Sunday, June 19, 2016

That Didn't Seem Like Just ONE Winter!!

As I began this post, I linked the author's name above to a website 
with her name in the URL and thought how wonderful it is that literally anyone 
can now be 'kept alive' long after their death, so that others who follow can 
investigate and learn about that person through the Internet. 
That is just sooooo cool! 
(Yes, I'm old, so I am still amazed periodically by what can be accomplished 
in this technologically advanced world in which we/I now find ouselves!)
Join us for the LIttle House Read-Along 2016!
Here is my #LittleHouseRAL page!
And here is the page on Bex's blog, An Armchair by the Sea!
We begin each month with a registration posting for that month's book. 
Then I link each review submitted on my page
It is "one-stop shopping" where you can read all the reviews!
Feel free to just comment or read the postings, or post your own review, on a blog, 
or Goodreads, or any other social media!
This cover makes it look too
much like fun in this extremely
hard winter for De Smet!
We find the Ingalls family still on their homestead claim 
at De Smet, suddenly anticipating a very long, snowy, 
cold winter. (Did I mention L-O-N-G?!?) 
I adored Pa's explanation of God having granted 
'free will' only to "us," and not to 
"everything else in creation." 
He uses the ready and available example 
of the muskrats' house he and Laura encounter.
As he explains, muskrats can only build 
one type of house, though they can choose to 
make the walls thicker or thinner, as necessary. Whereas "man"/"humans" can choose what type of house to build among the many possibilities available.
Though this doesn't reflect my own belief system, 
I could appreciate Pa using this hands-on real-world     
                example to explain it to Laura!
"I never saw a heavier-built muskrats' house than that one." (12)
This observation gives Pa pause, as he (correctly) interprets this to mean there will be a very "hard winter" ahead. And he rushes to prepare for just that, since this isn't the only sign he encounters!
Carrie, Laura, and Mary

I am rather surprised at Laura's reticence to be around people. I guess I'd never thought about that aspect of her personality prior to reading these books. But she really didn't like to be around people when she was young. (Does this change as she ages, I wonder?) So when a tooth breaks off the cutting bar while Pa is mowing hay, she is glad for Carrie's company when Pa sends her to town to purchase a new one. However, on their way home, she allows Carrie to select a previously unexplored  'short-cut' and they become lost...though who should they discover on their trek? Almanzo and his brother, of course! He very politely guides them in the correct direction once he sees where Mr. Ingalls is working from the top of their own wagonload of hay. Of course, Laura immediately recognizes them by their beautiful horses!

Not long after this, Pa spends the whole day hunting, expecting to kill some fowl for supper, but comes home empty-handed... 

"...every kind of bird is going south as fast and as high as it can fly...
And no other kind of game is out. 
Every living thing that runs or swims is hidden away somewhere. 
I never saw country so empty and still." (34-35)
This definitely sounds eerie! It is this same evening that Ma presents her experimental pie that tastes just like apple, though she used a green pumpkin to make it. I was so impressed by her resourcefulness! She is a marvel! I would have never thought to even try that! :) And overnight, Laura imagines water drops hitting her in the face, though that can't be, since they're snug under a roof...and then...they awaken to a 3-day-long blizzard. In OCTOBER! Yikes! This is proof, then, that Pa's observations fit along with a very early and very long winter of snow upon snow upon more snow! 

But this first blizzard brought with it a seemingly unbelievable scene! Pa notices some stray cattle wandering close to their homestead and is fearful they'll eat all the hay he has stockpiled to keep his own stock well-fed throughout the winter. They don't seem to be moving along, so he and Laura decide to go "drive them off." 

They did not seem like real cattle. They stood so terribly still. 
In the whole heard there was not the least movement. 
Only their breathing sucked their hairy sides in between the rib bones and pushed them out again. Their hip bones and their shoulder bones stood up sharply. 
Their legs were braced out, stiff and still. And where their heads should be, 
swollen white lumps seemed fast to the ground under the blowing snow.
On Laura's head the hair prickled up and a horror went down her backbone... 
Pa went on slowly against the wind. He walked up to the herd. Not one of the cattle moved. 
For a moment Pay stood looking. Then he stooped and quickly did something. 
Laura heard a bellow and a red steer's back humped and jumped. 
The red steer ran staggering and bawling. 
It had an ordinary head with eyes and nose and open mouth bawling out steam on the wind.  (48)
This is an excellent example (in my opinion) of the writing that makes these books so amazing to read! Such a simple 'child-like' description is so very effective to me, as the reader. I felt as if my own hair was standing up on end just as Laura's had done! This was so creepy. I was raised on a farm with cattle and my ex-husband and I had farmed the first few years of our marriage, raising both cattle and hogs, and though we had 'weathered' (pun intended!) several blizzards, none where the poor animal's heads had literally frozen to the ground! Egads!! That would just be too bizarre! I might not believe it had I not lived in the "prairie" since then, experiencing the extreme winds that can arise so suddenly with weather changes. It really could be this severe!  
In the midst of a haystack Pa discovers and manages to save a strange-looking baby "bird" with webbed-feet unlike anything they've ever seen (supposedly resembling the picture of an auk in one of the few books they own) and once the weather clears a bit he places it on the water and it is able to take off and fly. Pa is smart enough to realize it cannot fly without water on which to get up to an appropriate speed, using those webbed feet! He is so smart!
A bit of "Indian summer" followed this first blizzard and Pa realizes 
"The wild things know, somehow," Pa said. 
"Every wild creature's got ready for a hard winter."
"I don't like the feel of things, myself...This weather seems 
to be holding back something that it might let loose any minute. 
If I were a wild animal, I'd hunt my hole and dig it plenty deep. 
If I were a wild goose, I'd spread my wings and get out of here."
Ma laughed at him. "You are a goose, Charles! I don't know 
when I've seen a more beautiful Indian summer." (58)
What fascinated me about this exchange was the fact that this is the first time I remember Ma ever actually teasing Pa! A few days later while in town to purchase supplies since the trains were once again running, following the blizzard, an older male Indian/Native American steps into the store, ostensibly to warn the "white men" that "Heap big snow come," moving his arm in a wide sweeping motion to take in all the surrounding lands. When Pa asks, "How long?" He replies, "Many moons," holding up seven fingers, indicating blizzards for seven months. He ends with "You white men...I tell-um you." 
He showed seven fingers again. "Big snow." Again, seven fingers. "Big now." 
Again seven fingers. "Heap big snow, many moons."
Then he tapped his breast with his forefinger. "Old! Old! I have seen!" he said proudly...
"Well, I'll be jiggered," Mr. Boast.
"What was that about seven big snows?" Almanzo asked. Pa told him. The Indian meant that every seventh winter was a hard winter and that at the end of three times seven years 
came the hardest winter of all. He had come to tell the white men that this coming winter 
was a twenty-first winter, that there would be seven months of blizzards. (62)
In the discussion following this episode, all but Mr. Boast decide to move into town from their homestead claims, just to be safe. Pa immediately returns to the homestead with the few supplies he'd purchased, stating,
I feel like hurrying...I'm like the muskrat, something tells me to get you and the girls inside thick walls. I've been feeling this way for some time and now that Indian..."
He stopped.
"What Indian?" Ma asked him. She looked as if she were smelling the smell of an Indian whenever she said the word. Ma despised Indians. She was afraid of them, too.
"There's some good Indians," Pa always insisted. Now he added, "And they know some things we don't. I'll tell you all about it at supper, Caroline." (64)
The feminist in me was reminded that this was a very different time and place. As a woman, there were few to no protections from any male, and it is typical for humans to fear anyone "different" from them. And, it isn't as if the Indians hadn't entered their house before and taken whatever they pleased! :) I might well have had the same attitude and fears had I been Ma. And, of course, poor Laura is unhappy about living around so many other people in town, but she rationalizes that it will only be for this one winter season. 
Laura helping hang curtains in the house
 in town. Their home for the winter.
No one realized how very brave Laura was determined to be, even considering teaching school and constantly being forced to deal with strangers and form relationships with them. 
She would be brave if it killed her. But even if she could 
get over being afraid, she could not like strange people. 
She knew how animals would act, 
she understood what animals thought, 
but you could never be sure about people. (70)
Oh, Laura! I so agree with you! I would much rather live on the land, in the country, with only livestock and wild animals as neighbors. Living "in town" forces me to deal with people ALL the time! :) And I prefer animals overall! 

This one winter seemed interminably long! There were indeed seven months of blizzards! Unbelievable! The Ingalls were forced to hover around the stove when the cold winds of the blizzards hit just to stay warm...and supplies dwindled times became more desperate. One day, Laura and Carrie and all the other students from school are darned near lost in one of the many blizzards before they inadvertently walk into the side of a house. Laura realizes if they hadn't discovered that house, they would have been walking out into the wilderness and might have frozen to death! The girls are safe and sound at home afterward. Though Laura "rubbed her eyes and saw a pink smear on her hand. Her eyelids were bleeding where the snow had scratched them." Ooohhh...OUCH!

The supply train was delayed by the blizzard. Then another blizzard hits, and another, and...repeat! Finally there is a break in the weather and the men from town travel via handcar on the railroad tracks to help dig out the train. The railroad superintendent even comes out and works for days trying to get the train going, but each time it is dug out another blizzard hits until it is hopeless and the railroad is shut down. No. More. Supplies. Period. For the remainder of the winter. Needless to say, all the food and coal for stoves/heat is purchased from the local store owners and people are subsisting on whatever they have left, which is typically wheat to make into bread for food. However, the wheat isn't even ground, so that the Ingalls must all take turns with the hand-cranked coffee mill, keeping it turning virtually all day long to have enough roughly ground wheat to bake brown bread for each meal. 

And heat. They had used all their coal for the stove and were forced to "twist hay" to use as fuel. Thank goodness for Pa's resourcefulness in thinking of this! Needless to say, this burned way too fast to last very long or put out much heat. Hence, everyone was forced to sit around the stove, except for those out in the lean-to twisting hay, which were usually Pa and Laura. Of course, this means that Pa must continue hauling hay into town from the homestead that is two miles away! And that world is nothing but snowdrifts, so whenever he goes over the slough with the grass beneath the snow, the horses fall down into the snow. Then the wagon/sled must be unhitched from the horses, the snow trampled down until the horses are able to walk out of the 'hole' and then the wagon/sled hitched up again, and continue on...until the next time the horses fall through. Of course, once another blizzard hits, any tracks made are lost and the whole process repeats itself! Needless to say, that makes these hay-hauling trips extremely arduous, and frustrating, and many times longer than usual!

Even Ma's chores have changed somewhat, as she will wash clothes and hang them out to "freeze dry." No such thing as a clothes dryer back then! :) And no electricity. Once there is no more coal to be purchased in town and they use hay for heating, Charles changes his tune about "progress"...
"These times are too progressive. Everything has changed too fast. 
Railroads and telegraph and kerosene and coal stoves--
they're good things to have but the trouble is,
folks get to depend on 'em." (192)
Once they've exhausted their kerosene supply, Ma makes a light, a button lamp, with grease, just as they had done before kerosene lamps! Pa tells the story of the railroad superintendent who ended up quitting after proving even he was incapable of ramming a locomotive through the drifted and iced over snow! 

Pa must finally dig a tunnel through the drifted snow just to get from the house to the stable. Although digging out was time-consuming and exhausting, at least he wasn't exposed to the wind and cold when doing chores, feeding and watering the animals. The girls become stir crazy and everyone becomes hungry and depressed. Pa can't play the fiddle due to twisting the hay for fuel which cuts his hands and makes them swell, so they can't even enjoy that type of music, though they do sing and march sometimes to help keep their bodies warm. 
The potatoes are all gone. The last of the wheat has been used for brown bread. There is no more food and no hope of supply trains. The town stores have been sold out of all food supplies for months. Pa has been visiting with the Wilder boys off and on throughout all the blizzards and he finally goes down and helps himself, without asking permission to their seed wheat stash, simply to get enough wheat to continue feeding his family brown bread. Again, Pa was quite the smart observer. He realized they had built a false wall to encase and hide the seed wheat, but he didn't demand to have any until they were totally out of any food to eat. 

Circumstances were dire. As Almanzo and Royal calculate the remaining weeks (at least two more months) during which people must eat enough to live, they determine that even their own seed wheat supply will be insufficient to keep everyone alive throughout the remainder of the winter. It is then that Almanzo and Cap Garland decide to travel the 20 miles to the farmer's homestead where there supposedly is a settler who raised wheat last year. If they can make it to his place, purchase wheat from him, and haul it back before another blizzard hits, they figure there will be enough wheat to feed the town until spring. But it is a huge risk! It wouldn't be unexpected for a blizzard to hit before they could return to town, with or without wheat! If they can even find this settler and if he has this wheat and if he'll sell it! I believe this part of this book was the most suspenseful of any of the books in this series thus far. My heart was beating fast and I was just hoping they would make it back to town, even if they couldn't find this place or person or the wheat! It was decided Royal would remain in town, just in case something happened to Almanzo... Although they barely made it, they finally did make it. And...although the settler was not willing to sell them any wheat initially, he finally did. Everyone had enough wheat to stave off starving to death, though they were all mighty thin and virtually listless by the time supplies arrived and saved them! 

Again, this was a vivid reminder of just how dangerous it was for these settlers. 
Those who were first in the western territories took a huge risk, 
especially those with children to feed!
No mention was made of how other families in town survived the cold, etc., 
but they all did survive, which, in and of itself, was a miracle, in my opinion! 
There was also a sense of community and although it didn't always work well, as in 
Mr. Foster shooting at the elk herd that passed just outside of town WAY too early 
and spoiling anyone and everyone's chances of having elk to eat, sometimes it did.  
As when one of the storekeepers, Mr. Loftus, donated the cash to purchase the wheat.
However, once Cap and Almanzo returned, charging NOTHING for their troubles, 
and the fact that they literally risked their lives,
Loftus initially tried to sell the wheat to the town inhabitants 
for $3.00 per bushel, when it had only cost him $1.25!! 
Charles Ingalls was the one whom others wanted to "handle" this situation. 
[Mr. Lotus] banged his fist on the counter and told them, 
"That wheat's mine and I've got a right to charge any price I want to for it."
"That's so, Loftus, you have," Mr. Ingalls agreed with him. "This is a free country and every man's got a right to do as he pleases with his own property." 
He said to the crowd, "You know that's a fact, boys," and he went on, "Don't forget every one of us is free and independent, Loftus. This winter won't last forever, 
and maybe you want to go on doing business after it's over."...
"It's a plain fact. If you've got a right to do as you please, we've got a right to do as we please.
It works both ways. You've got us down now. That's your business, as you say. 
But your business depends on our good will. 
You maybe don't notice that now, but along next summer, you'll likely notice it." (304)
In the end, Loftus sells the wheat for $1.25, making no profit.
As it should be, in my opinion, and all the men gather together to apportion the wheat out to each family according to how much they need, based upon whatever food supplies 
they may still have left... Again, as it should be.
Almanzo helped Charles lift and balance the two-bushel sack he purchased.
Almanzo thought to himself, 
He would have carried it across the street for him, but a man does not like to admit 
that he cannot carry a hundred and twenty-five pounds. (306)
Poor Charles was weak and unable to just swing it onto his shoulder as any man would. 

It was the last day of April that the first of the trains came through.
The blizzards did last seven months (October through April) that year, 
just as the old Indian had predicted! 
It was early May when the Ingalls' and Mr. and Mrs. Broast had a Christmas feast!
 Although "All's well that ends well," this was a close one for the people of De Smet!

Join us next month for Little Town on the Prairie!

I thought this was the most suspenseful book 
in the series thus far.

I am anxious to see what happens next!

Did you like this installment? 


  1. The Long Winter is one of my favourites!

    1. You know, when I first realized this was going to describe just one winter, I was wondering if it wouldn't become boring, but it never did and never was! It is definitely a good one in the series and just a fascinating read!

  2. This is a suspenseful read. By the end, I felt tired, like Laura.

    1. I can relate! It does seem like it wears you out just reading about it all. I can only imagine living through it!

  3. I'm not sure why, but this has always been one of my favorite books in the series. And what's amazing to me is how much of it really happened! I read Wilder's memoir, Pioneer Girl, a year or so ago, and most of the episodes are accurate, including that the town likely would have starved had it not been for Almonzo Wilder and Cap Garland. Even more amazing to me, one of the annotations in the memoir noted that only a few years ago (2012, maybe? I can't remember now for sure) there was a fall storm very similar to the one in The Long Winter that killed thousands of cattle--even in the 21st century with all our technology and meterology!

    1. Funny you should mention that blizzard. I do have a vague memory of that. It is not all that uncommon, especially since larger 'ranches' don't typically provide much shelter for the livestock; they tend to be at the mercy of the weather/natural forces. Technology cannot overcome all our challenges, by any means...and as Pa noted, we become dependent upon things that are out of our control, which doesn't always bode well for us! :) Thanks for stopping by!