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 stood and talked with the farmer as he rested his team of horses beneath a tree along the road. For the end of May, the morning was muggy. Both he and the horses needed a break from their bucolic labor.
The horses stamped and snorted and swished their tails to discourage any bothersome insects. The conversation with the Amish gentlemen turned toward appreciation and care for the environment.
Across the weedy fencerow, we lapsed into a philosophical discussion on how we all are rooted in the soil regardless of where we live. The setting was perfect for such a stirring chat.
The musky smell of the sweated horses, the pungent fragrance of fresh earth turned, the sprouting leaves of the black walnut tree that served as our shady shelter together fueled our ideas and ideals. We were of one mind.
We concurred that it was too easy to ignore such a simple concept as caring for the good earth. We wondered if society’s reliance on modern technology and our fast-paced global order have dulled us into forgetting our roots.
He pointed out all the construction in our local area, the continued depletion of farmland and wildlife habitat. Little by little, our pastoral landscape was transitioning.
He wondered if people today understood where their food originated. Did they know all of the effort or any of the processes needed to put food on their table? Was the younger generation becoming so fixated on electronic screens to even care?
We both shook our heads in wonderment of what lay ahead, not so much for us, but for future generations. Will they get to enjoy the beauty of the natural world the way we do?
And with that, my friend encouraged his workhorses to giddy up. Soon a squadron of winged insect eaters swooped overhead, exacting an instinctive aerial harvest.
As I continued my morning walk, I mulled over the conversation. A scene from 35 years ago popped into my head. My family and I were at Old Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts. The place is a living museum where folks can go to see how rural life used to be long before the industrial revolution. Another option would be to visit Holmes County, Ohio.
We stood outside the dairy barn near a group of school children and their teacher, who pointed to the Holsteins.
“That’s where milk comes from,” he said.
His students were in disbelief. One even countered that milk came from the store. We walked away quietly.
The sweet-sour aroma of fermenting silage stirred my senses and brought me back to reality. That earthy smell represented the soil, the seeds, harvesting, the manpower and machinery needed to feed the cows to provide milk or meat.
That’s what being rooted to the earth does. It makes you take note and absorb and appreciate all that is around you.
The creeks and ponds, the marshes, and the mudflats are of equal import as much as the grain fields and pastures. Together they provide habitat and balance to earth’s fullness.
Rooting yourself to the soil is critical in caring for the earth no matter where we live or what our occupation. Yes, we need industry and growth to feed, clothe and house the planet’s population. We also need the earth to be healthy and respected to accomplish that goal.
If you want to feel rooted to the earth, you are welcome to walk by my neighbor’s barnyard. I’m sure neither he nor his herd will mind.
I contemplated the circuitous route of just how I happened to be sitting beneath a party canopy in this Ontario, Canada couple’s backyard. It’s a long but enjoyable story.
It all started when my wife was 14-years-old. Of course, Neva wasn’t my wife then. We married young, but not that young.
Neva accompanied her youth group to a church conference in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada in 1964. With hundreds of teenagers from around the U.S. and Canada attending, with the teens assigned to sleep in homes of local folks.
That’s where Neva met Ruth. Ruth’s family hosted Neva. Neva and Ruth connected right away, and they kept in touch. Seven years later, Ruth and her husband, Ken, attended our wedding in northeast Ohio.
They returned to Ontario. We set up shop here. We all began our careers and started families. We visited Ken and Ruth once when our daughter was just two. Now her youngest child is five. Time melts away, doesn’t it?
With the internet, texting, email, and online chatting science fiction, correspondence via regular mail diminished over time. Life got in the way of our long distance friendship.
About 20 years ago, that unexpectedly changed. Neva saw an advertisement for a tour. She called the toll-free number and guess who answered? Ruth.
Their personal connection was restored. Ken and Ruth have visited us here in Holmes Co., and we’ve returned to their place in Kitchener. We even vacationed together once. Sometimes we meet in between.
When Ruth learned that Neva and I had become snowbirds to Florida’s Amelia Island, she mentioned that their across the street neighbors also wintered there. That’s where our life circle began to expand.
Ruth exchanged contact numbers with their neighbors and us, and the result was pure magic. In February 2014, we arranged to meet Don and Gail at a coffee shop in Fernandina Beach, the island’s only town.
Before the first sip of coffee, the four of us were yacking away as if we had been lifetime friends. Gail was born in England and still has that lovely disarming accent that is as genuine and gentle as she is. Don was from Bermuda and carries that notorious island swagger with him still, even though he’s been a Canadian now for years.
We chattered like teenagers at a soda shop. It didn’t take long to discover that both Don and I had been volunteer firefighters. As if that wasn’t enough to cement our friendship, photography and nature were also common hobbies.
Having been to Bermuda a couple of times ourselves, we knew many of the locales they mentioned. Don shared stories from his childhood until the present.
Gail and Neva got along famously, too. While Don and I were off shooting too many photos, our wives were happy just to shop, browse thrift stores, or sit and share. They clicked like childhood friends.
A carpenter by trade, Don was intrigued to learn that the wood industry was king in our county. Over the next month, we would take day trips together, go out to eat, or just play dominoes. That pattern repeated last winter.
That brings me back to sitting under the canopy. We surprised both Don and Gail by crashing her surprise birthday party.
For that little coup, you can blame Ken and Ruth. That’s what lifelong friends do for one another. They help create other equally robust friendships.
That’s the thing about friendship circles. They enrich your life.
Whenever I visit Lakeside, OH, rightly dubbed the Chautauqua on Lake Erie, I head to the dock if there is at all a chance of a decent sunset. Recently, this sparkling scene greeted me. Though I couldn’t coax a boat to sail into view, the shimmering oranges that glistened off of the rippling water caught my eye.
The Marblehead Lighthouse, Marblehead, OH is one of my favorite places to linger. Winter, summer, spring or fall, it doesn’t matter. I love to linger on the lighthouse grounds, enjoying the view, the passing boats, the birds, and the folks I meet there. Most of all, however, I just like to sit on the hard limestone outcroppings and look at the lighthouse. Last evening, I visited my old friend after a day of birding along the Lake Erie shore in northwest OH.
I arrived at the lighthouse near sunset. As soon as I drove into the nearly empty parking lot, my face lit up. As the sun neared the western horizon, it broke through a layer of clouds. A soothing golden light magnificently illuminated the top of the lighthouse. I thought it rather poetic that the natural light bathed the source of the artificial beacon that the historic lighthouse would soon produce.
I had a chance to board and tour a tall ship docked at St. Marys, GA earlier this year. I enjoyed the tour and took several photos of interesting subjects and objects onboard the ship. However, I thought this photo, with its many shapes and angles, was the most interesting. The patterned sky of white and blue provided a distinctive background for the ship’s main mast.
With spring set to arrive officially on Friday at 3:45 p.m., Eastern Daylight Time, I thought a splash of natural color would only be appropriate. I captured this Gulf Fritillary butterfly flitting among sand dunes on Main Beach, Fernandina Beach, FL in late January. The white spots on each wing indicate that it was a male.
“A sign of spring” is my photo of the week. Let’s hope we all see many more such signs in the days and weeks ahead.
I shot this photo rather quickly. I was on an errand when these colors caught my eye. I stopped my vehicle, and took the photo out the window, zooming in between several trees.
Though mostly pastel, the colors appeared bright hanging on the laundry line in the late evening sun. It wasn’t until I downloaded the picture to my computer that I realized the personal aspect of the colors. They told a story all their own about the style preferences of the woman or women in this Amish family.
I have been encouraged by friends and followers of this blog to share more of my photographs. I have decided to post a Photo of the Week, choosing the best photograph taken during the previous week.
I hope you enjoy this series of photos, and I welcome your comments.
The first offering is of an Amish farmer with his Down Syndrome son. The youngster walked the length of the field to catch up to his father and the team of work horses. His father placed a large chunk of a recently cut tree trunk on the harrow for the boy to use as a seat. Half-way across the field, the father handed the reins to his young son to guide the team of horses on his own.
This time of year, especially when inches of snow cover the ground, birds flock to my backyard feeders. Please excuse the pun.
I hope you won’t mind me telling you that I get the best view of the various and sundry species of birds through the bathroom window of our modest country home. The kitchen window is good for observing birds, too, but it can’t match the wider view from the bathroom.
I wouldn’t blame you if you thought this a bit odd. It’s not really. From the bathroom window, I get the best look at the several feeders stationed around the backyard.
The bathroom is on the main floor of the house and faces to the west, which is particularly advantageous on rare sunny winter days. The afternoon sun shines brightly on the birds, adding enhanced brilliance to their winter plumage.
From the restroom vantage point I can see most of the backyard, from the perennial wildflower patch at the south to the back porch at the north. In between and straight out from the window are the little garden pond and the mature sugar maple tree. Birds are attracted to both for different reasons, water and cover, respectively.
An electric heater keeps the pond from freezing. The pump that creates the miniature waterfall runs year-round, serving as both an avian drinking and bathing station.
The maple tree, with its impressive crown, is king of the backyard. I can see all but the very top of the tree through the window. Songbirds and birds of prey perch on its welcoming outstretched branches. Its crinkled, exfoliating bark serves as a helpful tool for woodpeckers and nuthatches. They wedge sunflower seeds into the cracks and use their pointy beaks to hammer open the shiny black shells to reach the prized protein hearts.
The platform feeder and hanging feeders are also visible from my unusual viewing spot. Like most birders, I keep a camera handy to record the antics of the many aviary visitors. I capture other critters, fox squirrels, opossums and groundhogs, at the pond and feeders, too. Please know that the ironic humor of keeping a camera in the bathroom doesn’t escape me.
The digital photos help me record the comings and goings of these valued visitors all year long. Wintertime is my favorite, however, especially when a good snowfall blankets the ground. I fill the feeders, and await the action, camera in hand. The birds seldom disappoint.
Occasionally I witness a special happening. A Sharp-shinned Hawk makes a sneak attack hoping for an afternoon snack. It zips by the kitchen window and lands in the maple. I rush to the bathroom window in time to click away at the red-eyed accipiter.
Timing is often everything in bird watching. I have been able to photograph Red-headed Woodpeckers and Baltimore Orioles feeding simultaneously from the same suet feeder. From the bathroom window, I have had the perfect angle to catch brilliant Eastern Bluebirds chowing down on chipped sunflower hearts.
I have also seen a dozen or more deer munching in the shaded meadow far beyond our yard. I’ve been fortunate to see the neighbor’s horses romp on hillside pastures beneath the old windmill. I have snapped inspiring sunsets in every season. The list could go on and on.
Birding is a sport that can be enjoyed anytime, anyplace, even from the bathroom. For those who know me really, really well, that shouldn’t come as a real surprise.