Friday, July 29, 2011

Fantasy House on the Prairie

I've often had this daydream - I've had it since I was a kid - that Laura Ingalls (not yet Wilder) magically appears in my life for a day or maybe a week.  Wearing her pinafore and lace-up boots, her hair in perfect plaits, she must have stumbled upon a tear in the space-time continuum while swinging from a rope into the swimming pond to show off for Nellie Olson.  And, whish!  From Walnut Grove to Cottage Grove in a blink.  (Cottage Grove is where I went to high school, by the way.)  I need to dress Laura up in my clothes so she doesn't stand out, but she feels indecent in my shorts and tank top.  No kidding, I really have this fantasy.

Depending on how old I was at a given moment or where I was living, the fantasy would change a bit in context.  But, Laura was always the same.  There was, maybe, the terrorized expression as we zipped along in my black, manual transmission '93 Chevy Cavalier.  She might have choked on the urine-perfumed essence of subway air rising from a vent in a New York sidewalk as we walked passed, her eyes gazing ever upward.  The look of shock that eclipsed her condemnation of modern female attire amused me endlessly.  For some reason, I really enjoyed torturing her with the speed of today's society and all the differences I imagined between our two worlds.  And, for some other reason, she trusted me completely. Go figure! We became fast friends, of course, as I treated her to the grand tour of seventh grade or dorm life or my twenties in New York.

In my fantasy, she was far too busy being horrified or scared to notice all the greatness surrounding her.  If the dream lasted long enough, she'd eventually loosen up, I suppose, and start to enjoy her adventure in present-day America.  It's just a dream, though, and I wonder what she really would think of life in the early 21st century.

Let's remember here that we are talking about a world that actually existed rather recently.  The time that Ms. Wilder wrote about were the pioneer days of the 1880 and 90s.  That's barely more than a hundred years ago, compared with the origins of humankind which scientists put at about 50,000 years.  A drop in the historical bucket. The "Little House" books were first published in the 1930s, so she could have crossed paths with my grandparents!  The idea that I could have known her in real life isn't that far off.

Funny how, in my fantasy, it's never me that visits her time, though.  If I was searching for an appropriate analogy, I guess I'd say that I'm not really looking to go backwards in time -- just to carry a little piece of it into the present.  Maybe I'd like a way of figuring out just what piece that is.

The progress of the last century or so has given us a life of ease, relative even to our grandparents.  I like that airplanes are available for travel, that the Internet keeps me connected to faraway friends and oodles of handy information, and that I - a woman - can finally vote!  And, how marvelous that my choices on the ballot have included other women as well as other ethnic backgrounds.  Progress can be great.  And, while the destruction caused by agri-business is intolerable, I must admit that finding something to eat without much effort or money has its benefits.

But, it can also take us away from that which is most important.  For me, it's a connection to the land and to other people that big-business of all kinds has stolen.  The speed in which growth on Wall Street is expected - and let's not forget our own expectations for wealth - has robbed us of the simple peace of mind that other generations have enjoyed.  Isn't it our families and friends and a clear head that bring us joy? Go ahead and try to convince me that shouting (because you're late for a very important meeting) at the jerk ahead of you on the freeway who can't help being stuck in traffic any more than you can is somehow a more pleasant experience than the calm of a gentle stroll with your sweetheart through a state park.  We all need a means of supporting ourselves and our families, but cutting a cucumber off the vine for my dinner is so much more satisfying than spending a day in the office so I can buy one that's sub-standard, genetically-modified, plastic-wrapped, and shipped in from out of state.

As much as I've loved my imaginary visits from the esteemed author, I've loved even more the wisdom that can be gleaned from remembering people who tended a vegetable patch, not out of nostalgia, but out of need.  For thousands of years, we humans have literally enjoyed the fruits of our labor.  We've sustained our bodies and our souls on nature's bounty and the satisfaction of its harvest, and it was nearly all we needed to feel fulfilled. When did we lose this?  It's no coincidence that the loss of our connection to the "Great Mother" mirrors the obesity epidemic.  When we tend a garden, we both exercise and nourish our bodies.  We feed our souls.  We connect with the earth from which we were sprung.

Unless technology advances in the next fifty years include time-travel, it is highly unlikely that I'll ever receive an actual visit from Laura Ingalls or any other historical figure.  Nor will I ever make a journey to the past myself.  But, there are some things that we carry with us in our DNA - the basic need for healthy food.  Transportation can change from foot to carriage to automobile to flying saucer, but we'll still need to eat.  So, I will happily stick a wide-brimmed hat on my head instead of a bonnet and walk myself out to a happy little square of land to thin the cabbages.

And, for whatever bit of irony it may be worth, there's a Little House on the Prairie marathon on the Hallmark Channel tonight.  Happy viewing!


I'm thankful for TV.  I'm also thankful for really good books. I'm thankful to talk on the phone with my sister, back home in Minnesota.  I'm thankful my sons' rooms are clean.  I did have a cucumber from the garden for dinner tonight, and I'm thankful for that, too.

I wish that progress continues... with care and respect for the earth.

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