In search of a sunset, I found serenity, too




An unexpected long distance connection dazzles the writer more than this sunset. Photo provided.

I drove away from Harrisonburg, Va., to get a country view of a Shenandoah sunset. I came away with so much more than picturesque photos.

As a frequent visitor from Ohio, I had taken several sunset shots near our daughter’s home. I wanted a different backdrop. I decided to head for a friend’s childhood home.
I drove a few miles south and west of this growing city that is rapidly sprawling far beyond it’s historic downtown. My friend, Ava, had moved to Ohio last year. She said she remembered people stopping to take pictures of the views opposite her home.

Ava had given me perfect directions to her home place west of Dayton. I found it well before sundown, which gave me time to check out the area, and take a few photos first.

Ava was right. The panorama alone was stunning. This high spot on a gently rolling ridge opened up nicely to the west. The sun glowed above the Alleghenies miles away.

I sent her a text with a photo of the evening’s western landscape. Ava’s reply caught me by surprise. Despite all the years she had lived there, Ava didn’t have a sunset photo from that perspective. Her family’s religion forbade owning a camera.

In her words, Ava said it was a precious vista that hemmed the western range of her formative years. It was the scene she saw as she walked to the school bus, got the mail and drove the buggy to church. The foothills, valleys and blue mountains served as a geographic security blanket for her.

I had gone in search of a friend’s homestead and a different view of the sunset. I succeeded on both counts. But that’s not what made the evening extraordinary.

Ava profusely thanked me for the photos that brought back so many poignant memories. Capturing and sharing that setting generated a heartwarming story that dearly warmed me far more than the fiery sunset.

Tractors whizzed in and out the long lane of the family farm. Wagonload after wagonload of chicken manure got spread on the sloping fields while the sun blazed away behind the distant foothills and aged mountains.

My senses became conflicted. What I saw thrilled me. What I smelled I just endured until dark!

As I was about to leave, a young man on one of the tractors stopped on his return trip to the barn. A young boy and younger girl flanked the ruddy driver. The farmer wanted to know if I was taking the photos for my own use.

I nodded in the affirmative. He seemed startled when I asked him if this was the old Shank place. He confirmed what I already knew.

We chatted some more, and I told him that I knew Ava. Likely cautious of a stranger, he just smiled broadly and nodded in return without saying that Ava was his aunt. She told me that later. Ava was as thrilled that I had met one of her kin as she was with the photos I had sent.

I had gone in search of a friend’s homestead and a different view of the sunset. I succeeded on both counts. But that’s not what made the evening extraordinary.

Every sunset is different of course. By making these unexpected, long distant connections between an aunt and her nephew, this sundown dazzled me with more than shimmering scarlet, fuchsia and orange rays.

This serendipitous interaction brought me a personal, soothing satisfaction. It was a moving encounter no camera could ever capture.

Below the gorgeous sunset, I watched the cars zip along Ottobine Road, likely heading home from another day’s work. I had to wonder if the drivers enjoyed this brief moment of serenity, too. Did they realize the marvelous setting? Or was it just the end of another day at work or school?

I gave them the benefit of the doubt and hoped they embraced this blissful, beautiful quietude they call home.

BRUCE STAMBAUGH is a retired educator who frequently visits the Shenandoah Valley. He is a freelance writer and writes a column for a weekly newspaper in Millersburg, Ohio, where he lives with his wife, Neva. He blogs and shares photos at


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