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A Summertime Musing from Amish Country

How Will We Thrive After the Oil Runs Out?

Brown eggs for sale.  Black raspberries.  Hand woven veneer baskets. Homespun flowers. Maple syrup.  These signs pop up like mushrooms in a thick northern woods after a rain, along the side of the country road that I travel by bicycle.  I am in Amish country, in the place of my childhood.  Wayne County, Ohio.  The farms in this neck of the woods contain neat and tidy white houses, with equally white barns and acres and acres of oats, barley, corn and alfalfa stretching in all directions. Roan colored chickens range freely in green pastures, alongside cows, sheep and horses.  Mudwashed pigs muck about in swampy creekbeds.

Photo by Franco FoliniA traditional Amish horse-drawn carriage.

As a Mennonite in urban exile, I have a long distance love relationship with these neat and tidy farms and the simple lifestyles of my people who built these places.  I notice that they are beginning to creep closer and closer into town these days.  The land is being subdivided among Amish families, succeeding generations dividing themselves into multiple family units on the original acreage.  Once upon a time, when I lived here, over 30 years ago, their land was spacious and their farmsteads miles apart.  Today, with land at a premium price, and many mouths to feed, the Amish are finding diverse and varied ways of making a living.  Thus, the signs advertising all types of goods and services, jump out at me along the underbrush at the ends of their properties.

I imagine that farming as a way of life will vanish here, simply because the land is disappearing. As the soil and woodlands are increasingly domesticated and harnessed for expanding populations, I can’t quite imagine this place in 20 years.  Though Amish do not depend upon a petroleum based lifestyle, they still need land to divide among their many children.  And those parcels are getting mighty small. 

Nevertheless, the Amish will still have their little plot of land. They can grow their own food.

 I’m more concerned these days with us “English” in the city.   We live in the midst of what David Korten calls “The Great Turning”.  For those who have ears to hear, we must move from an industrial based model of life to a community based lifestyle, which respects and includes the voiceless needs of the many and varied diversity of the whole biotic community — from amoeba and krill shrimp to butterflies, predators and human beings.

Without the promise of a limitless flow of petrol and no land whatsoever, urban areas are not prepared for what may be required to sustain a population.  The Amish of the future will at least have this memory buried somewhere in their bones. 

My livelihood is currently hooked up to things that are hopelessly impractical in a petroleum-diminished future.  All day long, I send out words into cyberspace.  I manage schedules and deadlines, projects, and people.  I write. I preach.  I counsel.  I don’t make warm quilts, put up peaches or raise honeybees.  I don’t build things.  Bicycles are nice for a leisure ride, but impractical for jobs five miles away on a rainy day.  For 25-plus years I have lived a life far away from the natural world. Though I have thrived in metropolitan centers, with café’s and yoga studios, movie theatres and dance performances, I have a memory of roots in a non-human community. 

It is time to hear other creaturely purposes and meanings.  Time to listen to another wisdom and design hidden in the natural world.  We are destroying our only home and all that has the ability to remain stable and anchor us in these trying times — backyard birds returning in the spring, tadpoles growing fat as the streams swell, nests filled with gossipy baby birds, the sun and moon and stars rising and falling, day after day.    All that has fed us also offers us a haven from our artificial lives.  Yet, we continue to burn down, use up, pollute, pave over, build bigger and bigger mansions to house our insecurity and feed our greedy egos. 

So, in the midst of summer, during the richest season of the year, let us offer ourselves to a thicker legacy of hope.  The earth and all her creatures.  As a sweet sacrifice, may we burn mislaid desires for stuff that doesn’t satisfy, and instead, open our hands and our whole bodies to the holy rhythm of earth.  Slow your own anxious rhythms and trade in your distracted way of being.  Become wedded to that which can sustain. 

A.F. Amstutz, a native of Northeast Ohio, currently lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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