Ohio for nearly seven decades, I intimately learned nature’s dormant color schemes. She usually painted under steely skies, which perhaps limited her range of color options.

burnished leaves laden with snow

Growing up in a blue-collar suburb in northeast Ohio, my memory is filled with a canvas of white on white. We sledded down steep hillside paths beneath stately evergreens laden with inches of snow.

Clumps of yellowy prairie grasses waved in the icy wind as we zoomed by shouting and laughing like the kids we were. Our wind-chapped cheeks and red noses were proof of our gold, silver, and bronze successes.

Besides the fun, we relished a good snow cover that blanketed the grit and grime that most winters brought. The fluffy whiteness enlivened the quiescent landscape, the leafless trees with their non-descript brown, gray, and black trunks and branches. The pure white snow on piney coniferous bows highlighted clusters of chestnut pinecones.

eastern bluebird in winter

Heavy wet snow provided a stark color contrast of white on black. That all shifted in a flash when a wicked winter wind whipped nature’s artwork into layered snowdrifts crusty enough for adventuresome children to walk on.

Ohio winter weather being what it is and always has been, not much changed as I grew into adulthood. Browns and whites alternated dominating the lay of the land with temperature playing the role of the artisan. A mundane scene became a Currier and Ives gem with four inches of overnight snow.

A January thaw altered all that in a hurry. The snow melted into a mushy, muddy mess, and brown soon became the primary color and texture, much to my mother’s chagrin. Usually, though, our inattentive father rightly got the blame for the sticky indoor tracks.

Amish farm, Wayne Co. OH, Ohio's Amish country

Dealing with both the gooeyness and the frozen precipitation as an adult tendered an entirely different perspective than as a youngster. I hated how everything wore the dirt and grime of winter. That was especially true of driving a filthy automobile. Wash it one day, and it was dirty again the next.

Warm, attractive colors in winter did and do exist of course. Think red holly berries against glossy green leaves powdered with fresh snow.

Each new day brings opportunity. Catch a showy sunrise that may last only a few seconds before succumbing to layers of gray clouds. Sunsets are equally stunning, especially if reflected by lakes and streams, which double the orange, yellow, red, and pink pleasure.

Amish, Holmes Co. OH, Ohio's Amish country

Bright colors come alive literally. Is there anything prettier than northern cardinals perched on evergreens waiting their turn at the bird feeders? If eastern bluebirds also arrive, the winter day becomes all the cheerier.

Moving to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley has lessened some of the sting and bland of winter. We tend to have more sunny and warmer days than we did in Ohio. When it does snow, the aesthetic results are still the same. However, the white stuff doesn’t last as long.

Winter’s radiant sunshine enhances any locale just as it can brighten all human spirits.

January can be lackluster if you let it. Just look a little harder for any hint of color wherever you live. Like many TV commercial disclaimers, your results may vary.

white-throated sparrow, Shenandoah Valley,

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Staying healthy in the throes of winter

shoveling snow, Ohio
Finished shoveling.

By Bruce Stambaugh

February is upon us. Hopefully, winter in northeast Ohio is nearing its peak.

We don’t know what that means regarding the weather ahead. We simply long for milder days when we can be outdoors without the clumsiness of thick coats.

Most of us senior citizens avoid the nasty weather by staying inside or fleeing to warmer locales. In the process, we tend to overfeed February’s cabin fever. That’s not good for our health at any age.

I have a rather restricted diet due to some inherited genes I’d rather trade away. Of course, I can’t, so I am careful about what I eat. My loving wife goes out of her way to create the food that my body can handle.

For me, though, eating has never been a top priority. I’d rather be out and about, even in the harshest weather. After a measurable snow, you’ll likely find me outside pushing and shoveling the white stuff from the sidewalk and parking pad.

When I was younger, I’d take it as a personal challenge to shovel the entire driveway out to the county road. If the snow was heavy and wet, I took my time. Neva often joined me, along with our daughter and son, if they weren’t already off sledding with friends.

Amish buggy, snowy day
At rest.
Those days are long over. After this winter’s first measurable snowfall, I was out in it as usual. I bundled up in my typical fashion, hoodie, stocking cap, insulated coveralls, warm gloves and gumboots.

Snow removal isn’t a fashion show. It’s hard work, especially for someone pushing 70. For whatever reason, that thought blew into my head like the cold north wind. I remembered to take plenty of breaks and to pace myself.

During my frequent breathers, I observed crows sail through the still falling snow, and heard a state plow truck’s discordant rumble echo in the frosty air from a mile away. I stopped shoveling after I had cleared the sidewalk and turnaround.

I didn’t want to be a statistic, a seasonal casualty to stubbornness. I knew my limits and decided not to push them. When the snow is too deep, my good neighbor rescues me with his pickup’s snowplow.

The amount he charges is a whole lot cheaper than the negative consequences if I try to exert myself beyond my physical capacities. No one needs that heartache.

northern cardinal, snow, bird feeder
Beauty in the snow.
I’d rather pay the pittance charged than incur the repercussions. My inflated male ego has to take a backseat to my bodily well-being. It’s that simple.

I know I need the exercise, but braving winter’s harsh elements at my age can prove counterproductive. I look for other options to stay physically fit though some would question whether I have ever been in that condition.

I like to walk when I can, but that isn’t always a year-round option in northern climes. Other exercise options are easy to find.

My wife and I enjoy doing yoga regularly either in our home or at class. We have found it both physically and spiritually healing. The good Lord knows I need both.

I do simple stretches daily to ease my tennis elbow pain and to loosen my tight hamstrings. Those simple practices do wonders for me.

I’ll continue to be mindful of both what I eat and the portions I consume. I’ll continue to intentionally workout my body and mind daily.

Every new day is a gift. I must do my part to welcome another tomorrow.

farm lane, winter in Ohio
I’m glad my drive isn’t this long!

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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

Spring’s first day: Winter coat to no coat

springssunrisebybrucestambaugh
Spring’s sunrise.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Winter just wouldn’t let go, even on the first full day of spring.

The day dawned with glorious anticipation. A rosy sunrise filtered through the cumulous clouds hanging low on the eastern horizon. It was down hill from there for much of the rest of the morning.

After the welcoming daybreak came the discovery of a horseshoe nail in the sidewall of a relatively new tire. It’s just one of the hazards of living in Holmes County, Ohio.

Next came the snow, which the weather forecast seemed to have overlooked. By the time my wife and I had reached our morning’s destination, nearly an inch had fallen.

plowinginthesnowbybrucestambaugh
Plowing in the snow.

A former student of mine had invited us to view his maple sugaring operation at the southern end of the county. It had been a long time since I had seen Elmer, a quiet, studious youngster when I taught him in fourth grade. That was 44 years ago.

Elmer had called earlier in the week to tell me he’d be boiling sap. Unfortunately, this day wasn’t one of them. Instead, we had a very nice visit with Elmer and his wife, reminiscing about those long ago school days.

After a while, Elmer’s mother joined us shortly before we needed to leave. By then an overcast sky had replaced the springtime squalls.

thinningskybybrucestambaugh
Thinning sky.

Up hill, down dale, around curves left and right, the further north we drove towards home, the stronger the sun became. At lunchtime, with the heavens still hazy, the sun hung overhead like a bare light bulb trying to illuminate an entire gymnasium.

I had a couple of appointments to keep in the afternoon, which required further driving. I enjoyed my visits, and was pleased to see no line at the usually busy carwash. I needed to clean off the mud from the morning’s foray.

When I returned home, my workaholic wife was outside cleaning up the yard and flowerbeds. Out of chivalry and my own desire to enjoy the remainder of the day, I donned a light jacket and joined her.

I needed to do my part in collecting winter’s litter. When you propagate a mini-forest of various deciduous and evergreen species, a lot of dead leaves and windblown sticks need to be gathered.

This surge of warmth and sunshine had energized me. I decided to trim some of the wiry lower branches of the jumble of trees and scrubs I had planted over three decades.

afternoonshimmeringbybrucestambaugh
Afternoon shimmering.

I knew when I had snipped a sugar maple limb. The sap dripped like a leaky faucet. Right then and there I decided I would head back to Elmer’s sugar shack the next day. I definitely wanted to see his outfit in operation.

All the while, the afternoon sun grew stronger and stronger. It was good to be outside again enjoying the sights, sounds and odorous whiffs of the springtime countryside.

Every few minutes, the song sparrows let loose a few bars of their cheery chorus. Not to be outdone, the cardinals called, too, first from a fir tree, and then they flitted to the bare branches of the oaks and maples.

I was enjoying myself so much, I pitched my jacket altogether. In a matter of hours, it had gone from a winter coat day to a no coat day.

I was glad that winter had finally let go its hoary hold, even if it was only a brief interlude on spring’s first afternoon.

farvervalleybybrucestambaugh
Farver Valley.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

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