Welcome to 'Fine Lines', the Friday feature in which we give a sentimental, sometimes-critical, far more wizened look at the children's and YA books we loved in our youth. This week, writer / reviewer / blogger Lizzie Skurnick reads 'The Long Winter', the Laura Ingalls Wilder classic wherein our heroine Laura twists hay while the sun don't shine.The mowing machine's whirring sounded cheerfully from the old buffalo wallow south of the claim shanty, where bluestem grass stood thick and tall and Pa was cutting it for hay.
Laura put her hand on the wall of their house. The coarse plaster was hot in the hot wind and sunshine, but inside the thick mud walls, in the dark, the air must be cool. She liked to think of the muskrats sleeping there. Pa was shaking his head. "We're going to have a hard winter," he said, not liking the prospect. "Why, how do you know?" Laura asked in surprise. "The colder the winter will be, the thicker the muskrats build the walls of their houses," Pa told her. "I never saw a heavier-built muskrats' house than that one." Laura looked at it again. It was very solid and big. But the sun was blazing, burning on her shoulders through the faded, thin calico and the hot wind was blowing, and stronger than the damp mud smell of the slough was the ripening smell of grasses parching in the heat. Laura could hardly think of ice and snow and cruel cold. "Pa, how can the muskrats know?" she asked. "I don't know how they know," Pa said. "But they do. God tells them, I suppose." "Then why doesn't got tell us?" Laura wanted to know. "Because," said Pa, "we're not animals. We're humans, and, like it says in the Declaration of Independence, God created us free. That means we got to take care of ourselves." Laura said faintly, "I thought God takes care of us." "He does," Pa said, "as far as we do what's right. And He gives us a conscience and brains to know what's right. But He leaves it to us to do as we please. That's the difference between us and everything else in creation."
He was a very old Indian. His brown face was carved in deep wrinkles and shriveled on the bones, but he stood tall and straight. His arms were folded under a gray blanket, holding it wrapped around him. His head was shaved to a scalp-lock and an eagle's feather stood up from it. His eyes were bright and sharp. Behind him the sun was shining on the dustry street and an Indian pony stood their waiting. "Heap big snow come," this Indian said. The blanket slid on his shoulder and one naked brown arm came out. It moved in a wide sweep, to north, to west, to east, and gathered them all together and swirled. "Heap big snow, big wind," he said. "How long?" Pa asked him. "Many moons," the Indian said. He held up four fingers, then three fingers. Seven fingers, seven months, blizzards for seven months. They all looked at him and did not say anything. "You white men," he said. "I tell-um you."Paul
Almanzo looked at this way: the Government wanted this land settled; Uncle Sam would give a farm to any man who had the nerve and muscle to come out here and break the sod and stick to the job till it was done. But the politicians far away in Washington could not know the settlers so they must make rules to regulate them and one rule was that a homesteader must be twenty-one years old. None of these rules worked as they were intended to.
"I'm aiming to go far West this spring," he said. "This here country, it's too settled-up for me. The politicians are swarming in already, and ma'am if there's any worse pest than grasshoppers it surely is politicians. Why, they'll tax the lining out'n a man's pockets to keep up these here county-seat towns! I don't see nary use for a county, nohow. We all got along happy and content without 'em....I don't aim to pay taxes."
"What good is it to be in town?" Laura said. "We're just as much by ourselves as if there wasn't any town." "I hope you don't expect to depend on anyone else, Laura." Ma was shocked. "A body can't do that."
...this storm'll hold up the train till after Christmas at best." "Maybe not, but I know you, Roy. You're not a farmer, you're a storekeeper. A fellow comes in here and says, "What's the price of your wheat?" You'll say, "I'm sold out of wheat." He says, "What's that in those sacks? You tell him, "That's not my wheat, it's 'Manzo's. So the fellow says, "What'll you boys sell it for?" And don't try to tell me you'll say, "We won't sell it. No, sirree, Roy, you're storekeeper. You'll say to him, "What'll you give?" "Well, maybe I would," Royal admitted. "What's the harm in that?" "The harm is that they'll bid up prices sky-high before a train gets through. I'll be out hauling hay or somewhere and you'll figure that I wouldn't refuse such a price, or you'll think you know better than I do what's for my best interests...I'm nailing up my seed wheat so noboddy'll see it...and it'll be right here when seedtime comes."
"There's women and children that haven't had a square meal since before Christmas," Almanzo put it to him. "They got to get something to eat or they'll starve to death before spring." "That's not my lookout," said Mr. Anderson. "Nobody's responsible for folks that haven't got enough forethought to take care of themselves." "Nobody thinks you are," Almanzo retorted. "And nobody's asking you to give them anything. We'll pay you the full elevator price of eight-two cents a bushel, and save you hauling it to town in the bargain." "I've got no wheat to sell," Mr. Anderson answered, and Almanzo knew he meant what he said. Cap asked him reasonably, "Well, for that matter, how do you know you'll make a crop?" "The only thing you're sure of is cash in your pocket," said Almanzo.
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