One of the semi-surprising things about our corner of Southwest Virginia is that there’s a pretty large Old-Order Amish population in White Gate and Mechanicsburg. This population stays peacefully under everyone’s radar, unless it’s farmers’ market season, when Amish farmers turn up in Dublin and Pulaski with sweet corn and sweeter doughnuts. But in White Gate, Route 42 has signs reminding drivers of automobiles to share the road with drivers of buggies, wagons, and with tiny pony carts full of children.
As the crow flies, this is about 15 miles from us. By road it’ a lot longer. One of our favorite drives goes over two mountains (see Hanging with the Gliders) on the narrow, winding former-forest-service roads, to the Amish store in White Gate. The Amish store is really called the Nature Way Country Store, and it is one place where Amish culture smacks right into what it refers to as “the world.” It was built to provide the large Amish community with bulk foods they can’t grow – semolina, spices, etc. – but it caught on because it is mostly organic, healthy, and inexpensive.
The Amish store is owned and operated by the same Amish couple who sell corn and other goodies at the farmer’s market. It is lit in summer by skylights and in winter by gas lamps (yes, propane gas mantles along the ceiling). A generator keeps the refrigerator cold, enabling the story to carry cheese, bacon, and, significantly, yeast.
My Christmas baking left me severely depleted in the yeast department, and the bulk Red Star sold at the Amish store is my favorite kind. Since yesterday was the kind of day where the world looks like a bottle of champagne, shaken up and fizzing, we decided to take a drive.
Mountain No. 1: Robinson Tract. Covered with deer hunters. We didn’t know deer were still in season, but we passed a truck with a large dead one in the back, so we’re guessing it’s still legal. The back side toward Little Creek had some lovely ice formations on the rocks. (Of course, the pictures I took of this are on a phone that’s in Galax today.)
Mountain No. 2: Little Walker. The back side of Little Walker was covered in ice and snow. That was a bit of a surprise, since the ambient outdoor temperature was something like 52 degrees. My car doesn’t enjoy those things, but we successfully negotiated the hairpin turns and spun on to the Amish Store . . .
. . . where a sign on the door said, “Closed for Epiphany.”
My Beloved and I looked at each other. It IS January 6, isn’t it? The twelfth day of Christmas, the one with all the leaping lords in the French carol. The celebration of when the magi supposedly visited the infant Jesus. The very word, “epiphany,” means “manifestation of a deity to people who aren’t deities themselves.” (My translation.) It also means “sudden insight or revelation.”
I love the word, “epiphany.” It describes so accurately the trivial revelations, like what happens when you’re looking at a scrambled word and all at once you realize that “korstaceh” is really “shortcake.” More importantly, an epiphany can be huge — life changing — the way it was for those ancient star-gazers. It also describes what happens when you realize that some people celebrate Epiphany as a day of revelation, while some of us bootle along unconsciously, taking no time to pause or make room for any new insights, sudden or otherwise.
The Amish culture may touch the world at the Nature Way Country Store, but it is no more “of” that world than the magi were Jewish. Keeping to the old ways means keeping the old feasts, remembering the old truths. It means making time and space for epiphanies.
We took the short way home; we both had commitments we had to meet at noon. Speeding along on Route 42, the irony of epiphany — and Epiphany — wasn’t lost on us. We only see God come into the world when we take the time to look.