Clickity clackity...SQUEAK! Clickity clackity...SQUEAK!
Squinting into the setting sun, I watched my Amish friends pick up hay in the meadow. It was quite a show. The huge tag-a-long conveyor machine trailed behind the hay wagon, picking up the fluffy lines of hay and dropped them onto the flatbed of the wagon. Dan Yoder stood at the back of the bed, forking hay as fast as he could towards the front. His many daughters surrounded him, the oldest driving the massive matched team of powerful Shire horses from the high top of the front, while the other girls worked to tuck wayward and escaping hay back into place. Dan's young son Moses scampered nearby on the ground with the family dog, tossing wads of fallen hay back onto the wagon.
The Yoders are our neighbors, and for the time being, cut and bale our hay for their organic dairy herd. We don't have haying equipment yet, and hate to see good hay go to waste. In return, the Yoders trade what they have, and cull off 30-or-so bales of hay for our various needs.
If nothing else, the Amish are expert asset hunters. Those who live in my area are nothing less than masters of the art of the deal. Also known as Anabaptists, the Amish shun modern technology like cars and electricity. They prefer a simple, rural, agrarian life, and tend to stay within their own community, at times suspicious of the outside "English". The origins of the faith stem from Switzerland, and surrounding northern European regions. A Christian religion at it's roots, followers of founder Jakob Ammann's break from the European church are copious in diversity and range of adherence to the tenets of the theology. The Yoders are what I call "primitive Amish".
Sounds redundant, doesn't it?
Perhaps, until you've lived among them long enough to cipher the differences between various family groups and clusters within the umbrella of the religion. For instance, a community of Amish on one side of our valley drive shiny grey enclosed buggies, complete with flashing lights, hazard reflectors, and small windows. The people inside are generally clean and pressed, with shoes on, and clothes fastened by plain, utilitarian buttons. Their carriage horses are sleek and glossy, with nice conformation, who step beautifully along area roads. In contrast, the Yoders and other families who live near our farm drive open wagons and surry-style carriages, with just a small strip of reflecting tape along the backboard of the vehicle to warn drivers of their presence. Only once have I encountered the Yoders after dark, and it very nearly cost someone their life. For even in the pitch dark of a November night, the only warning light displayed was a dingy lantern dangling over the side. It took a year off my life, I assure you.
The Yoder's horses are multi-purpose beasts, shaggy as mountain deer in winter. They're healthy, but by no means showy. They don't just pull buggies, but wagons, plows, mowers and tedders. Only the Shire horses are reserved from this kind of menial work. Their job is to pull, and pull hard. The Yoders themselves are a gregarious, cheerful bunch, who wave enthusiastically at everyone driving by. They aren't, however, the cleanest people, and tend to wear the same thing every day. The children go barefoot from Melt season to first snowfall, only wearing pull-on choreboots during the cold season. I'm not sure any of them owns any socks. I've never even seen any hanging on the clothesline. Suffice to say, these people are tough. Instead of buttons, they fasten their clothes with straight pins. The girls wear black sun bonnets tightly tied under their sturdy chins, or heavy dark kerchiefs, and the men's only nod to the season is a straw hat in summer, or a black felt hat in winter.
"Nah!" She scoffed. "Vee ahr made vor vork!"
I guess she told me. I still remember that conversation, standing in the dooryard of their farmhouse. She was holding two butchered chickens at the time, her cornsilk blond hair almost hidden by her black bonnet. The head gear couldn't cover her crystal clear blue eyes or her perfectly stunning face, however. In an era where pretty people head to Hollywood to make a fortune from their genetic lottery winnings, this girl was standing barefoot in the mud, with blood and dead animals hanging from one hand, shoeing flies away with the other. As a photographer, I ached to take her picture, and tell more of her story, but it'll never happen unless she leaves the community. Our primitive Amish do not like to have their picture taken. I can't imagine how horrified the Yoders might be if they knew I was writing about them for a public audience. (In truth, that gave me pause as I prepared this post.) As I read more about the faith, I found countless pictures of other American Amish groups on the Internet- even photographic family portraits and a television show about one group in Pennsylvania. I was shocked. It drove home the reality of how basic a life our neighbors really live.
In many ways, I envy the Amish, secure in their cloistered environment, insulated against the immediate knowledge of another soul's misery and despair. Their world is made up only of what they see and touch at the very moment contact is made. There are no screens, keyboards, satellites or electrical gadgets involved. Only the work of their hands keeps them alive. Their heartbreak and sadness comes not from 8,000 miles away, but from within their own community or homes, where they may be able to help in some real, tangible way.
To me, that's worth every minute of effort.