August 31, 2007

The Wicked Pony & other Horse-scapades (Sketch #3)

Category: News — Ira @ 4:20 pm

“Think, when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs in the receiving earth.”
—William Shakespeare; Henry V

“Blah, blah, blah”
—Ira Wagler

It is no secret that I dislike horses. Let me restate: I strongly dislike horses. I am not a horseman, never claimed to be, and have no interest in becoming one. That dislike probably flows from the fact that while growing up, I was stuck behind a horse on a buggy in summer, winter, frost and heat, while all those shiny cars on the road zipped by, the riders sitting in comfort from the elements and getting somewhere fast. And now, living in Lancaster County, I cringe every time I see a buggy sitting at a stop sign, the wild frothing horse all but lunging out into traffic every two seconds, the often helpless woman driver hanging on for dear life. These Lancaster Amish love their spirited horses. And they can have them. Horses are big, smelly, mean, and can eat a person out of house and home. And the stuff they eat, well, it comes out the back end and must be spread around on someone’s field, a mucky and dirty job if there ever was one. And talk about air pollution.

Of my ten siblings, only two know horses. My sister Rhoda could be a horse whisperer, she’s that good. And my brother Titus, when compared to the rest of us, is practically a horse guru, which is not saying much because he’s compared to the rest of us.

Our dearth of horsemanship stems from our father. He was a man of many skills and passions. In my memory, he has been, among other things, a purebred hog farmer, nursery stock grower, bookseller, author, founder and publisher of several successful magazines, farmer, and metal dealer. But he was never a horseman.

All through my childhood, I remember a long string of raggedy and unkempt horses; driving horses and the usual rag-tag group of riff-raff draft horses we worked in the fields. Dad actually fancied himself somewhat knowledgeable about horses, which made the situation all the more fraught with danger when Trader Don, the local horse dealer, stopped by with his latest offerings. After we moved to Bloomfield, Iowa in 1976, Trader Don was our good friend. With his great booming false laugh and “well, David, I’ve got a good horse for you today, har, har,” he was a way-too-frequent presence on our farm. Unfortunately, Dad had a particular weakness for Trader Don’s loud and easy flattery, and often took the bait. The quality of our horses actually deteriorated, a fact any real horseman would have considered impossible.

Trader Don was not easily deterred. I remember one winter day after about six inches of snow had fallen. Our half-mile long farm lane was impassible. Trader Don parked his truck and trailer on the ice-covered gravel road and trudged in leading two sleek, lately-fattened chestnut brown draft horses. Money must have been tight right then, because Dad firmly told him he was not interested. After some discussion, Trader Don conceded with a great show of defeat and began the long trek through the spongy snow back to his truck. It was almost dark, some light snow was spitting, and he had walked about 200 feet, when he stopped and turned.

“David,” he said, his loud voice carrying to the barn where I was watching and silently chortling, “what if I…..?”

Dad, walking back to the house, should have pretended not to hear. Unfortunately, he stopped and turned to respond, and so was lost. The horses stayed, and Trader Don tramped triumphantly back to his truck with a nice check in his pocket. The team, of course, turned out to be broken-backed smooth-mouths and less than worthless.

Somewhere along the line, in the early to mid-1980s, my oldest brother Joseph, whose farm was located halfway out our long lane, acquired a fat lazy white pony from Bishop Henry Hochstetler. A few months later, one fine spring day, the fat lazy white pony had a little white pony colt. Everyone was surprised. No one even knew that the fat lazy little white pony was pregnant. Everyone cooed and commented about the cute little white pony colt.

After some months, the little white pony colt was weaned from his mother. He ran wild with Joseph’s horses for about a year. Around that time, it happened that Joseph owed Dad a small sum of money for something or other. Craftily, behind our backs, he offered Dad the little white pony colt to pay for the small debt. Without consulting us, Dad agreed. And so the little white pony colt arrived unannounced one day. The details are foggy, but I think Joseph sneaked up with the pony and tied him to our hitching rail and “forgot” to take him home. My brother Nathan and I were shocked and outraged and voiced strong protest. We had no use for the pony and did not want him. But the deal was done. No going back. The pony stayed.

We immediately discerned that the little white pony colt was a vile-tempered little fiend. He seethed with pure evil and viciousness. He lurked about the other horses and caused much discord. He was ill-mannered and very bossy. All the other horses, though much larger, were terrified of the pony. We never even named the little pony colt. We just called him the “visht glay pony,” the wicked little pony. Maybe that’s why he had such a bad temperament, because he was insulted at having no name. Nathan made an attempt or two to break him, but was unsuccessful. And so the little pony colt remained wild.

That fall we harvested the corn from the thirty acres of river bottom along the road. Joseph harvested his little ten-acre patch across the lane from our field. As was the normal custom, after the harvest, we installed a temporary single-strand electric fence around the corn field so we could turn out the livestock to forage for fodder before we plowed.

Nathan and I installed the electric fence one bright sunny late October morning. The fence was very simple; a skinny little metal rod stuck into the ground about every thirty feet with a plastic attachment on which we hooked a single strand of plain wire. Animals respected the fence because it was hooked up to a battery-powered electric shocker. Anything that touched the wire received a strong jolt. Across the lane, Joseph was busy puttering about installing his fence as well that morning. Nathan and I finish-ed up just before lunch. We decided to turn out the horses before going in to eat. We kept back one riding horse on which to fetch the other horses after lunch.

The horses, a herd of about twenty, were milling about in the barn yard, agitated to a nervous pitch by the wicked pony. Somehow they sensed that they were about to be freed into a new field. They milled and stomped and snorted. Then Nathan opened the gate.

The horses erupted onto the corn field like a great whirling cyclone. The wicked pony instantly sprinted to the lead. The herd gathered speed as it galloped out across the river bottom. Specks of mud and foam and chunks of dry cornstalks spattered about. We realized immediately that no electric fence in the world would stop the horses.

Out by the road on his side of the lane, Joseph had just finished a satisfying morning of fencing in his own corn field. He’d harvested a good crop. Now the fence was finished. It was a lovely and cool fall day. Joseph trudged contentedly up the lane toward his house, his head bowed and seemingly lost in thought. He may have had nothing more on his mind than wondering what his wife, Iva, had fixed for lunch. He anticipated a hearty meal and a perhaps good nap afterward.

A distant muted but increasing rumble roused him from his reverie. He glanced at the sky. Rain and thunder on such a cool day? The rumble increased to a dull roar. He could feel vibrations in the ground. He lowered his gaze to ground level and halted in mid-stride. A herd of galloping horses was bearing down on him like a freight train, led by a little white engine, the wicked pony. Joseph stood frozen for several horrified seconds. Then, shaking free from the temporary paralysis of shock and surprise, he did what any sane farmer would do. The horses might still be stopped or diverted. He waved his arms and whooped like a maniac.

“Whooooooaaa, Hoooooaaaoo, Whoaaaooooaaa,” he hollered. He ran frantically to head off the horses.

Grudgingly, like stampeding buffalo, the horses veered slightly to the right to avoid the madly waving and sprinting figure before them. The wicked pony scooted along at least a length ahead of the pack, ears flattened back on its evil head. The bigger horses pounded along behind him. Straight toward the fence we had just built. The earth thundered and shook. Joseph ran frantically toward the spot they would hit, waving and shouting at the top of his voice. All in vain. Just before impact, he gave up and stopped and spread his arms helplessly and groaned loudly and dramatically.

Seconds later, the herd crashed into our fence at full speed. Tiny steel fence posts flew about like sticks in the wind or bowed over like tired trees, flattened to the ground. The single-strand wire, strained to a dangerous tautness, whanged like a pistol shot and parted. It snaked back like a live thing into the field. The horses never slowed even a fraction. They crossed the lane and instantly smashed through Joseph’s shiny new fence. More fence posts flew about and bent over; another wire whanged and snapped and snaked. Only the river could stop them; there the wicked pony navigated a wide looping turn. The herd veered back with him to the left, circled around a wildly excited Joseph and rushed out across the road, destroying his fence on that end of the field. They then circled right back into our field, scattering and demolishing even more fence posts. Several long stretches of wire were dispersed on the road and entangled in a hopeless mass over acres and acres of corn stalks in both fields. Joseph stood there in disbelief and shock, the morning’s work in ruins before him. Gone were all thoughts of a warm noon meal and refreshing nap.

Back at the barn, Nathan and I watched the disaster unfolding with disbelief, then doubled over with wave after wave of helpless laughter. Finally Nathan mounted Traveler, our trusty riding horse, and with our dog Clover, raced across the fields around the now-slowing herd of horses. There was a great confusion of shouting (from Joseph and Nathan), fierce barking from the dog, and minutes later the herd rumbled back at full speed toward the buildings and into the barn yard. Loud snorts and steam from the excited horses filled the air. The wicked pony strutted about, proud of his destructive powers.

After lunch, Nathan and I returned to the corn field and disentangled the mess of wire and posts and rebuilt the fence. Joseph labored away at salvaging his fence as well, muttering under his breath and making many derogatory comments about the wicked pony and all our other horses in general. About mid-afternoon, we released the horses into the field again. They were much calmer and did not stampede. They saw the fence and respected its electric charge.

The wicked little white pony was not among them. A short time before, Nathan had quietly disappeared up the hill behind the house into the woods, leading the pony and cradling a .22 rifle on one arm.

He returned alone. I didn’t ask. And he didn’t tell.


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Lindsey Jo [Wagler] Stoltzfus
Date of Birth: August 27, 2007
Proud Parents: Mark and Becky Stoltzfus
Bursting-at-the-seams proud Grandparents: Uncle Jess and Lynda Wagler

Uncle Jess with his first grandchild

Last fall, someone recommended that I read the book “Tobias of the Amish,” by Dr. Ervin Stutzman. Dr. Stutzman is Dean of Eastern Mennonite Seminary in Harrisonburg, VA. I enjoyed the book and wrote Dr. Stutzman afterward. Last week, Dr. Stutzman called and said he would be in the area over the weekend and would like to meet me. The only time that suited us both was Sunday afternoon. We met at the Park City Mall. We sat and talked for over an hour and Dr. Stutzman discussed the task of writing the book and the sequal, which will be published soon. He also encouraged me in my own writing goals. I very much enjoyed visiting with him and appreciated that he took the time from his busy schedule to meet with me.
With Dr. Ervin Stutzman at the mall

On Saturday evening, Aug. 25th, I hosted the annual “Ira’s Great Garage Cookout.” And no, it was NOT in honor of my birthday, it just happened the day after. We had a jolly time. A widely diverse group of friends from many backgrounds attended.

I grilled sausages and served basic side dishes. A wicked thunderstorm interrupted the festivities for about half an hour, then cleared up. The air cooled dramatically after that.

Ready to grill in my new apron, a birthday gift from Steve (Bear) Beiler

Satisfied appetites: Lillian, Rodney, Wilm

Money changing hands in a rousing game of High-Low

Amos, Rodney, Ira, Paul


Lillian, Anne Marie, Mary June, Larry

Checking out the new I-phone
Mary June, Kayla, Larry, Patrick

Wilm, Amos, Rodney

Paul and Freiman


My English good friend, Mark Markiewicz, showed up at 10.
Mark and his family were visiting from England.

College football season kicks off this weekend. Slurp, slurp.



August 24, 2007

Reflections on the Past and Future

Category: News — Ira @ 3:02 pm

“At 46 one must be a miser; only have time for essentials.”
—Virginia Woolf

Today is August 24th. Why is that significant? It’s probably not to you. It is to me. I was born forty-six years ago this day.

Forty-six. It’s a number. To those ahead of me in years, it’s a young number. To those behind, it’s older, how old depends on how far back there you are. To me, well, it’s a bit far along on my journey of life. I’m not where I thought I’d be at this age. How many of us are, really, when we take stock and are honest? I don’t feel forty-six. But I don’t feel thirty-five, either.

Forty-six. I look back on the long and rugged road that has been my life to this point and wonder how I made it through some of the tough spots. It was anything but the “normal” path expected of me or that I envisioned growing up. I’ve traveled down through some vast valleys and over some very tall mountains and sailed some rough and choppy seas. And crossed some beautiful country, too.


Each decade, in retrospect, was a voyage of its own. And as each new stage phased in, the previous one phased out and with it, a great deal that I had known and cherished. So much, so many things had to be left behind. Willingly or unwillingly. The past echoes with them all. Relationships. Family. Friends. Traditions. Lifestyle. Stability. Habits. Locations. And always, mingled with the deep brooding sorrow of the losses, a wellspring flowed, however small, of hope and optimism for the future. Always tomor-row. Always next week. Next month. Next year. Always life, beautiful just because it was life. It still is, mostly.

And so, at forty-six, I take stock. Personal life: Holding on. Marriage: A shambles. Job: Good. Health and diet: Better than ever as an adult. Fitness: Better than ever. State of mind: Fluctuating. My faith: Lord I believe. Help me in my unbelief.

In the wreckage-strewn fog of recent events, I consider and weigh the circumstances now surrounding me. Once more, a new stage has begun. It has been set for some time, and the curtain rises. It reveals one more road to travel. One more fork on that road. Choose. To the right or to the left. And then, a thousand more choices, or none at all, which is in itself a choice. Forty-six and alone. Again. Like I’ve been for most of my life.

When I review the causes, they are many, and rooted in the long-term failures of myself and others. And I recognize and mourn the staggering, almost unfathomable cost in shattered lives and broken trust. Certainly beyond my current capacity to process or comprehend. Such a steep price, for so many. For those involved and the extended families. So much rage and pain. So much heartbreak. So much misunder-standing. So many choices. So many tears. So much loss. So much to let go. So many wounds that time will not heal. And yet, only one path beckons. Forward. Whatever that means to each of us.

Every life is laced with sorrow and loss and broken dreams. Circumstances vary from person to person. Each journey is distinct. Each destination, a choice.

In 1961, the year I was born, my parents and family had lived in the new community of Aylmer, Ontario for less than a decade. A diverse group of hardy souls from many different communities had made the trek and settled there, most with families. Peter and Martha Yoder. Peter and Anna Stoll. Homer and Rachel Graber. Abner and Katie Wagler. Levi and Elizabeth Slabaugh. Noah and Nancy Gashco. Nicky and Lucille Stoltzfus. Jake and Lydia Eicher. LeRoy and Ruth Marner. A few others that escape my memory or moved away before I was born. And my parents, David and Ida Mae Wagler. Many have now passed on. Of the original group, my parents are the only couple that still survives. Their hearts remain in the Aylmer community. It is their true home.

From that place, my father launched and nourished his life long dream of writing and publishing. The monthly magazine “Family Life” was his reach for the stars. He mort-gaged the farm (against my mother’s wishes) to finance the venture. Its success reached heights he could not have imagined and propelled him into the forefront as a defender and apologist for the Amish faith and lifestyle. He remains anchored in that faith today.

When my parents were my age, they had a family of eleven children. My father was in his fortieth year when I was born. That’s how I keep track of his age, add forty to my own. Mom was thirty-eight. She bore two more children after I was born, my sister Rhoda and my brother Nathan. After Nathan, she had one miscarriage. And then no more.

The people that comprised my world as a child are now scattered to the winds. Or have passed on. I think back on some of my earliest recollections and remember. The colors and the smells and the tastes. The characters, floating in and out of my mind through the fog of years, the parameters of that childish world, so provincial, so confined, yet so vivid and alive. And always, it seemed to me, as my awareness and imagination increased with age, that I was simply an observer, a chronicler, and not really a participant in that world.

I can tell you the story, I can sing you with words, I can soar you to the heights, I can lament to you a tale of lost time and past worlds. I can tell you of life’s culmination in suffering, knowledge and death; the plower plowing, the sower sowing and the reaper reaping. I can weigh the cost to the last tenth-ounce, a father’s angry and unspoken sorrow, a mother’s silent pain to the last teardrop, the unutterable heartbreak of a wounded child.

I can tell you of betrayal so deep it stabs to the core of the heart, of the foundation of years brushed aside like so much dust, of pain so keen it numbs the brain, of walking amid ruins enveloped by dust and ashes and fog and noise. I can tell you of doubts and fears and regrets that could haunt a man to his grave.

I can tell you the sound of thunder and rain in soggy fields and the sound of cornstalks crackling as they grow from black river bottom on a muggy summer night, of the pale shadows cast by the harvest moon over stubbled fields and shocks of grain. I can tell you the particular slant and warmth of the summer sunlight and the feel and texture of the ancient and massive boulders beside our barn’s loft ramp. I can tell you the people and places and events that I have known and lived. I can tell you of life from the eyes of a wondering child, the wild stirring passions of an agonized youth, the hopeless quiet despair of a restless and deeply frustrated man.

I can tell you things that have never been told.

But, as I look back and reflect, I realize that the singer hasn’t sung, the chronicler hasn’t chronicled, the lamenter has internalized his lament, and joy was absent. And that cannot and will not stand.

“…..We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented.” Matthew 11:17

The gifts we have will disappear if not honed and used, and I have not used my talents for far too long. For many years, I could not find my voice. But the words are there, inside, where they’ve always been. They may be a bit rough and uncut at times. The tune may be flat in spots and the melody dissonant.

But the voice is forming. It’s not too late.

I will move forward. The voice is forming.

And it will sing.



Some thoughts on the Michael Vick situation. I’m no fan of Mr. Vick. He’s not my type of quarterback; he runs too much and consequently gets hurt almost every year. He’s arrogant and uncouth. But my personal preferences of playing style or dislike of him as a person have little bearing on my perspective of his legal troubles. He will plead guilty to illegal dog fighting and will likely spend a number of months in jail. Something about the whole fiasco still smells wrong to me. I’m not suggesting he was railroaded, but I am strongly suspicious that someone, somewhere was out to get him and ruin his career.

The blabbermouth sports press is in overload and gleefully spouting a gooey mass of sanctimonious bile. Blood is on the streets, and they are lapping it up. I’m not defend-ing dog fighting or the killing of dogs. But I think we need to put it in perspective. A hundred years ago, dog fighting was a popular and legal sport. Abortion was illegal. Today dog fighting is outlawed, and 4000 babies are ripped from their mothers’ wombs every day. Michael Vick would be less vilified had he killed his girlfriend or even his own mother. He could have financed a thousand abortions and no one would blink an eye. He is accused of killing dogs and the whole world is scrambling in a mad rush to crucify him. Something ain’t right.

My extended family has congregated to the Donalds, SC area for the wedding of my niece Rhoda Marner and Ryan Miller on Saturday, Aug. 25th. I decided not to attend, although my heart is with them and I wish them all the best. I’m sure my brother-in-law and sister, Ray and Maggie Marner, will be gracious hosts and extend a sincere welcome to all who attend. Ryan and Rhoda will live in his home community in Delaware, so I’m sure we’ll get to see them around here occasionally.
Ryan Miller and Rhoda Marner
Mr. and Mrs. Miller as of Aug. 25, 2007

Special thanks to Rhoda (my sister) Yutzy for the box of birthday tarts. My favorite.

Also thanks to sister Maggie for the box of assorted goodies. How did you find the time with the wedding coming up?