I love the Little House on the Prairie books. My favorite memory of time with my mother is of the two of us curled up on the blue couch in our formal living room (a special treat), sipping orange peel tea (an even more special treat), while she read The Long Winter aloud. Years later, reading Little House in the Big Woods to my little brood helped us survive our own long winter as we were transplanted into the Pacific Northwest. And just last summer, we were all enthralled by my husband’s voice as he brought On the Banks of Plum Creek to life for us in the beautiful cabin loaned to us while we waited to move into our barnhouse.
There’s so much to learn in the pages of Laura’s books. How to make a corncake, yes. The proper method for fording a river, of course. There are even tips for maintaining a dirt floor, though I admit I’ve never found that terribly useful. Reading the stories gives you the flavor, the feeling of intimacy that romanticizes even the uglier parts of a life scratched from the land.
Obviously, homesteading in Laura’s day had far higher stakes– and required much more backstraining labor– than managing a few acres in 2017. And yet, as our family comes to the end of what we will undoubtedly call The Short Summer, we’ve already absorbed in real time some of the lessons Laura wove so eloquently into her tales:
Work is a privilege. Countless times this summer, we’ve recognized the blessing we have. Even as we fought weeds and beetles and powdery mildew. Even as the temperatures soared. Even as we picked our way through a muddy chicken coop praying we didn’t slip and end up flat on our back in that. Every cucumber sliced on our lunch plate, every Market sale, every scrambled egg… something of which we were privileged to be a part, something we’d never been able to enjoy before. There’s satisfaction in that, and we don’t take it for granted.
When your hands are busy with real things, you see distractions and shallow entertainments for what they really are. Nothing beats having a purpose. A job. A reason for doing what you’re doing. But in the absence of that, it’s so easy to fill your free moments with real, honest fun when you’ve got chickens rearranging a pecking order to laugh at, or the chance to catch lady bugs to release on a sunflower infested with aphids, or a huge patch of clover you can harvest and weave into crowns. Add to that a big open space to field 9 soccer players or take turns at cornhole or waffle ball and well, iPads and movies don’t stand a chance. Work hard, play hard is a real thing, guys.
Nothing tastes better than the food you’ve grown yourself. We got loads of compliments on our produce, and continue to hear from satisfied egg customers. That’s been an added pat on the back to our labors. But eating our own bounty? Now that is amazing. Our entire family broke the ground, planted the seeds, picked the weeds… and ate the fruits. We all agree: being intimately connected with your food simply makes it taste better than anything you can find on the shelves at a grocery store.
Sometimes, you fail. No one bought our purple pole beans. Our bell pepper plants never took off. Our potatoes floundered. We followed instructions to the letter. We had abundance in other areas, but these? No go. What do you do? You shrug and move on, and you give it another try next year. (Except the purple beans. I don’t care if no one wants to buy them, they’re delicious and prolific, and I’m planting those babies again next year!)
You never stop learning. This summer, John Mark cemented his mental math skills at Market, calculating totals and making change on the fly. It was a skill he kinda sorta had, but the situation forced him to own it. Guess what? Every member of the family has been thrust into a learning curve, and it is at turns terrifying and exhilarating. Scooping a cannibalized rabbit kit from a straw bed was new in a bad (and gross) way. But making pickles was new in a good way. In two weeks, we’ll be (ahem) harvesting rabbit meat. No matter your age, agrarian life promises opportunities to pick up new skills all the time.
I’m grateful my children have the chance to learn these lessons here, now. I recognize that this is the kind of knowledge that goes beyond your head, and shapes a deeper part of who you are. This is character building, frame of reference type stuff, and I see God using all of these experiences to mold hearts that don’t shrink from the messy parts of life, or the uncomfortable places, or the unpopular opinions.
Little House taught us a lot, but living our own version (Little Barn?) has made it real.