Lesson’s Learned

Until recently, embarrassing as it is to say, the only thing I knew about the Amish People were bits I took away from the movie “Witness” with Harrison Ford. From that… I learned of the plain dress and avoidances with modern conveniences such as electricity and cars.

I read more, before my trip, to familiarize myself and this unmoving paragraph of material below comes from those details:

The Amish separate themselves from mainstream society for religious reasons: They do not join the military, apply for Social Security benefits, take out insurance or accept any form of financial assistance from the government.
Most speak a German dialect known as Pennsylvania Dutch at home and in church services, and learn English in school. The Amish are divided into separate fellowships consisting of geographical districts or congregations. Each district is fully independent and has its own “Ordnung”, or set of unwritten rules. The Old Order Amish are distinguished from the Beachy Amish and the New Order Amish by their strict adherence to the use of horses for farming and transportation, their traditional manner of dress, and their refusal to allow electricity or telephones in their homes. The Old Order Amish is the concept many outsiders have when they think of “Amish”.

Now, I’m going to say that I must have run into two different sectors. There were the children in the Henry Ford Museum who all had point and shoot cameras but were wearing plain clothing. They got on well with each other and were having a really great time. I imagine these were children from the “New Order”. I also saw many farms with the women hanging clothing on lines while the men plowed by horse and children played with toys in the yard. I’m guessing these are the “Old Order”.

But…My heart tells me these are just people trying to live from the land, love their children and go about their lives in relative peace while we, “the observers” look on with both curiosity and confusion. My first real Amish meeting came out of a search for of all things…fresh fruit. I’m from California, where I can go anywhere, anytime and buy fresh fruit. But the farther East, the harder it became and I decided to try my luck at an Amish farm. When I first stopped, I had high hopes of taking some photos…being a photographer in a new, interesting territory. But in the back of my mind, I kept thinking about those young girls who met with a such a senseless, tragic end (and not so long ago) and I was worried about the reception I would receive.

I left the camera in the jeep, got out and was soon greeted by a young, red haired, freckle-faced smile. She had on an blue, apron type dress and her red braids set against the sky blue color…well I knew what a great portrait it would make. There were two things against me here…First, she was a child and I never shoot children without their parent’s consent. Second, I just could not ask. My “better self” had turned against me, as it has in the past. I put the thought far back out of my mind. Instead, I spoke to her about the wonderful greenhouse full of good things and told her about the greenhouse my family had when I was her age. She told me about their farm and the crops they grew. We talked and laughed for a while and then she showed me her little counter where the most beautiful blueberries were piled high. I bought 4 pounds, exchanged one last smile and a wave with her and went on my way.

Some would say I missed my moment there to capture something rare in that young Amish girl. I would say I missed nothing, it’s all in my head for me to re-live… more important… I made a connection with someone… and came to an understanding about myself that day.

On my way again, I happened to pass one of those black, horse drawn carriages the Amish move around in. Even from quite a distance I could see the determination in that Mother’s face as she lead that rickety thing at break-neck speed down the road. I took only four frames, at very slow speed, so their identities would remain their own. I’m not sure how I feel about these few photos still. I have a strong need to protect these people from an imposing world, but I also think it’s important for the rest to know… they are just trying to live…like you…and like me. They simply made a different choice in the living of it.

3 Responses to “Lesson’s Learned”

  1. Loved your story. It made me miss living in PA. We would often go to Lancaster to visit the museums and shops. There were a few Farmers Markets we would make special trips to -since they were only open one day a week. The people there are always very gracious and friendly.

  2. It’s a favorite place for me to visit. My parents were from York, PA, not far from the Amish country side, so I visited the area often as a boy and later as an adult.
    Most Amish folk seem pretty friendly and open to photography if asked, as I remember.
    I remember a National Geographic image of a young Amish boy holding a pet hampster. His expression just said it all…….. about the simple life and values they hold.It was a great portrait, I think shot by a NG photographer named Allard. As I recall, it was one of his first photographs that was published by NG as he first started out with them.

    Brought back memories….Thanks for sharing!
    (love the sense of motion in the horse and buggy shot!)

  3. I sat next to someone yesterday at a brunch who took his wife to Amish Country for her birthday. She had always wanted to go. It’s a fascination for a lot of people.

    I’m kind of glad your better self intervened. And some greater power must have decided to reward you by giving you a fabulous horse and buggy shot! I agree — great sense of motion.

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