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June 10, 2008 / howardmestas

AMISH COUNTRY — Monday, June 8 — 2008


Amish farm through barn window


Today was a personal religious experience for me, not in any biblical sense, but in my spiritual reconnection to the land.  I remember as a child watching my mother prepare the ground for a  garden, then watching in amazement as squash seeds fulfilled their purpose, sprouting through the brown earth only days later.  This was not for a science project, but out of necessity, since we were very poor and food we could grow was food we could live on.   Both parents left this world before I was 10, but the memories return as I till the soil each spring; not so much these days for the crop, but for spiritual sustinence that comes with remembering my happiest days.

It was heartening to watch the Amish work the land today, in the same ways that they have for countless generations; in a place where children walk barefoot in the soil and where horse power is defined by its the true meaning.  I saw families bond through sweat and traditional communities prosper, notwithstanding the all-too-visible barriers of the modern world; far away from what the majority of Americans call the “real world.”  And how wrong we are!  The real world is not cell phones and traffic jams; or fast food and road rage.  We define our happiness by the size of our flat screen TV and our success is measured through online banking.  The children of our society have no connection to our heritage, show little civic responsibility, and have no realization of who we are and how we got here.  So much for the real world.

The Amish represent Thomas Jefferson’s dream of an agrarian society where the spiritual dimension of farming was to promote self-reliance and moral integrity.  Of course we live in the 21st century and humanity has evolved through technology, but it doesn’t mean we should forget how food gets to the table; and we should not lose the respect we owe to the land and to those who work it.

As history teachers we must feel obligated to make our students reassociate the goals of our past with the needs of our future.  They must experience that important affiliation with the soil, even if it means planting a plot behind school grounds.  Only then can they realize that it’s the land more than anything else that makes us a great nation.  We may suggest they visit Lancaster County in Pennsylvania some day.  It would make them proud to be Americans and make them understand that we can do better than growing corn to power SUV’s.

When we were treated to an Amish communal meal today, we experienced a taste of American History.  Our beautiful guide Ada, who was 90 years young, helped us reflect on the elders we all miss, and to the fabric that makes our heritage great.  When the children of Abner and Katie sang the words that said, “we will all be friends forever,”  I felt a kindred connection.  We are all of the same soil.





Leave a Comment
  1. Sherry / Aug 11 2008 8:46 pm

    Your words are poetic! What a wonderful connection to your past. You could write a book; I just know it.

  2. stacirodosevich / Jun 14 2008 2:32 pm

    I loved your picture of the Amish through the barn window! Nice touch to represent the beauty of the country!

  3. Jonathan Rees / Jun 12 2008 2:17 am

    “They must experience that important affiliation with the soil, even if it means planting a plot behind school grounds.”

    You could start a community garden, Howard. Many schools have them. I saw one at my old elementary school in Princeton.

  4. Kelli / Jun 11 2008 9:44 pm

    I greatly enjoyed your blog. I can definitely relate. As we moved between these people’s farms, which was terribly gracious of them to let us invade, I too remembered another time. Times when I was young, with my mom’s family at my grandmas. The day was perfect with a journey out to the ranch to ride a horse, pitch a bail of hay, and a piece of watermelon that we all sat in a circle to eat (with the uncles teaching this little city girl how to spit the seeds). I think we definitely lose the appreciation for the simple things in our “high speed” life.

  5. paulzschokke / Jun 11 2008 7:52 pm


    That was an inspirational and well written piece. I applaud your insight and thoughtfulness in relating the Amish life to our own. Thank you.

  6. Brett Bridgman / Jun 11 2008 11:39 am

    I couldn’t agree with you more Howard. The comparison of Amish children and today’s youth is a powerful one. It was amazing to me how well behaved the Amish children were while we all had our feast. A trip to Amish country would be a powerful field trip to see how the other half lives.

  7. marksims / Jun 11 2008 3:52 am

    What a well written observation on the Amish people and at such a personal level. I enjoyed reading this blog very much.

  8. mattharris1 / Jun 10 2008 11:17 am

    Howard: This is a thoughtful reflection of how history can connect with the present. And it’s very well written to boot. Your post gives new meaning to what the Germans call Pantheism, the notion that God is found in nature. Well done!!–Matt

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