Ohio Rhapsody (Dennis Aubrey)

Sitting in a chair in my new home in Ohio, thinking about Via Lucis, I realized that the project is as much about my beloved France as it is about medieval architecture. To me, these churches and places are infused with history and the collective memories of the millions who have passed through the stone portals.

Now PJ and I have moved to rural Ohio, just about 40 miles south of Columbus and every day we are moved by the beauty of the countryside around us.

Borah Hill and Westpoint, photo by Dennis Aubrey
Borah Hill and Westpoint, photo by Dennis Aubrey

We are continually reminded of France as we drive in the countryside around. Most of Ohio near us is flat farmland, rich with crops as far as the eye can see. From the town of Lithopolis, with a modest elevation of 945 feet, one gets a clear view of the high-rises of Columbus, 20 miles distant. But in our little corner near the Hocking Hills, there are small farms, small roads, and small villages, much like we see in France.

Sacred Heart Road, photo by Dennis Aubrey
Sacred Heart Road, photo by Dennis Aubrey

But it doesn’t take long to realize that there is something here that we don’t see in France. The first hints are signs on the back roads. We discovered that we live in the midst of a conservative Amish farming community.

Traffic sign, photo by Dennis Aubrey
Traffic sign, photo by Dennis Aubrey

PJ and I were familiar with the Amish to a degree – in 2009 we bought some lovely Amish furniture, and this spring we bought a full set of living room and dining room furniture built by Amish craftsmen.

Amish furniture, photo by Dennis Aubrey
Amish furniture, photo by Dennis Aubrey

The word “craftsmen” is an understatement, however, because this solid oak furniture is of extraordinary workmanship and quality. Even in close, detailed inspection the seam in our dining room table is invisible when closed, so finely matched are the wood grains and so perfect is the fit. And when we opened up the table for the first time to put in the leaf (stored in a special compartment), we were surprised to see that the slides are geared so that the table opens and closes with smooth action.

Dining room table slide detail, photo by Dennis Aubrey
Dining room table slide detail, photo by Dennis Aubrey

In the Bremen area, where we live, these are farmers. We see them working in their fields early in the morning and late into the evening. They grow, harvest, and provide for their families. They sell in farm stands, at the local farmers’ auction, and to local businesses. Everywhere is a bounty of vegetables and fruit, baked and canned goods, and occasional hand crafts. I bought a beautiful hand-turned cherry wood rolling-pin.

Amish harvest, photo by Dennis Aubrey
Amish harvest, photo by Dennis Aubrey

And what can I say about the quality of the produce? The watermelon was a revelation – unctuously sweet and ripe. All of the fruit – peaches, nectarines, Shinseiki pears, blackberries that we picked from their bushes ourselves (“we don’t have any picked but you can take a flat and do a ‘you-pickum'”), strawberries and ginger gold apples! Vegetables like we’ve never seen, even though PJ is an accomplished gardener. Farm corn here is unlike anything that I had ever tasted before.

Amish farm stand, photo by Dennis Aubrey
Amish farm stand, photo by Dennis Aubrey

The prices for these fruits, vegetables and farm eggs are remarkable. In the village of Bremen, I approached an Amish farmer who was in the town meat market to sell his leftover produce after the bi-weekly farmers’ auction. He sold me a flat of 25 perfectly ripe tomatoes for $5.00! The price list on the farm stand will give you an idea of what we pay for this bounty. On Tuesdays and Friday we can go to the auction and bid for lots if we need to.

Prices, photo by Dennis Aubrey
Prices, photo by Dennis Aubrey

In a world of unbridled materialism and brand consumption, the Amish are conspicuous exceptions. Nothing is wasted. The brimmed straw hats worn by the men are converted into brimless caps for the boys when they wear out. One small boy of about nine or ten wore a hat that was composed of at least ten other hat remnants, woven together for him. It was a patchwork of different colors and weaves, but it worked. His clothes were hand-me-downs and the pant cuffs were at his calves instead of his ankles. In the summer, the entire families are barefoot – men, women and children. This is not poverty but thrift.

Farm stand advertising on Sacred Heart Road - photo by Dennis Aubrey
Farm stand advertising on Sacred Heart Road – photo by Dennis Aubrey

There is a purity and openness in these people. The piercing blue eyes of the children are clear and unafraid, utterly without guile or pretense. The older children marshal the younger and everyone has a chore. When PJ and I stopped at our favorite Amish roadside stand, two young girls attended to us. One disappeared into the fields and returned with a cabbage – the most perfect cabbage either of us had ever seen, the size of a bowling ball. The girl held it in her hands like an offering, an angel offering a gift. PJ was moved almost to tears at the sight. How much we want to photograph them, to capture just these fleeting moments, but that would be a violation.

This is a different world, co-existing with our own materialistic culture. We – “the English” – are foreigners here. These people belong to their land, God, families, and laws. We are so moved to see this around us.

Yesterday there was a cow lying next to the road near the farm stand and I made bold to pet her like I had seen the children do. The cow was completely calm and I could almost swear that in her soft brown eyes I saw the same shy modesty that shone in the eyes of the children.

Roadside seat, photo by Dennis Aubrey
Roadside seat, photo by Dennis Aubrey

Somehow, we feel close to rural France that we’ve always loved when we are among these people, we feel the same echoes of the past.

Amish wagon, photo by Dennis Aubrey
Amish wagon, photo by Dennis Aubrey

And not a tourist to be seen …

26 thoughts on “Ohio Rhapsody (Dennis Aubrey)

  1. Your photographs of every church in France are more than nice, they are beautiful and more than appreciated. They are loved and respected. Some of the churches we know and others we grow to know because of your presentations. Now we will learn to know and love the Sacred Heart Road and the Amish ways: thank you for that too. Maybe you should cross the country? Thank you for everything. Lucy T.

    1. Lucy, thanks so much for your kind words. Do you live in France, that you know these churches? As far as Sacred Heart Road, it is a wonderful little enclave there. PJ and I are energized by our move. We return to France next Spring for two months, but until then will be exploring here. There are cathedrals to photograph in the midwest and we hope our friend, the photographer Ned Horn, will help guide us around.

    1. Dave, great to hear from you. We knew about the local farmlands before we moved here, but were surprised about the Amish presence. This is a small, tightly-knit community that is off the beaten path, so there is no tourism to interfere.

  2. I have visited, and loved, the Amish communities around Arthur and Arcola, Illinois. Every one of the Amish passed on the road would wave a greeting, from buggy, wagon, bicycle or walking. The Amish Swiss cheese is without peer, and the produce is indeed marvelous. I wish there was an Amish community closer to my present quarters. The Amish were among the earliest settlers on the Ohio frontier, along with the Dunkards and Mennonites and other of the Brethern. Make sure you get several pie pumpkins, they’re different from the usual big orange ones, slightly paler and not usually as huge. The pie filling is wonderful from them and the homemade pumpkin bread. I have had some lovely conversations with various of the Amish while visiting their commuities and felt very accepted by them for all of my “Englishness”. The furniture you got is gorgeous. Made to last and in it’s simplicity highlights the beautiful wood. Glad you’re settling in and happy.

    1. Aquila, we find something surprising almost every time that we read one of your wonderful comments. PJ and I spend time speculating on who you are, where you are, and what you do. Thanks for this note, especially. I forgot to mention the Amish cheese of course, which is spectacular. We can even get a farmers’ cheese that serves as a form of ricotta.

  3. I know about the Amish, I’ve read about them and watched documentaries, but it’s still mind-blowing to see your new photos of them living their lives. All praise to them. Thanks for the photos.

    1. Trish, my most profound introduction to the Amish was originally in the Peter Weir movie “Witness” with the magnificent photography of John Seale. I can never forget the opening sequence where the Amish families walk across the fields of grain to attend the funeral service. It was like they emerged from the ground that they farmed, were part of the land itself. Of course, Maurice Jarre’s music was fabulous, and the editing!? Who can forget Tom Noble’s cutting of the barn-building scene? This was a movie almost without a false note, one of my favorites of all time.

  4. Beauty is only partly in the beholder, but it there in this post both in what you see and how you see. You’re not looking at an ‘it’ – some thing or person objectified by a culture that thingifies the sacredness of nature and people. These children of the radical wing of the 16th century reformation are, it seems, what they feel called to be, “a colony of heaven.”

    1. Gordon, great to hear from you and to get some background of what we are witnessing here in our little corner of Ohio. When you and Kay come to visit, we hope that you can see this for yourself. It will move you as it moves us. And Barclay can run around to his heart’s content.

  5. I am so pleased you are happy with your new home and the community you will learn to love. I was raised in the Cnicago suburbs, but (long story) married into a Montana ranching family where we raised registered cattle for many years. There is something about the rural lifestyle that has no equal. Have fun and enjoy each day to the fullest. Kalli

    1. Kalli, thank you, as always. I had never lived the rural lifestyle, only visited (especially in France). It has certainly had its impact on me. I wake every day refreshed and optimistic – which is certainly a miracle of its own given the election cycle we are all enduring.

  6. Wonderful to read that you and PJ have such a rich life in Ohio. We hope to visit you someday and experience the delight you share so well with your words and pictures.

  7. Very pleased to see that you and PJ have settled into your new home. As for the Amish, it is sobering to see such a lifestyle in our materialistic 21st century world….

  8. I lived for one year in the States back in the sixties.In Illinois.There was an Amish community not far.But I was a bit too young to really understand what it was all about,now I understand better the values they chose to live with.Thank you for the description and the pics.

  9. What a beautiful place! So peaceful too.

    We bought some pieces of furniture from the Amish, the quality and workmanship are unsurpassed. Our dining table has that mechanism too, it works like a dream.

    I find it funny that you’re known as “the English”

    I’m very jealous of that fantastic produce! What we get in the city is pitiful and appalling.

    1. Vince, know that you and Ilene are on to new things at Edge … congratulations, perfect for you both. Talk to you soon. And please, come visit us in Ohio. You will be surprised!

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