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Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Amana Colonies

One gift that my mother gave me was an appreciation for history and historical places. I'm not going to say it is a thirst for or obsession with history. I don't go out of my way to study history. I do however enjoy going to historical places and learning about them and imagining the people who lived and worked there. How did they find themselves in that place in history. Why did they settle where they did.

Do you know the old saying, familiarity breeds contempt? I think we all have a blind eye to the wonderful, amazing places that are right in our own back yards. We yearn to go see places like Rome, or Athens, but ignore the places close to us. The places who's history is more connected to our own. The grounds where are own ancestors may have walked.

The Amana Colonies are a place like that for me. As a child in Girl Scouts, my troop visited there. At that time, I wasn't interested in history, I think I was 12 at the time. The only thing I really remember about that trip was the restaurant where we ate. It was served communal style, not because it was the in thing, but because it was a tradition. A part of the heritage that came with a desire for religious freedom, and an experiment in communal living. According to the Colonies' website, the residents that lived in the seven villages that comprised the Amana Colonies shared land, homes, resources and responsibilities. "In the seven villages," it says, " residents received a home, medical care, meals, all household necessities, and schooling for their children. Men and women were assigned jobs by their village council of brethren. No one received a wage. No one needed one." Can you even imagine?

The people of the Amanas arrived there in 1855. They came over from Germany at a time when the economy was bad and their religion brought conflict to a peaceful people. Before settling in Iowa they had worked land near Buffalo, New York. That settlement was called the Ebenezer Society. The move to Iowa was because the growing society needed more farmland to remain self sufficient.

Each village had a church at its center. The churches were, and still are simple and humble. No Stained glass windows, no ornate trappings. Used for "the renewal of faith through reflection prayer and Bible study. Pietists believed that God, through the Holy Spirit, may inspire individuals to speak. This gift of inspiration, or prophecy, was the basis for a religious group that began meeting in 1714, in Germany, became known as the Community of True Inspiration."

The Colonies thrived in their communal living for decades in the Iowa countryside. They had craftsmen who took pride in their work. They had woodworking shops that made everything from clocks to furniture. They had breweries and smokehouses, enough to support the Colonies and sell to nearby communities.

It was not until the depression, that the idea of communal living was left behind in 1932. Farm prices and other economic woes  caused the communities to change their ways to better fit in with the rest of society, and keep from having to relocate or have their children leave for better opportunities.

Today, the Amanas are a National Landmark. Quality woodwork, clocks, smoked meats and wines can be purchased, (at rather extreme prices, at least the  the woodwork and furniture.) Tourism and consumerism has replaced communal living. The history is still there though. It is in the buildings, built of brick, stone and wood. It is in the air, the air breathed in and out by those that came before. It is on the walkways and roads where people walked, worked and played.

I think I will keep looking for the places close to home. Find out more about this state I grew up in. Learn more about those who came before me. Those who made my home, my state what it is today. Although, I still want to go to Rome and Athens one day. Oh, and London and Washington DC, and New England and Wounded Knee, and, and , and.............

Saturday, March 2, 2013


 The sun seemed to find its way out today after seventy-two hours of snow. Ok, the sun was out for a few hours yesterday afternoon, but by the time I got off of work it was snowing again, so that doesn't count.

I left the house cautiously today. I didn't want to frighten the sun and make it scamper away. I brought my camera with me. I decided to just point my car and go somewhere. I didn't know what I was looking for, so it didn't matter if I didn't find it.

I decided to drive north. Why north? Why not? I drove up past the outlet mall. I knew I didn't want to go there. Going there just gets me in trouble. (Baby clothes, don't you know.)

I kept driving and found myself on the Amana Trail. It is a highway that takes you into each of the Amana Colonies. I went into South Amana, and stopped to snap some pictures. Nothing was open so I went on my way.

As I was between colonies I came upon this heard of cows next to the Iowa River. I couldn't help myself. I stopped the car and got out, camera in hand.

One particular cow, with white face and pink nose, was very interested in every move I made. She watched intently as I walked up and down the road, camera clicking away. I think it is very possible that she was the culprit that started a mooing chain amongst the heard. It reminded me of a dog barking chain. They must have quickly realized that I was harmless, as quickly as the mooing started, it died back down again. While the others went about their business, stopping only to mug for the camera once in a while, she didn't take her eyes off of me. I wasn't sure if I should be amused or disconcerted.
The rest of her companions, while interested in my presence, seemed not at all concerned by it. One particular cow, seemed totally unaware of what was going on around her. She kept drinking from the river never once looking up to acknowledge me in anyway.