- clematis, courtesy of Andrea Church.
One Womans Trash
I stood at my door staring out at my garden, surveying all that I had to do planting, weeding, mulching. A cold, snowy winter, ice dangling from the lone electrical wire that swayed in the wind, turned into a cool, wet spring with standing water in the ditch. The grass grew so fast that the horse, donkey, and goat couldnt keep up with my small pasture. I had to run the mower over the acre a rarity. And the garden seemed to fill with weeds faster than the gartenblechle, or push tiller, could knock them down. So I did some dumpster diving at the furniture store in town and pulled out rolls of old but perfectly good carpet, cut them into long strips and laid them down between my garden rows.
The carpet became mulch that smothered the weeds, a blessing during a spring that moved right into an early summer of severe flooding. Someone elses waste carpet destined for the landfill became my time saver. As a single person, I am responsible for everything that gets done on my small piece of land, and sometimes the tasks can become overwhelming. Anything that saves time, energy, or materials is welcome. I thought my lifestyle was efficient before I moved to Amishland, but since then Ive learned what it means not to waste.
My Amish neighbor Jake drove by my place in his buckboard. I waved and he nodded in return, his horse trotting on down the road. Within thirty seconds Jake was back, pulling into my lane.
I stepped out of the house and we exchanged pleasantries, taking the appropriate time to talk about the weather and the damage to the crops, before he launched into his request.
Say, Mary. I was wondering what you were planning on doing with
that fence wire.
A couple of weeks before, Id left half a roll of wire near the entrance to my lane. It was still there, waiting for me to use it for some fix-it jobs. But the rain and the weeds had overtaken me, until Id been rescued by the carpet mulch. Even the mulch took time. I made at least 10 scavenging trips to the dumpster to collect enough carpet. Then there was the measuring, cutting, and securing the strips with garden staples.
But the ground was too muddy to hold the wires in place, and when a small twister blew through, my carpet mulch ended up flying through the air and wrapping itself around the garden fence. On a trip to the hardware store, I bought a couple of dozen patio bricks. First I had to relay the carpet, then I placed the bricks on top of the mulch. Success. A week later, a straight-line wind roared through the area, splitting the neighbors apple tree in two. My garden was unharmed, everything still in its place the carpet, the seedlings, even the St. Fiacre birdbath were still where Id left them.
I just hadnt gotten back to the fence wire. I explained to Jake that I was planning on using it to replace the old wire on my clematis trellis. Then I was going to use the rest of the wire to make a compost bin.
Most of my procrastination had to do with my vision of the job. I saw myself becoming Charlie Chaplin, stretching out the fence wire only to have one end spring back and whomp me in the rear end. Id try again, facing the loose end this time, slowly uncurling the roll. Stay, Id command the loose end as if it were my dog. Stay. But just like a naughty pet, it would creep up and away from its post. Lie down. Id order. Down, boy, down. Until Id finally fetch a couple of those patio bricks from the garden and drop them on the loose end. Down, down, down.
What did you have in mind? I asked Jake.
I need to mend the backstop in the school yard, and thats just the right kind of wire, Jake said. I was thinking if it was extra and you werent going to use it, I would buy it from you.
The functioning Amish one-room school was about to have its end-of-the-year picnic, a final day of celebration for the children and their families. The grass had been mowed, the floor swept, the windows washed. But the backstop in the softball diamond still needed mending.
I shook my head. I wanted to help, but I was going to use the wire. Yet I also knew that a trip to town to buy a whole roll of fence wire he didnt need would be costly to Jake in time and money. A round-trip journey to town takes over an hour. And I knew that the Amish use everything. Nothing goes to waste. Everything eventually finds a purpose and a place.
The Amish are the original recyclers.
The Amish are the original recyclers. Scraps of material become quilts and old clothes become rag rugs things of beauty. And old clothes have to become really old to go into an Amish scrap pile. Clothes are passed down from one sibling to another. Patches are often sewn on top of patches. I shake my head at myself when I box up a pile of discards to take to The Crowded Closet, the Mennonite re-sale shop. I try to buy a minimum number of clothes of high quality that will last a long time. Yet I still find myself falling into the pattern of giving away clothes that are perfectly serviceable but hopelessly out of fashion.
Im sure the Amish laugh when they see me load up my car and drive my old cardboard boxes, magazines, phone books, newspapers, glass bottles and jars, and tin cans to the recycling station fifteen miles away. Their extra cardboard might become insulation for their chicken coops; their tin cans, seedling pots; their glass jars, containers for jelly and jams. Who needs a phone, anyway? And why would I waste my money to buy a car and pay for the gas to drive fifteen miles?
How much wire do you need? I asked Jake.
About twelve feet.
Why dont we cut off what Ill need for the trellis and the bin and see whats left? I said.
Quickly, the two of us unfurled the roll of fence wire. Jake just happened to have wire cutters in his pocket. He clipped off the trellis wire. Snip, snip, snip. He pulled off the old, worn-out, rusty wire, folding it up and mashing it down with his feet until it formed a neat, square bundle. He strung up the new wire, anchoring it to the posts and assuring that no sharp ends were protruding. Finished. Next, the cutters clipped off a piece of wire for the compost bin. We fastened it together with double-end hooks and placed the bin near the garden. No wasted actions, no wasted words. Finished with at least twelve feet of wire left over.
Now what can I pay you for this? Jake asked.
Dont worry about it, I said. This was my lucky day.
I thought it was mine, Jake said, tossing the extra wire
in his buckboard and rolling on down the road toward the school where
the children were finishing their lessons. Soon they would be ready for
the first pitch, the backstop mended. Theyd smack their fists into
their well-worn gloves that had been ripped and sewn and handed on down
through the family for years, from a brother to a sister, to son or daughter,
one small patch covering another.