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Just Driving

February 29, 2012

This Sunday, my husband and I had the rare opportunity to run away with each other for the night. With our children’s schedules and his travel schedule, this is a rare occurrence with us. We had 36 hours. What would we do? We hopped in the car and drove. Throughout the years, I cannot count the number of times Mike has been in the driver’s seat and I have been next to him, a map spread across my lap, exploring whatever back roads we could find, to see what we could see. This time, we were heading south, to the bluff country of Minnesota.

Our destination was Lanesboro, MN. Lanesboro is known as the Bed and Breakfast capital of Minnesota. In the summers, the bikers, of the pedal variety, descend on this river town by the Root River in huge numbers, due to the Root River trail that runs through town. It is a beautiful area, full of rolling hills, river valleys, farm fields and small towns located in the south east corner of Minnesota. We had one night booked at the Scanlon House B&B. We had no plans for our trip, we were just going to see what we could find and go from there.

After reaching our destination, we dropped off our bags and headed out the door. We had no agenda, no concrete plans. We had a map, a full tank of gas and some time. Lanesboro is located down in the heart of Amish country. I did want to see if I could see any of the Amish. I was looking for horses and buggies. We drove through the towns of Preston and Harmony and then found backroads to head back to Lanesboro. I saw my horse and buggy, and managed to snap this photo from the moving car.

It was just as well I didn’t get a better picture, as the Amish don’t want their photos taken for religious reasons. As we traveled over the rolling hills and roads, we started to play a game of “Amish or not” with every homestead we passed. We scanned for power lines to the houses, whether there any tractors on the property, if there were windmills or buggies, whether the chimneys were blackened or smoking. I tried to imagine, as I looked at these farms and homes, how hard life must really be for them. I know that people lived that way in the past, but it was something different to know what was out there and eschew it entirely. I wondered if there was joy and fun in their lives, since every photo or depiction of the Amish has them in severe, dark clothing with grim expressions. I gazed at clothing flapping on clotheslines in 35 degree weather, and smoke drifting from chimneys and hoped that there was.

We worked our way back to our Lanesboro and our B&B and went in search of dinner. As luck would have it, small tourist towns on a Sunday night in the middle of a snowless winter were not a busy place. We found the local pizza shop and got pizza to go. Dinner was a relaxing night watching the Wild actually win a hockey game and spinning some lovely merino wool. It was just what we needed, low keyed, laid back and relaxing. We slept like kings. And yes, every pillow was necessary.

After a lovely breakfast at our B&B, we were off again. This time, I had a destination in mind. The night before, while browsing the travel information flyers that were at the B&B I found one for a place called Austins. What was Austins? An angora goat farm. Mohair comes from the angora goat. Mohair is a long soft fiber that is spun into . . . yep. You guessed it. Yarn. I had found myself a yarn shop. Off we went, back through Harmony, to the first dirt road east of town, one mile north to the “purple everything” that the directions stated. We found it.

While Mike stayed in the car for a moment to answer a few emails and return some calls, I wandered into the shop. Do you know what I found?

Yarn, soft, vibrant, beautiful yarn. Hand spun yarn, spun from the fleece of the goats and sheep that lived on the farm. More importantly, inside I met Ada Austin, the owner of the farm. I wish I had gotten of photo of Ada. I can only hope to have her drive and energy when I get to be her age, which I am guessing is somewhere in the range of 70-80. As I ran my hands over skeins and skeins of beautiful yarns, Ada told me the story of the place. She had started out raising Angora goats and selling the mohair. She did pretty well at it until the 1980s when the bottom fell out of the mohair market. Suddenly she was left with a mountain of mohair and no way to get rid of it. As she put it, “I told my husband that I had a problem and he told me to solve it.” Solve it she did. She turned her mohair into yarn and craft projects and she contacted the Amish tour companies in the area and convinced them to stop at her place. At first they would only give her 5 minutes of the tour but soon she had a permanent stop on their tours. I asked her who did the spinning.

“Some women, they don’t marry well. Some women marry men who aren’t nice. Some women marry men who drink too much. Some women can’t get the men to marry them. Those are my girls.” Ada is a champion of women. She found women in the area in need of help, both Amish and locals, and she employed them. Each and every skein of yarn is handspun by one of these 15 women, and each is labeled with who spun it. On each Santa with a mohair beard, each mohair angel ornament, each hand knit sweater or cape, recognition is given to the woman who made it. For any of the goods that she sells at her shop that are not made there, they are from women owned businesses. Ada knows the story behind each and every company she does business with. She supports women’s rights on a level she understands. She empowers them, she assists them. She isn’t looking for equal pay, or co-ed bathrooms, or women on the battlefield. She is looking for women to be able to make a living and raise their children. When Mike came into the store, Ada left me to make up my mind on the yarn and told me she was going to sell my husband some socks. Before Mike quite knew what happened, his shoes and socks were off and he was trying on mohair socks. Those came home with us.

As for me, what did I get at the purple place just outside of Harmony, Mn? Just a few things. A brown paper bag.

Containing 1 ½ lbs of baby doll wool and mohair roving. Ada even had photos of the very animals it came from. This stuff is so raw there are slivers of hay imbedded in the fibers. I can’t wait to try and spin it. I also cannot believe I got 1.5 lbs of wool and mohair roving for under $25. I paid $16 for 4 ozs of roving in the cities.

And I got yarn. Three skeins of beautiful, hand spun undyed, natural wool and mohair in shades of white and grey. Spun by Lena. Amazing, right?

I want more of it. I left three skeins there. I might have to call Ada and see if she will send it to me. If you are ever in the area of Harmony, MN, I strongly urge you to visit Austin’s Mohair. Meet the woman who has helped to support and empower so many women herself.

As I was finishing fondling all of the beautiful yarns, my husband was asking Ada about the Amish in the area. We were unsure if, despite the signs that indicated they had goods for sale, if they really wanted us to stop and bother them. Ada assured us that they wouldn’t have the signs out if they didn’t want the business. The Amish wanted our money, just like any other business. They had to make a living too. She then directed us to a farm just down the road from her with Amish goods for sale.

Of course I had to stop. The sign on the door indicated they were open. As I entered the building, it felt like I was walking into another time. There was no heat in the building but the tables and walls were filled with the most beautiful hand stitched quilts and handmade baskets. There was no one in there when we entered, but a box on the desk indicted we should leave cash or checks for anything that we bought. As we browsed and discussed the finer points of just taking something and leaving money, the back door opened and a woman entered. She was a small woman, in traditional Amish dress. Her name she told us, was Anna. She apologized for the unheated building and invited us to browse as long as we wanted. I chose a lovely red basket and asked her about it. Did they make it there, at the farm? She told us that each basket was handmade and personally signed on the handle. I turned the basket I was admiring over and there it was.

The basket I was holding was made by Anna Yoder herself, in May.

We chatted for a little longer, as my husband ran back to the car to try and find enough cash to pay for the basket I had chosen. Apparently we had used all the cash we had and the checkbook I had in my purse didn’t have any checks in it. After we had found enough dollar bills and quarters to pay for my basket and were leaving, I couldn’t help but think about the two women I had just met. They were two totally different women, but each making their way in their corner of the world.

My husband and I could have just stayed at our room, lounging away the rest of the day until it was time to head home. But we didn’t. We got in the car and we drove. We explored places we had never seen before and met amazing people. We saw parts of everyday life that pass us by on the main roads. I can’t wait until the next time I’m in that passenger’s seat with a map on my lap.

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 29, 2012 10:37 am

    that is an awesome LYS. fun trip, thanks for sharing. 🙂

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