Of beets and chainsaws


July 27, 2023 | Editorial | Volume 27 Issue 15
Will Braun | Editor
(Photo by Will Braun)

If integrity is the currency of change, the Wiederkehr family of Mildmay, Ontario should have a chunk of change to spend.

In a world of compromise, greenwashing and homesteaders Instagramming their idealism, the Wiederkehrs have done far more than most to actually extract themselves from the consumerist machine that treats earth as waste bin and soul as credit card.

I too have sweated and fretted down the DIY, grow-your-own, pedal-powered path, but I know of no one who pushes that experiment further than Ruth, Miles, and their two post-university sons, Theo and Andre.

I almost missed it though.

In January, Andre sent an email with a somewhat vague proposal for a column on faith and Creation. My response bordered on rude. Not knowing anything about him, I wrote about 20 years of church talk on Creation: “I find a lot of repetition and a lot of people preaching to the proverbial choir.” Reaching full preacher mode, I continued: “I want to see the church make a wildly courageous and creative contribution in this realm.”

In short: No column, but I’d (grudgingly) consider individual submissions.  

Andre’s response was gracious. He liked the “wildly courageous” part.

Then, fortunately, I looked him up online. I learned that, like my family, the Wiederkehrs heat with wood, but unlike my family, they sold their chainsaw. Full attention.

Though my 13-year-old son had suggested we do the same, and though I know the perversely sweet smell of those little two-stroke engines is calamity for the atmosphere, I accept the compromise without question. Still, I’m fully intrigued by chainsaw-free conviction.

The chainsaw was just one example my search revealed of the Wiederkehrs’ degree of conviction.

“Forget my last email,” I wrote back. “I didn’t know your story. Take two: How much firewood do you saw by hand? . . . And most importantly, can I bring my family to visit?”

While in Ontario for work and family visits last spring, we spent a few hours at the Wiederkehr farm northwest of Waterloo. We strolled through the barn, the garden, the cedar bog, the woodworking shed, the bike/tractor shed and the seed collection corner before sitting down for a meal to remember.

The Wiederkehrs are soft-spoken and understated, not natural self-promoters. But their hospitality is so warm and their actions so compelling that a visit cannot help but embed itself in a visitor’s heart and mind.

Much of what I saw and heard there, I had not seen or heard anywhere else. Ever.

At the woodworking shed—where Andre was fashioning a curved-front, wooden toboggan by hand, starting with logs from out back—he noted a snow scoop he had made entirely from wood and sinew. Nothing from the lumber yard.

It took me a moment to realize he had made it in response to a winter phone conversation in which I noted that my son—the anti-chainsaw one—had shamed me into not using our gas-powered snow blower on our 70-metre driveway and ice rink all winter. On this one point, we had outdone the snow-blowing Wiederkehrs.

Andre, apparently, responded by making a snow shovel. I can’t top that. (Though I can give you a good deal on a snow blower.)

I appreciated their utter lack of defensiveness in acknowledging the inconsistencies in their lives. I appreciated their varied degrees of conviction on the question of home-grown vitamin D versus fortified foods off the shelf. I appreciated the sense of good-natured, intense debate among them. I appreciated that Theo admitted he was weary of beet salad, a winter staple. I appreciated the almost ridiculous rigour and irresistible gentleness of their lives.

And I marveled that they do all this as a family.

Since that trip, the Wiederkehrs regularly come up in our family conversations. They’re a household name, in the best possible sense.

What they are doing matters. From firewood and beets to snow shovels and wild courage, theirs is an exploration of faith and Mennonite values that offers value for us all. We at Canadian Mennonite magazine believe their stories and analysis belong in these pages. They will be writing every two months under the title of “Humans and Humus,” starting on page 6. 

Will Braun welcomes feedback at editor@canadianmennonite.org.

Read more editorials:
Uncommon global access
The poofy blue MCC couch
The duty of tension
Countering intuition
How I almost bought a Tesla

(Photo by Will Braun)

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