Friday, 10 April 2015

Fictional food Adventure: Reading Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Reading the Little House on the Prairie has been a great joy. It's been a wonderful escape. Every time I open it to read again, I am swept onto the wide open prairie. Surrounded by blowing grasses, an enormous, open sky, the twitterings of birds and clicking of insects, and a feeling of calm. A rich, expansive ocean of unspoilt nature. Although I love hills and trees, there is something about this landscape that makes me just want to dive in and run as far as I can, to twirl with my arms open wide and to lie back under the blue canopy. When I am reading this book, I am lost to the many enclosing walls, narrow streets, cars and higgledy-piggledy town I live in. The space pervades my soul and I am almost as free as if I were actually there. Laura Ingalls Wilder writes beautifully about the weather, and the sights and sounds of the prairie. 

The nature of these books is to describe processes in great detail. This was the case in the first one, The Little House in the Big Woods, but even more so in this book. The family have to build a whole house from scratch. And a stable, and dig a well, and make furniture. I love hearing the minute details of Pa's endeavours to create their log cabin; how he shapes the logs to interlock, how he builds and lines the chimney, how he splits and trims the logs to lay floorboards smooth enough for "little bare feet to run upon", how he makes and hangs the big door and fashions hinges and a latch-key. You can almost hear the thud of his axe. 

A real treat, reading under an
enormous Oak tree, in the April
sunshine, sitting on a wonderful
wooden swing.
Laura's parents rise to every challenge and seem to know exactly what to do in every circumstance - a prairie fire, rampaging wolves, all sorts of alarming situations.

It's also interesting seeing how they parented their young girls, with lots of love and care, but with a strict discipline. The children learn that to disobey, in some cases, could mean the difference between life and death, when such danger surrounds them. During their journey in the wagon, there is a moment when all of a sudden Ma's voice, usually gentle and calm, becomes stern. The girls all pay attention instantly and quickly do whatever she says because they recognise that it's important. I thought about how so many of us are quick to sound annoyed at small things, so how are children to know the difference when something really matters. I like the fact that it was rare for Ma to sound that way, and that when she did, it was with good reason. 

The story is full of sounds; the cry of wolves and Indians, Skylarks, Prairie hens, Pa's fiddle playing in the evenings, the gentle breeze through the grasses, the strong howling wind round the house, the sad songs of passing cowboys and the wild jamborees of the Indians.

The family ate very simply. They had no fresh vegetables, and relied on meat and bread and beans. There were berries, fresh and dried, and milk from their cow. But not a lot else. Cornbread is their staple diet, along with whatever Pa has been able to shoot; rabbit, chickens, deer, turkey. Laura shares a tin cup with her sister Mary, until a special Christmas day when Santa Claus brings them one each. Their delight in this gift is amazing. Something we take so for granted; a choice of many mugs and glasses. Yet, just having one to herself was felt to be a wonderful luxury and a great treat.

I was so much enjoying their life on the Prairie yet I knew they wouldn't be there forever because the next book is entitled On the Banks of Plum Creek. Despite knowing this, it still shocked me when they made a very sudden decision to leave it all behind. Their wonderful, handbuilt home and the wide open prairie. I miss it. But I will follow them into their next adventure and beyond, and I wonder if Cornbread will still form such a part of their diet when they are living in a town. I've never made it, or eaten it before, so keep a look out for my Cornbread soon. 

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