New York

Sunday Support Group: My County ‘Tis of Thee

The county where I live, Yates County, New York, is more unusual and interesting than I gave it credit for at first. We are the third least-populous county in the State, but the largest wine-growing county in the United States outside of California, with more vineyards than any other New York county. Although landlocked, the county has a large amount of shoreline—no resource seems to be able to tell me how many miles exactly—on three lakes, Keuka, Canandaigua, and Seneca.

Yates county

How many waterfalls do we have? You know I have one in my backyard. Like the islands of the Philippines, which are hard to count because some of them appear and disappear with the tides and the seasons*, many of our waterfalls come and go, materializing after heavy rains and disappearing in dry times. So the county has uncountable waterfalls.

Nationalists, I suppose, might say we have an immigrant language problem—but it’s not Spanish, spoken in the home by 1.5% of the population, it’s German (and Pennsylvania German and Dutch), spoken in the home by 5.5% of the population**. They’re Wenger Old-Order Mennonites, and they’ve been here for hundreds of years, although most in Yates County have been here no longer than 50 years, having come by way of Lancaster County in Pennsylvania starting in the 1970s.

I originally thought little Mennonite kids were shy, but it’s more likely they didn’t understand me—they don’t begin to learn English until they’re around five, I’ve been told. Tidy and thriving Mennonite farms dot the county, and their horse-drawn buggies and bicycles (in any sort of weather), are a common sight on the roads. There are two telltales of an Amish or Mennonite farmstead: washing out on the line to dry, or no cars to be seen.

I’d love to do a project on the Mennonites, but they don’t like having their pictures taken. I’m more concerned with being respectful of people’s wishes than I am about getting pictures. I’m sure if it were a certain photojournalist I know, I’d make a forthright appeal to the ruling body of elders, talk a good case, and in no time flat come away with blanket permission to photograph everybody in the congregation, and then in another month be friendly with 20 families

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