I find homesteading stories fascinating. The challenge of housing, feeding and clothing a family, working the land, tending animals, and nurturing souls continually captures my imagination. There is grace in the stories of daily life.
The first book I ever owned was Little House in the Big Woods. Each birthday and Christmas my parents gave me the next book in the series until I had my first collection of books. I thrilled in the details: a pig’s bladder for a balloon, homemade bullets, Pa’s fiddle, trips to town, maple syrup. When I read the stories to my sons, I was shocked to realize that Laura’s family subsisted an entire year (!) on the fish from the creek. Looking at the stories through adult eyes gave me a clear-eyed view of the hardships. It is, however, the simple joys of life which linger in your thoughts after reading these.
When my boys and I started reading Ralph Moody’s Little Britches series, my first thought was, “Why, these are the Little House books from a boy’s point of view.” Set in a Colorado town, the Moody family eked out a living however they could. They heated their house from coal picked up by three miles of railroad tracks, sold chicken droppings to the neighbors for their gardens, grew and canned vegetables, delivered their mother’s home-baked goods to folks around town. Life was a series of problems to be solved. Everyone worked hard, doing what they could to contribute to the family.
While this book is primarily about the internment of Japanese in relocation camps, the first third of the book recounts the Sato family’s life building a berry farm near Sacramento. They would harvest wild spinach leaves, cut shoe bottoms from old tires, buy two thousand pounds of rice (stored in 100 pound sacks) after the check from the strawberry growers arrived. The mother kept the clothes mended; the father kept the tools repaired and engineered ingenious solutions from the raw materials in the barn.
When I read that Susanna Moodie’s 1852 book, Roughing It in the Bush, was as well known to Canadian children as the Little House books are to American children, I put this on my stack of “must read”s. Where it still resides, unread.
From the back cover: This frank and fascinating chronicle details her harsh –and humorous– experiences in homesteading with her family in the woods of Upper Canada. Part documentary, part psychological parable, Roughing It in the Bush is, above all, an honest account of how one woman coped not only in a new world, but, more importantly, with herself.
Now I want to cancel my plans for today and read this book. [This title is a work in progress at Librivox..yay!]
Story-telling is a strong motif in each of these books. The father or mother picked up some hand work in the evening and told stories, quoted poems, and read books aloud. I think these authors write so well because they grew up in an atmosphere saturated with the spoken word. The Bible, Shakespeare, Longfellow were companions during the dark nights. The authors marinated in turns of phrase, rotating them over the fire of their imaginations, eating them bit by bit.
I am always inspired by the hard work. I can work hard in a spurt of energy (then collapse the next day), but these people worked with daily diligence over the long haul. When the children rose, their parents were at work, and when they went to bed their parents were working. Reading these stories revs up my engines, makes me long for the ache of sore muscles after a good day’s work.
What books or movies about homesteading do you recommend? Have you read any books above?
[The learning life is a happy life: After I wrote about homesteading, I found this video of urban homesteaders.]