The leaves on the big oaks surrounding our yard are no longer bright green. They have already started to transition to various shades of yellow, brown, and red, and a few have dropped, littering the grass and driveway. The acorns that fell last month no longer crunch beneath my feet as I carry out the trash. Between the deer munching on them and the squirrels gathering them, they are almost as forgotten as the lawn tractor-sprinkler that dutifully pulled the garden hose behind the last couple of months.
I know we’ll soon put away the patio furniture and complete the other needed chores to prepare for the winter months, but that is about it. There is no large fall harvest that we need to complete in order to know we’ll have a pantry full of food this winter. In thinking about that, I was reminded of one of the Little House on the Prairie books—The Long Winter.
I read these stories as a child, and of course watched the series (and still do on cable), but it wasn’t until I was older and looked at those fictional books more as research that I realized The Long Winter was about survival at its core. The story talks about how the family moved from their shanty a mile away into the small town in preparation of the bad winter that was being predicted. And later about how the snow was so deep they had to dig tunnels from building to building in town. The first snow had fallen in October and by Christmas the grocery store was out of food. The weather made it impossible for the train to deliver much needed supplies. Laura talks about how the family only ate two meals a day because Ma said the days were short and there wasn’t time for more than two meals, and how funny Pa looked. That is eyes sunken, he was thin, and not nearly as strong as usual. She talks about how tired they all were and how dull everything seemed.
They were all starving.
She talks about grinding wheat in the coffee grinder to make flour, and how Almanzo and another man braved the elements and travel 20 miles in order to get a few bushels of wheat. Winter didn’t end until May that year. That’s when the supply train finally arrived and Ma cooked their belated Christmas dinner.
Meteorologists have confirmed that the winter of 1880-81 was very close to what Laura Ingalls described in that book. This story really is documentation of life during a very severe winter back then.
It’s also a book of perseverance and of being grateful for what you have, no matter how small.
So as fall arrives, I readily admit how grateful I am for the resources we have in place that assures we will never have to wait until May to have Christmas dinner.