"Everyone has their own notions of the strings that connect them to whatever they want, or need to be tied to," Randy told me the other day. She said such in the context of trying to fix my truck and, how strings not only create a web in our daily lives but now come into play with pretty near every turn of her wrench.

She did me a real big favor on two accounts that day. First, she found that the funny 'chunk' noise I was hearing in my truck was not its' crying out for a new transmission but rather just the need for a new universal joint- a whole heck of a lot of saved money there. Second, she gave this notion about a body being attached to strings. She saw strings as an ominous spider web while she had to admit some folks saw strings more like a comforting, bird nest.

I got the idea that some strings are of our own choosing and some are not; some help us to move forward, some keep us slipping and sliding getting us nowhere.

For a few days this notion of strings kept buzzing around my brain. I figured my brain was supposed to do something constructive with it but not sure what. It's like a tune that you get in your head and can't seem to shake. It keeps popping up and you keep humming it without knowing why. Sometimes you might even break out in song because you just can't hold it in well enough; even though you soon find out that you don't know as many of the lyrics as you thought you did.

Everywhere I went thoughts kept popping up against this idea of strings. I was surprised how many strings to which I was tied. When I mentioned it to other folks it was easy for them to admit how strings controlled their lives. Most spoke with an air of frustration; like they knew they had them, but rather they not. They didn't feel, however, they were going to shake them any time soon- such strings are here to stay.

In our neck of the country, we live in the midst of a large Amish and Mennonite population. In spite of popular belief, they are not isolationist, although they do have a very sharp idea about the strings they wish to be attached and those that they do not. Part of their culture and religious beliefs stresses living within the midst of the 'English'.

I know many of these folks, some I can call friends, and I have gained enough confidence to talk frankly about topics they might not be so inclined to discuss. It takes awhile to gain their trust. They are wary of many attitudes of the English that surround them- and with good cause. There are some who just don't care much for their ways. Any person without sin might claim that it is prejudice but it's not all that simple and besides, that gets us off topic about strings.

I talked with Jacob while my wife was visiting Emma the other day (you guessed it, their last name is Yoder). I asked him about strings. I usually ask him about farming as he has one of the earliest and most bountiful harvest I know-of great envy on my part but I try hard not to 'Covet Thy Neighbor's Garden' ( I believe it is the twelfth after...well, another digression).

Jacob laughed when I mentioned strings. "I guess you could say strings are what sets us apart from others." He didn't elaborate. He didn't have to, I knew what he meant. He pointed over to the few hundred acres in bright green corn of his non-Amish neighbor. "That farmer is growing hybrid corn. He gets almost twice the yield that I do, but he has to use special herbicides, pesticides and fertilizer. He is linked to the seed manufacture who works closely with that farmer of what, how much and when to apply those things that makes it grow so well. He can't do it alone. Those hybrids are touchy so you have to follow the manufacturer's advice closely. Then there is the buyer who has already contracted with the farmer for a certain amount of corn. The farmer must deliver or he will lose his contract for next year."

I never realized there were so many strings tied to a simple farmer. Growing corn, tobacco, etc. is so complex nowadays that you need all the connection, strings if you will, to make it happen. The competition is just too fierce. If you can't compete you lose everything. The farmer is linked to so many strings their most important tool these days is their cell phones. Tractor-text messaging, however, has yet to become a real problem.

Traditionally," Jacob continued, "we would keep the best corn of the harvest for next year's seed corn. You can't do that with the hybrids today-they are sterile- the manufactures make sure you come back and buy seeds from him year after year. But those buying the corn want all the same kind of corn so the farmer is tied up all the way around."

I thought how similar lobbyist, companies and politicians were to that poor old farmer. Once all these strings are tied to a simple ear of corn (or healthcare, banking, etc.) there is no way of changing back the clock.

"If you wanted to be self reliant," Jacob said, "with each harvest of corn you pick your seeds from the biggest and strongest plant in the field- to set aside those kernels for next year's planting. That way, after a few years, you have strong, healthy corn that grows best in your soil."

"Is that what you do?" I asked. He laughed "No, I buy seeds from an organic company in Indiana. They are already coated and have a better yield than common corn. It's not sterile. It's just easier to buy from them each year. If we wanted to though, we know we could grow our own seed."

To live a lifestyle of self-reliance is a complex notion these days. We all have our rituals; our gardens, our compost piles, our worm bins; canning, making kraut and grinding our own sausage. All combine in our small ways to support the illusion that we control our worldly routines- we believe we might even be able to untie some of those strings that sometimes feel like chains.

Here in the natural state of my rural crossroads, a glimmer of independence endures because it works and folks here feel comfortable with such ways. Not for long perhaps. Like the waters rising in Noah's time, such bastions of independence are slowly ebbing away, leaving behind the self and worth of unique individuals, replaced by a homogenous-something as defined by a few. Some applaud each new string connected to an individual, be it technology, trends, entertainment, government, family, religion. Some might be so bold as to call it equality blossoming. Others might call it something else.

Its' all a consequence of scale," Randy surmised when I saw her next and reported my findings about strings. "When there were only a handful of folks living about, they managed their lives and solved things in their own way. Now, there are so many people living together, the consensus of the majority is to defer those decisions to others."

I don't know. I think I still like the notion of being an individual.

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