So many of us have been working at home now for about 40 days. As you know, the number 40 in the Bible isn’t an exact measure but means a very long time! In the Great Flood it rained for 40 days and 40 nights. Moses and the people wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. Both of these times must have seemed interminable to people in the moment.
In this strange time we are living in, the duration of this crisis is indefinite. In times like this, I turn to books that are like old friends. Two books by Laura Ingalls Wilder feel particularly applicable to me right now. By the Shores of Silver Lake where the Ingalls family spends the winter in the surveyors’ house as the only people on the prairie and The Long Winter the next year, which is such a different experience.
In Silver Lake, they are alone and yet not lonely. When they made the decision to stay on the prairie in this yet-to-be-developed area, they did so with a fully stocked pantry and a house that was well built and given to them for the winter. They baked and told stories, made popcorn and celebrated Christmas. In the evenings Pa played the fiddle and the family sang and danced. One night in the moonlight Laura and Carrie went skating on the lake. Having made the decision to spend the winter this way, they were able to be creative and enjoy the time.
By the next year, the town had been built and the railroad had come. The family moved into town for the winter and the girls went to school. It was a very different time now that De Smet was a real little town on the prairie. They did not stock up on food and fuel because everything they needed could be supplied by the railroad and the general stores in town. They were living among people. Yet as the first storm hit, and the next and the next and the next, supplies ran out, school was closed and people were putting all their effort into survival. No one knew how long any of this would last. So much was out of their control. They began twisting hay for fuel and grinding wheat in the coffee grinder. These activities occupied most of their waking hours.
When we first got the stay-at-home order, I made big lists of projects to do – house projects and fun things. I was thinking that this would be like the winter the Ingalls family spent in the surveyors’ house on Silver Lake. Yet as this drags on and we realize how this pandemic is impacting people, it now feels like the Long Winter. While we’re not out of food or fuel, the schools are closed, we are isolated from social interactions with people, we are collectively impacted by this and we don’t know when it will end. So many things are out of our control and we realize that this is going to be a defining moment for our generation. A time we look back on before and after the pandemic, as we do with before and after 9-11.
I’m curious, are there books that you are turning to as old friends during this stay-at-home time?