One of the joys of the last year is having read the “Little House on the Prairie” book series by Laura Ingalls Wilder with my youngest son. De Smet, South Dakota is the “little town on the prairie,” Laura’s home for the last five books. This summer we had a chance to visit De Smet while I traveled with my sons back to see family in South Dakota.
I admit, I love being in Maine. It is a beautiful state with wonderful people and everything from magnificent mountains to some of the most gorgeous ocean coastlines in the world. However, this summer when we headed West for vacation, I found myself feeling at home in the wide open prairie, the part of the country in which I grew up.
If you’ve never read the “Little House” series, you should – the books are as meaningful for adults as children, perhaps more so. By today’s standards Laura’s parents were reckless, putting the family in danger by penetrating into the West, away from the safety of civilization. Wolves, blizzards, crop failures, prairie fires and outlaws threatened their existence constantly.
Reading as a child the books were magical – one wanted to jump into the book and be with them, confronting a badger in Minnesota, or even weaving straw together as emergency fuel when the trains from Tracy MN couldn’t make it to DeSmet in the infamous winter of 1880-81. Reading as an adult one sees that they were very poor – often barely holding on – living a precarious existence. In a world where parents now can be jailed if they let a ten year old play alone in a near by park, Laura and her sisters were often on their own, watching the house and responsible.
Being here, breathing the prairie air, remembering what it was like growing up about an hour and a half away in Sioux Falls, I realize that these northern plains still carry that sense of pioneering, freedom and the desire not to be constrained. Laura’s Pa thought South Dakota was getting too full and wanted to continue to move West, seeking solitude and total freedom. Caroline, however, said De Smet was it, and they stayed until they died. Laura and Almanzo would ultimately end up in Missouri.
The books are still remarkable. They also inspired really good conversations with my son. For instance, when they confront Indians we closed the book and talked a bit about how basically our ancestors came in and stole the land. Why didn’t they think it was stealing, what was happening? Rather than painting history as black and white, it has shades of grey and different perspectives.
This year I got Directv’s baseball package to be able to watch every Twins game. My youngest has become an avid Twins fan watching the games with me, and we were able to enjoy seeing a Twins game as well. Target Field is magnificent, and my youngest got a shirt with the name of Arcia (#31) as a souvenir. To be sure, Oswaldo Arcia has been sent down to Rochester AAA, but Dana didn’t care – he’s still one of his favorite players!
Beyond that we got to go boating with my family down on the Missouri river near the Ft. Randall dam, and also caught some baseball in Sioux Falls – the Sioux Falls Canaries vs. the Saint Paul Saints. A great trip – but we’re back in New England now. Still, there’s something special about the northern prairie!