At the urging of a homesteader friend, I recently reread Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I hadn’t read it since second or third grade when I read the rest of the Little House series, but I was surprised to discover how many of the stories were still vivid in my memory as I reread them nearly 30 years later.
The Little House on the Prairie series imprinted on my imagination. If life is a trail with numerous turns, valleys, and summits, then those books were my map. Because of those books, I spent my summers barefoot in my backyard pretending I lived in a sod house. My friends and I caught tadpoles down at the creek, we made elixirs and teas out of the plants in our yards, and I taught myself to sew basic clothing by hand when I was 7 years old.
And I wasn’t alone in my handmade/DIY/prairie days obsession. My closest girlfriends also loved the Little House books, and they lived in Laura’s world with me. We imagined ourselves homesteading on the prairie, doing chores, milking the cows, churning butter, making soap and candles. When I went to college and had to make new friends, my tribe was easy to find: they had spent their childhoods with Laura also. They loved to make things with me, and they were uncomplaining about hard work and physical discomforts. We got on splendidly.
When I recently mentioned that I was rereading the Little House books to a friend in Bellingham, I was surprised to hear that she had never read them, and that no one in her childhood friend group read them, either. It wasn’t a thing.
As I processed this information, a few realizations came to me. The first was that my Prairie Tribe is precious. We found each other easily in early life, but we’re more dispersed now, and it’s a little harder to find one another IRL than it used to be, but I’m grateful to have met some of you via the Internet.
The second was that I suspect those 9 books are probably responsible for the life I live today. They made me curious about a different world than the one grew up in in the 1980s. A world without television, frozen vegetables, supermarkets, cars, and shopping malls. I was completely absorbed by Laura’s stories of her family’s self-reliance; when they needed something, they made it. I learned that much of what I relied on to live—clothes, food, shelter—were within my power to provide for myself, if I just learned the right skills. Even the children in Laura’s family had important responsibilities, and they were valued. For an 8 year old, it was an empowering message.
If I hadn’t nurtured a deep curiosity about pioneer skills from a young age, would I be a homesteader now? Would I feel a deep satisfaction from my pantry shelves filled with jars of food from my garden, put up for the winter? Would I delight at the animals that fill my farmyard, in spite of the work and occasional frustration they cause? I can’t imagine the life I didn’t live, but I’m pretty certain that those books are responsible for Bellfern Homestead.
What books nurtured your young curiosities and set you on your adult path? If you’re a homesteader, what books sparked your imagination and yearning for a rural and self-reliant life?