A grey gauzy sheet of cloud stretched loosely from eastern prairie to western mountain horizon is yet another herald of the end of summer. I am nearing the sheltering screen of bushes and trees, the lofty clustered silos, the long cream colored tin-sided garages, and the orderly blue roofed row houses of a Hutterite colony. As I roll along the arrow-straight gravel road a huge roiling plume of dust is dragged along behind. In every direction are newly mown fields, all dried brown stubble awaiting the coming blanket of snow.
A single gravel driveway passing through the windbreak of trees connects the main body of the colony to the road.
I turn in and on my left are the maintenance shops, where a man stacks lengths of steel outside an open garage door. As I drive by he looks up and waves. On my right there’s an unused trampoline standing in a park-like patch of grass. Five children, two boys in regulation black and three girls in black coats and kerchiefs over dark blue print dresses stop whatever game they are in the midst of and cheerily wave. I return the wave and give a short toot on the truck horn.
On the far side of the shops two massive combines are neatly parked alongside a cattle liner, a front end loader, and several other large lacy tubular looking pieces of equipment. Beyond these the crowded pens of the feedlot stretch away for some distance.
I turn right and pass the school house and nursery, with it’s fenced in play area for the colony’s youngest members, and then pull up outside the processing plant. Next to the concrete-sided, green tin-roofed plant men are throwing up another large concrete sided, green tin-roofed building as storage for potatoes.
After backing my truck to the door I head around front, kicking up dust with every step. Inside, down a corridor and through an open door, the women are at work. They stand at long tables and shuck corn, husk peas, and wash carrots. While they work they sing hymns in German.
“Hello ladies,” I call through the door, and they reward me with a smile and a wave.
I take a moment to listen to the voices, rich and resonant in the stark grey concrete walled room.
Jerry is in the office and we chat. He has a round, friendly, black-bearded face and the build of a well-fed man accustomed to physical work. In spite of my objections he sends his wife, who promptly jumps aboard a quad and motors off, for coffee and a sandwich.
He is the colony’s German teacher, instructing the school age kids in middle high German and the Bible.
On the strength of his popularity and grasp of the Gospel and how it pertains to the Hutterite way of life he narrowly missed being voted into the assistant manager’s position. When an important job like that opens up all the colony members gather together and vote two worthy men to the post. Apparently the final judgement is left to a higher power…the two men’s names are thrown in a hat and one is chosen.
When I first started visiting the colony there was a quiet watchfulness, a sturdy reserve about the men, but time has warmed the relationship and now there is plenty of laughter and cross examining.
It is a quiet, quaint life ennobled with good honest labour. Tucked away somewhere, surrounded by fence and a low neatly trimmed hedge, is the cemetery, with flowers adorning each of the modest evenly spaced monuments.
Time moves slower here, dictated by the turn of the season, holidays of the Christian calendar, and the births, marriages, and deaths that mark the road of an individual’s life.
Outside again, as I’m leaving, the kids on the patch of lawn are gleefully chasing one another. Hearing the truck they stop their running about and wave once more.
I wave back and give a double toot on the horn.