Saturday, April 30, 2016

And now to Minnesota!

by Laura Ingalls Wilder
In the fourth installment of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series, 
Ma, Pa, Mary, Laura, and Carrie end up in Walnut Grove, Minnesota.
And poor Jack! He's stuck, yet again, traveling on foot! :( 
Jack is the family dog who perhaps wishes he could travel with a family 
that believed in letting the canine companion RIDE in the wagon rather than WALK with it!

I'm fairly certain I qualify as the world's worst Read-Along cohost!
Here it is the last day of the month and 
I am just now posting my review! 

I read the book one week ago but had neither the time nor the energy to blog! :(
But, I did JUST make the April deadline! :)


Bex of An Armchair by the Sea is my cohost for this 
Little House Read-Along 2016! (#littlehouseRAL)
Click here to access my Little House Read-Along page which now lists all the review links for each book in one place!
My favorite book of this series thus far has been Farmer Boy, which we read and reviewed just last month (March). 
I guess that proves I am still a 'tom-boy' at heart!
The first house they inhabit in Minnesota happens 
to be a "dugout" which is exactly as it sounds--
literally dug out of a creek bank!
Now that is smart! Talk about 'thermo-efficient'!
It reminded me of our 'dream house'--an Earthship!
Though not all Earthships are underground, the most sustainable style is pretty much a 'dugout' with all glass 
across the front which can be solar collectors.

Ah...maybe in our next lifetime my husband and I will find each other again, when we are much younger and physically able to make the earth-packed tires, etc., ourselves! 
That would be fun! And the design possibilities are endless and so creative and unique!
Uh-hum...now...back to the Ingalls' 'dugout'...


The book cover on the right shows the dugout,
as does Garth Williams'
illustration to the left.
The big danger here was from the water rising too much and flooding the interior of the house, and/or large animals stepping through the 
turf 'roof'! 
Which did happen! 
Can you imagine? 


Laura is quite sad that Pa had to trade Pet and Patty, and Bunny, the long-eared colt, for the house. Though Pa patiently explains,
"Why, little half-pint. Pet and Patty like to travel. They are little Indian ponies, Laura, and plowing is too hard work for them. They will be much happier traveling out west. 
You wouldn't want to keep them here, breaking their hearts on a plow." (7)
I adore Pa's kindhearted explanations! And that nickname "half-pint" never ceases to make me smile and/or chuckle to myself! As they all sat outside the door of their new home, Ma 
...drew a long breath. "It is all so tame and peaceful," she said. "There will be no wolves or Indians howling tonight. I haven't felt so safe and at rest since I don't know when." 
Pa's slow voice answered, "We're safe enough, all right. Nothing can happen here."
The peaceful colors went all around the rim of the sky. The willows breathed and the water talked to itself in the dusk. The land was dark gray. The sky was light gray and stars prickled through it. (17)
I love those last two lines, describing their surroundings/the landscape. I felt my own heart rate and breathing slow as I read it--just as if I was sitting there with them in that calm peacefulness. But I drastically miss living in the country, being surrounded by nature. :) 

Once Laura confesses her attempt to go to the swimming hole, after being strictly forbidden to ever go there without Pa, Pa must decide upon an appropriate punishment. He finally decided that she must be "watched" all the next day to determine whether she was capable of ever being trusted again. Since he had to work, Ma agreed to do the "watching" and Laura mustn't move out of her mother's line of sight the next day--all day.
 The whole day was gone. Laura had not seen that sunrise, now the shadows of clouds on the prairie. The morning-glories were withered and that day's blue flags were dead. All day Laura had not seen the water running in the creek, the little fishes in it, and the water-bugs skating over it. She was sure that being good could never be as hard as being watched. (36)
Lesson learned! Ma accompanied her the next day as they retraced her steps toward the swimming hole, looking for the badger that had disrupted her progress. They did discover the hole where it evidently made its home, but never did see the animal itself. Badgers have a reputation for not being exactly 'friendly,' so I'd say Laura was fairly lucky overall in this encounter! 

As Laura and Mary tried to reconcile the concept of Santa Claus visiting them throughout the night of Christmas Eve with the fact that the dugout had no chimney for Santa's use. Ma explained, 
"The older you are, the more you know about Santa Claus," she said. "You are so big now, you know he can't be just one man, don't you? You know he is everywhere on Christmas Eve. He is in the Big Woods, and in Indian Territory, and far away in New York State, and here. He comes down all the chimneys at the same time. You know that, don't you?"

Then Ma told them something else about Santa Claus. He was everywhere, and besides that, he was all the time. Whenever anyone was unselfish, that was Santa Claus. 
Christmas Eve was the time when everybody was unselfish. On that one night, Santa Claus was everywhere, because everybody, all together, stopped being selfish and wanted other people to be happy. And in the morning you saw what that had done.
"If everybody wanted everybody else to be happy, all the time, then would it be Christmas all the time?" Laura asked, and Ma said, "Yes, Laura." (85-86)
And it was this information that convinced both Laura and Mary to wish for something as seemingly mundane and "every day" as horses so that Pa would be able to plant wheat and make money. I cannot remember ever reading a better, more 'rational'/moralistic/optimistic explanation of the concept of 'Santa Claus.' Wish I had read this book prior to raising my own children! I would have had a ready explanation for them! :) 
Pa had tuned his fiddle and now he set it against his shoulder. Overhead the wind went wailing lonely in the cold dark. But in the dugout everything was snug and cosy. 
Bits of fire-light came through the seams of the stove and twinkled on Ma's steel knitting needles and tried to catch Pa's elbow. In the shadows the bow was dancing, on the floor Pa's toe was tapping, and the merry music hid the lonely crying of the wind. (88)

Pa is a driven individual who remains optimistic and is determined to do better for himself, but especially to provide for his family. 
"A dugout is snug and cozy," said Ma. "But I do feel like an animal penned up for the winter."
"Never mind, Caroline," Pa said. "We'll have a good house next year." 
His eyes shone and his voice was like singing. "And good horses, and a buggy to boot! 
I'll take you riding, dressed up in silks! Think, Caroline--this level, rich land, not a stone or a stump to contend with, and only three miles from a railroad! 
We can sell every grain of wheat we raise!" (82)
You could say Pa was a "dreamer." This series has opened my eyes to the fact that pioneers on the frontier were also motivated to better themselves financially, to have and own more and better "things." I just never considered they had much motivation other than 'making it on their own' and settling where no one else, or at least few others, had settled. And the overarching goal of survival, of course! It just rather surprises me to see this concept of 'consumerism' as part of their lives and their motivation to succeed. I think I somehow assumed that was a more recent outgrowth of 'modern life' as we know it. :) 

Once the wheat had pushed through the ground like "a faint green mist on that brown field," Pa surprised them all by returning from town with a load of lumber with which to build their house. He had purchased the lumber on credit and would pay for it when the wheat was harvested and sold...ah, but little did any of them know what would happen to that first wheat crop, and the implications for future growing seasons. As can happen, all did not proceed according to plan once the grasshoppers arrived. :( The concept of "credit" was quite different back then. Whereas in our 'modern world' the Ingalls would have most definitely been foreclosed upon and lost their home, Pa was allowed to pay as he could, even going many months paying little to nothing. I was glad for them! I admit that I was just a tad bit disappointed at all the 'modern' conveniences Pa employed in erecting this newest house in Minnesota. I missed the detailed descriptions of the more primitive implements and processes he had used in building the other homes. Though I was glad the Ingalls had a house with "real glass windows"! 

I might not have believed it possible that grasshoppers could totally decimate all the vegetation if I hadn't seen it happen with my own eyes! Though not with grasshoppers, but with Japanese bean beetles! When my children were young, my ex-husband and I raised a HUGE garden every year! We were living in an area where these little critters could become hoards and multitudes with the correct weather conditions. We were using Sevin the first couple of years to keep insects from eating the garden. (Yes, we were initially that  uninformed and ignorant regarding the use of such chemical applications.) Once they got started, there was no stopping them. One morning we awoke to a faint 'buzzing' noise and when we went outside, we realized that four trees a former owner had planted were literally COVERED in these insects, and roughly 1/4-1/3 of the foliage was already gone! It was absolutely unbelievable! These trees were so tall it was difficult to even get any of this poisonous chemical spray into the upper portions. That was when I researched Japanese bean beetles (long before internet access) and discovered a relatively new invention of pheromone traps. This proved the only true method of controlling these voracious "beasts"! Though collecting and burning those traps (All four of them were totally full at least once a day for the first 10 days!) was an unpleasant task, to say the least! We had at least learned our lesson. While these topical chemicals sound so efficient and effective, in reality, they only keep the insects moving on to other plants, in a never-ending cycle that can culminate in mass destruction! Pheromone traps had a constant presence in our yard/garden area each growing season thereafter! Problem solved. :) I could relate to the Ingalls as they battled these insects, though I could only imagine walking on a carpet of grasshoppers in every inch of land! Yuck! But I don't believe anything existed which could have been used to prevent this particular disaster. :( 

And it wasn't just grasshoppers! There were plenty of other dangers present in this environment! Laura fell off the board across the stream when the water was running high and the current was strong, and was barely able to save herself by clinging to the board and eventually pulling herself out of the water! I admit my heart was pounding as I read this scene! Even though I KNOW Laura survived! That thought never crossed my mind, I was so immersed in her immediate danger! Badgers were perhaps the least of it! And they had to fight a prairie fire to save their homestead. If not for the help of their neighbor, Mr. Nelson, their homestead might have 'gone up in smoke'!
When he had gone away [Ma] said, "There is nothing in the world so good as good neighbors." (275)
This was especially true since poor Almonzo had to travel hundreds of miles and be gone many months to find work due to the nonexistent wheat crops. This left Ma and the children to manage on their own! 

The water seemed to offer endless challenges to Laura, who came out after wading and swimming one day to discover "bloodsuckers"/leeches attached to her. Though this petrified her, it played to her advantage when she determinedly got back at Nellie. Yes, we meet Nellie Oleson in this book! Nellie must have been a rather miserable old soul in a child's body. Naturally, the Oleson house was unbelievably beautiful to Laura. Although she now had a 'real' house built of sawed lumber with 'real' glass windows, the Oleson's house was decorated and furnished much more lavishly than any Laura had ever seen! And Nellie had such beautiful dolls, so much fancier than Laura's own rag doll or the paper dolls with which they played. (I had kinda forgotten about paper dolls! I had some, too!) Though Nellie was anxious to "show off" her "china" and "wax" dolls to all the other little girls, she was furious when Laura reached out and touched her favorite doll's blue silk dress! She snatched it away.
"Don't you touch her!" Nellie screeched. "You keep your hands off my doll, Laura Ingalls!" 
Laura's face burned hot and the other girls did not know what to do. (166)
I felt so very sorry for Laura! She simply withdrew from the group and sat by herself on a chair. Mrs. Oleson gave her some books to look at and she was enthralled, especially with the one entitled Mother Goose
She had not known there were such wonderful books in the world. On every page of that book there was a picture and a rhyme. Laura could read some of them. She forgot all about the party. (167)
Yipes! This sounded just like something I would do. Though as a 7-year-old child, I might have wrestled Nellie to the ground until she said "uncle" as I had done with a fellow kindergartner at the age of 5! :) I can remember as a teenager being invited to a birthday party by the "popular" (and I thought 'sophisticated') girls in my high school. My mother was terribly excited since she considered this to be quite a social coup for me. I remember downplaying it and stating that I didn't know what to expect but doubted it would be much fun. I was back home within 45 minutes. (That included the 10-minute drive to the girl's house.) Mother was shocked, asking me what had happened. I simply replied that after 20-30 minutes of dull and boring conversation (about boys, dating, clothes, and gossip about others) I decided I would be much happier at home reading, sewing, or just listening to music! I'm pretty sure mother dropped any social ambitions she might have held for me in the future at that point. :) So, yeah, I could relate to Laura's withdrawal from the party. (For some reason, this group kept asking me to their get-togethers several more times and I kept making excuses until they finally quit. Sheesh!) 

It wasn't until Ma reciprocated by having all the little girls out to the Ingall's house for a fancy party that Laura was able to exact revenge upon Nellie. And did she ever! Let's just say that once some of the girls, including Nellie had decided to hold up their dresses and wade out into the creek, Nellie got a surprise after coming out and seeing "bloodsuckers" on her legs! Of course, Laura had been 'guiding' the girls into certain areas of the water... ;) It wasn't until Mary threatened to tell Ma what she had done that Laura finally began pulling them off Nellie! Before that she was too busy rolling around on the ground laughing at and making fun of her "dancing around"! 

I wondered if Ma was aware of the irony of her serving "vanity" cakes which were 
"...not sweet. But they were rich and crisp, and hollow inside. Each one was like a great bubble. 
The crisp bits of it melted on the tongue." (175)
This description had me saying "yum" to myself! Ma said they were called "vanity cakes" 
"Because they are all puffed up, like vanity, with nothing solid inside." (176)
Hmmm...wonder if she had anyone specific in mind. :)

Being only a couple of miles from town, Ma and Pa take the girls to church regularly and a preacher from the East travels out to preach one Sunday per month. He decorated a Christmas tree in the church with donated items from families back East and distributed those items to the church attendees. Through this the children each received several presents including candy, mittens, and a rag doll with a china head for Carrie. Then the best gift of all was a fur cape and muff for Laura. As soon as she saw it on the tree she wanted it, especially since Nellie had a fur cape. Laura magnanimously wished Nellie a "Merry Christmas" as they exited the church.
No wickedness boiled up in Laura now; she only felt a little bit of mean gladness...
Her cape was prettier than Nellie's, and Nellie had no muff. (158)
Ah, a bit of the 'green monster' for Laura! :)

The last bit of disaster was a blizzard. These storms could blow up very unexpectedly (No weather reports to listen to or watch back then!). An unprepared person could very easily perish. Luckily, though Pa got caught on foot between town and home, as he kept walking, he inadvertently dropped through a snow drift that provided shelter from the cold wind and was able to last until the wind died down enough he could dig his way out and continue toward home, which was much closer than he thought it might be. 

One bit of simplistic tool creation and usage was the fish trap Pa made. Though I searched, I was unable to find the illustration from the book. It was basically a "skeleton box":
It was a long, narrow box without a top, and Pa left wide cracks between the strips of wood...
"The fish will come over the falls into the trap, and the little ones will go out through the cracks, but the big ones can't. They can't climb back up the falls. So they'll have to stay swimming in the box until I come and take them out." (136)
Very smart! I can appreciate his ingenuity and know-how!

I did feel very sorry for Laura when Ma gave Charlotte away to another little girl. Just like that! Just gave her away as if she had the right to do so! I was a bit upset with Ma over that. And although Laura is eventually reunited with Charlotte, Ma had to rebuild the doll as it was quite damaged. I could understand Laura's anger and then disappointment. 

Pa's reference to Laura as "little half-pint of sweet cider" is adorable and is one of my favorite parts of this whole series!
I have droned on and on, but this book offered so much material! 

Have you read this one? Or any of this series?
What is your favorite? Or which book are you most interested in reading?
We would love to hear your thoughts!

4 comments:

  1. I didn't realize how much I had forgotten from this book until I read your post! Some memories do stand out - Nellie and the leeches, and Pa caught in the snowstorm, but some of the bits you mention or quote I didn't remember at all. This was never one of my favorite books in the series, but I would like to read it again at some point.

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    1. This whole series is a great read, in my opinion. Farmer Boy is still my favorite, but this may be next in line for me, so far. Thanks for stopping by.

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  2. Well, obviously you got A LOT out of this one. It is overwhelming how much important stuff is packed into this book. It's nice when you can find examples that you personally relate to.

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    1. It does make a book seem much more pertinent when you have had similar experiences! Yes, this posting took forever to write, but I just couldn't omit any of it! :) Anxious to read others' thoughts about this one tomorrow! :) Thanks for stopping by!

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