Amish Country Journal

Reports and musings from Indiantree Farm, in Holmes County, Ohio -- the largest Amish community in the world. See more about author Larry D. Miller and Amish Country at

Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Door Opens, A Door Crashes

          I think I may be developing dooroplexia, a fear of fragile doors (I just made that up.)
          It all started about four years ago when I forgot the cap door at the rear of my pickup was open and I backed into the garage – literally.
          Smashed that sucker good.  Tempered glass burst forth like sparks from a Fourth of July aerial bomb.
          After no small measure of hammering, prying, bending and painting, I got the thing looking like new.  Cut and fit a piece of Plexiglas to replace the heavy tempered glass and voila!  The door (now about five pounds lighter) opened and closed easier than before.
          Fast forward to last week when another wave of brain fade saw me backing the truck into the barn – while the cap door was in the "up" position – and wrecking it yet again.
          This time not only was the Plexiglas broken, but the door frame was pretzled and fully broken in one spot.
          Looked too tough to repair and thus began the hunt for a new door.
          Oops, an internet search shows the door manufacturer went out of business about 10 years ago.  In fact, the cap manufacturer also shuttered the factory doors about three years ago.
          A little (make that a LOT) of detective work finally led me to a company in Elkhart, Ind., which had purchased all remaining inventory from the door company.
          Well, they THOUGHT they might have a copy, based on the height, width and rough angle of the door cutout in the fiberglass cap itself (ok, I'm no wizard with angles and all I had was a plastic compass from sixth grade.) 
          Yes, we really had plastic that long ago.  Actually, it was called Bakelite.
          Anyway, I could order the door and pay $300 and they would ship it.  If it didn't fit . . . too bad, it was mine forever.
          Or . . . I could drive to Elkhart (five hours each way) and save $130 in shipping plus if it didn't fit, I wouldn't be stuck with it.
          So, after a sleepless night of weighing the alternatives and visualizing impact points and reverse pressure spots, my decision was, "What have I got to lose by trying to fix it?"
          That was followed by a day of hammering, prying, bending and splinting (pieces cut from an old aluminum door jamb were shaped, epoxied and riveted into place.  The frame was painted (flat black camouflages many hammer blows) and fitted with new Plexiglas.
          It fit so well and looked so good, I decided to christen it with a little WD40 to make the gas-filled shocks (that hold the door open) work a bit better.
          Turns out that made them glide so easily they barely hold the door open.  One whiff of a breeze and the door eases shut.
          Oh wait, that may be a good thing!
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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

What Happened?

          So, you're wondering what happened?
          Suddenly, after a spotty hiatus, my blog has sprung back to life.
          Apparently there's a "buzz" out there amongst my blogreaders . . . all two of them and they're wondering where I've been.
          Would you like the "pity party" story about the overworked farmer?
          How about the "shocker" fictional story about the kidnapped oldster forced to perform menial intergalactic spacejunk cleanup for visitors from the planet Zebutar?
          Or the vampires who suck not blood but creativity.
          Maybe you'd like "long story short:" An extended period of laziness interrupted by unexpected guilt trip laid down by son Alan. 
          Sounds pretty accurate.
          OK, I've managed to keep the momentum going for almost three weeks so I'm on a roll.   Keep the cards and letters coming (especially the ones with money) and I'll try to do better.
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Monday, May 27, 2013

A Day For Remembering

          Memorial Day memories:
          - R. E. C. McDougal, head of Orrville City Schools, speaking in the early 1960s to a small crowd at Crown Hill Cemetery.  Veterans in slightly tight uniforms and solemn faces, trying to remember the faces of buddies long gone.  Children playing hide-and-seek among the gravestones.
          - Years of covering the Indy 500.  Hunting offbeat photographs in Gasoline Alley, on pit road and in the infield near turn one.  Watching Tom Sneva flying a race car – inverted and burning – off turn two.  A sudden, midrace cloudburst so abrupt that I got a photo of three race cars at about 100mph in a wild spray of water, but one car was sliding backwards while passing two that were headed in the right direction.
          - A decade of annual trips to Lick Run, West Virginia, just north of Webster Springs.  There we camped on the front lawn of Jake Cutlip, the "Mayor" of Lick Run.  A true mountain man, Jake lived completely off the grid.  Access to his "place" meant a grinding half-hour drive to cover four miles, in part by driving down the Lick Run creek bed itself.  Riding dirt bikes to explore the trails Jake had blazed through the mountain forest.
          - Pondering the cost of this three-day weekend:  Rows of white stones stretching far, too far, across the neatly trimmed grass of Arlington National Cemetery.  "Taps" drifting across the waves of headstones, a sea of lives cut short, an ocean of Americans we didn't get to know well enough.
          - The words of Rodney King: "People, I just want to say, can we all get along?"
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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Motorcycle Crash At The Front Gate

I heard him coming across the valley, then climbing the north side of Indiantree Hill.
          A Harley, straight pipes, loafing along.  I stopped in mid-stroll through our "New Orchard" and watched him approach, bandana fluttering as he hung back on the bars, soaking up the holiday weekend freedom.
          Our Amish neighbors, the Mast family, were walking the opposite direction, facing traffic, which at that moment was a rider unfortunately lost in the moment.
          The next sound was the shriek of asphalt tearing at a tire.  It brought me to full attention and the tire shrieked again as it slid across the neighbor's driveway apron.
          Bike and rider disappeared into the woods with a flat, unemotional "ker-chunk."
          The Mast family hadn't known which way to dart and watched, transfixed.
          Somewhere in the weeds, the bike hooked left, spit the rider off and each flipped a couple times.  Luckily their paths diverged.  It's bad enough being spit off a 700-pound bike.  It's worse if the bike's chasing you as it rolls.
          I dialed 911 as I ran, knowing he would need help.
          Turns out, he's either THE or one of the, luckiest individuals in Amish Country this Memorial Day weekend.  He was motionless for perhaps 45 seconds, then began thrashing, rolling, groaning and muttering to regain his footing.
          Blood streamed down his unhelmeted head and across his face as he grabbed Henry, grabbed a nearby tree branch, grabbed at his bike to stumble to his feet.  It didn't work.
          He absolutely refused to stay down but gravity and his head injuries prevailed the first dozen or so tries.  Paramedics (it was a Sunday, a holiday and they're volunteers) were on scene within 15 minutes and quickly checked him out.
          We found his papers, picked up the broken pieces of the bike, located his cellphone.  He wanted to call Dad. 
          I hope he introduced himself as, "Your son, Mr. Lucky."
          More than half an hour later, the EMS squad members finally talked him into the ambulance.  He popped back out. 
          The ambulance eventually left, only to return in another half hour.  This time he boarded and stayed.
          The Mast family resumed their hike home from church services.  Neighbors and gawkers faded from the scene.  A tow truck operator came by to slowly, thuddingly winch the wreckage from the woods.
          And 50 feet away, the Indian Tree silently continued its vigil over the hillside.
          It was a Memorial Day weekend with a different set of memories.
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Friday, May 24, 2013

Fly-In Guests

          In the past 28 years, thousands of guests have come to Indiantree Farm for a getaway.  Sometimes they stay at our bed & breakfast for a couple of days, occasionally for several weeks.
          But there's one couple that definitely stands out as very different.
          They fly in.
          On their own.
          "They" are a couple of Canada geese who stop by our pond each spring.  They wing in from warm winter climes, spend a short time hanging out around our little pond, then disappear until the following spring.
          There was a period of 8-10 years during which only one goose would come for a visit.
          Since they reportedly mate for life, we surmised that somewhere along their travel route, a sad fate befell the goose, leaving the drake a "widower."
          He stopped in every year, but usually for just a few days.
          This year, everything changed. 
          We have a pair, again.  No one knows when they arrived, but we spotted their heads bobbing along in the tall pasture grass about a week ago.  Then, a couple days later, we discovered more good news.
          They had three goslings in tow.  We spotted them doing a leisurely paddle across the pond and couldn't help but wonder: Is one of them a returning "veteran" who was hatched in our pasture? Did our "widower" decide the mourning period had expired and it was time to look for, "new talent"? Did "newlyweds" spot our pond and the gentle sloping pasture around the Indian Mound and make a calculated decision to stop and raise a family?
          We'll never know the answers to those questions, but they're a delight to watch.
          We fervently hope the feral cat that roams our farm from time to time doesn't find the nest of our "fly-in" guests.
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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Changing The Face Of A Mountain

          My favorite newsletter arrived yesterday, the "Crazy Horse Memorial Progress."
          It's a well-done publication detailing the progress on the world's largest sculpture, an entire mountain being carved as a monument to Native Americans.
          The carving of Thunderhead Mountain in South Dakota, a short distance from Mount Rushmore, was started 65 years ago by sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski, an accomplished artist who honed his large-scale carving skills on the mountain that now wears the faces of four presidents.
          It was my intention, in the mid-70s, to interview Korczak and write a magazine article about his immense project to carve – in the round – the legendary Lakota (Sioux) leader, Crazy Horse, astride his horse.
          I was moved by the sculptor's determination in building rickety stairs up the mountain, then disassembling a bulldozer and carrying it, piece-by-piece, up the stairs for reassembly in order to continue his work.
          But I received a job promotion.  I stopped roaming the world in search of exotic stories and missed my opportunity.  Korczak's death in 1982 ended all hopes of an interview.
          Then, in the late 90s, Nola and I visited the carving – continued by Korczak's widow, Ruth, and her children.
          Ruth became a dear friend.  We shared a deep interest and respect for Native Americans (I had named my spread "Indiantree Farm" in remembrance of the Delawares who bent my majestic oak "marker tree").
          Changes in the last 15 years have been amazing.  Crazy Horse's face, more than 87 feet tall, is finished and his horse's head, 219 feet tall, will soon emerge.  The memorial now is home to the Indian Museum of North America and the Indian University of North America.  A host of attractions and activities fill the memorial's annual schedule.  Visit for a closeup look and update.
          Korczak and Ruth's grandchildren and great-grandchildren likely will have charge of the project when it finally is finished.
          But the story isn't so much the finishing of the carving, it's the legacy of a sculptor and his family's journey to change the face of a mountain and keep alive the memory of those who lived here first.
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Monday, May 20, 2013

Turkey In The Straw, Turkey In The Grass

          A couple of guests had stopped by the main house to chat last evening and – as we were trying to decide if it really was hot enough for air conditioning – a wild turkey strolled across the front lawn.
          The guests were mesmerized.  Rightfully so, because wild turkeys are among the most skittish, wily birds on the planet.  She ambled around the lawn for a few minutes as we glided from one window to another, trying to move slowly and smoothly to avoid her notice.
          All too soon, she caught sight of something, who knows what, and bolted for the tall grass of the pasture nearby.  Mere seconds later she disappeared and the moment was gone.
          We looked at each other in wide-eyed amazement; our mouths silently formed the word, "wow!"
          It reminded me of the turkey call, hand-made for me almost 10 years ago by Jake Miller, a woodworker at Knob View Woodworking.
          I had mentioned to him that I still had a few boards of wormy chestnut wood, cut and milled by Dad and Grandpa.  I gave him a board and he made me a call.  "I got five out of the board, but this one came out the nicest," he said.
          It's a work of hand-crafted art and I treasure it. 
          We stepped onto the front porch and I rasped the curved top against the thin vertical sides.  The sound was something like a Leghorn rooster with a mouthful of pea gravel.
          One of the guests spotted the hen turkey's head, poking above the protective tall grass and swiveling slowly.  One look and she was gone for good.
          Curious, but it wasn't the guy she was looking for.
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Saturday, May 18, 2013

More than GERMAN culture

    There’s this museum in Walnut Creek.
    It’s named The German Culture Museum.
    Not the greatest name, but 30 years ago it seemed to fit.  Maybe it sounds like a bit of a yawner, but sometimes the establishment belies a Plain-Jane name.
    Times and tastes change.  For example; hey, just 60 years ago the only thing associated with Google was Barney, while Apple meant crisp fruit and warm pie.  And McDonald was Old and had a farm, not a hamburger.
    Who would guess that a museum which purported to enlighten folks regarding the culture of “Deutsch” might house John D. Rockefeller’s family surrey?
    Or that within its walls one would stumble across a “Rat Recreation” photo of  a handful of youths with countless dead rats on a string.  And this is what they called “entertainment” during the Great Depression.
    Or a grisly diagram showing how far pieces of a steam boiler – and its operating crew – were thrown after one of the most shattering events in Walnut Creek history.
    Then, there’s the story of the corpse in the potato bin, a life mask of Abraham Lincoln, and the story of the eccentric Father of Amish Country, a pioneer Amishman who published a book, always wore a white suit and built a chair for Jesus to sit in when he arrived for His second coming.
    Sounds like German culture and a lot more.

Friday, May 17, 2013

So you think you're tough?!

   So you think you’re tough . . . sitting there on your inner-city stoop, listening to the rhythm of the drive-bys on the next block?
          Think you’re tough . . . watching Bruce Willis “dying” hard and telling yourself, “Yah, I could do that”?
          Or . . . nursing a paper cut and trying to decide if you can finish work at the office or go home early.
          I’ll tell you what’s tough: A quiet Amish man who gets run over by a 1,000-pound planter, is impaled by one of the planter’s steel plow shoes and is then dragged 80 yards by a team of four spooked horses.
          That’s tough.  And then the Amish man, bleeding profusely from a three-inch gash on the side of his head and an eight-incher on his leg, whispers to his distraught 12-year-old, “No, don’t call 911, just call Larry and tell him to bring his pickup.”
          It’s tough to choke back the tears when you arrive at the edge of the field and see how crumpled your friend is.
          It’s tough to avoid arguing with him when he asserts that he wants no ambulance, “Just get me to the emergency room, and I’ll be all right.”
          It’s tough driving 12 miles through the tourist clog in Amish Country with him quietly groaning at every pavement joint, crack or pothole.
          And what a relief to pull up to the ER, where a doctor, two nurses and a gurney are waiting, thanks to the modern miracle called a cell phone.  They did a quick check, stabilized him and shipped him off in a screaming ambulance to a big-city trauma center.  His injuries were severe.
          Now, here’s what’s really tough: 
          He had six broken ribs, several deep wounds requiring a lot of cleaning and many stitches.  Oh, and a severe concussion.
          And two weeks later, as I strolled in the yard behind the Indiantree Farm guesthouse, I heard a familiar sound in the hayfield a few yards away.
          There he was — dusty bandages aflutter — throwing 50-pound bales of hay from the ground to a horse-drawn wagon piloted by his daughter. 
          They filled the wagon six times that evening.
          That, my friend, is tough.       

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Spring returns to the hill

The red-wing blackbirds are chasing each other around the fence rows, the sweet smell of fresh-cut hay is in the air, and we’re happy to be outdoors again after a long, long winter.


We’re busier than ever keeping up with a lawn that grows inches overnight and picking up after trees that produce and drop an endless supply of twigs.


Despite all the work, it’s a joy to sit and watch the redbuds bloom and the red-headed woodpeckers chip away at the old light post out front.


And it’s a delight to be telling you about it again. Amid the farm chores, we’ll do our best to update you more often.