Skip

"I'm not worrying," Pa replied. "But it's going to be a hard winter."
December 13, 2012 7:57 AM   Subscribe

Meteorologist and climatologist Barbara Mayes Boustead has loved the Little House books since she was a little girl. At her blog Wilder Weather, Barbara makes "connections between weather and climate concepts, events during Laura’s time and in her books, and present or future weather and climate concerns." For example, in October of 1880, a storm is brewing. "The initial shot of cold air brought near-freezing temperatures and a little bit of precipitation up north on the 14th. The low pressure system deepened on the 15th as it got spinning in eastern Nebraska, pulling cold air around behind it while it brought moisture up from the south. Then, the low pressure just sat there for a while and deepened. As it got deeper, the winds behind it – in eastern South Dakota – got stronger. The storm stayed in the area of northwest Iowa to southern Minnesota through the 16th, then pulled away into northern Michigan on the 17th, leaving cold air and breezy conditions behind it." And in De Smet, South Dakota, Laura Ingalls and her family settle in for the beginning of the Long Winter. posted by ChuraChura (43 comments total) 52 users marked this as a favorite

 
The Long Winter is my favorite Little House book. It really drives home the desperation and danger of the situation, considering what the normally-lionized Pa is reduced to.
posted by Jpfed at 7:59 AM on December 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


I reread all the Little House books for the first time in ages a couple of years ago. I'd remembered The Long Winter as being exciting and exotic (I grew up in Hawaii, so what did I know about blizzards?); it was an entirely different book for me as an adult, and I could hardly get through it. I hadn't understood, as a kid reader, the horror and desperation of their situation.
posted by rtha at 8:04 AM on December 13, 2012


What is Pa reduced to that is non-lionish? All I remember is the scene where the cows have their faces frozen to the ground and the stories of people freezing to death in their own yards because they were lost, so you have to tie a rope from house to barn.
posted by DU at 8:15 AM on December 13, 2012


This was the one with the incredibly misleading maple syrup candy, wasn't it. This book was the grand betrayer of my childhood.
posted by elizardbits at 8:21 AM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


SPOILERS

By the end of the book, Pa is reduced in two senses: physically and morally. He has withered away to the point that he can't even lift his kids, and he conspired to rob a train. Supplies were arriving the next day, and he knew it, but he still wanted to rob the train.
posted by Jpfed at 8:21 AM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Nope, that one is Little House in the Big Woods.
posted by ChuraChura at 8:22 AM on December 13, 2012


The Long Winter is an amazing book. I remembered it as a favorite from my childhood as an example of 'those plucky Ingalls!', but rereading it aloud to my daughters...I sat up and read it through one night. It is absolutely gripping.

I'd like to see how other small towns fared or what the loss of life was for homesteaders that tried to get through that winter. The only Laura Ingalls Wilder site we've been to was Burr Oak, Iowa, the year she chose not to write about when baby Charles was born and died, they lived in a hotel and stagecoach stop that Pa was to manage that was a failing enterprise. The Ingalls family took off for Minnesota leaving debts and bad luck behind.
posted by readery at 8:22 AM on December 13, 2012


I saw her do this presentation at Laurapalooza in 2010. It was totally interesting. The long and short of it was, yes, that winter really was as bad as LIW portrayed it to be. Her presentation was paired with a presentation by Jim Hicks who had also done research on the Long Winter, in which he had used historical claim maps, topography, and other data to try to ascertain whether Almanzo and Cap Garland's journey to buy wheat was based in fact. Not only did he find very compelling evidence that it did happen, he was able to calculate the dates based on weather reports (which totally jived with Barbara Mayes Boustead's research), and he found the name of settler and exact location of his claim. The records also indicated that he had planned to grow wheat (so he would have had seed on hand). Historical academic research doesn't get more thrilling!

These two presentations were the high point of the conference for me, because The Long Winter is also one of my favorite books in the series. It was so gratifying to find out that it was not overly fictionalized.
posted by kimdog at 8:27 AM on December 13, 2012 [11 favorites]


Check out Rose Wilder Lane's "Free Land" some time. It condenses the De Smet portion of the books all into one interesting adult novel. There are many, many blizzards described in great detail, not just during the Hard Winter. The family does kill the calf during that winter.
posted by Melismata at 8:33 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm going to have to check out Long Winter again. I remember loving the series as a kid but reading the first couple as an adult (to my own kids) was amazingly boring. Maybe if I skip to the Exciting One it'll be better.
posted by DU at 8:37 AM on December 13, 2012


I reread These Happy Golden Years earlier this year and was kind of shocked at how much my take on the books had changed. The biggest thing that stuck out to me was when Laura is teaching school and staying with the Brewsters and there's the dramatic scene where Mrs. Brewster has the knife in the dark and is threatening to kill Mr. Brewster. She's in the middle of isolated South Dakota in the winter with her husband, who spends most of his time driving young schoolteachers around and is not particularly communicative or friendly, and her surly two-year-old. She can't be older than 21 or 22, and she wants to go home and now she has to cook for Laura too and man, I have never sympathized with someone quite so much. Just like poor Ma. Every time they get settled, Pa says, "Well, let's drive off somewhere else that's probably illegal for us to inhabit."
posted by ChuraChura at 8:48 AM on December 13, 2012 [10 favorites]


Just like poor Ma. Every time they get settled, Pa says, "Well, let's drive off somewhere else that's probably illegal for us to inhabit."
posted by ChuraChura at 8:48 AM on December 13 [+] [!]


Wasn't there a MeFi story some years back on all the evidence that there was Something Wrong with Charles Ingalls that made him want to resettle so frequently?
posted by ocschwar at 8:54 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I agree with ChuraChura about being shocked by the Mrs. Brewster episode when I reread HGY as an adult. The bleakness and desolation of that life is really underscored by Mrs. Brewster's desperation and depression. Laura gets to go home, but poor Mrs. Brewster is stuck there.
posted by feste at 8:55 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm a huge Little House nerd and a weather dork, so please excuse this upcoming outburst...

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.

Okay. I'm better now.
posted by palomar at 9:00 AM on December 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm shocked that it's set in 1880.

I haven't read the Little House books, but my partner read one of them to me, and we've talked about them a lot, and I've been assuming The Long Winter must be set in 1883-84 or 1884-85 following the eruption of Krakatoa in August of 1883, which reduced average global temperatures by a couple of degrees Fahrenheit.
posted by jamjam at 9:11 AM on December 13, 2012


Yes, there was definitely an article about Charles and how he was an irresponsible father who couldn't hold a regular job to save his life. It may have been written from a native American perspective. Arrrrgh, can't find it, googling only turns up a million hits about the TV show. Will keep looking.
posted by Melismata at 9:16 AM on December 13, 2012


I've never read any of these books, but I used to watch the series when I was little. Do you think they would work well for an adult?
posted by blurker at 9:31 AM on December 13, 2012


Do you think they would work well for an adult?

I still reread them occasionally out of nostalgia, and I enjoy them a lot. I agree with the posters above about how your perspective on the whole thing shifts when you read it as an adult - it really is quite bleak at times. They're marketed for young adults, but they're not kiddy books.

Just be aware that 1) some of the racial stuff in the early books will make you cringe as a 21st century reader, and 2) Farmer Boy will make you massively hungry for all kinds of foods you didn't even know you wanted to eat. Like, I don't even know what a suckling pig is and now I want to eat one.
posted by Salieri at 9:50 AM on December 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


I just found a publication by a South Dakotan archivist that I should have put in here as well. It includes excerpts from Miss Wilder's diaries!!!

Blurker, I don't know if they'd be as much fun to read for the first time as an adult, but if you grew up with the TV show than you'd probably appreciate them. Part of why I love rereading them is the nostalgia and the warm fuzzy things it makes me remember about my own childhood, but it's also a truly great set of stories. It wouldn't take you too long to read the whole series (bearing in mind what Salieri said, particularly about the race stuff like when Pa is a darkie...) , and every library has several copies of all the books.
posted by ChuraChura at 9:59 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]




Yeah, there's some gross casual racism, but at least it's historically accurate racism and not just thrown in for laughs.
posted by elizardbits at 10:26 AM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wasn't there a MeFi story some years back on all the evidence that there was Something Wrong with Charles Ingalls that made him want to resettle so frequently?

Having read Farmer Boy a few times (my son loved that book), one can't help noticing how settled and prosperous the Wilders seem compared to Pa Ingalls, with his constant restlessness and need to put himself & his family in precarious situations over and over again. Almonzo's people are comfortably enmeshed in their community and financially secure in ways that the Ingalls never ever were.
posted by Chrischris at 10:47 AM on December 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's worth keeping in mind that Laura never actually experienced Almanzo's childhood. She almost certainly idealized their life of comfort and abundance and settlement, just like she idealized different aspects of her own childhood.
posted by ChuraChura at 10:56 AM on December 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


My husband & I read the series to my daughter last year. My husband, who never read the books as a child, was enthralled, and if he happened to be elsewhere when I was reading to my daughter, would ask what he missed when he came home.

Reading the books as an adult, I had great sympathy for Ma. We also have a standing joke now about when the crop comes in, we're going to live like kings.

I do wonder at Laura's relationship with her in-laws - she certainly didn't paint Eliza Jane in the best light.
posted by mogget at 11:50 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


she certainly didn't paint Eliza Jane in the best light.

She was Almanzo's sometimes fight-y sister, but in "Farmer Boy" she's represented as saving Almanzo's butt when he really does have it coming. I think Nelly got a worse treatment, with there being a certain immaturity in the joy at Nelly's father, a storekeeper, going bankrupt.

One of the things that stands out for me was the harshness of the morals- Laura being obligated to give her beloved doll to a visitor, the silent Sundays where only moral contemplation is allowed (and how relaxed they got by the time the books were ending, going from sitting doing nothing to courting in buggies) and the humility the girls seemed to have expected of them. A strong compliment of looks was "pretty is as pretty does" from Laura's mother.
posted by Phalene at 12:37 PM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


We were just talking about The Long Winter last night, sort of in the context of The Children's Blizzard (I don't remember what got us started talking about that). I said something about remembering it as being really grim, awfully dark to have read about 300 times when I was like 9 or 10 years old. Mr. epersonae said he thought the book where Mary lost her eyesight to scarlet fever was grimmer, and I just exclaimed, "They were burning straw! In their stove! To keep warm!" I had forgotten about Pa being too weak to lift the kids.
posted by epersonae at 12:59 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


The farmer's seed wheat that Almanzo took - how much of that wheat was fed to Almanzo's suspiciously plump oxen? And how many people would a roasted ox (or a horse) feed?
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:22 PM on December 13, 2012


YESSSS. I, too, was at LauraPalooza and I am thrilled that Barb is getting this attention. In addition to being an amazing meteorological historian, she's a fabulous person and a staunch educator regarding climate change.
posted by mynameisluka at 8:24 PM on December 13, 2012


Please please please someone find the article about flaky Charles Ingalls!

I've been a long time fan of the books (they're the books the turned me into a bookworm) and let out a SQEEEEEEE when I saw that there was a Mefi post about TLW.
posted by deborah at 8:24 PM on December 13, 2012


Deborah, I'm not sure about that article, but at this year's LauraPalooza the venerable Barbara Walker (author of The Little House Cookbook) spoke and she had some choice words about Charles's itch for constant movement and resettlement. It's her theory that the hardships survived by his family in pursuit of the manufactured Manifest Destiny dream actually prevented the Ingalls girls from ever procreating (Rose Wilder Lane was an only surviving child, and her child died in infancy).
posted by mynameisluka at 8:31 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Add me to the SQEEEEEEEEE chorus! I just bought the boxed set this week (to replace mine from childhood that fell apart long ago) and am re reading them all. In the wrong order, but whatever! I adore these books!!
posted by MultiFaceted at 9:16 PM on December 13, 2012


Another LauraPalooza bonnet head here. Thanks for these links! Looking forward to the LauraPalooza/MetaFilter meetup in 2015--to identify one other, will we wear our bonnets AND our MetaFilter tee shirts?
posted by apartment dweller at 9:57 PM on December 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've been assuming The Long Winter must be set in 1883-84 or 1884-85 following the eruption of Krakatoa in August of 1883, which reduced average global temperatures by a couple of degrees Fahrenheit.

There's a reference somewhere in one of the later books to the year, from which you can extrapolate back to get a sense of the overall timeline of the series. Like, for example, I think it says Laura's teaching certificate is dated 1883, or the date of her wedding is mentioned, or something like that.

Regarding the winter specifically, it's mentioned in the book that the local Native Americans are expecting a bad winter, that the Dakota Territory is due a bad winter, etc. So I don't think this particular year was completely out of left field in the vein of something like Krakatoa.

Also, I read a book recently about the Dust Bowl -- which happens only a few decades later just a bit to the south of where the later LIW books are set -- and it really can't be overstated how erratic climactic patterns in the Great Plains are. That part of the country was settled in what turned out to be an unseasonably temperate and predictable few decades, and the folks unlucky enough to stick it out on homesteads there were in for a terrible ride as the weather changed over the years. The impression I'm left with after all this reading about the Great Plains is that it's a pretty weird place, ecologically, and not comparable to other parts of the US that the settlers were coming from. Probably hence the interest in a blog about weather conditions as described by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

The Long Winter was my favorite of the books, too, due to the drama and exoticism of Blizzards Forever. I was also horrified by the part of These Happy Golden Years that deals with Laura's teaching assignment where she boarded with the Brewsters.
posted by Sara C. at 10:25 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


one can't help noticing how settled and prosperous the Wilders seem compared to Pa Ingalls

Doesn't Farmer Boy take place in Upstate New York as opposed to various frontier territories?

It also seems like the Wilders left New York State somewhat as a family unit (I think at least three of the children went west together), which might have made life a little easier. Certainly three single young adults going out west to make lives for themselves sounds a lot saner than a man dragging his wife and young children all over the damn country in search of... whatever...
posted by Sara C. at 10:28 PM on December 13, 2012


It's worth keeping in mind that Laura never actually experienced Almanzo's childhood. She almost certainly idealized their life of comfort and abundance and settlement, just like she idealized different aspects of her own childhood.

In that case, it's worth keeping in mind that anyone pointing fingers at Charles Ingalls never actually experienced Laura's childhood either.
posted by DU at 3:34 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


how relaxed they got by the time the books were ending, going from sitting doing nothing to courting in buggies

I think the Ingalls girls were allowed to play quietly even at the beginning. The "sitting doing nothing" was Pa's recollection of HIS childhood, or possibly even farther back. He and his brothers snuck out and went sledding and got in a heap o' trouble.
posted by DU at 3:36 AM on December 14, 2012


Another person who would love to read that article about Charles Ingalls if anyone finds it.

I remember Farmer Boy and The Long Winter being my favorite books of the series when I was younger. In spite of how prosperous the Wilders seemed, there was still the whole constant, backbreaking child labor to make things seem less appealing. I was very grateful as a seven year old to go to school, and not have to work out in the fields, or cut ice from dawn to dusk. That said, that book was the reason I got an ice cream maker for Christmas that year, so I could make my own ice cream from scratch like they did in the book. Well, not exactly, but as close as a modern ice cream maker would allow.
posted by madelf at 6:30 AM on December 14, 2012


Wow, you know, I read all of these books, but I must have completely just shut out all the dark and depressing stuff, because I don't remember any of it. All I remember is the snow ice cream (which of course I also tried to recreate) and the other good times. I wonder if I was just to young to really process the bleak stuff when I read these books (must have been around 9).

In fact, I remember being pretty shocked when I later learned just how bleak things were for the pioneers, because my impressions from these and other books was much rosier.
posted by lunasol at 8:48 AM on December 14, 2012


Are the picture book versions of LHOTP any good?
posted by drezdn at 9:17 AM on December 14, 2012


I think the Ingalls girls were allowed to play quietly even at the beginning.

I also think it's worth thinking about the difference in tone from Little House In The Big Woods to the later books.

The former is written from the perspective of a small rough-and-tumble girl who is constantly getting into scrapes and learning to behave as a civilized person. In that situation, it must have been maddening not to have anything much to do on a Sunday.

In later books, Laura is a teenager, and the voice is more of a YA kind of voice. It's a lot easier to sit quietly in church or read a bible or entertain yourself quietly when you're 15 as opposed to 5. Social life is also a lot more about sitting around talking quietly and "visiting" by that point, anyway, so Sunday might not have seemed very different from other days, aside from the ability to rest from hard farm labor.

The point about courting in buggies is interesting, though. I guess it depends what was considered "work" and how seriously the sabbath was taken. If they were Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn circa 2012, riding in buggies would be verboten. But I don't know how late 19th century Protestants out in the territories would have conceptualized labor and keeping the sabbath.
posted by Sara C. at 10:10 AM on December 14, 2012


> That part of the country was settled in what turned out to be an unseasonably temperate and predictable few decades, and the folks unlucky enough to stick it out on homesteads there were in for a terrible ride as the weather changed over the years.

A bunch of land was settled that was not suitable for agriculture in a kind of political scam. See Wallace Stegner Beyond the Hundredth Meridian. Stegner presented his father as a similar restless westerner always uprooting his family in quest of another phantom get-rich-kind-of-quick-scheme. There is a passage that Stegner wrote about his dad in a New York Times piece that is unforgettable but google is failing me goes something like:

"He died friendless and penniless of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a hotel hundreds of miles from his home, after a life of doing more environmental damage than could be undone if he had a whole second lifetime to devote to it."
posted by bukvich at 2:42 PM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ah, I found the article I was trying to remember! I wrote to Debbie Reese, who runs the American Indians in Children's Literature web site. She says:
I looked up Dennis McAuliffe Jr.'s essay in A BROKEN FLUTE, THE NATIVE EXPERIENCE IN BOOKS FOR CHILDREN edited by Doris Seale and Beverly Slapin. He wrote:

"The real Charles Ingalls wore a two-foot long vinery of beard. His dark, narrow, hard, glassy, chilly, creepy eyes would, a century later, stare out of photos of Charles Manson, the holywood murderer. Pa's resume reads like that of a surfer bum in search of the perfect amber wave of grain. He couldn't stay in one place or hold down a homestead." It is on page 50.
posted by Melismata at 7:57 AM on December 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


My mother read me the Little House books when I was a child, and I read them many times throughout my childhood (in the 1980s). But in my isolated, pre-internet corner of the world, I never really knew anyone else who dug these books.

So when at some point in my young adulthood I went looking online for information about the books, I was absolutely shocked to discover the breadth of interest - the research and collation of data by both professionals and amateurs.

What startled me even more was to read the actual histories of the Ingalls and Wilder families, noting the differences between what Laura recorded in her books and what actually happened.

Now I'm older and more educated about these things, I better understand the arguments for poetic license in memoir and historical fiction. But at the time I remember being quite disillusioned that things had not been represented as comprehensively as they had occurred.

They're wonderful books, and I agree with what others have said here about reading the books as a child and then revisiting them as an adult. As a child I experienced the stories as a collection of exciting frontier adventures. The harshness of the travails of 1880s living (and yes, that includes Almanzo's childhood) went completely over my head.

And merely thinking about Farmer Boy makes me hungry.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 5:01 AM on December 19, 2012


« Older Silence! Game Designer Derek Smart's Name Must...   |   Pen & Oink Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post