Friday, September 27, 2013

Chapter 21: Indian Jamboree

"Winter ended at last. There was a softer note in the sound of the wind, and the bitter cold was gone. One day Pa said he had seen a flock of wild geese flying north. It was time to take his furs to Independence....

Before dawn the next morning Pa hitched Pet and Patty to the wagon, loaded his furs into and drove away."

It is almost time to plow the fields and plant a garden. Spring is in the air and Pa needs to go to town. He will buy the things they need, plus a plow and some seeds. Ma is afraid to have him go because of the Indians, but she knows that he must.

After Pa leaves, Laura and Mary count off the days until he'll be home again. It takes one, two, three, four day, and maybe on the fifth day Pa will be home. Laura and Mary play outside waiting for him. They want to see him as soon as he comes out of the creek bottoms.

Suddenly, both girls stop playing.

"What's that?" asks Mary.

Laura has heard the strange noise, too. "It's the Indians," she says.

It is such a funny sound, floating on the breeze. It doesn't sound like any song Laura has ever heard, but she can tell it is made by many, many Indians. They don't sound angry, but the song goes on and on.

Ma calls both girls inside and pulls in the latch string. Jack is in there, too and they all stay in the house for the rest of the day. When it is time to do the chores everyone helps. Mary brings in wood and Laura helps Ma to feed and water the animals. All the time the strange singing continues, faster now and louder.

The sun sets and the prairie is shadowed and gray. Ma cooks supper over the fire while Laura and Mary watch out the window. They both want Pa to come home tonight. How Laura shouts when she hears the wagon coming!

Ma makes both girls stay in the cabin while she helps Pa carry in the packages. He has already put the new plow away in the barn, but there are many other fascinating bundles to explore. Laura and Mary jump on Pa as soon as he comes in and he hugs both of them before going out to unhitch the horses.

Then it is time to open the packages. Pa has brought brown sugar, a little white flour, some cornmeal, salt, and all the seeds they will need to plant. He also brings out a box of crackers and a tiny jar of little green pickles. Ma's face shines. She has been longing for pickles and Pa remembered.

Pa unwraps one more package and it is a piece of pretty calico, enough for a dress. "Oh, Charles, you shouldn't! It's too much!" Ma says. But she is beaming and Pa beams back at her. Then Pa looks at Laura and Mary out of the corner of his eye. He takes off his jacket and hat and stretches out by the fire.

Laura can't wait any longer and climbs onto Pa's lap. "Where is it? Where's my present?" she says, beating him on the chest.

Pa laughs and brings two beautiful black rubber head bands out of his pockets. One has a blue ribbon and one has a red ribbon. He gives the blue one to Mary first because she was patient. Then he gives Laura hers and both girls put them on. They have never seen anything so pretty.

While they eat their supper, Pa tells Laura and Mary about the seeds. He has brought every kind of seed they need to grow a garden.

Pa also mentions to Ma something he heard in town. "They say that the Indians have been complaining about the settlers on their land and the government is going to make all the settlers leave."

"Oh, Charles, no! Not when we have already done so much work!" Ma exclaims.

"I'm sure they won't do that. They'll just make the Indians move on again. The government always lets the settlers keep new land. We don't have to worry."

After Laura is in bed, she lies awake and listens to the Indians singing and singing. She thinks about what Pa said.

When I decided to do this post about gardening I never expected it would include the entire process from seed to harvest! But this has been a very busy summer for our family. We made 3 trips, including one to Wisconsin for my grandfather's funeral after he passed away at age 98. So I haven't had a lot of extra time for blogging.

But now it's fall and time to get ready for another Long Winter. Break open the books and start up the computer. Summer's chores are over!

Now I just have to deal with all of Winter's chores...

I began my garden with a bag full of hope, with packages of possibilities. I intended to have a big, beautiful garden this year because next summer I'm planning to keep things simpler with a smaller one. 

"Pa told Laura and Mary about all the seeds. He had got seeds of turnips and carrots and onions and cabbage. He had got peas and beans. And corn and wheat and tobacco and the seed potatoes. And watermelon seeds."

I always start my own seeds; I did that even back in California. There I could plant my seeds outside in my driveway as early as the beginning of March. I covered them with plastic to keep the frost off at first, but that never lasted long. Soon the beautiful spring weather chased off winter's chill.

The plants I grew were always very strong and healthy. I never had any planting shock with them because the seedlings were already acclimated to the outdoors.

When I moved up here, my methods had to change a little bit! Most people start their seeds late March/ early April, but indoors only, please. There's still snow on the ground in April and 2 more months to go before the last danger of frost. Plants tend to turn out a little spindly if you don't have a fancy growing set-up with lights and well-spaced racks.

Which I don't.

And this year I didn't even get my seeds planted until May. Caleb and I made a trip to Seattle, WA in April, and what with one thing and another, it was May before I got around to doing my seeds. That was way too late to be starting, but hope springs eternal in this breast, at least. I hoped I'd be able to plant them in early June and they could catch up with the rest of the world through my tender care and loving ministrations.

So, that didn't happen either....

 My grandpa passed away in June and I didn't get my plants in the ground until the beginning of July. Part of what slowed me up was waiting to get the ground plowed. I know a sturdy pioneer girl would have gotten out there with a shovel and made it happen, but I'm only an imitation pioneer, not the genuine article.

I waited for someone to plow it for me.

Finally my dad took pity on me and went down to Williston to buy an attachment for his beloved tractor. had very little to do with me because it doesn't take much for my dad to find a reason to get more tractor equipment.

"Ma said, "But, Charles, you didn't get yourself a thing!"

"Oh, I got myself a plow," said Pa. "Warm weather'll be here soon now, and I'll be plowing.'" 

Whatever his motivation, the end result was a beautifully tilled garden spot. Surely things were looking up for food production on the prairie....

Over a month over-due for planting, my seedlings were leggy and weak, but I was able---finally!---to get them in the ground.

What a beautiful sight! All those seed trays empty at last!

I had row after row of tomatoes planted. I always over-do the tomatoes a little bit. It's sort of a family tradition with me, and there are so many good varieties I just have to plant some of all of them. Things can get pretty ugly once they all start to ripen, but I usually try to sell some of my excess.

"Pa said to Ma, "I tell you, Caroline, when we begin getting crops off this rich land of ours, we'll be living like kings!'"

That didn't happen this year. My plants grew, all right, and even produced lots of green tomatoes. But with their late start, they'd missed too much of the heat of summer. A tomato needs nice hot temperatures in order to ripen and my plants never got enough warm weather. I ended up with a lush jungle of vines laden with bushels of green, green tomatoes.

Now that it's fall, I've been picking them. Tomatoes will ripen after being picked, and the wise tomato farmer will pluck the last of his harvest and store it inside. This enables him to enjoy ripe tomatoes through November or even December.

The key here is to pluck the last of the harvest. I am harvesting an entire season of tomatoes that ARE ALL GOING TO RIPEN AT ONCE! And where to store all of them in the mean time, I don't know.

I foresee much experimentation in green tomato recipes!

Thankfully, not all of my seedlings turned out to be such divas. My flowers bloomed beautifully, covering the side of my house with brilliant blossoms all summer long and I had lush pots filled with fragrant herbs for cooking.

I always plant pumpkins, squash, and gourds in my garden because I enjoy growing them so much. I don't enjoy eating very many of them, so they usually end up being given away to good homes.

Last year I had a family out to the house to pick their very own pumpkins from my patch. There aren't very many U-pick pumpkin patches in our area (like, none), so it was a fun treat for them, and of course fun for me as well. I'll probably do it again this year, too, though my pumpkins never had the chance to grow very big.

Gardening is certainly a lot of work, but to me, it is well-worth it. At least, I think that at the end of the season. And in the middle of winter when all the world is white and cold. And when the first signs of spring peek over the horizon.

But ask me on a hot day in July, and you might get a different answer!

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