Finding Our Hope in the Beauty of America - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Finding Our Hope in the Beauty of America

Every month, my work takes me driving on country roads through the Amish country of eastern Ohio in Holmes, Coshocton, and Tuscarawas Counties. I look forward to it, except if the weather is bad and those roads pose a challenge. It is beautiful in a very specific way. The country vistas soothe the eye wherever one might be. But the way that the people inhabit the land is a part of the beauty that is so consistently present for me when I am there.

One my way east from my home in southwestern Ohio, I see the great corn and bean farms on the flat expanses mid-state, far away from the bluffs that lead down to the Ohio River along its long course and away from the edges of Appalachia in the south and the mid- and southeast.

In those prairie lands, the farms are on a giant scale, the farmhouses far apart, and the machinery that works the land is huge and costs hundreds of thousands to buy. The country roads are quiet, and few people are to be seen, save those zipping somewhere enclosed in their vehicles.

These farms are awesome. They are efficient and competitive and have fed and continue to feed far more than doomsaying economists ever believed possible, and have led the way in making the world less plagued by famine than at any time in history. And yet, there is a beauty that once was present in these lands that is now gone.

That beauty has to do with scale. The scale in Holmes is of a different order. Farmhouses are not so far away from each other that a short walk or a loud shout can reach a neighbor. Yesterday, even in cold and overcast weather, I had to pay special attention as I drove to the many teens and adults riding around on their bicycles. There are small schools everywhere, and chances are, you will see the kids on recess break at one of them outside playing baseball. People you don’t know wave at you (although, perhaps, seeing a seriously bearded guy going through, it was a reverse take on the “Landsman!” scene from The Frisco Kid). There is much small-scale industry making a go of it, with many cabinetry shops attracting buyers from out of the community as well as the shops of a more specialized sort making carriages and dealing with the needs of those who use horses for their motive power.

I stop to do my work at a few cheese manufacturers. Two of the three I visit are family operations founded by Swiss immigrants who came here almost one hundred years ago. In one of them, I meet with the Amish production foreman, with whom I coordinate the program that certifies some of their products as kosher. It is an interesting mix of people working together. Conversations move from work to touch on family or politics or matters of the spirit. The talk reflects people who have a certain belonging with each other, who know they are a part of a larger community as well as the smaller communities of family and faith which we share as common interests but not identical participation.

Gargantuan structures rapidly degenerate into structures of power that consume and destroy.

I can recall the last local remnants of the human scale of the country from my childhood in Bucks County in eastern Pennsylvania. The farms were small and I knew some kids who came from farm homes. Already, it was exotic to me and most of my friends, whose parents worked in offices rather than the fields, but we knew the farms and some of the people who lived on them, and the open fields were all around us with small, family-sized farms. And we were nourished and pleased by the work of the farmers. We tasted the unmistakable taste of fresh local food, driving two miles down one road to pick up fresh sweet corn at the little roadside stand that many farm families would operate in-season, and we’d drive a mile or two longer in the other direction to get fresh-pressed apple cider with the taste of apples neither muted by pasteurization nor soured by potassium benzoate.

My old township at my last visit had only one farm left. It’s now a large bedroom community, nice enough and close enough to the big cities of the East to have skyrocketing home values and terrible traffic at the predictable times most days. It’s still a fine place to live, I am sure. It has moved on to be something else than it had been, leaving little trace or sense of continuity with what it had been and the living beauty of a kind of life that it once had.

Nostalgia never is what it used to be, so this is not to evoke some perfection that reflects only a yearning for what never really was there to begin with. But conservatism in its truest sense is deeply aware of truths realized and the accumulated gains of our experience, and knows that we must not let those things slip through our fingers for want of attention or for being too distracted with the rush and the noise of the faddish and the ephemeral.

The beauty that so draws me is something so necessary for our current sanity and our current success. A life of value and worth is a life of belonging. Gargantuan structures, whether of government or economy, can dazzle, but to the degree that they are divorced from a living sense of belonging, they rapidly degenerate into structures of power that consume and destroy. Most of all, they consume and destroy the souls of their devotees, devouring their souls from within.

The landscape of Holmes County is filled with the challenges all human beings face, and the humans who face those challenges have all the weaknesses and proclivities of humans anywhere. Yet the sense of belonging to a family, to a human-scaled life built around the land and each other and with a deep sense of the spiritual as an integral and working part of the daily mindset — this is something we all can benefit from, that we all need.

Conservatism in its truest sense is deeply aware of truths realized and the accumulated gains of our experience.

If we are not joined together by our communities, by our religion, and by our patriotism, our debates no longer serve truth, but become blood sport and our national politics a series of gladiatorial contests. That is not a sign of strength, but of a culture that has given up on humanity and a common conversation.

Mere technology cannot carry on the conversation. We know how much the media has failed us and betrayed us and the values that we need to survive, let alone to thrive. We must not buy into the entertainment model they sell, to the model of the passive consumer whose only role is to buy what is thrown at us and not to let any sense of belonging and the responsibilities that go along with belonging get in the way.

Next time the urge to consume and to be entertained attacks, take it for a drive to a place of beauty, where one can still see and feel the joys which consume us and our culture are alive. You will not regret it. And you will find a way to preserve and nurture what you see in your own life and the life of our communities and our nation. That way lies our hope.

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