Joyce Hinnefeld


Monday, November 22, 2010

Slowing Down in My Own Backyard

A little over a week ago, on November 14, I drove to Lititz, PA for an evening reading and signing at Aaron's Books, a lovely local independent bookstore. Lititz is near Lancaster, PA, in the heart of PA's Amish country, and as I drove down State Route 501 from I-78 in the dark, I was confused, at first, by the flashing red and amber lights I saw ahead of me on the road. I assumed I was coming up on an emergency vehicle at the scene of an accident of some sort, but as I got closer I realized that what I was seeing was a very clearly marked Amish buggy--complete with red and amber flashing lights, and a bright red slow-moving vehicle sign: the back of this buggy was completely illuminated by LED lights, for night-time driving.

After the first one I thought I was ready, but each time I approached one of these buggies I had to make adjustments in my driving that felt strange. You slow down, but then you realize the vehicle is moving, so you speed back up, but then you realize you're going too fast. It's hard to make a car's speed compatible with a horse's speed somehow. This reminded me of a dream I had some time ago (the kind of dream I sometimes have--I guess maybe it's a form of so-called lucid dreaming--in which I seem to be handed the particulars and details, and then I shape a kind of narrative out of it all, almost as if I were directing a film). In this particular one I had the experience of riding in a car, looking out the window and watching the landscape fly by, and then suddenly I was sitting in a train car, and watching the passing scene move more slowly. Then I was on a horse, and really looking around me. Then I was walking . . . and you get the picture. (I'm not making this up; I really did dream this.)

That sensation of some speed, some forward motion, but not too much--that's what approaching these buggies brought back. And I now know that others have experienced coming upon Amish buggies in the same way; I found a link to a post titled "Buggy-friendly America" at a site called Amish America that describes the experience in similar terms (and has some nice photos). And I was glad to find this site too, with its detached and respectful tone, after finding some really obnoxious comments at other sites ("they're an annoying hazard on the road," "their horses shit all over the streets"--and worse). I've long been fascinated by, and filled with admiration for, people--religious or otherwise--who opt out of conventional, consumerist American living, but of course I know the Amish are a large and complex group. But please, snide remarks about how they inconvenience you by making you slow down on the road? Why not try to get all angry and exercised about something meaningful instead?

I've said this before: I should never read the Comments section, on any site, anywhere.

I'm disappointed that I couldn't find a good photograph of one of these illuminated buggies at night. I won't soon forget the sight of a whole row of them, this time approaching me on Route 501, as I drove home after the reading at around 10 PM. (Where were they all coming from at that hour on a Sunday night? I wondered. Maybe church or prayers?) Each horse was illuminated by my approaching headlights, its breath steaming in the cold air, surrounded by darkness. It was a pretty magical scene. I wanted to slow down and watch.

Anyway, these recent events--first at Aaron's Books in Lititz, and then this past Saturday at the terrific Steel City Coffee House in Phoenixville, PA, at a reading sponsored by one of my all-time favorite bookstores, Wolfgang Books (thanks, Jason, for the great interview questions!)--have been just delightful. They've made me curious about my own backyard, and eager to get out and explore more. (Just wish I could do it by train, or maybe by horseback.) I'll definitely be heading back to Lititz, to learn more about its Moravian history, and also back to Phoenixville, for lots of reasons, but most pressingly, right now, to replenish our supply of cookies from the Handcrafted Cookie Company.

Thanks to Sam, Todd, and "Grammy" Hatsy at Aaron's Books, and to Jason Hafer and others at Wolfgang Books, for inviting me, and for making me feel so welcome. And also for reminding me, once again, of what a powerful, grounding, and community-centered presence a fine local bookstore is for the lucky town where it's located.


  1. Enjoyed your post and would love to slow down for one of those beautiful buggies.

  2. What we see is inversely proportional to our speed.