I’m talking of course about the book series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, not the TV show based on the books. My mom first read those books to me before I could read to myself. I continued to read the series over and over again throughout my childhood. I have to say that with the exception of my family and friends, those books had more impact on my life than just about anything else. They are beautifully written, engaging to people of any age, touching, poignant, and educational. The stories captured my imagination so fully that they became a real part of my life. I would talk to myself, narrating my daily activities like I myself was in a book. I imagined that my car was a wagon or that I had a heated flatiron at the foot of my bed on a cold night. I even made up a story about my toothbrush though there was never any mention of tooth brushing in the books. But I think the reason I loved them most is that so much of the life of a pioneer family was centered around food and providing for yourself. Life on the prairie in the late 1800’s was considered successful if you were able to survive and feed your family. Everyone worked hard every day in order to be able to eat the whole year long. With just the barest of tools and equipment, they had to raise, hunt and preserve enough food to feed a large hungry family all year long. The summer was a time of such bounty and people had to take advantage of every moment of it in order to save enough to see them through the winter.
I feel a tremendous sense of urgency in the summer. I don’t know if there is an evolutionary connection there from so many years of people hunting and gathering and living through the seasons or if it is just my personality. Maybe the books have something to do with it, I’m not sure. But part of me spends the summer frantic, unable to really enjoy the season because there is work to be done. There is so much good food, and no way to eat enough to last you through until next year. I think every day about January when a pint of nasty raspberries will cost $8. And what a strange luxury it is that we can even get raspberries in January at all. It makes me feel desperate. I am here in my kitchen now with a big box of beautiful berries and I feel all my instincts telling me that I have to BUY MORE, PICK MORE, PRESERVE MORE. My instincts talk to me in capital letters.
This is the time of year for hoarding. I am a berry picking, jam making machine (more on that coming soon), and I never feel that it is enough. I actually can’t imagine how anyone gets through life without a big chest freezer to fill with all of summer’s abundance (not that freezing is something the pioneers did, but I have the luxury of preserving that way and I fully appreciate it). I feels strange to say it, but I think of Laura Ingalls every time I process and tuck away something for winter. Every jar on my shelf or Ziplock bag in my freezer is a little piece of this warm, sweet, rich time of year. And I do feel rich when I have fresh blueberries, raspberries, peaches and cherries in my house all at the same time. I feel rich when I can go out and pick FOOD, REAL FOOD, for free on the side of the road. I feel rich when I add another gallon bag to the growing pile in the freezer. No amount of money can buy you summer in January (unless you go to the southern hemisphere I guess) but I can open up a bag of frozen peaches or a jar of brandied raspberries and I get to relive this time just for a moment.
I hadn’t read the ‘Little House’ books for many years until I started reading them to Lola. We have now been through the series four times and I’m getting pretty tired of them. But I love that Lola now narrates her own life in Laura Ingalls’ literary voice. I love that she plays ‘riding on the train’ just like my friend Sara and I did and that she wears a sunbonnet around town without feeling the least bit self conscious. And I love sharing summer’s bounty with her. She is learning how precious the gifts of the season are. I can tell her that we need to put something away for winter and she understands. I think she has good instincts too.