The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Marta McDowell

Guest blog post by Laura

The seeds of my relatively new hobbies: gardening, landscaping with native plants, and what my friends call “pioneer” cooking, may have been planted long ago by my favorite childhood books. I would disappear into the Little House in the Big Woods or Little House on the Prairie both by Laura Ingalls Wilder for hours at a time. I also spent time with the Island of the Blue Dolphins, a fictional account of the true story of a Native American woman’s story of survival while stranded alone on an island, by Scott O’Dell.

In The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder, McDowell aptly describes the various places Pa Ingalls’ wanderlust took his young family. They lived in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Kansas, and South Dakota. Some locations were still Indian Territory at the time the young Ingalls family built homesteads. Finally, Laura and her husband Almanzo settled permanently in Missouri.

I was absolutely amazed at the speed in which forest and prairie were decimated and towns emerged. Laura and Almanzo traveled from South Dakota to Missouri by covered wagon in 1894 and she went to visit her cosmopolitan daughter in San Francisco by train in 1915 and by Buick 1925! McDowell includes a section on Visiting Wilder Gardens and Growing a Wilder Garden for those interested in road-tripping or attracting pollinators.

It was fun to see the Moline Wagon Company and John Deere mentioned. I learned I have planted some of the native plants Laura found on the landscapes of her youth. Some of the herbal remedies she used were familiar, but most were new to me. I also enjoyed seeing the names of familiar seed catalogs that regularly show up in my mailbox over a hundred years after Laura may have ordered from them: Stark Bros. & Gurney.

I was happy to get a second look, this time through mature eyes, at the literary heroine of my childhood. She was a remarkable, intelligent woman, and her daughter was an amazing character in her bold independence for a woman of her time. Laura clearly passed along the pioneer spirit to her.

This is my favorite passage from the book and sums up her view of the world: “Laura didn’t curtain its windows so she could see the changing pictures of the world outside. Depending on the time of day, the season of the year, and the weather, the scenes framed in the glass panes shifted, but were a constant draw. She appreciated ‘the forest trees in the wood lot, the little brook that wanders through the pasture, the hills and valleys, and the level fields of the farm lands.’ Living close to nature was a fundamental thing. Along with love and duty, work and rest, nature was a key ingredient in her formula for happy life.”

Bird Dream by Matt Higgins

bird dreamHuman flight is one of the last great challenges on Earth. Not like how the Wright brothers flew, but how we fly in our dreams.

This is the goal of the Wingsuit Landing Project: to soar through the sky at speeds up to 100 mph, over distances up to four and a half miles, and to land without the aid of a parachute. At least half a dozen groups around the globe have taken part, from France, South Africa, Australia, Russia, and Britain to the United States. This project is the creation of thirty-seven-year-old adrenaline-seeking Jeb Corliss, Jr., a Southern Californian who seeks to emulate a mode of flight more like a flying squirrel than bird or plane. The possibilities of the wingsuit concept have captured the human imagination– from the mythical Icarus to beloved character Wile E. Coyote–but the results have usually been disastrous. New designs developed over the past two decades have made the wingsuit slightly safer and more predictable, but immense dangers still remain.

Journalist Matt Higgins gained intimate access to wingsuit pioneer Corliss; a brash, publicity-hungry rich kid from LA who, after years of BASE jumping and skydiving, set out to be the first person to be dropped 2,400 feet and land solely with the aid of a wingsuit. But somewhere in the UK, a forty-two-year-old man of average means was plotting to beat Corliss at his own $3 million game. His name was Gary Connery. Along with an international group of wingsuit devotees–including a Finnish magician, a parachute tester from Brazil, an Australian computer programmer, a gruff former Hollywood stuntman-turned aeronautical engineer, a French skydiving champion, and a South African costume designer–Corliss and Connery race to leap into the unknown as the world’s foremost wingsuit pilots. This race will nearly cost one of the competitors his life.

Bird Dream is a riveting, adrenaline-fueled narrative about a group of unforgettable characters who risk everything to achieve man’s age-old dream of flying. Chronicling everything from stunt parachuting in 1960s Hollywood to BASE jumping off landmark buildings in Manhattan to wingsuit flying in South America, Bird Dream takes readers to the cutting edge of this new frontier – as well as the strange science and fearless history that have led us to this remarkable point in the human experience. (description from publisher)

The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure

The beginning of the audiobook version of this book is fun – especially if you are also a Little House fan. You’ll have many “I felt like that too!” moments, as the author describes her love of what she calls “Laura World.”

Wendy McClure, the author of The Wilder Life  is on the extreme end of the Little House research continuum, however. After a while, I found myself withdrawing – wishing I hadn’t heard that bit of myth debunking. I was quite happy believing that most things in the books were based on emotional, if not factual, truth.

Of special interest are the details about how the tv series overtook the books in popularity and the legal battles over the “Little House” brand, or LHOP, as the author calls it.

The end is satisfying and thought-provoking. McClure ties in what she learned about how Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder told their stories with  how she came to terms with memories of her mother.

Re-Reads: Song of Years by Bess Streeter Aldrich

Song of Years (1939) The state of Iowa was still young and wild when Wayne Lockwood came to it from New England in 1851. He claimed a quarter-section about a hundred miles west of Dubuque and quickly came to appreciate his widely scattered neighbors, like Jeremiah Martin, whose seven daughters would have chased the gloom from any bachelor’s heart. Sabina, Emily, Celia, Melinda, Phoebe Lou, Jeannie, and Suzanne are timeless in their appeal — too spirited to be preoccupied with sermons, sickness, or sudden death. However, the feasts, weddings, and holiday celebrations in Song of Years are shadowed by all the rigors and perils of frontier living. This novel captures the period in Iowa’s history of Indian scares and county-seat wars, as well as the political climate preceding the Civil War. Mrs. Aldrich based this novel largely on her grandfather’s adventures in Iowa and the stories she heard as a child. from bessstreeteraldrich.com

I read this book while I was in high school. I would lay on my bed with the breeze coming though the windows and am transported onto the Iowa prairie. Bess’ description of the prairie, and every breathless detail made the characters believable, and the characters stay with me long after I finished the story. This book would appeal to readers on many different levels. First of all, there is the historical aspect of the struggle of life on the prairie when Iowa was just becoming state. Second, there is the story of a young girl, unsure of herself, growing to womanhood and finding out who she really is as she faces events that are out of her control. We witness Suzanne’s first infatuation, her crushing disappointment when she realizes her feelings are not returned, and, eventually, a true love that will outlast anything. The reader realizes that though the times may change, the emotions of growing up do stay the same.  Sometimes we need a good, old-fashioned story. It still remains my favorite book of all time.

There And Back Again

earth from the moon40 years ago today, while millions watched from their living rooms, Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon and suddenly we had a whole new perspective on our world. We’ve come a long way since then – space shuttles and space walks and space stations – but that first step and all of the struggle and work that led up to it continues to fascinate us. The library has all kinds of books  about the Apollo missions including:

Rocket Men: the Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon by Craig Nelson

Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon by Catherine Thimmesh

Moondust: in Search of the Men Who Feel to Earth by Andrew Smith

Apollo: the Epic Journey to the Moon by David West Reynolds

If you’d prefer to watch your history (and watch actual footage taken at the moon) check out these DVDs:

From the Earth to the Moon – the acclaimed HBO series co-produced by Tom Hanks.

In the Shadow of the Moon: Remember When the Whole World Looked Up – original NASA film footage and interviews with surviving astronauts recall this epic chapter in American history.

The Right Stuff – fictionalized account of the early Apollo missions brings a very human face to the science and technology.