“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.