A Plain Life, by Scott Savage

A Plain Life“We have gone from being dual-income-no-kids urban professionals to being Amish-like rural folk with a third of the money, a tenth of the possessions, and a houseful of blessed children.”

– Scott Savage

I just finished reading A Plain Life: Walking My Belief, by Scott Savage. Savage, a “plain” Quaker, tells the story of his more than 100 mile walk to hand in his driver’s license at the state capitol.

While he is planning to stop driving, of course, the walk is symbolic – not only is there a local office he could turn his license into, but it’s about to expire anyway.

Interspersed among details of his walk are descriptions of the plain life he, his wife Mary Ann, and their children live. When the book was written, at least, Savage was editor of the hand-produced Plain magazine. He and his family lived in Barnesville, Ohio.

I didn’t have any luck finding more up-to-date information on him on the Internet, but that’s not surprising. At the time Savage wrote the book, his family had no television and no radio, much less a computer.

Further, Savage criticizes the Internet to the point where he even says, “I ought to be more merciful toward the people who use the Internet.”

 “You may at this point be asking yourself why anyone would be so stupid as to leave behind the comfort and convenience of the automobile for an unheated buggy pulled by a slow, neurotic horse.”

– Scott Savage

Although I have no plans to buy a horse-and-buggy, I found Savage’s rationale for doing so interesting.

Now, even without actually owning a car, I was still caught up in the life of always being on the road . . . . I wanted to learn how to stay in one place now, to become more and more rooted with my family, our homestead, and our church community. My relationship with the automobile needed further change, because it continued to pose a danger to the notion of coming to rest, of staying in one place.

* * *

People in modern society already often express the desire to slow down their lives, so it probably isn’t necessary for me to explain my desire to do the same. . . . But the idea that I am consciously limiting how far I want to be able to travel is hard for most non-plain people to fathom.

* * *

It is this impression of being carried by another living creature that imparts a serenity and feeling of presence no longer encountered in our modern world of travel.

* * *

Losing control over where I can go puts me into a stronger relationship with people where I am – into a relationship of community.

An Amish neighbor asks Savage why he chose to drive a horse instead of a car, since this isn’t typical among the local Quakers. He explains that he wanted to regain a sense of place.

A few days later, this neighbor says he’s been thinking about what Savage said and that the Amish depend on the limitations imposed by the horse. Without automobiles, they have to rely on each other more, and, unlike many Americans, the Amish believe interdependence is a good thing.

It holds the community together. Also, avoiding cars helps keep the Amish shopping at their local stores instead of driving to the city.

“If the tourists have come here looking for the Amish, and for the road America turned off so many years ago, it must be said that they leave instead with nothing but a bag full of things.”

– Scott Savage

As with many other books written by those who believe they’ve found a better way to live, the tone is sometimes a big smug, and naturally, Savage’s religious bent is much different from that of most of us. For instance, the plain Quakers refer to months and days of the week by numbers rather than use the “pagan-derived” names we’re used to.

Also, after all Savage’s complaints about the modern world, he stops at a gift shop in Columbus to buy his kids some “keepsakes.” Ironically, after he talks about the wonders of being out in nature, he buys a collection of stones.

But, none of us perfect, are we? I still enjoyed learning about Savage’s family’s lifestyle and the plain Quakers. I especially liked reading about Ned, the Savage’s buggy horse.

I doubt this is a book you’ll read over and over, but if you’re interested in learning more about the various styles of plain living and others’ experiences with the simple life, see if your library has a copy of A Plain Life.


9 thoughts on “A Plain Life, by Scott Savage

  1. It’s a load of crap. The whole book. My dad was an abusive narcissist with a few personality disorders and a wife so mired in chronic depression that she never tried to resist him as a he dragged her and us kids into insanity. The poverty, the funny clothes, the social isolation and the one man religion were real, but most of the book paints a very different picture than what our lives actually amounted to. We all ended up with a lot of baggage to carry around, and it sucks to find these reminders online. I’ve never addressed this on the interwebs before. I usually don’t think about my childhood at all, but it’s frustrating to realized people may still be reading this

    • Hi Jack, I’m sorry to have brought up bad memories. This is a good reminder to my readers to take everything they read with a grain of salt.

  2. This is interesting as I have been around the Amish and Mennonite communities off and on for close to 30 years. There are many things I admire about their way of life, but some aspects of it would not fit well for me. Surprisingly, I see more and more of these communities find ways to use modern transportation, from paying others to drive them around to riding the bus when they have to travel far distances.

    I have traveled extensively in the states, and would never want to trade those experiences, but at this point I seem to have gotten traveling out of my system and am happy to stay put in my local community.

    • I live in Oregon, so we don’t have large communities of Amish and Mennonites, though there are a few Mennonite and Hutterite communities around. I see them (possibly traveling Amish too, I suppose) on busses and planes.

      It’s my understanding (just from what I’ve read) that the logic is they allow certain encroachments of new things but only to the extent they feel they’re helpful to the community rather than harmful. So they have telephones but not in homes – that way you have access in an emergency but really aren’t tempted to call your neighbor instead of talking to them in person. I assume the public transportation/cab thing is based on a similar rationale.

      • Yes, they have accepted some of the conveniences, although they won’t go so far as to get a driver’s license. Because of concerns of inbreeding within the community they now marry from communities a distance away, which calls for some sort of traveling to see relatives, which is why they use the plane or bus.

        I like much about their lifestyle, but find the roles of women to be something I wouldn’t accept easily.

  3. Hi Christy, Another great book review! While I understand some of Scott Savage’s reasoning, I would never want to tie myself to one place for a lifetime. There is a lot to be said for experiencing different cultures, people, and places. As Meri notes, there certainly are many types of “simple living” lifestyles. Your book review have helped me gain a better understanding of what “simple living” means – because in looking at the differences, we also catch sight of many of the core principles.

    • I love to travel, but I also like the idea of being more rooted in a community. Where we live now, not that many people really know each other. We’re planning to move to a small town when we retire – interspersed with our travels in the truck/camper we plan to get. Hopefully it will be a good compromise for us.

  4. Thanks for another thought-provoking book review! It’s amazing how large the range of lives that “simple living” encompasses. It seems that throughout history, a lot of people who embrace this ideal think that everyone should live the way they do. Maybe the passion for their quest makes people want everyone to experience their discovery.
    When I moved to my current home, I mentioned to people that I wanted to live in a neighborhood where I could walk to get anything I needed. I do have a car, and am grateful for it, but I love the freedom of not needing it for every activity.

    • I would like to drive less (in the cards in about 12-18 months which is when we plan to move), but definitely wouldn’t want to give it up all together. Our (almost) annual road trip is something I look forward to all year.

I'd love for you to share your ideas and experiences.