Going (Pennsylvania) Dutch

The 5th Annual Adams County Amish Bird Symposium is where I’ll be on March 1, 2008, thanks to an invitation from Chris Bedel, Preserve Director for the Edge of Appalachia Preserve. Naturally, I’ve been asked to talk about hummingbirds.

This will be the first intercultural birding event to which I’ve been invited as a speaker, and I’m very much looking forward to that aspect of it. The Amish birding phenomenon has fascinated me since I first read about it. My closest encounters so far with the culture of the “Plain Folk” have been infrequent visits to Mennonite communities in northwestern Mexico and Belize. Mennonites are less conservative than the Amish and have adopted modern technology and culture to varying degrees. In Belize, many communities have abandoned horse and ox power for technological horsepower (pickups, John Deeres, ATVs, and even Jet Skis), earning them the nickname “Mechanites” from their non-Mennonite neighbors. With their blond hair, ruddy cheeks, gimme caps, and overalls, the men would look right at home among their non-Mennonite counterparts in the Corn Belt.

On my last visit to Belize, the birding group I was leading was approached in a restaurant by a grandmotherly woman in a traditional-looking long dress and bonnet. In perfect American-accented English, she invited us to come by her home for a look at her quilts and traditional handcrafts. When I politely declined with “maybe another time,” she handed me a business card with her e-mail and Web site addresses!

Of course, mechanization makes it possible to convert tropical forest to farmland at a far more rapid pace. This and their self-imposed isolation from mainstream society grate on many mainstream Belizeans, but the industriousness of Mennonite farmers contributes greatly to the country’s economy and quality of life.

So, how does birding fit into the more conservative Amish culture of Pennsylvania? And does it foster preservation and stewardship of natural landscapes untouched by ax or plow? I hope to see that first hand in March.