The Road Less Traveled

[Previous Rural Farmgirl, April 2009 – May 2010]
On a recent trip to Wisconsin I saw one of the most amazing scenes. It was one of those things where I longed to reach for the camera but I knew that out of respect for those involved I just couldn’t do it.

I was in Wisconsin for a work weekend at Organic Valley’s Kick-a-poo Country Fair. I was traveling with a Farmgirl friend named Linda. We had left Washington State at ‘o dark thirty on Friday morning. In Washington, we had been enjoying 100-plus degree weather, and summer was certainly making itself known. In our little corner of the world, we have two weather cycles: hot and dry or cold and dry. We don’t really get a lot of sympathy for our weather since its dry heat and the cold is still more mild than in some parts of the US. We have it pretty good to say the least.
When we arrived in Minneapolis, our connecting flight was grounded due to severe lightning storms. Once we landed in Wisconsin, the news report informed us that we were under some sort of storm warning that included hail. And in a few more miles, we learned that we were now in a tornado warning area. Good grief! The rain began as we continued toward our destination, and by the time we arrived in La Farg,  it was raining buckets. As we darted to find the event organizers we were as drenched as two little drowned rats. Then, out of nowhere, a loud siren sang out. With the recent tornado warning front and center in my mind, I dove for the car…only to learn that it was the six o’ clock dinner siren. With my pulse pounding and the giggles starting, I knew it was time to find dinner, muck boots, and a hot shower. We found all three. During dinner at a local diner, the locals made us feel right at home by sharing their stories of a lifetime spent in Viroqua, WI.
By morning the weather was a beautiful 70-plus degrees, although, we remained grateful for our recently purchased boots since the ground was still plenty soggy. The rest of the event went as planned—what a great time! We met some of the most amazing people. As we folded up the table on Sunday evening, we were reminded of a conversation we had with an area historian that morning. He had shared that there was an Amish funeral that morning, and while on their way to the fair they were blessed to see all the buggies as they arrived to the home of the gentleman who had passed. The deceased was, it was told, an important elder in the local Amish community. I have to admit, I wasn’t aware that there was an Amish community in Wisconsin, yet I was intrigued by the prospects of seeing them. There is something so captivating to me about the Amish, their lifestyle and craftsmanship. I find it all so very charming as someone who is on the outside looking in.
After loading our car, we set out to take the country drive down County Road D, hoping at the very least to see a buggy. As we drove down the winding roads, enjoying the beautiful landscape, barns and old farmhouses, we were suddenly surprised by the view ahead. There it was—the home of the beloved elder. Outside his home at least 150 of his fellow Amish folk had gathered, the men in black suits and hats and the women with long black dresses and black and white bonnets. Women sat on one side of the lawn while the men sat on the other. At the barn there were at least 30 buggies awaiting the long ride home.
The writer in me kicked into full gear, wishing that I could “steal” a snapshot of the event, but knowing full-well that this somber occasion shouldn’t be disturbed by such a thing. I had learned that while some of the youth in the Amish community can be photographed, it is a sign of disrespect to photograph the elders. Knowing this was a remembrance of one of their most beloved elders, I couldn’t bring myself to steal even a moment of this breathtaking scene with my camera.
Still, I pulled the car over to let the vision take hold in my mind. I knew that I may never see that particular scene again, and I was thankful for the opportunity. As we continued our trip down the winding roads, we were delighted by the many road-side signs announcing Amish bakeries and quilt shops and furniture makers. I wished that I had known we were visiting Amish country, as I would have come earlier or stayed longer so I could actually visit them. I loved driving by and seeing buggies in the barn and the beautiful working horses that lined the fenced pastures.
Remembering a horrible, hateful comment that I had heard earlier in the weekend, I found myself wishing that we could all find commonness in the journey of life and not focus so much on our differences. Like the difference in the landscapes that I have seen from state to state, there is a beauty in the diversity of people if we are willing to see it. Whether it is a beautiful young mom with dreadlocks and henna tattoos, an Amish woman in a bonnet, a cowgirl with her Stetson, or a rural farmgirl with her garden hat or bandana…we each have lived, laughed, loved and lost, and to the heart I would guess it all feels the same.
Thumbing through a magazine on the plane ride home, I noticed two very lovely pictures of floral bouquets. One was filled with perfect long-stemmed yellow roses—my favorite. The other was a beautiful bouquet of all different flowers, including my beloved yellow rose. While you would have thought that I would gravitate to the bouquet that contained all yellow roses, in truth I loved the one with the diversity. It was more interesting, more pronounced and colorful, and there was a very special perfection in the imperfectness of it all. It kept my gaze longer as I tried to identify the flowers and drank in what each brought to the arrangement.
I chuckled to myself as I recalled the many times people have commented to me about the eclectic nature of my group of friends. I know that I am a better person for them. They challenge me to look at life from different angles and views and lenses. I don’t fret that they will weaken my beliefs but rather I know they strengthen them, helping me to prove theories either right or wrong. Still, I don’t challenge others who would choose the bouquet of all yellow roses, as it is equally as beautiful and elegant, enough so that it makes you pull over to breathe it all in.
 Linda and I had this photo taken at one of those old fashion photo booths at the Organic Valley’s Fair. What fun.

  1. Betty-Ann says:

    It is a truly fortunate thing to have come across the Amish funeral. These experiences are a gift. A small glimpse into a different life indeed a reverent glimpse. These things always make me feel as though my eyes have been opened again and I feel better for it. Seeing that others live differently and well in their own way with conviction and dedication something I sometimes lack.

  2. Betty J. says:

    Rene, isn’t WI beautiful. I love the green-ness right up to the edge of the road. I love the myriad of hosta plants that are planted around houses. I love the farm barns and back roads that lead to everywhere. My BF lives in LaCrosse and we have been up and down some of those roads. Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us. Those buggies on the road are a sight, except when you unexpectedly come upon one at the crest of a hill. Sometimes those horses pulling the rigs look downright tired!

  3. Thank you for such lovely thoughts, maybe if we could see thru a child’s heart and eyes or better yet the Lord’s heart and eyes we would have a peace and knowing that all is well with whom love. God Bless Kristen
    P.S. I am very happy for you to spend the time to see the world around.

  4. Pam deMarrais says:

    Oh Rene’….your observation of the floral arrangements gives such a great analogy to the way we present ourselves to the world…either as obvious individualists, or as humble conformists in the case of the Amish. Once again, you have shown your gift for looking at daily situations very poetically.
    Oh, and the tub scene….fantastic!

  5. Joni-Bee says:

    when we went to Lancaster PA with a Amish tour service, we were fortunate to see all the "buggies" gathered at a home for Sunday Services, we also went to a working Amish farm where things were run by a generator, no phones, or mirrors. We also went to an Amish country restaurant where seven sweets and seven sours were offered. Their Chicken Corn Chowder was very tasty . We went to a Amish store where there were quilts, wooden kitchenware, jams, jellies etc. They had a farmers market also. We saw the scene from "The Witness", and the phone booth. This was one of the most memorable trips we have taken, I would not hesitate to go back again.

  6. Gary says:

    Good Bloggie Rene’…
    That’s sooo cool… I use Organic Farm’s dairy products, and plan to order their powdered milk for my
    "Emergency Food Bin".
    I’m glad you got a opportunity to see the Amish…
    We have Amish here in the Sarasota area, and back Home in Tennessee we have Mennonites, a similar sect. As I mentioned in a previous comment, I had the Privilege of going to a Mennonite Home, and it left a profound impression with me, as to their sincerety, devotion to simple living, and forthright manner.
    You are correct Rene’… it is wrong to photograph them, just as it is an insult to photograph a traditional Native American.
    The World is a better place with them in it.
    Thank You, and…
    GodSpeed to Y’all…!

    I agree Gary~ thanks always for your kind words for my "bloggie" it doesnt go un-noticed!

  7. Sarah says:

    Dear Rene: The Amish are so full of grace and caring. I had the privilege of living amongst them for several years in Pennsylvania many years ago. I tried to imagine what that funeral scene was like–I know you will never forget it, ever. I learned some wonderful things from them about cooking, housekeeping, gardening, crafts/sewing, faith, and living.
    I loved the photo of you and Linda in the old cast iron tub. I have 3 of them tucked away in my back yard, mostly out of sight. They came from some old houses we owned years ago. I’d love to do something creative with them in my garden. Does anyone have any good ideas for what to do with them outside? Thanks and I am enjoying your blog–I am new to it.

    MaryJane has her tubs set up with propane heaters for outside bathing~ there is nothing better… You can check in her outpost book for directions~  I love it~

  8. Rene,
    Thank you so much for sharing your trip with us. I truly enjoyed this story. I have always been captivated by the Amish way of life too. Their humbleness & devotion to their faith & living the simplistic & practical way of life. Your analogy of the floral arrangements is great. I love it…
    You have a wonderful gift, Thank you of sharing it with us.

  9. Betty Jane says:

    Rene: I have lived all over Texas. Many times I have lived near the Amish. I admired them from afar. They seem to be such gentle people. I would imagine they NEVER disagree or have children that are stubborn. How uncomplicated their lives must be without television, cell phones, computers, vehicles that are unreliable at times. We take so much for granted in our lives. My husband and I often feel we were born 100 years too late. Today, with the economy as it is and our future cloudy, we should all return to a simpler life, be grateful for what we have and learn to do without. The Amish have survived hundreds of years, we can’t we?

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