In one way, this is a typical one room Amish school. In another, it’s not.
The school is plain white, as is the custom among the Amish. This particular one was once a public school until the school consolidation wave hit Ohio in the late 1950s and early 1960s. When the local schools were closed, the Amish often bought them and started their own schools. That way their students weren’t far from home and could walk to school.
The atypical aspect of this school, at least structurally, is that it has a metal roof. Most Amish schools have shingled roofs. A metal roof would cost substantially more than a shingled one.
Another point of interest is that this school was closed yesterday, a Wednesday, when I took the photo. Why? It’s harvest time, and the school was closed for three days so the youngsters could help husk corn at home. Apparently most of the students who attend this school live on farms. Otherwise the school board, made up of five fathers of the students, wouldn’t have closed the school in the middle of the week.
I was out taking shots of the changing leaves when these Amish buggies caught my eye. I liked the randomness of how they were parked, creating marvelous angles that nicely contrasted with the striations of the barn’s siding and roof.
Living in the country all of my adult life, I like to think that I know vegetables. When I came upon these beauties, I had to ask what they were. The Amish woman said they were Delicate Squash. Given their intricate and varied variegated coloration, I could see why they got that name. However, when I saw the same squash being sold at the Farmers Produce Auction near Mt. Hope, Ohio, I checked the tag for the name. It read, “Delicata Squash.”
Of course, I Googled it when I returned home and discovered some tasty recipes. Next time, I won’t just photograph these artsy veggies. I’ll buy some, too.
Birding is one of my many hobbies. I’m no expert birder to be sure. I merely enjoy the sport, and try to weave birding into every travel opportunity.
Birding is an activity enjoyed by folks of all races, religions, cultures and countries. I’m usually side-by-side with men, women, boys and girls wherever I bird.
When these good folks discover I’m from Holmes County, Ohio, I often am asked the same question. Why do you have so many rare birds there?
I smile, pause, and give them my standard answer.
“It’s not that we have any more rare birds than other places,” I say. “Rather, we just happen to have a lot more rare birders.”
That’s when I get the looks. Some vocalize their consternation. The nonverbal cues from others reveal their puzzlement. Still others get it right away.
I believe that the Holmes County, Ohio area has so many unusual bird sightings because it has so many outstanding birders. Many of them are teenagers or young adults.
The varied habitat of the Killbuck Valley and adjoining manicured farmlands east and west create familiar, safe harbor for a wide variety of birds. Marshes, ponds, brushy fencerows, and extensive stands of woodlots provide excellent cover and feeding grounds for birds big and small.
Birders who reside here know to keep a look out for anything extraordinary. If they see or hear something unusual, they tell someone. An authoritative local birder identifies the bird, and the word spreads near and far.
Many of these bird watchers are Amish. It’s a hobby embraced by their culture and family structure. To be sure, birding is an exercise in which all family members can participate, and be out and about in the nature that they love and embrace.
It’s no coincidence that Amish folks have discovered many of the rare birds sited in the area. Now, it’s not simply because they are Amish that they find the birds. No, they see the birds because they pay attention to their surroundings.
Take the latest rarity, the juvenile Swainson’s Hawk discovered recently in a newly mown alfalfa field half way between Berlin and Walnut Creek. Workers at Hiland Wood Products noticed particular peculiarities about this bird, its behavior, its flight pattern, its coloration, and its diet.
When the bird was pointed out to skilled birder, Ed Schlabach of Sugarcreek, he easily identified it. Ed works at the company and is a reputable birder.
Ed not only knew what the bird was; he knew that it was a very rare find for Ohio. In fact, the typical range of this buteo is well west of the Mississippi River, and mostly in the southwest, and only in summer.
What the hawk was doing here was a mystery. Ed knew that birders everywhere would want to see this magnificent specimen. The word went out through phone calls, birding lists, emails, texts and social media.
There is always a rush to see a rare bird. Most often such birds do not hang around for very long. This young bird chose to stay for several days, and also picked a spot to easily observe it, whether on the ground or in the air.
For many birders, the young Swainson’s Hawk was a “life” bird. That is, it was the first time they had ever seen this species.
Once again, we can thank the many rare birders who reside and work in our pastoral abode for this latest mega-rare find. Rare birders find rare birds.
I love to look for patterns in photos. There are plenty on display here, even if you only look at the various textures of the roofs on the congregated buildings. Also note the details that enhance the plain red and white buildings. Did you see the brown horse against the barn wall? How about the Rock Doves, aka pigeons, on the roof of the outbuilding in the foreground? Or the smoke coming out of the chimney?
See how many other details you can find as you explore this photo.
When the farmer called me the other morning, I was away from home. He said he had two juvenile Barn Owls sleeping near his barn. My wife and I finally arrived at the Amish farm two miles from our home. The owls were still in the same place. Both were still sound asleep despite being only a few yards from a busy highway.
The owls had recently fledged from their nest box in the farmer’s barn. Rather than be disturbed by their younger siblings, still too young to fly, each owl found a personal, private spot to snooze. This one chose a silver maple tree in the farmer’s yard. The afternoon sun highlighted its breast feathers and some of the tree’s leaves.
I was on another assignment when I saw this scene recently. I lowered the window of my vehicle and took the photo. It’s the iconic image of Amish gathering hay that most folks envision. The truth is, the way Amish farm has changed drastically in recent years. Most mainline Amish bale hay, either in rectangular bales or big round bales. Only the most conservative of the sect, the Swartzentrubers and those who belong to the Dan Church, continue to use the method pictured to gather hay.
I especially liked that the grandchildren were driving the team of horses while Grandpa properly balanced the huge stack of loose hay.
Recently, I had a couple of days that were exactly that. I helped out a friend by leading a few birding field trips to a local farm.
The target birds were young Barn Owls, a couple of fuzzy baby American Kestrels, and bubbly Bobolinks. In a rather rare situation, both Barn Owls and Kestrels had hatched their young in nesting boxes the farmer had erected in his old bank barn. The meadow across the road remained uncut so the tinkling Bobolinks could frolic and flourish.
The farmer and his family went out of their way to accommodate both the birds and us. Their farmstead was neat as a pin. Flower beds and gardens were nearly pristine. The three generations that called this place home welcomed us with open arms and hearts.
Both the farm’s setting and the intentional agricultural techniques employed accounted for the diversity of birds and other wildlife. Surrounded by rounded hills dotted with emerald woodlots, the land rolled away from the farm buildings more like waves than fields.
I imagined in a birdseye view a quilted panorama. Broad patches of variegated greens and tans from forested hills, alternating fields of pasture and croplands stitched together by brushy fencerows created a pastoral patterned effect.
Such a landscape also enhanced the desired habitats and food sources needed for the various avian species. It was obvious the farmer, typical of many in our area, understood the balance between conservation and productivity. Sad to say, some deem that approach as inefficient or even old-fashioned.
The days were precious in so many ways. Cottony clouds hung in salient skies over windswept grasses nearly as tall as the weathered wooden fence posts that delineated their boundaries.
The meadow’s high grasses mingled with seedy weeds, and wildflowers danced in the wind beneath while the Bobolinks, Eastern Meadowlarks, Song and Savannah Sparrows and Red-winged Blackbirds let loose. The birds’ melodious chorus easily drew the attention and appreciation of each group. All the birders, spanning three generations, thought the birds and their songs beautiful and luxurious.
(Click on the photos to enlarge them.)
Killdeer near nest.
Up the ladder.
Baby Barn Owls.
Though he said he wasn’t a birder, the kind farmer had erected nesting boxes in his ancient barn for the owls. That is what attracted folks from near and far for this special chance to view the birds. It was indeed rare to have both owls and falcons nesting in the same barn.
Participants hailed from cities. Others lived nearby. Their ages ranged from preschoolers to octogenarians. A courageous woman on crutches in the midst of cancer treatments even ventured forth. I drew strength from their enthusiasm.
Atop wobbly ladders, we viewed the baby birds one by one through a pencil-sized peephole drilled in the plywood boxes made by students at a local vocational school. A small, square hole cut into the barn siding permitted the adults to enter and exit to feed their young.
Below, hushed conversations ensued in each group. Sunlight streamed through the intentional spaces between the horizontal clapboards. Still the barn was dark and steamy.
No one complained whatsoever. All realized what a privilege it was to view the birds and enjoy the genial hospitality of this marvelous family who welcomed all of God’s creatures.
These glorious days were definitely for the birds, obviously in a juxtaposed sense. The smiles on the faces of all the birders declared each visit a joyous success. None of us could have asked for more.
On my morning walk, my neighbor’s grandsons exited the house well before 9 a.m. They each had their necessary baseball gear in tow, gloves, bat, and ball.
I called out to them, “Baseball for breakfast, boys?”
They just smiled and ran to their imaginary Major League park, the grass groomed immaculately by their grandfather. I walked on, lifted by the sound of bat striking ball.
Because the local greenhouse was having a sale, more traffic than normal traveled the tiny rural road. Believe me, they were busy.
The chorus from the Song Sparrows, Eastern Meadowlarks, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Red-headed Woodpeckers helped balance the roar of engines and jake brakes accelerating and descending hills on highways a mile away.
That’s one of the luxuries of living in the country. The sounds of life’s contrasts become all too obvious.
Young Amish girls, all three sisters that I knew, pulled an empty wagon toward the greenhouse.
“Going shopping this morning?” I asked them. A simple “Yes” and a few giggles was their retort. I silently lauded the mother for allowing the girls to pick out the desired plants.
This opportunity gave them responsibility, decision making, and experience in money exchanging, all valuable life skills. It was just one example of raising children in the way they should go.
As I reached Jonas’ farm, his wife walked down the sidewalk to the gravel driveway where her husband waited in the buggy. I waved, and Jonas returned the common greeting.
All the while I strolled and interacted with these good folks, I kept thinking of my friends far away in Syria, Iraq, Honduras, Texas, California, and other foreign countries.
How I wished they could be walking with me to experience this goodness that I take for granted far too often. Instead, some of them were just trying to stay alive, work diligently for peace, help the needy, and recover from massive flooding.
At that point, I embraced them and the day the only ways I knew how. I thought and prayed for them as I walked along on this lovely morning. I hoped it was as divine for them whatever their current situation.
When I passed by the greenhouse on the return trip, there was Jonas again. He was sitting in the buggy while his wife looked for flowers and plants.
I kiddingly cried out to him, too. “Don’t you like shopping, Jonas?”
“I trust my wife,” he said. I bet he helped her plant whatever she bought though. That’s the kind of betrothed devotion I admire.
Down the homestretch, where traffic gets busier and louder, an Indigo Bunting sang from deep within a woodlot. I stepped to the road’s side to let the vehicles zip by, and to listen to this magical sound. I wished the drivers could hear it as well.
When I reached our property, my heart sang in harmony with the birds. My energetic wife was watering a variety of colorful flowers, some she had purchased at the greenhouse sale earlier that morning.
The Eastern Bluebirds flew from the birdhouse I had put up for them. My heart rejoiced all the more. I was glad they had won out over the pesky House Sparrows. A House Wren chattered atop another birdhouse nearby.
I have a lot for which I am grateful. This walk reminded me that each morning I open my eyes I need to say a joy-filled thanks.
Summertime. Isn’t that an absolutely gorgeous word? Let it roll off of our tongues and past our moist lips slowly, magnificently, joyfully.
Those of us who reside east of the Mississippi River and north of Disney World endured a long, hard, cold, snowy, record-setting winter. It’s truly a blessing to say that lovely word, summertime.
It’s not like we’ve earned summer either. We just have longed for the expected warmer, more pleasant weather, plus its immeasurable benefits.
Though the summer solstice doesn’t officially arrive until June 21, that’s become insignificant, even obsolete. Here in commercialized America, we’re accustomed to the definition of summer as the days between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
I know I am not the only one that is thankful that June is here. With apologies to Walt Whitman, I can indeed see and hear America singing. All I have to do is be attentive.
The early summer flowers, the irises, poppies, and petunias are or soon will be blooming. So are the weeds.
The days are not only longer when measured in daylight hours; they are warmer and more humid, too. That is the norm.
Of course as part of America has already experienced, we’ll likely have our share of hazardous weather. That, too, is within the season’s nomenclature.
The first cutting of hay, whether by horse and sickle or tractor and big round baler, has commenced. School years have ended, except for educational institutions that offer additional classes. They are appropriately called summer school.
We humanoids aren’t the only one’s happy about the transformation. The birds and the bees have gotten a head start on articulating their predestined survival behaviors. Shorebirds, songbirds, and yard birds will fledge their young, and begin a second brood if there is time.
Soon lightning bugs will be rising from fields and grasses, blinking under spacious, starry skies. It’s a scene of which I hope I never tire. If the grandkids visit, we’ll fill jars and watch the incredible insects glow, and then release them to do their thing, the bugs not the grandkids, that is.
Boats big and small will cut temporary wounds into placid waters, which will heal themselves with no thought whatsoever by either the offender or the offended. The squeals of a toddler’s first catch of the year or the rich laughter of children diving into tepid water at dusk will confirm summer’s presence.
Produce stands have already begun to present seasonal rewards. Patient diligence will yield even juicier, tasty results. I gladly anticipate fresh buttered beets, succulent heirloom tomatoes and savory, sweet mint tea, leaves right from the garden.
Long-delayed chores can finally be completed. Weathered house siding will be revived with fresh coats of brightness to complement immaculate gardens full of rainbows of color and busy insects and critters.
I’ll sit on my back porch on a luxurious summer’s Sunday evening and listen to the clip-clopping of the horses as they carry home families early and courting teens late. I can hear the latter coming from a half-mile away, boom boxes blaring.
Vacations will bring thousands of tourists to Ohio’s Amish country, where I live, to witness some of those native interactions. Wise locals will flee to beaches or mountains or solitude.
As I write, a framed placard on the wall of the summer home of a friend succinctly summed it up. “Miracles are as close as the heavens above and the blossoms beneath.”
Amen to that and a hardy welcome to all that summer has to offer.