A season of transitions

lily pond, OARDC
The lily pond.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I sat alone on the park bench enjoying the beauty before me. I didn’t realize it then, but now I see that this little break from my regular routines served as a realization that summer had arrived.

I took in the action in this public garden of flowers, woodlots, shrubs, ponds, and meadows. Here life was abundant, evolving, vibrant, verdant, and fragrant.

Still, the hustle and bustle of urban life intruded. Trucks roared by on the nearby expressway. Sirens sounded in the small city below.

In this peaceful island sanctuary, I found relief, joy, introspection, and resolve. Children’s joyous voices that carried above and around the hedges and well-planned plantings of this lovely arboretum broke my spell.

Their mother asked for directions to the giant slide. I pointed them to the children’s forest where I thought it might be, and off they went. I wondered why they weren’t in school. Then it hit me. School’s out for the summer.

I silently laughed at my silliness. It was the time of year I had simultaneously loved and loathed. As a public school educator for three decades, my two favorite workdays were the first and last ones of each academic year.

Wonder, surprises, heartache, celebration and meaningful interactions filled the days in between. All that changed once school dismissed for the summer. In a matter of days, I missed the students.

That, too, changed with the transition into a second career in marketing and writing. Funny how it was so easy to forget the ebb and flow of the once all too familiar educational rhythm.

As the mother and her clutch left, I returned to my leisurely stroll among the various gardens graced with stone and steel artworks. The many transitions of life that this season brings arose all around.

I took another seat in the garden above a hillside amphitheater used for lectures, weddings, and meditation. An unsuspecting chipmunk scampered across my foot, then realizing its mistake, hightailed it for cover, chattering all the way.

Catbirds practiced their best imitations, competing with a distant mockingbird. Honeybees worked the fragrances. Black and tiger swallowtail butterflies fluttered from blossom to blossom, having only recently transitioned from pupa to fresh, crisp, winged beauties.

Like a herd of runaway soap bubbles, dozens of fluffy white puffball seeds floated by me. A gentle northwest breeze freed them from their mother cottonwood according to plan. This spontaneous event, too, symbolized an annual, natural transition from growth to evolutionary distribution.

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Across the ravine, giant wooden statues carved by a tornado’s impact still stood as witnesses to nature’s contradictory might and resilience. In a matter of moments, the storm’s fury bent and broke the once massive trees like number two pencils.

Suddenly a yellow-green something flashed across my gaze. I chased the bird with my binoculars, uncertain about its species. I was thankful the bird lured me into the ravine.

A soaking wet blue jay sat high in an old snag for the longest time preening, uncharacteristically silent, drying baby blue feathers in the afternoon sun. Had it refreshed itself in the lily pond where I first sat?

A robin perched on a much lower branch also absorbed the golden warmth. Again the yellow-green flash appeared. An orchard oriole had revealed its concealed, woven nest near the top of a young horse chestnut tree.

Just then my ears caught multiple contented screeches. Without investigating, I knew the children had found the long, hillside slide.

Their summer of fun had begun, and so had mine.

hillside slide
Summer slide.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Spontaneity spices up the day

annieyoderbybrucestambaugh
Annie Yoder.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’m a sucker for spontaneous moments. You know the kind.

You are waiting in line to check out at the grocery, shopping in a busy department store, or changing a flat tire on a lonely gravel road, and all of a sudden some little thing happens to take the steam right out of your angst.

A person you tried to reach via voice mail or email taps you on the shoulder, and says, “I’m so glad to see you. I forgot to get back to you.” And the muddle gets smoothed.

Or perhaps you are at a gathering where there are hundreds of people, and suddenly you find yourself next to a person you haven’t seen for decades. If you’re my age, there’s a lot of catching up to do.

gazebobybrucestambaugh
The gazebo on the square that served as Annie’s stage.
Of course, I bring this up because I recently experienced such a spontaneous happening. After a brief early Saturday appointment, I headed to the weekly farmers’ market held on the square of Wooster. I wasn’t planning on buying anything, but I did.

I really went there for two reasons. I needed to kill two hours before taking my vehicle in for an overdue oil change. I also wanted to hear a friend of mine sing.

Annie had been called on to provide the background ambiance for this in-season outdoor event. I have heard Annie sing at other more conducive venues where the acoustics would enhance her naturally beautiful voice and excellent instrumentation.

Even though benches were available, no one was seated simply to listen to Annie’s pleasing, marvelous offerings. Instead, the small gathering milled around checking out the locally grown and baked items of the various vendors who had set up in a small parking lot.

I decided to join them, which is when I purchased my locally grown plums and homemade granola. But the alluring sounds lifting from the small gazebo assigned as Annie’s stage soon drew me there.

allsmilesbybrucestambaugh
Annie is all smiles when she sings and plays.
Despite the fact she had to compete with noisy passing traffic, dogs barking and occasional sirens blaring, I wasn’t at all surprised by Annie’s fine performance. She focused on her musical efforts, and she had my full attention.

I love music though I’m no singer or musician. I admire people who can sing and play, especially if they have written their own songs. Plus, I have known Annie since she was born, and watched with much admiration how she and her music matured.

Shortly after I sat down on the bench, a few others who also knew Annie joined me. Among them was a young man I had known casually, and whom I thought was living in Texas. I lost track of him after that.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that this young man and his lovely wife had returned to Ohio, found employment, and were reconnecting with their local roots. I haven’t spoken with his parents, who I have known a long time. But they must be thrilled.

The young man and I talked and talked, while Annie sang on. In addition to enjoying Annie’s inspiring entertainment, I got to reunite with an old new friend. Annie’s performance served a perfect backdrop to our animated catching up.

The concert ended. I said my goodbyes and arrived at the garage uplifted in ways I would have never imagined when my day began hours earlier. Even the unwanted news about the costly vehicle repairs couldn’t dent the serendipitous joy I encountered on that city square.

waynecountycourthousebybrucestambaugh
The Wayne Co. Courthouse looms large on the square of Wooster, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

Rejuvenated in a familiar and changed place

Flowering shrubs by Bruce Stambaugh
By Bruce Stambaugh

I hadn’t been to Secrest Arboretum in Wooster, Ohio since a tornado literally blew it apart September 16, 2010. In the midst of our recent summer-like weather, I decided it was time to reconnect.

Woodlots by Bruce StambaughLike so many others, I always had found the arboretum to be a place of blissful escape and rejuvenation. Its lovely woodlots, pristine gardens and peaceful settings have long served as a place of inspiration and retreat for many.

I knew why it had taken me so long to return to this little paradise. I didn’t want to relive those ugly memories, so opposite of what Secrest was meant to be.

Just an hour after the tornado hit late that summer evening, I had maneuvered in and around the devastation of the Ohio Agriculture and Research Development Center campus, where the arboretum is located. As a volunteer severe weather spotter, the Cleveland office of the National Weather Service had sent me there to photograph the damage as best I could.

I only had about a half an hour before sunset. Rescue crews were still combing buildings for possible victims who may have stayed late for work or study. Sporadic jerky flashes from searchlights sent eerie light beams through holes of broken buildings.

Focusing on my duty, I snapped as many pictures in the dim light as I could. That purposeful concentration was the only thing that stilled my emotions.

OARDC tornado damage by Bruce Stambaugh
Tornado damage near the Barnhardt Rice House on the Ohio Agricultural and Research Development Center in Wooster, Ohio on the evening of Sept. 16, 2010.

Historic buildings were ripped apart. Vehicles had been smashed and tossed like toys. Giant, beloved trees were snapped, toppled and twisted. It was overwhelming to see this peaceful place resemble a war zone.

It was nearly dark by the time I had circled back to the famous and popular gardens. Trees that had stood as sentinels over the flora and fauna had been sheared off or completely twisted out of the ground.

I thought of the many good times past when we toured the gardens with family and friends, admiring the marvelous variety of plants, flowers and trees. Those memories made it all so heart wrenching.

Like thousands of others, researchers and visitors alike, I loved the place. The EF2 tornado stole that, too. I knew that restoration had begun almost immediately. But I wondered if Secrest would ever be the same.

Flowers and stump by Bruce StambaughBuoyed by the unusually warm weather, I laid aside my fears and drove in. As soon as I exited my vehicle, familiar sights and sounds were instantaneous. Young trees had been planted, some adjacent to the sawed-off stumps, testimonial tombstones to those once towering trees.

Exotic tulips by Bruce StambaughThe early onslaught of warm weather had coaxed the blossoming of many flowers and flowering trees. Crocuses, daffodils, hydrangea, forsythia, magnolia and even an exotic tulip were all blooming, some well ahead of schedule. Workers were busy trimming out last year’s dead growth while construction crews continued to repair, replace and expand the lovely gardens.

ricehousebybrucestambaugh
The Barnhardt Rice House is repaired and back in use.
It was a pleasure to walk the paved pathways to explore the remake. I wasn’t the only one to notice the fragrant flowers. Huge bumblebees and honeybees gorged on the nectar of the new blossoms. Mocking birds flushed from one bush to the next, staking out nesting preferences.

It was also nice to see some of the campus building restored, refurbished and back in use. Others, however, remained much as the tornado had left them.

Damaged silos by Bruce Stambaugh
Silos on the OARDC campus stand as they were after being hit by a tornado Sept. 16, 2010.

The restoration of Secrest Arboretum is a work in progress to be sure. In some sections, tornado twisted and toppled trees remain within eyeshot of the ongoing transformations.

The contrasts of nature’s stark fury and inspiring revival filled my soul. In the midst of this resurrection season, Secrest and I were both healing.

Restored and damaged by Bruce Stambaugh
While many areas of the arboretum have been restored, sections of large trees downed by the tornado remain.

A big day filled with colorful people and events

Sunrise on 201 by Bruce Stambaugh
Sunrise on CR 201.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Avid birders love to do Big Days. Big Days are when a group of dedicated birders sets a goal of seeing as many bird species as possible in a span of 24 hours.

I had a big day recently, too. My big day was a kaleidoscope of activities, some bright and cheery, others light and muted, and a few dark and fearsome. Knowing that this day’s lively landscape would also be an emotional roller coaster, my faithful wife held my hand all along the adventuresome path.

My shifting pattern of colors didn’t involve any feathers, however. Rather, the palette I experienced involved people and their comparative connectedness to me.

After breakfast, my wife and I headed into Berlin, Ohio considered by default the center of the largest Amish population in the world. I surprised Neva with a brief stop at the local coffee shop for mochas. She got decaf, but I needed some caffeine to get me through the day’s busy agenda.

Slurping our coffee, we headed up the stairs to our financial advisor. He wanted us to make some tweaks in some of our monetary investments. But you can only do so much with a $1.95.

From Ohio’s Amish Country, we were off to my hometown, Canton, to see my urologist for a consultation. The previous week I had had a biopsy for prostate cancer. This meeting alone would have qualified as it’s own big day.

But being the thrifty couple that we are, we packed the day with a purposeful assortment of activities and conversations. My good doctor got right to the point. He spent more than an hour with us, mostly reviewing the several choices for treating my cancer.

While the kindly doctor clearly itemized the wide range of options and their side effects for me, Neva furiously took notes. All the while my head swam. We set a follow-up date for deciding which procedure would be best for me, and we were off to our next encounter.

The timing couldn’t have been better. Neva and I each got a one-hour massage. I could actually feel the tension ooze out of my body, and my mind stopped racing about what I had just heard and anticipating what was to come for me.

I had a brief but important business appointment just down the road. With my mind clearer, the meeting went well.

From there, we delivered some furniture we no longer needed to one of Neva’s cousins, who lived just a few miles away. We made our delivery, visited a little and were off to our next rendezvous, dinner with my older brother and his wife.

The date with Craig and Shirley was well-timed, too. A year and a half earlier, Craig had had prostate surgery similar to what my doctor recommended for me. Over absolutely marvelous entrees, we casually discussed my brother’s procedure and other various maladies that seem to be dominating baby boomer lives more and more.

We skipped dessert, and walked a few hundred steps to our son and daughter-in-law’s lovely New York style loft on the square of Wooster, Ohio of all places. Craig and Shirley, whose youngest daughter lives in New York City, were mightily impressed with the stylish apartment and its accompanying minimalist furnishings.

On the 20-minute drive home, the color wheel of events of my big day flashed before me. So did the fear and uncertainty of what lies ahead. But given the loving and colorful characters who surround me, I know all will be well no matter what.

Foggy sunrise by Bruce Stambaugh
Life can be a little tangled and foggy sometimes, but the sun still shines.

Tornadoes hit Ohio’s Amish country again

Secrest Garden by Bruce Stambaugh
The entrance to the Secrest Garden and Arboretum after the tornado.

By Bruce Stambaugh

For the second time this summer, tornadoes caused significant damage in Ohio’s Amish country.

Shortly before 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 16 a powerful tornado touched down on the south edge of Wooster, Ohio along Prairie Lane. The tornado, which the National Weather Service rated an EF2, proceeded east destroying businesses and homes, and crossed Madison Ave. onto the campus of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, a division of The Ohio State University.

The tornado caused extensive damage to campus buildings, including some historical homes used as offices. It also destroyed the machine shop and heavily damaged parts of Secrest Garden and Arboretum, where many people love to walk and relax among the roses, ornamental shrubs and old age trees. The tornado clipped off dozens of the huge trees 20 to 30 feet above the ground.

The Wooster Twp. Fire chief reported that only one person was slightly injured. But she refused transport to the hospital.

The tornado continued on an east northeast path destroying and damaging several other homes and farm buildings. It did considerable damage to the Riceland Golf Course on U.S. 30 south of Orrville. Altogether, the NWS reported that the tornado was on the ground for 12 miles and reached wind speeds of 130 m.p.h. It left a path of destruction 200 yards wide.

Around 6 p.m., an EF1 tornado hit near the rural town of Farmerstown, Ohio in Holmes County about 25 miles south of Wooster. Several homes and barns were destroyed or damaged there. But again, no one was injured, although some farm animals had to be put down. The tornado was on the ground for three miles and reached a maximum speed of 100 m.p.h. It ranged from 50 to 75 yards wide.

As a Skywarn severe weather spotter for north central Holmes County, the Cleveland office of the National Weather Service asked me to photograph the damage at the OARDC. This was prior to knowing of the tornado in Holmes County. No tornado warning was issued for Holmes County.

I arrived at the OARDC shortly before 7 p.m., which left me a little more than a half an hour to take pictures before dark. I shot as many pictures as I could, but due to darkness, was unable to make it entirely around the campus. As I walked back to my car, parked in the arboretum a half mile east of the damaged OARDC buildings, I cut through open fields. I found several places where debris had hit the ground, leaving large gouges in the fields and grass.

The first tornado of the summer hit Holmes County and continued into Tuscarawas County on June 5. The EF1 and EF2 tornado caused extensive damage along its 10 mile path.

A gallery of some of my shots at the OARDC is shown below. Information about the Farmerstown tornado can be found here: http://www.holmescountyjournal.com/.

brick house by Bruce Stambaugh
Trees were snapped and the old Rice House heavily damaged at the OARDC in Wooster, Ohio.
damaged OARDC building by Bruce Stambaugh
One of the many OARDC buildings destroyed by the tornado
View of damaged OARDC building by Bruce Stambaugh
Another view of the building shown above.
Debris and stripped trees at the OARDC by Bruce Stambaugh
Debris and stripped trees at the OARDC.
Large trees down by Bruce Stambaugh
The tornado toppled large trees on the OARDC campus.
The OARDC's machine shop was heavily damaged by the tornado.
The OARDC's machine shop was heavily damaged by the tornado.
Machine shop destroyed by Bruce Stambaugh
Following the tornado's path to the machine shop at the OARDC.
Damage at the OARDC by Bruce Stambaugh
Damaged farm equipment and trees at the OARDC.
More damage around the machine shop by Bruce Stambaugh
More damage around the machine shop at the OARDC.
Another destroyed building at the OARDC by Bruce Stambaugh
Another destroyed building at the OARDC.
Destroyed machine shop by Bruce Stambaugh
The destroyed machine shop at the OARDC.
Debris littered the OARDC campus by Bruce Stambaugh
Debris from the tornado littered the OARDC campus.
OARDC police station by Bruce Stambaugh
Damage was extensive at the building that housed the campus police station.
The agricultural engineer building by Bruce Stambaugh
The agricultural engineering building was destroyed.
Rose garden by Bruce Stambaugh
The OARDC rose garden was heavily damaged.