Monday, December 23, 2019

Surrounded (fiction)

Brett didn’t panic when his unit lost contact with Dalton. That was to be expected if Dalton ran into opposition or got busy.

Brett started to worry when Dalton didn’t call requesting a status report at 20:00.

Dalton might not have been 100% behind the rigid reporting protocols forced on them by “upstairs” but he was always compliant.

Brett held the twenty fighters left behind in Amish-land together in a group through the night.

After Dalton missed a full reporting cycle and there were no attempts of contact from any of Derious’s other NCOs, Brett decided it was time to hunker down.

He went around and ASKED Amish families if his troops could embed with them.

In theory, Brett had no more authority than any other fighter. In fact, some fighters were more equal than others. Their authority was not captured by the official org-charts. Brett’s authority came from being a little bit older and wiser than most of the other troops. He had been a successful auto mechanic before things went sideways.

The Amish were willing to oblige on the condition that the embedded troops helped with the chores. There was still a labor shortage in Amish-land.

Eli Yoder, the nominal patriarch of the family Brett was staying with rolled him out of the rack at 5:30, just as the sun was staining the eastern sky. The two men were joined by two of the older sons, men of 11 and 13.

They went to the barn and started forking hay into mangers, shoveling shit and milking cows.

Then they slopped the hogs and ran feed into the bunker for the chickens.

They washed and ate breakfast. After breakfast, the day’s work started.

Before Brett fell asleep, he figured he had been moving at half speed, call it 1.5 miles per hour, for more than twelve hours. That worked out to walking 18 miles and did not include the calorie burn from the lugging, dragging, pitching, lifting….

Eli and the two kids moved through the day effortlessly. They never seemed to be working very hard but they never stopped moving. Even the grandpa joined them for about six hours of work and he had to be at least eighty.

There was always time to stop and wipe a brow or tell a joke or chat briefly with a neighbor who was passing by. But they only stopped for a moment.

The next day started the same way but after breakfast Eli and Brett went to service the bee hives while the boys went to work in the hayfield. Brett was totally freaked by working around hives holding fifty thousand bees and there were literally a hundred hives in the yard.

Eli understood Brett’s anxiety and let him dress in a bee suit, although the Eli did the job bare-handed and bare-headed.

“How come the bees don’t sting you?” Brett asked, unnerved to have bees crawling across the netting of his face cage.

“Oh, a few of them do every year.” the man said, placidly as bees crawled across his face and around his eyes.

Brett watched for a while but then asked, “When do we take out the honey?”

The patriarch chuckled. “Not until fall.”

“So why are we messing with them?” Brett asked.

“I have to open the hives every two weeks” the patriarch said. “If I don’t break the frames loose, then they get too glued in to harvest without destroying the hive.”

“We are also checking to see if I need to add more supers” Eli said as he pointed to a bright blue section of bee hive he had prestaged near the hives. “Bring that over here” he said.

Eli walked the hive tool around the lowest super to crack the seal, then he lifted it off the hive body. Placing the new super near the top of the hive body, he tilted it and brushed as many bees that were crawling out, along the exposed surface, back into the hive. When the surface was mostly clear, he seated the super and pressed it down. A handful of bees were crushed but nothing like the hundred that would have been crushed if Eli had not made an effort to brush them away.

“I think the bees get used to who I am because I visit so often and don’t take the honey until there is plenty to spare.” the patriarch said.

Brett wondered if that was a jab at the many tons of grain Dalton had demanded from the Amish and then left.

If there was a message, it had been delivered with absolutely no inflection.

A bit later, Eli commented, “Sunny days are the best days to work the hives.”

“Why is that?” Brett asked, interested in spite of his aversion to being stung.

“Most of the worker bees are off gathering nectar and pollen” Eli answered, placidly. “There would be twice as many bees in these hives if we were doing this on a cloudy day.”

“How do you decide if the hive needs another section” Brett asked.

“I look at the last super I put in. If it is more than half full, it is time to put in another super.” Eli said.

“Why don’t you just slap it on top?” Brett asked.

Some of the hives had five supers and they must have weighed fifty pounds if they were full of honey. Brett couldn’t imagine any reason for lifting 250 pounds off the hive to insert a super, even if Eli was lifting it off fifty pounds at a time.

“Bees enter the hive through the hive body. By putting the new super just above the hive, they see the empty frames as they climb to the super to deposit their load. If I put it on top, they might not see that they still have room to work and the hive would swarm.” Eli said.

“Why don’t you just put five ‘supers’ or whatever you call them on the hive first thing in the spring?” Brett asked.

Eli had to think a bit before answering. Brett assumed he had not heard his question.

“I reckon they would have a problem keeping it warm and defending it from mice or other bees. They would swarm to a hive that fit their needs. Its like a belt. You don’t wear a belt with twenty extra holes, do you?” Eli said. “There is a lot to be said for having just enough room and just enough work.



  1. Joe, how true is Eli to the "real" Amish? I'm guessing you know a few.

    1. "Real" Amish is an elusive term.

      There is no Amish Vatican or Southern Amish Convention. They don't hold meetings every four years to vote on what it means to be Amish.

      Clergy are chosen by lots for a period of a year. It is not a position that one studies for unless you consider the fact that a young guy who "wins" studies his dupa off every week to not embarrass himself and his family in front of the elders.

      The goal of an Amish farm is to have a check (income) trickle in every week. They like dairy and lots of little, perishable items as that matches up well with the abundance of labor.

  2. Nice, and learned something. Thanks!

  3. I've delivered truck loads of pine shavings in 30# bags to Amish farms in the Lancaster, PA area. Always a pleasure to be in their company. During the summer, when the kids are not in school they helped unload the truck. Some as young as 10, but they would get light duty. At times it would be just me and one man, that was a long day that would eat up my allowable time on duty. Then I just camp out in the truck somewhere on their property. Usually the misses would bring out a jug of fresh lemonade or sometimes a mint flavored beverage for a break. All work done by hand, with horse drawn wagons to transport bags to neighbors.
    Now the Mennonites I delivered to would use power equipment, which sped things up. And their kids would watch from a distance while poking their cell phones.


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