Autumn in Amish Country

This past weekend was another trip – this time to Ohio for a postponed wedding reception. But first we spent a day in what is affectionately called, Amish Country. The Amish and Mennonite communities reside in several Ohio counties, but the largest populations are in Holmes County, and that’s where we stayed. What is the draw to visit the area? So very much and for me, maybe a little bit more.

The first thing is the scenery, especially in the fall. Even if there was little interest in the Amish themselves, the rolling hills and the trees changing colors would be enough. The Amish and Mennonites are known for their beautiful quilts, and seeing the pastures and fields as quilt squares is typical. Something I noticed this trip that I’d not paid attention to before is how the plowing looks like stitching. The serenity of these hills and fields, and the uncluttered skies soothes the soul. During one of my last visits home when Dad was still alive, we spent a day in Amish Country. It was about this time of year, maybe a week or so later, because the trees were ablaze with color.

This weekend I woke early and stood on the balcony of our hotel and was immediately taken by the sound of birds chirping their wake-up calls . . . and the scent of horse manure. Some people may not care for that particular aroma, but I don’t mind it. It was a brisk 45 degrees and between the temperature and the manure, I was fully awake in no time.

The second draw is all the Amish-made items and produce. People come from all over, literally by the busloads, to shop the quilt and fabric stores, the furniture markets, and the bakeries. The quality of the goods is unsurpassed and I don’t think the Amish can make anything but comfort food. The beef in the beef vegetable soup is tender and falls apart in the corn and beans that you know come from one of the gardens, not a can. The noodles, potatoes, stuffing – all those starchy carbs that maybe aren’t the healthiest but are delicious and filling. The fruit pies and homemade ice cream have just enough sweetness to offset the heavier foods. We looked for shoo-fly pie (we had a slice last week in Gettysburg and really liked it) but learned it’s a Pennsylvania Amish thing, and even there made mostly for the tourists!

My friend Linda makes the special trip for plants. All that cow and horse manure does wonders for the vegetation. The pastures are lush, and the flowers are huge and bright. A simple life and monochromatic dress doesn’t mean the Amish and Mennonites don’t have an appreciation for natural beauty or a flair and eye for color. It shows in their quilts but also in their gardens. Some of the flower beds were designed like quilt blocks. Linda’s flower beds are filled with plants from her trips to Amish Country and they’re always beautiful.

One of my favorite places to shop is Lehman’s Hardware in Kidron and we made a special trip there for one particular item – more about that in a moment – but we were distracted by a carving exhibit as soon as we walked in the door. Paul Weaver is a local Amish and a furniture-maker by trade, but a wood carver by God-given talent. Here are a couple pieces he has on display.

Each carving is done from a laminated block of butternut wood, and only in rare cases is a piece glued in, 99% of the carving is done as part of the solid block. (There are no glued-in pieces in either of these carvings.) I found this video – yes, most Amish are not permitted to be videotaped, but Weaver explains that. The video is well-worth watching as you can see the carvings in greater detail and they are unbelievable. And for me it’s always interesting to hear an artist talk about his or her work.

Paul Weaver, woodcarver of Lehman’s Hardware.

As we drove from one community to the next, we talked about how much land each family had to have in order to sustain the livestock, the gardens, etc. We were in awe of the wealth of knowledge each person held in gardening, food preserving, farming, and animal husbandry, and how that knowledge is passed down and added to through the generations. We passed a field where a young man was plowing with horses, and on the back of the plow was his son who looked to be about 7 or 8 years-old. The family closeness that develops from such a young age of working the land together has to be a strong bond.

And that’s that extra draw for me. It’s the simple life the Amish lead. It’s not a curiosity about it, it’s a longing to live that lifestyle. I’m not naïve enough to think simple is the same as easy. I know it’s a physically hard life. But it’s that very strong connection to the earth, to creation, to the internal clock that’s connected to the earth clock of rising at sun-up and bedding down at sundown that appeals.

This is the item I wanted and why we made the special trip to Lehman’s Hardware. In addition to my raised beds, I have a garden plot that’s part of my garden of weedin’. This lovely tool will turn over that plot easier than a shovel, and I bought an extra weeding attachment to help tidy up the rest of that area. I do what I can to inch toward that simpler life, but Hubby pointed out I could never be Amish. He reminded me the women tend to wear ankle-length dresses, even while gardening, so I’d have to give up my bib overalls. Sigh – that is a deal-breaker. So I’ll strive to live my life as simply as I can where I am, and visit Amish Country as often as I can to renew my soul.

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