The News from Augusta, Wisconsin

An Amish man and his seven year old son ride north on Stone Street in an open black carriage wagon behind a magnificent black Arabian. I raise my hand in greeting and shout out “A lovely horse, that!” The Amish man grins broadly and shakes the reins slightly.


C and I are tired of hotel life and it's a needless expense. It's been six months since I came north to Minneapolis, into the hellish snow. The gig was horrible, replete with politics and wretched solutions and I was glad to see it end. To make our money last longer, we moved into one of her brother's apartments. It's a decidedly odd feeling to be freed from hotel life. After several years, a hotel room starts looking like a prison cell and they're all the same. For once, I'm not winnowing through my possessions as I've always done, getting everything into my truck.


We made two loads of my stuff, well three: C took the food in her car's trunk. Well, four. C and I stuffed one queen mattress into the back and tied another queen mattress to the roof of the poor little Rodeo and it flapped like an enormous flounder all the way from Eau Claire to Augusta. Then there was the air conditioner et. al., I suppose five. Add a few more for good measure, what the hell. We've been at it a while. Nobody could find the box springs for the queen mattress so we've put the two queen mattresses over each other and though this is a heathen and dissolute sleeping arrangement it's marvelous comfy and we'll get around to getting things right over time, just not yet.


Now we have an actual stove with an oven and baking sheets and a wrought iron baker's shelf rack for a bamboo steamer stack and Pfalzgraff china with proper big coffee cups and plates and new bed linens and a stack of new non-stick pans with glass lids and a place to put our Pat O'Brien's glasses from New Orleans and my bag of basmati rice and my jar of koshihikari sushi rice. Enough cabinets and counter space, oh the luxury of it! Three bedrooms for two people, granted they're small, but that means an office and a junk room and things on shelves and not in my spartan cases. Surprisingly, Internet service is superb: the fiber optic cable runs by this building and the central office is right down the street, though C has to stand by the window to get her Sprint cell phone to work.


The phrase “measuring for curtains” takes on its full metaphorical meaning. I am finally living somewhere again, with a real address. It won't be for too long, but it's our first place and we love it and I am trying to stay in the area while C finishes school.


This is a rich green landscape, east of Eau Claire. It's been a wet spring, with floods in the valleys. It’s late June and no mosquitoes, not yet anyway. The corn is about six inches high though not everyone's planted yet. Driving on Route K, I saw two Amish men raising cut hay into a farm wagon with an ingenious belt elevator, working furiously to beat an oncoming rainstorm, their draft horses marching into a turn at the end of a field guided by a boy of perhaps ten, wearing a straw hat, standing on the chariot perch, reins in hand.


All sorts of vehicles come down Stone Street. I've seen Amish two-wheel trap carriages, four wheel enclosed carriages, four wheel open wagons, four wheel all-terrain vehicles, semi-trucks headed to the lumber yard at the end of the street, tractors great and small, pickup trucks with vertical exhaust pipes (useful for driving half-submerged), rusty old beaters eaten up with salt cancer, tourists in Mercedes cars, a few mopeds. The street is marked for ATVs and snowmobiles.


Puts me in mind of that old joke about “what goes clop-clop-clop BANG BANG, cloppety-cloppety.... ? An Amish drive-by shooting.”


G the building handyman comes in on his bicycle and trailer, a converted baby puller. He's pulled off the child carrier and put a two foot square piece of plywood on it with a bungee cord to haul stuff around. A garrulous, slovenly old soul, he stands out front with me, wasting time, smoking his vile, cheap cigarillos, grinning through a half inch of beard and horrid teeth, telling me about doing a half-decade in prison for drug dealing and assorted madness. He hates the Amish. They think the rules don't apply to them. Why, he says a bunch of them were catching buckets full of the trout the state had stocked in the millpond at Dells' Mills. When someone said they would call the warden, they ran off and left their children behind. I gravely nodded quite sure the opposite was true. The Amish would never leave their children behind.


Here are also Mennonites, another people entirely from the Old Order Amish. Their women wear starched headdresses and drive cars. Yet both people are plain spoken, keeping their own counsel. They will deal with each other in business but will not willingly associate with each other. The divisions between them go back to the Anabaptist schism of 1693. Of the Mennonites I am still ignorant. I knew some Mennonite missionaries in Africa. The Old Order Amish do not evangelize.


C needs a table. I measured her, sitting in my office chair and determined what the ideal height would be. It ought to be seven feet long, three feet wide and 32 inches high. The Amish of this area are superb woodworkers. We asked around and were told to go to Herman Borntreger’s, an Amish lumberyard down by the creamery. Two people recommended him. So down we drove to his place on County Highway R, only to find it closed at the lunch hour. As we prepared to drive away, a young Amish man ran briskly across the highway and caught us. He opened the shop for us and showed us in.


A shadowy workshop, filled to the ceiling with logs and planks of red oak, cherry, walnut, hickory, poplar and even teak from Brazil. The workshop mostly made siding flooring and moldings, though they sold hardwood lumber. The Amish won’t connect to the electric grid so the whole place was powered by “Amish electricity”, free-standing motors driving belts, hydraulic and pneumatic tools. The young man clambered over the piles, bringing us treasures. Lit in a shaft of sunlight was a perfect piece of maple, as good a piece of wood as I have ever seen in my life, fit for a king’s rifle stock, its grain wandering in that peculiar pattern called the Bird’s Eye. Across the courtyard, two Amish girls ran barefoot across the yard, shrieking happily, a little black dog frolicked behind them.


We explained what we wanted: the young man gave us the business card of Levi and Lovena Hershberger, tables our specialty. E22680 County RR, Augusta WI 54722. No phone number. 8 to 5 Monday through Saturday, closed Sundays and holidays.


I have so much to learn. It is another culture entirely, this. The old familiar routine of asking for advice, always beginning with the first phrase anyone should learn in any language: I do not know anything.


I am the stranger. Oh I’m happy enough to be here. I can be a good stranger, wary and friendly in a small town. I have followed my heart to this place after many years on the road. I cannot say if this is where I’ll stay, but it is home for now. Home. What an odd sensation, to have a pair of keys instead of a piece of plastic.


Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.
Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union


The photographs speak for themselves. Impossibly green, early summer in Wisconsin must be seen to be believed.  Let me know if they're trouble at this size and I'll go in and resize.













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Ocala Farms


We have lots of great farms here in Ocala as well but these are simply awesome!

That's it...


I am going to abuse my powers as a mod and promote this to the front page.


Fine writing and photography, as usual.

"I've been on food stamps and welfare.  Anybody help me out?  No!" Craig T. Nelson (6/2/2009)

OK, you will remember SE Asia green

mmghosh's picture

but this is true Gangetic delta green (no filters!).




freedom is a fundamental value that does not need to be justified in terms of some other value like efficiency





Hey Trav


How'd you find a tree on Mars?

In the medical community, death is known as Chuck Norris Syndrome. 

It was a plant



Arrgh. (holds head in hands)



Great pic.

mmghosh's picture

You really do have an eye for such things, Trav.

freedom is a fundamental value that does not need to be justified in terms of some other value like efficiency

There used to be an old gao tree north of Zinder, in Niger


far, far out in the desert and nobody could explain how it got there.   It was once a signpost of sorts, everyone who crossed the Sahara knew it.    Some years back, a careless truck driver knocked it down.   It's now in a museum in Niamey.

Strangely, I read that in a book by Desmond Bagley.

mmghosh's picture

Sadly underrated 60s and 70s British thriller writer - in a Amblerish way.

freedom is a fundamental value that does not need to be justified in terms of some other value like efficiency

It's called L'Arbre du Ténéré


Its picture is over here.   In a world where every bit of trivia is immortalised, it even has its own wiki entry.

As Far As I Can Remember, this is Just North of Masada...


...inland heading toward the great geological barrier wall of the Maktesh Ramon, and further North to Be`er Sheva.


I'm doing pictures tonight and I had to add some fun to your....not only beautiful, but evocative and accurate images of Wisconsin. Fabulous, you are.


Best Wishes, Traveller

It seems to be a fairly common motif.

aireachail's picture

While in the Gulf in '91, 3 of us grabbed a vehicle and drove all the way to Bahrain and down to see the much-talked-about "Tree of Life".


It wasn't quite as impressive or mysterious as we'd been led to believe, and it definitely wasn't as awesome as the one in your picture. It's "A" on the map.


**I haven't tried embedding a Google map before, so I'm hoping it's doesn't have an adverse impact on the site**





View Larger Map

"3 of us grabbed a vehicle and drove all the way to Bahrain..."




...I just love that says everything about you and your friends and the general, the good and the bad.


One the one hand you should not have done this....on the other, How very, very frickin` GREAT that you did....and that you could.


I'm impressed.


Kudos to you.


(the Google Map embed works well)


Best Wishes, Traveller

Goodness no. Not a problem at all.

aireachail's picture

We maintained 3 detachments. Two in Saudi Arabia and one in Bahrain. Det commanders shared "health & comfort" run duties equitably. The only way that would have been a "should not have" is if someone had gone unaccompanied (officers weren't supposed to drive a vehicle solo at any time) or if had been an impromptu trip north of the border ("A" for initiative..."F" for implementation).

Reminds me of the movie Witness


which is one of the only genuinely challenging stories I think Hollywood has ever done. Two cultures studying each other through a glass darkly, and a romance flares into life, but it cannot work. How can this be? One country, many worlds, and incompatible. 

"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes

The movie "Witness" deeply angered the Amish.


They're acutely aware of what's said about them and who says it.    Hollywood seems perfectly incapable of depicting people of faith with an iota of respect.  

I think the anger & the calls for boycott


were mostly due to unwanted publicity. The Amish are accutely aware that the rest of the country has a kind of voyeuristic fascination with their simple lifestyle, with little understanding of the faith behind it. It must be troubling; belief calls you to withdraw from the world, yet withdrawing makes you an object of intense interest to the world. The portrayal of Amish life in Witness is accurate in the broad strokes, although Kelly McGillis's character is certainly not a model Amish widow. I'd say there's more than an iota of respect (if not exactly enough), but any film production by its very nature is going to conflict with matters of Amish faith. How then should they be represented, or should they be represented at all? Amish of course would be unlikely to approve of your pictures, or of this website.


It's a dilemma. 

"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes

The Amish are guided by different principles.


Okay, some explanation is probably warranted. The Amish are neither heroes nor villains, though there are aspects of both in their culture. Perhaps it’s easier to consider another group, the Hasidim, who’ve gotten the Hollywood Treatment with considerably more nuance if no more respect. Hollywood just can’t write religious motivation with genuine conviction.


The Amish have not withdrawn from the world: they’re fascinated by progress and the outside world. They have different priorities. They place their sense of community above all else. They’ve had centuries to work out how to maintain it and know exactly how it breaks down. The Beachy Amish allowed automobiles into their communities and the kids left in a single generation. The Hasidim reduce themselves to an even more extreme form of isolation on Shabbos. Modern conveniences, especially television, give an unrealistic view of life.


The movie Witness contains so many factual errors about the Amish it’s hard to begin in any one place. Suffice to say the Amish use the telephone when it’s needed. And the Amish go to hospitals: they would never have kept a wounded man on their own property.


The Amish prohibition on the telephone began in the era of the party line telephone, where one person could listen in on other people’s calls, thus fostering gossip and dissention. The Amish routinely ride in other people’s motorized vehicles: they’re just not going to own those vehicles. They own tractors and farm implements: they put steel wheels on them to keep the speed down and make them fit for use in the fields. They’re not against motors or electricity: they’re opposed to putting themselves on the power grid. They’re pacifists because they were persecuted by the armies of Europe. They don’t grow moustaches because it was once a sign of the military officer. The Amish girls love rollerblades: it’s not against their rules, Amish girls on skates, their skirts swirling around them is a common sight. They don’t collect Social Security or purchase insurance because they don’t want to interlock with the government.


Hollywood just doesn’t grok religion and it’s a huge blind spot. The closest we’ll ever get to Hollywood and religion is the ubiquitous scene in the church where Our Hero is sitting in the pew of an empty church. Of course, this is merely a lead-in for a bit of one-on-one dialogue with another character, who always sits in the pew behind Our Hero. Let no man say Hollywood ever showed a working congregation which drew sustenance from faith and shared values.


Hollywood doesn’t shoot scenes where groups of people are talking. It’s always some clever repartee featuring at most three people in the frame. There’s no sense of communal friendship, which is why Hollywood will never make a good movie about the South, or about black culture, or Asian culture or the military. It’s always about the Big Star and his attendant beta characters, with lots of extras. Hollywood has never shot a movie about a happy family: unhappy families are not only the norm, but there’s so much cheap drama to be squeezed out of bickering with those we love. Hollywood doesn’t grok America and never really has.    I could write six hilarious scripts about an actual military unit without stopping for more than one cup of coffee between each of them.   They'd never see the light of day because they wouldn't be Star Vehicles, featuring brooding heroes.   They'd be about realistic jamokes in surreal yet witheringly accurate situations.    There would be very few heroes.   


As for the Amish and websites, they’re selling goods through intermediaries on the Web. It’s not a question of approval or disapproval. It’s a matter of what maintains communities and what tears them apart.

Only to the extent


that any movie fails to portray things accurately.  Hollywood screenwriters may not be very religious, but they also have time and drama constraints.  Witness avoided obvious caricatures and made a pretty good effort at character development for a crime drama.


Does Sidney Lumet count as "Hollywood"?  Running on Empty has most of what you say Hollywood lacks, if you can substitute radical hippies for evangelicals.

Basically, According to wiki "common knowledge" near

brutusettu's picture

Amish country isn't quite right.

Some use Amish for all the groups like that.
For the rest, Amish are the ones that don't use lawn mowers and the like. Mennonites are the less strict ones in terms of technology.
Mennonites are the ones seen wearing dresses while using a large riding lawn mowers and making it difficult to go the quick way on Sundays because the crazy amount of bearded bicyclist and horse & buggies.

The Hasidim don't shun modern technology at all,


except when it's connected to something considered non-kosher, so the analogy is a little hard to follow. There are trivial inaccuracies in Witness, but nothing that flagrantly violates the values & beliefs of that community. Widows stray. The Amish most certainly don't bring their young sons to the hospital when doing so might get that son killed as in the movie, and they might avoid the telephone for the same reason: being off the grid is part of what makes it such a good thriller. They certainly don't like handguns, and the scene between the elder and the young boy over Book's gun is one of the most powerful in the movie. The off-the-grid idea acts as a fascinating conjunction between what we might think of as two religions: the Hollywood religion of noirish hardboiled cool vs. the Amish one which shuns all such vanities & pretenses. The film is an intersection between a simple, austere people who are taught to avoid pretention & vanity, and the film industry which thrives on both.


I think the Amish were uncomfortable with the movie for two reasons: one, it brought unwanted attention, sightseers, lookie loos & Hollywood hangers on, turning their lives & families into public spectacles more than ever before. Two: the movie strikes right to the core of the single biggest and most heartwrenching problem the Amish communities face, which is the temptation to leave, to join the world. Many of their children do. They aren't a gestapo: their community is sustained by faith in and respect for the established ways. The temptation for young people to leave must be overwhelming at a certain period in their lives, and the movie finds that exact nerve and leans on it.  

"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes

I said the Hasidim lock down on Shabbos.


The inaccuracies were pretty glaring.   Witness was a profoundly condescending movie, all round.  The Amish have guns, by the way, they hunt: they're exceedingly well armed pacifists.  As for the tourists, the Amish have come to terms with them:   at the Walmart, buying curtains, an Amish man and his family came past, their cart loaded up with flat trays of candy obviously intended for resale, the sort of thing we see on the Gimme Rack of any checkout counter.   Nobody up here really likes the tourists, not the English, not the Amish, not the Mennonites.   They like their money and that's where it ends.  


Actually, the Amish do have their own little Gestapo.   They force people to publicly confess sins in front of the congregation.   If they don't like your performance at this confession, the Amish shun, and it can happen for the slightest reason.   Run afoul of the Ordnung, their unwritten code of conduct, and you're no longer part of the economic, social and spiritual web of the congregation.  


The Amish understand not all their children will stay.   Their real problem is getting enough farmland for them all.   For this reason, many of the Amish boys will go into woodworking and day labor:  my landlord employs quite a few of them.    Dude, the Amish have been at this for centuries:  they know the appeal of the outside world and they also understand few Amish children will want to marry someone who doesn't understand their livestyles.   To get married, you have to be baptized and join the congregation.    They don't force this on their children, during adolescence, the children are positively encourage to bend the rules.   Just the other day around here, two Amish teenagers were racing their buggies and had an accident.   They come into town, hell, I'm looking out my window this instant and there are three of them hanging around.  


In short, Witness condescends to everyone:  the Amish and the viewer alike.   The Amish are perfectly aware of their world, they aren't quaint relics of another time, sustained by faith and respect for the established ways.    They're constantly adapting, in light of their own communities, like the Hmong people I saw at the market today, holding onto their communities as best they can.

Green is a great colour.

mmghosh's picture

I hope you'll let me add some more green pix to the wonderful collection.


What really struck me in the farmlands of the USA was the enormous expanse of the landholdings.  Bigness is what people emigrate to the USA for!  Over here (and in Europe) smaller holdings and smallholdings mean drystone walls, hedges, even little ridges with small canals/watercourses running through them.  And all these hold an incredible variety of birdlife and especially wildflowers.

freedom is a fundamental value that does not need to be justified in terms of some other value like efficiency

Those huge farms are definitely a Midwestern phenomenon...


I still remember driving across the US in the early 80's and marvelling over the endless expanse of cornfields across Illinois, Indiana and Nebraska. I have to say I prefer the more varied landscapes of upstate NY and New England (aka "Veryork" to one local homesteader/blogger.)

"I've been on food stamps and welfare.  Anybody help me out?  No!" Craig T. Nelson (6/2/2009)

By all means, add away.


Here in Augusta, the farms are not all that large:  the Amish have been here since the 1960's with large families and the farms have been subdivided.   This is dairy country, though most of it is made into cheese.   There's timber here, most of the wood in Hiram's warehouse is from within 100 km of here.   To the north, circling around to the east is a sandy area the locals call The Barrens, not fit for intensive farming and much of it has been converted into public lands.  


There's wildlife here, and plenty of it.   I go downstairs every morning for my walk just before the sun rises and hear a barn owl hooting.   And I'm in the town proper.    I have seen several different birds of prey, bald eagles, red tail hawks, Cooper's hawks and many different herons, including the now-rare sand hill cranes.   Fish fill the creeks and lakes.   Turkeys, elk and deer are common.  Wolves and bear are now plentiful enough to justify a limited hunting season.  

Yes, upstate NY was similar

mmghosh's picture

we went driving around the Finger Lakes country - good wine country, too, we realised.  I must say we had no idea that they made wines up in upstate NY.  Great farmer's markets too, selling blueberries, strawberries, nectarines and so forth.


We had blueberries for the first time - the most amazing fruit in the US for me.

freedom is a fundamental value that does not need to be justified in terms of some other value like efficiency

Here are my images from the Eau Claire Farmer's Market


Wiemer vinyards in the Finger Lakes


is truly, truly outstanding. Strictly white wines, that's their deal. The Wiemer Rieslings are among my favorite things to drink, period. I'm sorry that I'm too late to share the tip...I didn't know you were headed up there when we met for lunch, but if anyone else is thinking of hitting western New York wineries, ya gotta stop by that place. Just stay away from their frost cuvee, it's not as good as everything else.


Funny thing, DougJ over on Balloon Juice mentioned an excellent Finger Lakes riesling a couple months ago, and I guessed the label right off the bat. Doug blogged his review.

"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes

Don't know that one.


Looks like it's on Seneca?


My family usually goes to Keuka -- Konstantin Frank is a can't-miss.

A man must be orthodox upon most things, or he will never even have time to preach his own heresy.


Konstantin Frank...anything special on their list?


I'll definitely look for it.

"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes

Been a number of years since I've been


... but they're known for their dry & semi-dry rieslings -- I'm a drier-the-better kinda guy, and their dry really hit my, err, sweet spot.  (It was probably a 2006 that I had.)  I remember their Gewurztraminer fondly, but I don't have a lot to compare that to -- and their sparkling white, which they averred was done strictly according to methode champenoise, was quite good, too.


This NY Times review of domestic rieslings from 2009 calls Frank & Wiemer "almost annoyingly interchangeable" -- the writer "can never quite decide which [he] like[s] better."  Looks like a trip out Seneca way is on the agenda next time I'm up that way.


(Speaking of -- ever been to this placeHighly recommended.)

A man must be orthodox upon most things, or he will never even have time to preach his own heresy.


Farmer's markets in Manhattan, in Rockefeller Place

mmghosh's picture

of all places was what pleased me the most.  Watching cabbages, potatoes, aubergines being sold open in little paper bags virtually next to Wall Street...amazing.


I've still got the couple of bottles of wine (white Rieslings) tucked away!

freedom is a fundamental value that does not need to be justified in terms of some other value like efficiency

Just came back from LA


Sadly, the east coast farmer's markets can't touch the movement in California, both north and south. The Hollywood Farmer's Market is now filling four city blocks with amazing produce as well as food, soap, baked goods, and the like. You can make a breakfast out of all the free samples of fruit that are available.


And what fruit! As a fruit lover, I'm amazed that more isn't made of the pleasure of fruit in foodie circles. A perfect peach is better than any pastry made by man, in my book. Yet how rarely can you find the perfect peach in New York! If you're in one of the LA Farmers Markets at the right time of year, you'll find it guaranteed.


Last week it was the strawberries in SoCal, and the average strawberry there was probably better than anything I'll find in New York... including of course the Long Island and Jersey strawberries that are available during a narrow window at this time of year. I love NYC to death but some things I truly miss about LA...

"I don't want us to descend into a nation of bloggers." - Steve Jobs

Seconded about peaches.

mmghosh's picture

not to forget the various perrys, although it is an individual thing.

freedom is a fundamental value that does not need to be justified in terms of some other value like efficiency

Did you visit Wiemer, then?


Apologies if you said you had. My memory isn't what it was (as far as I recall).

"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes

Not Weimer, no

mmghosh's picture

I don't think so anyway.  I'll have to check on the bottles when I get home.

freedom is a fundamental value that does not need to be justified in terms of some other value like efficiency