BOOK REVIEW / Horse before the car: 'Great Possessions: An Amish Farmer's Journal' - David Kline: Sumach, 8.99

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
'THE AMISH are not necessarily against modern technology,' explains David Kline. 'We have simply chosen not to be controlled by it.' A member of the Amish community in Fredericksburg, Ohio, Kline practises 'diversified sustainable farming', small-scale agriculture based on 18th-century European methods and handed down across generations. He uses a four- or five- year crop rotation, no chemical fertilisers, no insecticides, no tractor. The pace of life is determined by the main item of farm equipment, the horse: 'because God didn't create the horse with headlights', the Amish farmer doesn't work nights.

Not least among the perks attending this way of life is a surprising amount of leisure time, most of which Kline spends watching and recording (with a pen) the local flora and fauna. These are his 'great possessions'. When not following animal tracks through the snow (which he calls 'reading the news'), Kline is tantalisingly brief on local history, beavers, sassafras and marsh life. He is also charmingly enthusiastic about the fruits of his own labour: 'For making your own syrup you'll need several good-sized maple trees, some sort of metal evaporator pan, spiles, a carpenter's brace and a half-inch wood bit.' Here's a copse I prepared earlier.

Kline's overriding passion, however, is for birds, and a good three-quarters of the 45 short pieces here deal lovingly with the hundreds of species seen in his neck of the woods. However delightful the names, it requires more than a passing interest in ornithology to be transfixed by the self-defence tactics of the bobolink, the feeding habits of the evening grosbeak, pine siskin and black-capped chickadee (not to be confused with the Carolina variety), and the breeding display of the Lapland longspur. Kline's expert exactitude tends to dull the exotic sheen.

The microscopic and often parochial character of the essays in Great Possessions reflects their original purpose as a regular column in the Amish

magazine Family Life. Their didactic

intent - anti-materialist and pro-

conservation - is weakened by repetition. This is a pity because, for those of us addicted to the buzz of the internal combustion engine and cathode-ray tube, Kline's simple, sane and richly contemplative life could serve as a persuasive example of what is rapidly becoming an imperative - that we be 'proper caretakers of creation'.