Laura Ingalls Wilder: Visiting the Old Familiar

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012 at 6:36 am

Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading ChallengeFollowing directly on the heels of Carrie’s L.M. Montgomery Reading Challenge, it’s time to kick off Barbara’s Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge.

The first books that I remember reading independently were Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books. I remember passing our blue covered paperbacks back and forth through the thin shaft of light that crept in through the cracked bedroom door after light’s out, dying to see what would happen next–or eager to savor again what I knew was coming.

My favorite books were Farmer Boy and The Long WinterFarmer Boy for its put-an-ache-in-your-belly descriptions of food and its detailed depictions of day-to-day, mostly-self-sufficient farming; The Long Winter for its tale of perseverance in the face of adversity.

Farmer Boy was probably responsible for my early-teen obsession with back-to-the-land homesteading—an interest that had me checking endless 1970s tomes out of my local library. I studied animal husbandry, gardening, small farm machinery, candlemaking, soap making, fabric weaving. I was ecstatic when my high school organic chemistry class had me dyeing wool with homemade herb-based dyes—just like in Farmer Boy.

One of my favorite games during the height of my “Little House” passion was taken from the title of the first chapter of The Long Winter. “Make hay while the sun shines,” I would proclaim as I hurriedly raked the lawn and bundled up leaves.

Pa and Laura said those words in jest, never knowing how prophetic they would be. I did my personal haying in full awareness of the long winter that was coming.

I dreamed of my full larder being salvation for a needy family, just as Almanzo Wilder’s seed wheat provided food for the starving Ingalls family.

But just because Farmer Boy and The Long Winter were my favorite books didn’t mean I didn’t thoroughly enjoy the others or draw useful bits from each. No, the whole series would come to color my activities, dreams, and plans.

This month, I plan to read through at least Little House in the Big Woods (if not a couple more of the series), sharing my childhood remembrances and my current day realizations as I read. And I plan on doing something from the book.

If I have lists of every item mentioned in the “Anne” books (which I do), I also have lists of every “skill” mentioned in the “Little House” books. Buttermaking. Pig Butchering. Rifle Loading. Onion braiding. Cheesemaking. Jack-frost-picture-playing. If it happened in the Little House books, I have it on my list–and I’ve wanted to do it for practically forever.

I’m not sure which of the many options I’ll take this month. Will I make molasses candy in a frypan of fresh-fallen snow? Will I make butter and color it orange with a carrot? Will I try whittling a whatnot like Pa did? Maybe I’ll make a rag doll or a needle book. Maybe I’ll have my sister-out-law teach me how to play the fiddle. I don’t know–but I’m eager to find out during this Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge!

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Reader Comments (2):

  1. You always find an interesting way to participate. You make me want to go color butter. And I woke up with no intention of doing so.

  2. Barbara H. says:

    I think The Longest Winter had the greatest long-term impact on me. I was just reading an account of Laura and Almanzo’s first years in Mansfield where they spent the rest of their lives, beginning with nothing, his health broken from diphtheria and a stroke, truly living off the land and making it into a prosperous farm. I don’t know if people could do that today — I think we’ve lost a lot of that know-how and those skills.

    How neat to make a list of skills from the books! It will be exciting to see what you do. No pig-butchering, I hope — don’t know if I could stomach that!

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