Six or seven years ago, I visited my friend Susan at her home in the picturesque Organic Valley region of Wisconsin. One of the things we did during my time there was visit an Amish family whose 15-year-old daughter wove and sold colorful areas rugs she herself made on an ancient loom she probably inherited from her mother and grandmother before her. She didn’t do much advertising, as far as I could see. Only a simple cardboard sign next to the driveway with the hand scrawled word, “RUGS”. That is the way of the Amish.
There was a large Amish community near my own home, too. I was living in Central Illinois at the time, and the village of Arthur, one of the largest Amish communities in the country, was a stone’s throw away from where I lived. But I’d never seen anyone selling rugs in Illinois. Signs by the Illinois Amish driveways offered hand-made furniture honey, melons, and fresh breads and pies. With the exception of the honey, I rarely bought anything the Illinois Amish community offered. I just didn’t need it. I baked my own breads and pies. I bought melon at my local farmer’s market.
I took my time browsing through the weaver’s luxuriously thick pile of rugs. They weren’t large; I finally settled on three rugs, each about two by three feet in size. One was just right for inside the entrance to my home, and the other two were perfect holiday gifts.
I got my rug home, and quickly decided it was too beautiful to use. Instead, I displayed it on the wall like the piece of artwork it was. I liked the way it hung there, its brown and green threads in stark contrast to the bright, sunshine yellow of the walls.
There it hung for a year or two, until I packed up my home and moved to California. The rug became padding material for a treasured fragile item: the crystal bowl I’d bought my parents for their 60th wedding anniversary. Once here, I decided to use the rug for its original purpose. I placed it on the floor beneath my desk. It kept my feet wonderfully toasty in cold weather. My old, arthritic dog, Chia, loved to curl up on it. It’s thick, warm fibers must have soothed her painful hips, because once she was on that rug, there was no moving her off.
Last fall, Scott and I moved the rug to our back deck. Chia appreciated having it out there to lie on when we were out there. It was her security blanket of sorts.
The rains came, and the rug got many a soaking. It didn’t seem to mind in the least. We’d hang it over a railing, and it would dry in less than a day’s time. Then, back on the deck it would go.
The cold of winter set in, and with it came the grim reaper to claim our beloved Chia. We probably should have let him take her sooner, as much pain as she was in. It’s hard not to be selfish when you’re talking about letting a beloved animal companion go.
With Chia gone, I lost interest in the Amish rug for several months. But spring came, as it always will, and we now had our new little Chihuahua puppy, Tufa. Tufa quickly fell in love with the rug on the back deck, and would happily chew on sticks and dried up oak leaves while lying contently in the sunshine, on the rug.
But very soon, we noticed it was not only our dog who loved that rug. The ground squirrels started pulling out threads, carrying them off to their burrows. Then the purple finches joined in, pulling threads to line their nests. The baby ground squirrels and birds were coming into the world in the lap of luxury—at least by squirrel and finch standards.
The rug, as you can see, is now showing its age. The squirrels and birds have made a hole near one end, pulling all those threads to feather their nests. The purple finches have raised several clutches of babies in our eaves, in their nests lined with fiber from my rug. The ground squirrels have had less luck this year: some insidious disease is hitting the polka dots, as I call the baby ground squirrels, and they are dying off at alarming rates. Nature’s way of maintaining balance, of course. Last year there were way too many polka dots. This year, Mother Nature corrected that. But at least those that are dying in their nests instead of on the driveway or on my deck are dying in comfort, on a pile of Amish rug fibers.
Yes, this old rug shows its age. But it amazes me how, despite the hole in it, it holds together. When you look at it in its place on the deck, you can barely see where the squirrels and finches have pulled the fibers. Tufa still loves to lie on it, and I still love how it feels beneath my bare feet when I do my stretching exercises on it each morning. I’m not about to throw it away. It will remain on my back deck until the purple finches pull the last thread. I think this has been the purpose for the rug all along. It went from being treasured artwork to precious foot warmer to dusty dog bed to nesting material for the birds and squirrels. This Amish rug has had quite a life. It hasn’t always been easy, but I’ve heard no complaints.