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

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

She's Got Fifty Now

          Atlee carefully set his lunch cooler in the back of the truck.
          As he slid into the front seat, he anxiously looked at the time readout on the dashboard.
          "Tonight is Jonas Effie's birthday party.
          "She's got fifty now," he said, in explanation of his haste to leave the job site and head home.
          Translation: His sister-in-law, Effie, is to be the guest of honor at a birthday party.  It'll be her 50th.
          Atlee is a skilled carpenter and all-around handyman whose talents put him in high demand throughout the Amish as well as the English community.  He has a regular driver who transports him to and from his various job sites, but this afternoon his driver was "busy" and unable to pick him up a bit early.
          My friends and neighbors know that when their regular drivers have scheduling conflicts or if an unexpected emergency pops up, they can call me for a quick bailout, usually with my old blue pickup.
          But when he called (after hiking to a phone) Atlee sounded nervous.  "Can you be here right by five?" he asked.  That was my first clue that something was up.
          He's anything but a clock watcher, happily content to give the customer an extra 15 minutes or half hour if his driver's late.  But tonight he would have just enough time for a shower and the 15 minute buggy ride to the party.
          "It's over by my brother, Eli U.'s place," he observed.  That would be about a mile of travel for him and wife Elsie.
          The reference to his brother's middle initial is a fine point of identification.  Each of the brothers carries their father's name (Ura) as their middle name.  The paternal connection is another fine point of identification.
          Thus Eli U. cannot be confused with Eli J., who is Jonas's eldest son.  The male identity continuity is critical because his wife and all children will be tied to him (for example: wife is Jonas' Effie, children are Jonas' Ada,  Jonas' Rebecca, Eli J. and Wayne J or Jonas' Eli, Jonas' Wayne).
          And then we were home and he was sliding out the door with a hurried, "Thanks, we'll settle up later," and Atlee U. was off and running for the shower.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Corn Has Reached Max Altitude

          Our corn has tasseled out and reached an average height of 10 feet.
          It grew the last 21 inches in just eight days. 
          That's a good corn year.
          Of course timing (as in choosing the right time to plant) is a huge factor but so is the weather.  We've had ample rainfall (actually more than ample but not so much as to be a liability) mixed with hot July days.
          The corn fields look like huge green building blocks a quarter mile square and 10 feet tall.  The tassels undulate in gentle ripples when the breeze picks up.  All the better to produce full ears.
          A big factor in our strong returns on corn production is the "push" Jonas gives the crop.  That's his word for a liberal application of chicken manure.  High in nitrogen, the chicken droppings and the growing corn are made for each other.
          The "push" didn't start yesterday.  Jonas feeds the fields on a regular basis and through the rotation of crops (alfalfa hay, "oatlage" oats, wheat and corn) continues to boost the quality of the soil.
          It's a delicate dance.  He tests each field, balances the nutrients with strategic application of lime and watches each crop with the fervor of an expectant parent.  Jonas mentally charts the signs that all is progressing according to the master plan.
          Ura (his dad) taught him well and Jonas paid rapt attention.  As does young Wayne.  Although only 12, to this young Burkholder, the animals, the soil and the weather are already his old friends.
          From the bare back of his favorite pony, the crops and critters are carefully observed although generally at full gallop. 
          Decades of corn crops to come will continue to stand tall.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Nowhere Else

          We sat on our front porch and watched a scene you couldn't find elsewhere.
          Across the pasture, along the horizon line of the hill, a young Amish grandmother and her 10-year-old daughter bounced along in a small cart.  Their pony's mane and tail danced in the breeze and "Bobby" the border collie followed a few yards behind as they all headed home with a cargo of frozen food for the evening meal.
          Far off to the side, where they had been hiking, a couple of our Bed & Breakfast guests stood transfixed at the sight.
          Long shadows of late afternoon sharpened the scene and the out-of-state guests watched until long after the pony cart and its party were out of sight.
          Later the guests asked about the scene they had witnessed, straight out of a "picture book," from 1913.
          We explained that there was an old highway hidden back there, behind the pasture.  Neighbors use it to visit our freezers in which they store their precious food, prepared and frozen weeks or months ago.
          No one but our immediate neighbors remembers that the highway is still there.  It was officially relocated nearly a century ago when curves and swerves were built into a new road that better accommodated the emerging new invention called the automobile.
          We love it for its fully-canopied splendor.  It is so narrow you are forced to stop and have a conversation with your neighbor when passing.  It is totally a "dirt" road that becomes a "mud" road in wet weather.
          But it has its advantages.  It's always shaded in summertime, it's well maintained by the neighbors, it's a fabulous shortcut, there are no blaring horns or shrieking tires, only some snorting, clopping or plopping when a herd of cows or horses are being urged along.
          The old road is a source of wonderment to guests who stumble upon it while hiking.  They generally say something like: "What a tranquil trail, it's too bad no one knows about it."
          Uh . . . I don't think so.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Amish Neighbors To The Rescue

          We are wet, wind-blown and weary.
          Our "Amish Country" world is so soggy we could squeeze a morning beverage out of the bricks that are stacked at the pasture's edge.
          In just two days, the heavens deposited 3.3 inches of rain on our hilltop.
          That meant our valley neighbors faced flooding.  Not only did they get rain in similar quantities, but they got our runoff  . . . and some of our topsoil for good measure.
          Then came the wind and this was Wednesday evening.  We weren't hit by a tornado but the straight-line winds that tore across our region wreaked considerable havoc.
          Indiantree Hill suffered only a few broken and tossed trees, some far-flung branches and limbs and a one-day power outage.  We spent three days cleaning up the mess and getting our little world back in order.
          Others suffered considerably more damage.  Mineral City, in particular, suffered a severe blow that flattened buildings, scattered debris and, also, doused electrical power.
          Our power outage lasted almost exactly 24 hours and opened our eyes to the suffering that the people of eastern New Jersey suffered last year .
          We have an emergency generator.
          But it suffered its own emergency.  Wouldn't run properly.
          Our need became critical at about the 12th hour (dawn Thursday) when we simply HAD to run our freezers and refrigerators to avoid possible loss of food.
          You see, we have six freezers and four of them are used by our Amish neighbors.  They can't own freezers but they can use ours.
          So where do you go looking for emergency generators in an emergency?
          Your Amish neighbors.
          Yes, the folks who refuse to plug into the worldly, temptation-fraught power grid, are allowed the use of generators to: - charge batteries for their LED lights (because they are WAY safer than kerosene or gasoline fueled lamps) – power milking and milk-cooling equipment, - run the electronic controls for their climate controlled chicken houses, - power their laundry washing machines, etc.
          Of course, they were more than willing to supply a pair of generators to power the freezers and a few other devices (like our water pump) that we consider essential.
          Thus followed 12 hours of juggling extension cords, gasoline cans and toilet flushes until the power finally was restored.
          And when I returned the generators in deep gratitude, the response from our neighbors was, "Oh, is the power back on?  We wouldn't even have known it was off if you hadn't told us."

Monday, July 08, 2013

The Hill Was Rockin'

          Katie was aglow, Josh was smiling shyly on the outside, beaming inside.
          They and the wedding party were riding  in a converted hay wagon pulled by our 63-year-old Farmall tractor.  Her white gown and the brilliant red tractor were a sharp contrast to the green grass and the grass-green gowns of the bridesmaids.
          We sat on muslin-covered straw bales under huge tan umbrellas, watching them ride to the top of Indiantree Hill, where the minister, Uncle Jason awaited along with about 120 members of family and friends.
          Parents and some grandmas and grandpas were misty-eyed as the kids promised love, devotion and perpetual continuation of their free-spirit courtship spontaneity.
          After nearly two weeks of storms and showers the skies had turned Kodachrome and a gentle breeze drifted up from the Goosebottom.  An hour earlier I found a four-leaf clover while checking the power line for the pianist's audio equipment.  I stashed the good omen in one of the huge pots erupting with lilies.
          An hour after the late afternoon ceremony, the crowd had retreated to the bright red barn built by Katie's great, great, great grandfather Christian J., for the tossing of a bouquet, a garter, and many, many well-wishes.
          The music throbbed into the wee hours as six generations of Millers and their friends celebrated another milestone.
          Christian J., John C. and Paul H. were with us in spirit.
          And they were rockin'.

Monday, July 01, 2013

On The Other End of the TV camera

          Much of the last three days was spent in the persona of Jonas Stutzman, the 225-year-old Father Of Amish Country, also known as "Der Weiss" (The White One.)
          He was the first settler in what today is known as Ohio's Amish Country.  And he was Amish.  And he not only built the first log cabin that launched the largest Amish community in the world but built the first sawmill, the first school, became the first schoolteacher, the first published Amish author and the first – and only – Amishman to wear all-white clothing. 
          You wanna know why?  Visit our museum.
          And, since he was my great, great, great grandfather, I feel an extra compulsion to keep his story alive.  Thus the white Amish suit, the long (pretty much white) hair and the white Swartzentruber hat.
          Yesterday, a television crew from Germany spent more than six hours asking question of, and filming "Der Weiss" at the German Culture Museum in Walnut Creek and around our family farm, Indiantree Farm, just outside Walnut Creek.
          Director/Producer Anke Schiemann was a bundle of energy, asking questions while darting to and fro and directing British cameraman Martin on angles and backgrounds.
          What fun!  We became close friends.  Son Alan dropped in with samples of the menu for this week's wedding of granddaughter Katie so we invited the TV folks to stay for dinner.
          Nola cooked up a feast and the stimulating conversation stretched late into the evening.
          It all fits perfectly with my Mantra: "How're you ever going to really get to know your neighbors if you don't spend some personal time with them?"
          "Der Weiss" also got to know many local neighbors Friday and Saturday evenings by introducing a special free showing of the Academy Award winning movie "Lincoln" before unveiling the German Culture Museum's new exhibit of rare Abraham Lincoln memorabilia.
          Another couple of special evenings to remember.