It’s been hot, 90+ degrees hot, since the first of June, so why does the phrase “make hay while the sun shines” keep running through my mind the closer it gets to what passes for autumn in North Carolina?
“Pa stood thinking for a minute, then he jerked his head. “Come along, little Half-Pint. We better make hay while the sun shines.”-Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Long Winter.
Pa and Laura had, before their return to work in the hayfield, a long, sometimes theological discussion about the unusual thickness of a muskrat house, how it must presage a hard winter, how God must have a way of telling the animals to build their mud walls thick, but humans have free will and if a man’s house “don’t keep out the weather, that’s his look-out; he’s free and independent.” Laura seems more impressed by the well-built muskrat house than Pa’s drafty claim shanty. She imagines muskrat families sleeping together in grass-lined chambers, coming out at night to feed and to swim in the slough. She seems more impressed by the muskrats and their ingenuity than Pa’s theology and libertarianism.
Pa and the other men in De Smet are utterly unprepared for the prairie winter and the entire town nearly dies for lack of an animal’s preparation for the winter that will last from September until May.
We must retain a primal sense of nervousness that starts to drive us as July passes on and darkness comes earlier. I have spent hours in my garden nearly every day since spring. I see my flowers fading, my herbs going to seed, my tomato plants rallying for one last crop. I don’t know what I’ll do with that “extra” time in the prematurely dark evenings, because, unlike Laura, I don’t have to spend every day of the year (except Sunday) in backbreaking labor just to keep the house going and to survive. I am storing up ways to pass the time instead of storing up food to (hopefully) make it until next spring. I have books, so many, many books, that I could read for the entire winter without going to the library or buying another volume. I have stacks of art supplies, barely touched. I’ve done some experimenting with soft pastels. I think that I want to go back to my careful little portraits. I have an afghan, barely begun, that I want to finish over the winter. How Laura would laugh at my simple crochet. Maybe she would teach me to sew. Maybe she would see all of my dolls, faint dead away, come to, have a good, long laugh at Nellie Oleson, and then teach me how to make doll clothes.
Maybe, freed of the shackles of laundry, washing quilts by hand, freed of the never-ending cycle of washing dishes, warmed by the furnace, not tied to feeding a wood stove so that everyone in the house wouldn’t freeze, Laura would read her way through my bookshelves and write (by hand, of course) on sheets of notebook paper from shrink-wrapped packages with ball point pens or pencils. Maybe we would put on light coats and mittens and walk the seven blocks to the store and buy notebooks and candles and matches and soap. And then, she could sit by the electric lamp and mend her hem while I read to her from the Internet. Then we would put the news on and I would show her, on my grandfather’s globe, the countries mentioned and then look them up and explain to her how they all came into being and then changed. She would, of course, eagerly read the entire set of encyclopedias that my grandparents bought in the 1950s.
I would probably stay in much closer touch with people via phone so that she could use the phone. We would write letters to my friends all over North America and then walk to the Post Office to mail them. I would give her a cart and turn her loose in the grocery store and let her buy all the vegetables and dry goods she wanted and let her teach me how to cook.
This started off as a blog post about storing up things to do for the winter, but Laura took it in another direction. And she gave me an idea for a story. I’m sure she would be very happy about that.