Rediscovering the strength of the pioneers


It seems like just about everywhere I turn there’s another list entitled “Great Summer Reads” or “Best Books for the Beach” or even something like “Summer Titles You Can’t Miss.” Of course, I don’t always remember or write down the titles of those books so I can be a trendy bibliophile.

So my own personal summer reading list features the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Yes, I know these are children’s books; the series was a favorite of mine while I was growing up. But I’m enjoying reading them again, perhaps from a different perspective, and find myself drawn right in again to this saga of a family that was one of many who went west with all of their possessions to settle on the virgin prairie and build a new life there.

It’s almost impossible to grasp what it was really like to load up a wagon with your children and your worldly goods that fit in it, to leave your extended family, and to travel for days or weeks — often without seeing a settlement or a house or even other people. How did they know they were headed roughly in the right direction? After all, there were no rural highways or interstate highways or GPS.

In the Little House book I’m reading the reference is to “only the enormous, empty prairie” all around them and that there was no sign that any other human being had ever been there. At this time of the Western migration, there wasn’t even a trail or a road through the tall prairie grass, but the family and their wagon moved on in search of the right spot to settle. They ended up staying in Kansas in a place that had everything they needed, including a plentiful supply of all kinds of game. It was close enough to a river, and Pa took their wagon to the river bottoms to get logs to build a house for the family. There were still no other people in sight, though, just plenty of prairie grass.

I am sure that Iowa’s landscape was very similar and that situations were much the same in Iowa at the time. Reading this series of books reminds me of the courage and strength and vision it took to settle on this prairie and make it productive for generations to come.

And, as I ride in my air-conditioned car and sit in my air-conditioned house with all of its conveniences that are taken for granted, this book makes me consider again just how far we’ve come in our culture. And just how spoiled we truly have become.