I’m not even entirely joking. I’ve recently been re-reading The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder with my 9 year old sister as a part the book club at our local indie bookstore and let me tell you… Prairie Life will kill you a thousands times faster than anything else. Let me explain in list form…
Ways People Almost Die in The Long Winter
1. Getting lost in the slough. The grass is so tall, you can’t see over it and you have to hope to God that you don’t fall in a hole, get lost and die of thirst, or get eaten by some kind of wild animal.
2. Getting lost in a blizzard because it is snowing so hard you can’t see & one wrong turn leaves you lost in the prairie freezing to death. If you do make it home, your eyelids are bleeding from the snow.
3. You starve to death. Forget that rush to the grocery store for bread and milk at the hint of a storm. The only bread you have is what you make… assuming you don’t run out of flour. You did remember to make flour, right? And milk? You better hope the cow doesn’t run dry. Oh wait… it did. You’ll just ask the neighbors? Clearly you are not taking into account that EVERYONE is cold and starving and that even if there was enough to go around, you would get lost and die in the prairie in a blizzard before you could make it anywhere useful.
4. I did forget to mention that the prairie is pretty advanced and has a train depot to bring supplies to help get through the long winter… except the continual blizzards have rendered the tracks useless, so no one has seen a train in months. Hope you weren’t counting on ANYTHING to make it through.
5. Not even the coal you need to heat your house and cook your food will last. I hope you have a back up plan because if you burn too much of the hay, your horses will starve and you won’t be able to plow your fields come spring.
6. You know what happens if you can’t plow your fields, right? You die. Why? Because then you will have no crop and without a crop you have no food or profit to buy what you can’t make, so good luck getting through the next winter even if you make it through this one. So whatever you do, make sure your horses survive!
7. I bet you thought that you could supplement your meager first-year prairie sod harvest (most of which died due to the unseasonably early frost) by hunting. Nope. The animals know what kind of winter is in store, and they have high-tailed it out of there. Didn’t you notice that huge muskrat house? They know what’s up. You can sit out in the cold rain all day long, and no ducks or geese will fly low enough for you to shoot them. They’re not stopping for a drink, either. You’re going to have to have a serious think about whether your cattle are more valuable alive or as meat.
8. When you do happen to see the one herd of antelope that actually still exists within several miles of you, DON’T bring the one inexperienced hunter with you. He will get excited and shoot too soon, ruining everyone chances of actually eating any kind of meat all winter AND will lose your best horse in the process. You can go out looking for it, but there is a high probability that you will be far from home when you find your horse, have a blizzard sneak up on you and almost die.
9. Claim jumpers. They might be waiting for you when you return to your abandoned-for-the-winter farm to haul more hay to town so that you can twist it into sticks and burn it for warmth now that you’ve run out of coal. You don’t even have your gun with you because of the aforementioned lack of wildlife.
10. Don’t try to make a profit off of starving people by selling the only wheat in town at an astronomical price. Hungry people will cut you. It’s a good thing that Mr. Ingalls, who incidentally has no food at all for his family of six with a good two months of winter left, can control an angry mob. Otherwise they’d be lynching you and stealing your wheat.
11. Cabin Fever. Just saying. Someone is bound to snap eventually. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
The moral of the story is that if you live on the prairie, everything can kill you and your only job in life if to survive. When you wake up and the nails poking through the roof are frosted over and you look out your window on the second story and the snow drifts have covered your house… well… you better start digging a tunnel from the door to the barn if you don’t want your horses to die or for your family to freeze to death.