Driving to David Kline’s farm was a series of flashbacks. From Wooster to Apple Creek I paid little notice to the passing countryside, having passed it so many times before, but past Apple Creek I was sad that I couldn’t enjoy the view. The rolling hills now were painted with the dusty orange and washed-out yellow of autumn. At one point we drove through a promenade of tall trees, I couldn’t tell what species they were, but their crowns were all a crisp fiery orange, as if a pumpkin patch had decided to renounce the confines of rotundity and leap up to the skies.
When we arrived to Criswell and Carr, that intersection at a sharp angle, I remembered having driven down to a farm in those parts earlier in the month to have my walnuts hulled. I talk about walnuts too much, perhaps, but I enjoy them, and navigating Amish country without a GPS was such an interesting experience. Other clients at the farm had filled wagons attached to their buggies with burlap sacks of walnuts– my meager 10 pound collection of the nuts paled by comparison. These clients made good conversation with the family that was running this business, and with each other. This– gathering walnuts and travelling down to the Yoder farm to have them hulled– was a tradition within the area, not just for the Amish but the larger Wayne-Holmes county community as the whole. I was happy to have been a part of such a bucolic tradition and to remember my experience on the way to the Kline farm.
Upon our arrival, I didn’t know what I was expecting but a number of things stood out to me: the compactness of it all, with buildings huddled relatively close together and to the roads, the homestead resembling a hamlet among the surrounding acres of land. The new house had a spacious porch with raw support beams that smelled like fresh lumber. The inside of the first barn we saw felt like the bowels of a great merchant ship, with a maze of wooden structures, and pens dimly lit by sparse sunbeams, and the warm, earthy smell of animals. The barn cats made themselves known soon after we arrived, and enamored all of us while Mr. Kline showed us around the barn. They reminded me of my uncle’s cats on his farm– less domestic and more a feature of the land; a constant. Regarding barn cats, the question seems less, “will there be any?”, and more, “How many will there be?”.
Sedentary agriculture begets close contact with animals, which in turn seems to engender a fondness for them, and Mr. Kline has shown in writing and in speech his appreciation for all life. His love for birds goes without saying, and he loves his cattle enough to see them as more than a money-maker. Something that I marveled at was that his farm only raised enough animals to provide for the family. There was little to do with profits. Here, one farmed for the enjoyment of it and the life that came with it. The deliberateness of it all would be enough to stump even Thoreau.
After meeting Mr. Kline, I determined to take that sociology course on the Amish the next time it would be offered. His book does tell a lot about his lifestyle and his worldview as shaped by his culture, but there’s more that I would like to know about Amish and general religious approaches to the natural world. The emphasis on separation from the buzz of modern life and on close neighborly and familial relationships, and how those values have intersected with environmentalism, are particularly interesting. While we listened to Mr. Kline in the other barn, I couldn’t help but fell warm and fuzzy when he described how sometimes they clean it up to have weddings and church services. Seeing the grandchildren spying on us with innocent curiosity from outside the barn and from atop the hay bales within the barn, and even the little girl playing in a feed trough outside, convinced me that I was in an entirely different world from the one I had woke up in earlier that day.