I’ve stayed for just about a week now in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, which Wikipedia says has the largest Amish population in the world (though at 37,000 just 7% of the local population). Where I’m staying, the Amish are very visible. Mennonites, another of the “Plain” people, make up another distinct group, although it sometimes takes a trained eye to see the difference. I am very curious, of course, but I’d think it rude to start quizzing people I meet on the street. My hosts were able to loan me this book, which has helped some, along with all the questions my hosts have generously answered for me.
The horse farm I’m staying on is owned by medium-distant family, who are of course “English” (as Amish call the rest of us), and they have been kind in letting me – practically a stranger – park and use facilities and hang around. They’ve also taken me out and shown me the world, more than I’d expect your average host to do: we spent a day running errands and visiting Amish businesses, including a tack shop, a grocery store, a dry goods store, a hardware store, a produce & baked goods stand, and then a Mennonite restaurant for lunch. It was very interesting to me to see how they live under certain strictures: kerosene lamps light their businesses, and the hardware store had a very long PVC pipe running from the register to some back area, that they speak to each other through (and through which they honk a bicycle horn, to get one another’s attention). They take cash or checks, no cards. They don’t use rubber on their buggy wheels – those are metal – and they won’t ride bicycles, but their push-scooters do have rubber tires; hmm. They do not use gas-powered locomotion, getting around by horse-and-buggy or scooter, but they will use gas-powered engines for farming – pulled by teams of horses or mules. (This is a fascinating distinction, to me.) They will also take rides in gas-powered vehicles, which has birthed a small local business of “friendly” taxis. My hosts are also sometimes asked for rides, for which they generally turn down the offer of gas money.
I got to meet a few Amish – staff who help out here on the farm – and one lapsed Amish, whose privacy I’ve respected by not asking too much, but boy am I curious. Another day, we drove into another town to buy hay at an auction, and we stepped into the livestock auction for a few minutes. An older Amish man stopped me because Hops reminded him of a good dog he once had; we then stood for some time as he told me about all the dogs he’s ever owned, going back sixty years to the best one. I appreciated that interaction very much.
It’s beautiful here.