While driving home from a conference in the middle-of-nowhere Kansas, my co-worker and I saw a left arrow sign with the words Little House on the Prairie Homestead.
“Turn!” she shouted.
I might have screeched the tires just a little bit.
We’d barely had time to think about what we might find, but to our delight, it was the land owned by the Laura Ingalls family during their stop at the Kansas grassland.
Because the homestead was closed for the winter, we could only wander among the buildings and peer in windows, but being there without another soul around gave us a better sense of the isolation homesteaders must have felt. And the freedom.
For me, the unexpected visit had deeper meaning. It was the very land where my writing hero had walked. Although Wilder had no formal training in writing, she described her life in such vivid language that her books have endured for decades. Other authors have followed Wilder’s lead in writing about Western Expansion, but none share her longevity or impact. It is my that few books, however well researched, can feel quite as authentic as Wilder’s first-hand accounts. Her memories.
I have strong feelings of nostalgia as I think about this family who forged across the prairie in a covered wagon. I wanted to BE her (although I now appreciate the beauty of not having to cook on a wood stove or use an outhouse). Somehow, her experiences infiltrated into my adult life; probably because I read every one of her books multiple times as a child.
Whenever I teach an “Animals in the Bible” series at church, I read the passage from “On the Banks of Plum Creek” where Wilder describes the glittering cloud of crickets which descends upon their waving wheat. You can hear them chomping away, destroying the crop, invading their house, jumping into their clothes. And yet, how much worse were the locust that descended upon Egypt during the plagues?
At the zoo, I teach a class called “Little Sod House on the Prairie” in which the students take a virtual tour of the prairie, listen to coyotes howling at night, and wonder how to build a house with no trees in sight. It always reminds me that survival was the entire focus of a homesteader’s life.
It’s possible that I feel drawn to this era in history because I’m descended from early frontier settlers. Two of my great-grandparents traveled across the prairie to settle in Oklahoma.
My mother, also a writer, recently shared the unfathomable story of a church friend who delivered her own baby, by herself, in a log cabin. Her husband was caught in a storm while working in the field, and arrived home to a wailing surprise that wasn’t due for several more weeks! (Christian Woman magazine, Mar/Apr 2013).
To make this true story even more unbelievable, the baby was born during a storm that is in the Oklahoma record books. On November 11, 1911, the temperature rose to 85 degrees and then plunged to 15 degrees. Sound like a chapter straight out of Little House on the Prairie?
Again, I am so thankful for the modern pleasure of hot showers, fast food, and libraries filled with books. I can’t imagine what people one-hundred-years from now will think about our life in 2013. Will we seem primitive? Will they think, “How did they do it without…?” Or will they marvel at our freedom, as I did when I visited the Laura Ingalls Wilder Homestead?