The Prairie, Revisited

Someday, I’m going to be a pioneer. I’ll travel in a covered wagon, settle on an empty prairie, build a log cabin with timber cut from the creek bed. I’ll cut notches in the logs and carefully set notch upon notch, climbing the corners of the cabin to build it higher and higher.

It’s been a dream of mine since my earliest days, those days when I first read Little House on the Prairie.

But while I’ve been able to accomplish some of the childhood dreams elicited by books, I have not accomplished this particular one-and likely never will.

The closest I’ll get will be building Lincoln log houses with children.

And that’s okay.

I was struck, rereading Little House on the Prairie for the first time in several years, with how much of the book is focused on the mechanics of building a home from scratch–but also much I missed of the rest of the book.

I never caught, on my early readings, just how tenuous the Ingalls’ resettlement was. Pa heard a rumor that Indian territory would be opening for settlement, so he uprooted his family and moved in. Despite there being plenty of non-Indian land around, Pa settled within an Indian reservation–knowing that it was an Indian reservation. He considered it to be just a matter of time before the Indians would be resettled. That’s what happens when white men move forward, he assumed; the Indians move on to make place for them. And of course the US government would back up the white settlers who were squatting on Indian land. Of course.

It’s astonishing to think. How can someone (who isn’t desperate) know that the land they’re living on belongs to someone else but yet still choose to build upon it in hopes that they’ll come out on top in the end?

In some ways, Pa seems so advanced in his views of Indians. He didn’t hate them or fear them, he tended towards the “noble savage” viewpoint (which I definitely had as a child, at least in part obtained from the Little House books). Yet his attitude in settlement was almost like many would treat wild animals. Yes, suburban sprawl will impact the native animal population, but people are more important than animals and the animals will move to other places and adapt.

It’s challenging, revisiting the prairie through these new eyes.

My view of Little House on the Prairie has also changed now that I am married and have moved from being near my family to be with my husband. In the months leading up to our marriage, Daniel and I talked of various directions our life could take-of different educational and professional routes Daniel could take, of different places we might end up living. I blithely told Daniel that I would follow him anywhere.

And it’s true. I will follow him anywhere.

But, having moved once to follow him, my determination to follow him anywhere has much more fear attached.

The move to Wichita has not been easy for me. I battled a depression over this past year that was more severe than any I have battled before. I am now finally, one year out, starting to find my balance. The thought of uprooting again terrifies me.

I can’t help but think of Caroline Ingalls as I read Little House on the Prairie. I imagine how hard it must have been for her, leaving her family and “civilization”, spending months without anyone to talk to but her husband and their children, just starting to establish a home when news comes that you must move again.

I wonder if she felt more sorrow or more relief when it became clear that they must not stay, that they would need to backtrack, that they would return to Wisconsin. Was she sorrowful because of the year lost, the work done and left for others to enjoy? Or was she elated to be returning back to her family, to the little house they once loved? And what was she thinking when Pa’s wanderlust struck again later (when they left for the banks of Plum Creek)?

It’s interesting, revisiting old places and seeing them through older, more mature eyes.

I wondered at the beginning of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge if I wouldn’t try to make something from Little House on the Prairie, like I did with Little House in the Big Woods a couple years ago. I didn’t. The closest I got was creating some log cabin quilt blocks for a quilt for a soon expected nephew and building log cabins with Lincoln logs with the kids of some friends from church.

I don’t regret that I didn’t do more–this year’s challenge was thought provoking enough that I didn’t need the extra activities.

I read this title as a part of Barbara H’s Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge and the Reading to Know Classics Book Club. You can check out what other people have been reading at Barbara’s challenge wrap up post and the RTK wrap-up post.