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Wednesday, September 21, 2011


This might have fit into my travel blog Waverly to Tahoe, but I had more to say than just "what a great place."  
Around here, if you drive north and get off the Dover, Ohio exit of I-77 and turn toward Surgercreek, Ohio, you are going to "Amish Country."
For many people that means good food and shopping.  It is a place of cute nick-nacks and wine tasting. 
It is a place where you can watch cheese being made, a place to become Swiss at the "swish" of a shutter.
But, for me it is much more than that.  Sure, I have been known to take part in the kitschiness and the good food is very high on my list of priorities but I go because of the people.
This is a chance to imagine a different type of world - to actually see that world.
Many of us like to think that in Amish Country we are looking back to how our country was a couple hundred years ago but that isn't true.  The present-day Amish Mennonite are descended from a group of Swiss and Germans that came to our country to practice their religion without the fear of being jailed, burned or otherwise killed. They don't change their customs quickly or without strong consideration, but they have changed.  Today's Amish use many modern conveniences where they have deemed the modern better than the old-fashioned.  (Notice the plastic lunch buckets a couple photos above and the metal farm buildings, below.) 

Likewise, they have kept the original when it is deemed better.   
 The idea of a group identity was and still is very strong.  Individualism isn't as important in their customs as it is in present-day American culture.  
People are still encouraged to develop their personal skills and gifts, to have dreams, to be creative but the stress is more on the good of the community and honoring God, the Creator, rather than on promoting one's self above others. 
Naturally, no idea holds one hundred percent true in the Amish culture just as in our more "advanced, self-promoting, "me, first" culture.
It is important for the Amish not to "show-off."  That is why they don't pose for photographs.  It is a myth that they think the camera will "steal their soul."  Posing for a photograph is more of a statement of "look at me" that is not acceptable for an Amish. Hopefully, the horses don't feel the same way. 
It has been explained to me by an Amish friend that they understand that what they do is a curiosity and that photographs are a way to document a different way of life that is interesting to the photographer.  This is why I try to photograph people from a distance or a back view. I don't want to make someone unnecessarily uncomfortable.  In the few cases where I have caught a face in these photographs, I have blurred the image so that the face in unrecognizable. 
The Amish I have met are friendly, hospitable and quick with a smile and a wave. 
I know Old Order Amish who read  more newspapers than I do, and have traveled all over, hunting, white-water canoeing,  or floating down the Elk River in West Virginia, fishing and enjoying the scenery.
They don't own cars, not because cars, themselves are bad; it is just that owning a car is unnecessary if there another way to travel. Owning a car can bring about competition in ownership and can hurt the cohesiveness of a family. It is hard to come up with a good argument against that.  
Most have no problem hiring a car and a driver when needed.
We, who have mostly given in to modern culture, complain that we must let our children watch certain television shows because everyone is watching them and how can you say "no" when "it" is everywhere?  

We sometimes forget that we are the parents and we can say "no" to  bad television, unintelligent piercings and whatever else seems like a bad idea but is hard not to allow because others are doing it.

I am not saying that the Amish way is better or worse, only that it provides an opportunity for us to see that we don't always have to follow the crowd.  
It is much easier for Amish people who live close to other Amish families and businesses in order to support each other and their chosen life style but Amish families make it who don't have such support.  
An Amish family near Hinton, West Virginia runs a bakery far out in the country and mix frequently with the local non-Amish farmers who are their neighbors yet they maintain their way of life. 
In the Sugarcreek area of Ohio, Amish Mennonite and others intermingle and coexist in a healthy, mutually productive way.  Their way of life is a good example to us all about making choices in our lives and living according to principles we think are important.
After all it is the people who matter, not the vehicles they drive or the way they dress.  It is people who are different from each other who make our communities interesting.  We learn from each other, using what fits us and our own principles while seeking to understand the principles and customs that others have chosen for themselves.  


Sandra said...

these are amazing each and every one, i love The End shot. and he black and white of the horses, and the horse/buggy in front of the sport store. i love all of these.

Out on the prairie said...

I enjoy the buggies and wish I could manage as well as they do living simple.I have a lot of Amish around me.Very nice post.

Karen said...

I enjoyed this post so much. We have a few Amish communities here in Wisconsin, too, and it is always comforting for me to see them. They are a constant in an ever-changing world. How they manage to maintain their beliefs in this day and age is a testament to their conviction and devotion to God. I always worry for them when they are traveling down a busy road with their buggies, so many crazy drivers out there just don't give them any room. Lovely, lovely photographs.

Robin R Robinson said...

Great pic series. And, I love your 'Tirolean' babe shot! Very funny.

Beyond My Garden said...

rebecca said...
I grew up in Ohio's Amish country, a couple counties over from this. Thanks for the memories.
September 21, 2011 11:24 AM

(Somehow my blog was duplicated this comment was on the duplicate. Sorry)

NCmountainwoman said...

We lived for three years in southern Indiana. Many a day I spent riding through the Amish communities nearby.

Andrea said...

I am glad i clicked your link in someone's blogsite. This is a wonderful documentary collection. Do you think they own tv sets or other modern amenities inside their homes? Are their children going to the same school as your children, and are they eating or shopping in modern establishments too! Amazing how they can preserve their selfleshness! Thanks for the information.

Patrick's Garden said...

What a simple and beautiful post. We live near a Mennonite community which is very similar. They're an inspiration in terms of the depth of their faith and if our minds are open, they're teaching us to simplify our lives.