Monday, February 06, 2006


I like to explore things. It makes life interesting, and leaves one more satisfied with their lot in life. For instance, I recently visited Amish territory in Indiana. I was attracted to the scenic quality of Amish life, the bucolic beauty of the Indiana countryside, the sight of all those little carts rattling along, the horses dutifully pulling them along the roadside.

A feeling of envy went through me. I wanted to immediately trade in my car for one of those little carts. I wanted to go jogging along the street, flicking the reins and realizing that I would never need gas, just a load of hay now and then and a little tender, loving care in the stalls.

I explored the Amish countryside. I had thought the Amish lived a life of simple poverty, but I was wrong. Those farms are huge affairs, with rolling acreage studded with fields of crops. That land is worth a fortune to any developer itching to place rows of houses along those fields, uprooting trees and shrubbery. But the Amish people hang onto their acreage, plant it with crops, and live on the proceeds. Not a bad way of life at all!

When they plow, they don't bother with just a horse plugging along, pulling its burden, or a team of horses. They hitch about six horses to the plow and have plenty of horsepower, with the Amish man guiding this collection along the furrows. They look similar to the dogwalkers in New York City, where the leashes of several dogs are held by one brave walker who somehow keeps these canines from entangling themselves.

I visited Amish restaurants and bought supplies in a grocery store frequented by the Amish. The only difference was the grim lack of huge freezers and the fact that I had to push my groceries along at the checkout counter with muscle power. No conveyor belts there.

There is something attractive about Amish men. They are bearded, with big hats, muscles bulging beneath their shirts, and always...always courteous and gallant. Like chivalrous men in the royal courts of Olde England, they doff their hats to ladies, allow them to enter a door first, and embellish these courtesies with smiles.

It makes one yearn for a simplier existence, to chuck all of the trappings of society and head for the woods, living off the land, boiling up squirrels and rabbits for dinner, picking the berries from the fields. Imagine! No utility bills, no telephone bills, no car insurance, house insurance, dog license, etc. Just an untrammeled, glorious existence, enjoying the beauties of nature!

I felt this way until I explored the lives of the Amish women. To me, it seemed to be a rather rugged existence, consisting of baking, having children, and consorting with other Amish women who baked and had children. Most of them are very plump, which leads one to wonder if they are selling those baked goods or eating them. But the thing that really flabbergasted me was the existence of those little Amish bonnets.

Here are the Amish men, rugged and attractive, flourishing those wide hats that flatter any man wearing them, beards covering any facial imperfection. Then, here are the women, stuck for a lifetime in those silly little bonnets, bonnets more fitting for infants in cradles, these little lacy headgear perched upon their heads like a signal of perpetual obedience, perpetual feminine subordination, perpetual giggly, brainless fluff.

I could not contemplate life with that bonnet on my head. I would be tempted to try wearing a wide-brimmed red hat, complete with feather and bows and ribbons. In my cart, I would ride along, bowing to strangers, my red hat gleaming in the sun. Oh, how those Amish men would smile and nod at this apparition, this sign of independence, this banner of female independence.

That's my trouble. That's the curse haunting me. ....this urge to explore and condemn what doesn't appeal to my preconceived notions. Perhaps Amish women are superbly happy in those little bonnets. Perhaps Laura Bush is happy in those prim suits! Who am I to judge the contentment of another woman? Perhaps some women are satisfied with baking, having children, and wearing that identifying little bonnet.

Most American women in the heartland of America have settled upon a costume that identifies them as busy females. We wear pants, tee or sweat shirts and sneakers or sandals. This, like the bonnet, identifies us. The fashionable attire is saved for work, or special occasions, or visits to New York or any other big city. The usual combo is fine for visits to the supermarket or the hardware store.

Perhaps we are as confined in our lifestyles as the Amish women. As we juggle our children, working lives and homelives, our lives become as rigid as theirs must be. With one difference. We forego the bonnet, just as we deplore the existence of the burka. I don't know the religious reasons for the Amish bonnet, if they exist. But I do know there is something to be said about hair that can blow freely in the breeze and faces that can be lifted joyfully to the sun!