Even as the wind hissed outside, the loudest noise in the Amish farm kitchen of Eli and Mahala Miller was the ticking of the kitchen clock. The coal bin was full, the cellar shelves were lined with preserves, and in the barn the buggy horses inhaled the close warmth of milk cows.
"If you keep your barn crowded, that throws heat," Miller said, resting his feet on the black coal stove. "Helps to keep them warm."
Ohio is under siege these days, crippled by the natural gas shortage and buffeted by a brutal winter that will not let up. Snowplows forage through the highways each time a new storm hits; wind over the fields scatters drifts back onto the pavement. Lanes vanish and trucks skid. Public schools and businesses, at the request of the company that supplies the state with natural gas, have curtailed hours or closed altogether.
For the Amish, who whenever possible shun autos, electricity, and any extended contacts with a modern world they find unpalatable, it is just another winter.
There have been a few troubles to be sure. Last Saturday (See AMISH, A4, Col. 3> evening, for example, a young Amish man tramped through the snow to the Miller farm after his buggy got stuck in a drift. The family pulled the buggy wheels free, but they knew then that they would not be able to attend church services, 2 1/2 miles away.
"We just figured there was no used in trying," Miller said. "It's the first time in my life that we didn't attempt to go."
The cellar is colder than usual, chilling the preserved vegetables and meat so much that Mrs. Miller is concerned. "There was a jar with just water in it, and it froze so hard it busted>" she said. And the truck that usually picks up their milk for delivery to the cheese factory had been delayed several days by the snowy roads.
But the white wood frame house the Millers share with their 20-year-old son, Ammon, is warmed by coal and lit by kerosene, as always. There is plenty of wood and coal to heat the one-room Amish schools in the countryside, and the children stay home only on the rare days when drifts keep even buggies off the road.
"A horse can go through three feet of snow, as long as it don't have a crust,' said MIller. A think frozen surface on deep snow can hurt the horse's legs, he explained. Horseshoes are treated at the onset of winter, though, to prevent skidding on ice. This week, with the quiet creak of wood and leather, Amish buggies have rolled steadily over roads that would paralyze a car.
Self-sufficiency, a rejection of all that is modern and worldly, is the essence of the Amsih way of life. "Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate," says the Bible (II Corinthians 6:17), and so they are, a German-speaking farm people whose dress, tools, and religious practices have changed very little since their ancestors left 17th-century Zurich to escape religious persecution.
Eli Miller is Old Order Amish, the most conservative of the many sects once joined together as mennonites. The central Ohio farmland that Miller works is heavily settled with Amish families. William Schreiber, a retired professor of German in Wooster, Ohio, who has researched the religion and culture, estimated that about 6,000 of America's 35,000 Amish live in the four-county area around the Miller farm.
It is the largest Amish settlement in the world, and is divided, as is the custom, into sects that warship separately. Each year a special paperbound directory lists most of the families by sect, noting dates of birth and marriage, and the occupation of each Amish household head.Harness Maker, the directory will say, or Farmer. Day Laborer, Mason, Egg Handler.
There are no telephone numbers in the directory, because there are no telephones. And its listing of Amish families is incomplete, because a few sects, deeming even the preparation of a directory to be too worldly, have refused to participate. Similar disputes over Amish practice - how to cut a man's hair properly, whether to hang lanterns on a buggy a night, how wide to cut the brim on the round black hat - have splintered other sects, producing a constant quiet debate over the presevation of the 300-year tradition and Miller simply calls "the old way of doing things."
The Millers use no natural gas, and their house had no electricity. During the summer they chill the day's milk in an icebox, which is replenished by ice trucks from Apple Creek or Wooster, but in wintertime they just set the metal milk cans in the snow to wait for the man from the cheese factory. The factory pays them $8 to $9 for each hundred pounds of milk, and that, along with Ammon Miller's salary at the carpenter shop where he sometimes works, helps pay for the staples they cannot produce themselves.
Often they shop in Wooster, 10 miles away, either riding the bus (most Amish will ride in cars, but will not drive them), or heading their buggy down the two-lane roads and into the parking lot of Buehler's Supermarket. They buy flour, Mrs. Miller said, and soap, and sometimes bread. "I used to bake, but people are getting away a little from that," she said.
Much of their meat is preserved from autumn butchering as canned beef or bologna, processed for them by an Apple Creek meat plant. They have chickens, too, which give them a steady supply of both meat and eggs. The chickens had been laying poorly a while ago, but Mrs. Miller's daughter, Esther Keim, who lives with her husband and baby in another house on the farm, put a little vinegar in their water. The eggs came right back, Mrs. Keim said.
It is not an easy life, and by the last days of January, when the wind over the glaring snow dropped the windchill factor to 20 degrees below zero, even the morning walk from the house to the milk cows in the barn had become a small struggle. The Sugarcreek Budget, an Ohio newspaper that publishes correspondence from Amish and mennonite communities across the country, was full of the weather last week: "Winter is here in earnest," from Montgomery, Ind.; "Shivering from the icy grip of winter," from Stuarts Draft, Va.
But for the Amish, as a Hartville, Ohio, man named William R. McGrath observed in the Budget, winter is not so much an enemy as one more test of self-reliance. "The fact remains that man has overextended his urban factories, schools, transportation systems, and suchlike that depend on oil and gasoline," mcGrath wrote. "Somehow, they've got to retrench and go back to a simpler way of life . . . Once again, we see how insubstantial and fragile human arrangements are when they run counter to God's weather plan."