This afternoon I came upon a sight I hadn’t seen for awhile: a large field farmed by an Amish man that had rows upon rows of wheat shocks in it.
The modern way to gather wheat or, as the Amish would say, the English way, is to use a diesel-powered grain combine that, just as the machine's name implies, combines two or three steps of the harvest, and can travel around 25 miles per hour. There were plenty of combines in the bucolic Litchfield Hills region of Connecticut where I lived for almost three decades, but there were no Amish families farming with horses pulling a plow. At least none that I saw. And no wheat shocks, unless the farmer was a performance artist who thought assembling a few might be something entertaining for the neighbors.
Now that I’m back in Ohio, sights I grew up with are familiar yet new to me. For instance, I encounter the Amish driving their horses and buggies almost daily on my route to and from work. Although I’ve been back in the Buckeye State for about 14 months now, every time I see a horse and buggy I’m curious about the ability of the Amish people to preserve their culture – especially in a world where it’s become easy to trade your identity for a new one.
However, the Amish, generally speaking, seem to stay the course. They’re steady and solid. They know where they came from, and they know where they are going. Their nose is to the grindstone, and in the Good Book.
But I do wonder if the Amish farmer ever looks at his neighbor down the road, the one with the brand new, bright green combine, and secretly wishes he could trade those Belgian draft horses for a John Deere. I suppose, human nature being what it is, that thought does cross his mind now and then. Any farmer will tell you that fieldwork is a hard life (I had grandfathers who farmed, so I know this to be the case). But it’s especially true for those who choose to forego modern conveniences and remain true to their beliefs and convictions.
Instead of a combine, the old-fashioned method for cutting wheat in the field involves a horse-pulled binder that makes the wheat into small bundles that are tied with binder twine. These bundles are then formed by hand into shocks, placed (by hand) into rows and left to dry. The shocks keep the wheat upright and off the ground -- and therefore free of moisture. Creating shocks takes a great deal of time and effort, so you can understand why I was so impressed to see a huge field of them.
When the wheat has dried, the farmer will take his horse-drawn flatbed wagon back to the field to gather the shocks for threshing – the process that separates the wheat from the chaff. The wheat is then ground into grain or sold, and the chaff can be used for livestock bedding.
Driving by that field of wheat shocks reminded me that most people have areas of their lives where they need to consciously separate the wheat from the chaff. The problem is that we get so caught up in the day-to-day goings on that we simply throw everything into one big pile. Then we become frustrated and discontent because we’re not focusing on things we should, and we’re giving credence to things we shouldn’t.
Maybe the Amish farmers are typically unwavering in their lifestyle because, without a shiny combine, their fieldwork goes slowly. Their hands are physically touching the wheat at every step of the process – especially when forming it into shocks. These farmers have felt the wheat and the chaff and know the difference.
That large field filled with wheat shocks served as a lesson for me. It was a wake-up call to be vigilant about those things I’m planting and gathering, and it was also a reminder that separating the wheat from the chaff is an essential step of the harvest.