Saturday, 15 September 2012

Little House on the Prairies

Last night I started reading Little house on the Prairie out loud with my daughters.

The Laura Ingalls Wilder books were my absolute favourite when I was growing up here on a little Island in the Atlantic. I still remember exactly where those books could be found on the shelf in my school library, and probably if pressed I could quote whole passages from my favourite book of all, The Long Winter.

Anyhow, I have waited to read them to my daughters, just because I wanted them to be old enough to enjoy them together. The time seems right now, for reasons that will become obvious.

Of course, Little house in the Big Woods comes first in the series but I really wanted to focus on the Prairies. Last night I read the first very long chapter, where the Ingalls family packed up their little house in the woods, said goodbye to all the aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents, and drove away in that fragile canvas-covered wagon into the unknown. I know it is totally unreasonable, but I found myself choking up just thinking about it. They said goodbye, knowing that they might never see that family again, in those days when letters might take a year to cross the country, when there were no phones, no planes, no Skype, no emails or blogs or really any mode of dependable communication. Just imagine it.

I identified with the Ingalls family, as we prepare for a major journey of our own, leaving all that is familiar and comfortable, our farmhouse on our Island by the sea. Like that family, we are going west, except we will head for the prairies of Saskatchewan in considerably more comfort and with easy access to constant communication, not to mention access to return flights home any time. But, all that aside, it still feels pretty large.

I have always found the prairies kind of fascinating, and somehow more comfortable than the towering majesty of the mountains. The prairie, despite its obvious lack of sea, is in some ways a visual ocean all of its own, rolling away as far as the eye can see, constantly in motion as the grasses wave in the wind in an almost seaworthy fluidity. The stereotype is that it is flat, boring, flat. You know the joke about watching your dog run away for three days. Well, surprise, surprise, like many stereotypes it simply isn't true. The prairie is full of surprises, rolling hills, coulees and valleys, and beautiful lakes. And the sky. The sky just seems to go on forever, just as it does when you look across the ocean on a clear blue day.

There are places that feel like you just stumbled into W.P. Kinsella's Who has seen the wind, tiny towns that once boomed and now were all but empty except for the lonesome shell of a grain elevator and a few businesses and homes. Old houses whose gaping doors and windows look mournfully out across the open prairie.  But there are also thriving communities with yoga studios and really fabulous Thai restaurants and many young families. Historic buildings and parks, and yes, lots of horrible new booming subdivisions springing up on the edges of the cities.

But as soon as you leave the city limits, you are out. The fields roll on ahead of you, roads crossing and seeming to head off into the sunset. You can drive for miles and not see a house or a car or anything but a hawk circling overhead in search of a prairie dog dinner. It has a beauty.

All of that beauty doesn't make it any easier to leave the beauty we know, however. But we choose to see it as an adventure for our family, one that we will take when the girls are still young enough to transplant easily. (We hope.)

I never moved as a child. Once we were in our childhood home, we stayed there forever. My father built a house within sight of his family home, and my mother moved a couple of kilometres. We are just not really movers. So it is hard, almost impossible to imagine why we would ever leave. Like the Ingalls family and many, many others in that time and today, we just have to.

We will be back. It will always be home. But the Prairies await us.


  1. Love your writing! It just keeps getting better. What a beautiful story to read to the girls. Only a librarian would come up with that!

  2. Good luck with your new adventure. I have done the big move once when I went to the UK and even now we know how difficult it is to be half a world away from a large proportion of the family. I am sure you will grasp all the new opportunities for you and your family with both hands and make the most them all. I can understand how you are sad to leave that gorgeous wee island in the sea though. I still have such fond memories of my time there and would love to come back with the whole family one day.