The Long Winter

Posted: Wednesday, December 17, 2008 at 12:00 am
By: Doug Lund
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Sorry.It’s been a while since my last entry and I have no excuses other than..well, let’s see, I’ll blame the weather. Nothing dulls my senses or freezes-up the creative juices more than a few days of skin-cracking cold with snow and a 35 mile an hour north wind thrown in for good measure.We’ve been living like shut-ins since Sunday; Linda with her book and me watching television where I’m constantly being reminded by trained meteorologists that venturing out into the elements without a coat, cap and mittens on would turn me into a popsicle within 3 minutes. So here I sit..uninspired and  numb from cold that that I haven’t even felt yet except for going out on the porch in my jammies to get the morning paper..praying the door doesn’t slam shut and lock behind me.  When it does and my shouts for help are drowned out by the wind. I’ll sit down facing west and, like Per Hansa in “Giants in the Earth” accept my frozen fate with my last chilling thought being..why, oh why didn’t I listen to Trobec’s repeated warnings?
A little too dramatic?
Perhaps…but  it’s a good thing I wasn’t among the generation of brave souls who settled this part of the country 130 years ago. I don’t think I’d have made it.   
Back when I was in the 3rd and 4th grade, I always looked forward to each day when Mrs. Prussman would read us a chapter from the Laura Ingalls Wilder series of “Little House” books. Not only were they written so a kid could understand them, they painted a pretty accurate picture of what life was like for Laura’s family and all those early homesteaders who risked everything to stake a claim on a piece of land that had never been touched by a plow before. The Ingalls family. (L-R) Ma, Carrie, Laura, Pa, Grace and MaryI loved all the part, I suppose, because most of them took place in and around DeSmet..just a few miles west of where my own grandparents settled about the same time. 
I was especially fascinated by “The Long Winter,” Laura’s account of the horrific winter of 1880-81 in which blizzards and cold began in early October and didn’t end until May.DeSmet during "The Long Winter" 1880-81I tried to imagine what it would be like to be stuck in the same room with my own parents and brothers for weeks at a time with wind and snow raging outside; heating fuel dangerously low and food running out.  I’m pretty sure we would be at each other’s throats and not like the Ingalls family; passing the time singing songs as Pa played the fiddle or patiently listening while Ma read from the Bible while twisting bundles of hay for the fire to keep from freezing.
One of the chapters in the book was especially meaningful to me because it mentions my home town.
“Pa goes to Volga” describes how Charles Ingalls and hundreds of other starving settlers along the railroad tracks gathered near Volga trying in vain with hand shovels to dig-out a supply train buried in a mountain of hard packed snow.No sooner would workers get it free than another storm would come and close it in tight again.
Somehow, the Ingalls and most everyone else managed to survive “The Long Winter” and maybe I would have too. In fact, I suddenly feel so inspired that I’m going to warm up the car..make sure the heated seats are functioning properly, and venture out into the wilderness that is the Empire Mall to finish Christmas shopping. There’s no time to waste.I just heard  Jay forecasting another Arctic blast is headed our way. Better lay-in enough supplies to last until spring..whenever that comes.

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