Seeing America's Beauty as a Source of Hope

Take a trip to a beautiful spot the next time the desire to consume and be amused strikes.

Every month, my job brings me to the Amish area of eastern Ohio, in the counties of Holmes, Coshocton, and Tuscarawas. Except if the weather is severe and the routes are difficult, I am looking forward to it. It's lovely in a very particular sense. Wherever one is, the country panoramas calm the eye. However, the manner that people live on the land contributes to the beauty that I see there on a regular basis.

I see the enormous corn and bean fields on the flat stretches of the mid-state, far away from the bluffs that slope down to the Ohio River along its lengthy course, and away from the fringes of Appalachia in the south and mid- and southeast, as I travel east from my home in southwestern Ohio.

Farms are large on those prairie plains, farmhouses are spread out, and the gear that works the land is massive and costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to purchase. The country roads are peaceful, and only a few individuals can be seen, save for those whizzing around in their cars.

These farms are spectacular. They are efficient and competitive, and they have fed and continue to feed much more people than doomsaying economists ever imagined conceivable, and they have helped to make the globe less prone to hunger than at any other period in history. Despite this, there is a beauty in these areas that no longer exists.

It has something to do with scale. In Holmes, the scale is on an another level. Farmhouses are close enough together that a quick stroll or a yell can reach a neighbor. Even given the chilly and cloudy weather yesterday, I had to pay extra attention as I drove by the numerous teenagers and adults riding bicycles. There are little schools all everywhere, and chances are you'll see kids playing baseball outside during recess at one of them. People you don't know wave at you (although, seeing a very bearded guy walking through, it may have been a reverse take on The Frisco Kid's "Landsman!" moment). 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 make a pit stop to a couple cheese producers to get some work done. Two of the three I visit are family businesses started by Swiss immigrants who arrived in the United States over a century ago. I visit with the Amish production foreman in one of them, with whom I arrange the kosher certification program for certain of their goods. It's an interesting group of folks that are collaborating. Conversations shift away from business and toward family, politics, and spiritual issues. The conversation represents individuals who have a sense of connection to one another, who are aware that they are part of a wider community as well as smaller groups of family and faith in which we share shared interests but not identical involvement.

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 modest, and I knew a few kids who grew up on them. It was already alien 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 there were tiny, family-sized farms all around us. We were also nourished and impressed by the farmers' efforts. We got a taste of the unmistakable flavor of fresh local food by driving two miles down one road to pick up fresh sweet corn at a roadside stand that many farm families would set up in season, and we'd drive a mile or two further in the opposite direction to get fresh-pressed apple cider without the taste of pasteurized apples or the sourness of potassium benzoate.

When I last visited my former township, there was only one farm remained. It's now a sizable bedroom neighborhood, good enough and close enough to the East's great cities to have surging property values and awful traffic on most days. I'm sure it's still a great location to live. It has evolved into something different from what it once was, leaving little trace or feeling of continuity with what it was and the alive beauty of a way of life it previously possessed.

Nostalgia is never what it used to be, therefore this isn't meant to conjure up some idealized version of the past that reflects simply a desire for something that never was in the first place. However, conservatism in its purest form is acutely aware of realized truths and the accumulated benefits of our experience, and understands that we must not allow those things slip through our fingers due to a lack of attention or a distraction from the faddish and fleeting.

The beauty that entices me is something that is critical to our current sanity and prosperity. A life of worth and significance is a life of belonging. Massive institutions, whether in government or the business, can dazzle, but they quickly devolve into power structures that eat and destroy when they are detached from a live sense of belonging. Most importantly, they eat and ruin their worshippers' souls, consuming them from inside.

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 united by our communities, our religions, and our patriotism, our debates will become a blood sport, and our national politics will become a series of gladiatorial contests. That is not a sign of power, but rather of a culture that has abandoned compassion and civil discourse.

Technology alone will not be able to continue the discourse. We are well aware of how the media has failed and misled us, as well as the principles we require to exist, much alone prosper. We must not buy into the entertainment model they promote, the model of the passive consumer whose only duty is to buy whatever is thrown at them while avoiding any feeling of belonging and the responsibilities that come with it.

Take a journey to a place of beauty the next time the temptation to consume and be amused strikes, where one can still see and feel the delights that devour us and our culture remain alive. You will not be sorry. And you'll figure out how to protect and nurture what you see in your own life, as well as the lives of our communities and our country. That is where our hope resides.

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