What Jenny's Reading

{October 7, 2014}   Review: The Long Winter: Death on a Pale Horse

Good afternoon!  I’m posting this while my internet still works.  It goes to crap whenever there’s even the whisper of rain, and we’ve had tons of it recently!

Laura helps Pa gather the hay to prepare for winter. Ma thinks that American women are above doing men’s work, but allows it, because they need the help. Ma is a situational hypocrite!

Laura is a great help to Pa, and they get the haying done pretty quickly. It’s always nice to see Laura get to do things she enjoys.

They find a muskrat house that is so tall and solid that it’s bigger than Laura. Pa says they will have a difficult winter, because the house is so big and thick. Laura asks him why the muskrats know it’ll be a hard winter, and they discuss that animals are animals and humans are humans, and that humans are free and animals aren’t. Muskrats can only build the same kind of house, but humans can build all sorts of houses.

Okay, I think this is stupid. The muskrats aren’t free, but have a better handle on what the weather’s going to be like, and how to prepare. Humans are free, which is better, because they have to take care of themselves. Just like the muskrats.

Whatever. I’m eager to see how many plagues we can come up with in this book.

Most unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be a plague of cold weather.

Pa breaks his mowing machine and sends Laura and Carrie to town to buy the replacement piece. What should be a quick errand turns into an odyssey among the prairie grasses when Carrie suggests they go through Big Slough to get to Pa, rather than on the road. They quickly get lost because the grasses are taller than they are. Laura manages to keep her cool and they keep moving, till they come to a field and a wagon. It’s not Pa’s wagon, though.

It’s Almanzo’s! He’s hanging out on top of his brother’s load of hay, chilling. He greets the girls and tells Royal that they’re the Ingalls girls, and points them in the right direction so they can get home. He then stares at Laura for a long time, and she makes note of his black hair and twinkling blue eyes. Well then.

It frosts over the next day, the first of October, so they have to quickly harvest the garden before everything dies. It’s a pretty small harvest, even for just five people. Pa acts all optimistic, but Laura knows this is a problem.

And then, something momentous happens. More momentous than Laura and Almanzo’s meeting, even! Guess what, if you have been following along with these recaps, you will never guess!

Pa’s old friend foreshadowing comes back, and this time? Pa actually LISTENS! Pa is in a huge hurry to harvest the rest of the garden, the pumpkins and the corn. Ma says she doesn’t think he needs to hurry so, but Pa says he feels like he does. This is amazing, you guys. Does this signify a turnaround for Pa?

Well…probably not. Ma makes him a pie with a green pumpkin, and he thinks it’s an apple pie. I mean, I’ve never eaten green pumpkin before, so I have no idea how close the flavor is to apples. But I am betting that it’s not very close, and that this is a silly mistake. Of course, Pa acts all impressed with Ma, as though she invented the concept of pie.

Laura tells us about her chores. She has to sew muslin together to make a sheet. She hates sewing, and I have to admit, I would probably hate it, too. Mary loves it, but Mary can’t see anymore, so Laura has to do it. Laura asks why they have to piece together two pieces of muslin to make a sheet, when blankets and quilts are large enough for a bed on their own. Mary tells her that sheets are muslin and muslin isn’t big enough for sheets. This is incredibly stupid. If people are using muslin to make sheets, why not just make the freaking pieces bigger? Is there some sort of muslin size restriction I’m unaware of?

Then there’s a huge blizzard that lasts three days. When it finally ends, Pa says there’s some stray cattle hanging around the hay, except they aren’t moving. Because he goes out there and they are FROZEN TO THE GROUND BY THEIR NOSES.
Holy. Cats. Is there a “frozen cattle” plague? Let me check.

No. There’s a diseased livestock plague, where all the livestock die. But Pa breaks the frost and the cattle do live, so I guess that’s not it? I don’t know how they lived, though, considering they COULDN’T BREATHE. So whatever. Seven plagues, people!

Well, hold on. Did I already call “diseased livestock”? I can’t even remember, honestly.

I just checked. Nope! The count of seven still stands.

Also, Mary’s a total bitch to Laura when she tells the family about the frozen cattle. See? Girl has absolutely no imagination. I wish that Laura had yelled “In your FACE!” to Mary when Pa told them what happened, but she’s a better person than me, so she doesn’t.

Pa also found a little bird in the haystacks when he was saving the cattle. They decide it’s a great Auk, except it’s very small and full grown. It’s a water bird and they try to feed it but can’t figure out what it eats. Finally, the river thaws enough that they are able to get the little bird into the water, where he’s able to take flight and eventually join the rest of his flock. Aw! Check out the Ingallses, rescuing animals!

Then Pa doesn’t shoot the jackrabbits that were living in their barn during the blizzard, which in retrospect I bet he really regrets but at the time was a nice thing to do. He has to go to town then, and buy some meat. Royal and Almanzo are in the store too, and a whole crowd. A Native American comes in to warn them all about the difficult winter they are about to experience.

Everyone pretty much takes the warning to heart. When Pa gets home and tells the girls, Ma is scornful, because as I’ve pointed out before, she’s a racist. But Pa says they’ll be moving to town pretty much immediately, because of the warning.
I honestly think that Pa and Ma maybe switched brains in this book. Pa is being all sensible and Ma is flighty, all “Oh, well the winter won’t be bad” because eventually each storm ends. It’s weird.

I feel bad for the Boasts. They can’t move to town. I hope their little claim shanty is warm enough for them. Also, the Wilder boys are moving to Royal’s store for the winter too, so he and Laura will practically be neighbors.

Oh, and Laura and Carrie are going to school. Laura is terrified, because she is terrified of other people in a way that I can’t really even understand. This seems beyond any sort of social awkwardness. So again, I say, good job, Ma, raising a daughter who is terrified of everyone around her. This will be super helpful once you force her to teach school.

At school, Laura meets Cap Garland. They toss a snowball at her, and she catches it, which thrills the boys to no end. Laura is embarrassed, though, and goes to stand with the girls, Mary Power and Minnie Johnson. The girls are nice, and Laura strikes up a friendship with them both.

Of course, we can’t have too much fun and games. There is a horrible blizzard that comes up while they’re at school. They all leave to head home and nearly get lost in it, until Laura is lucky enough to bump into a hotel that’s the last building on the street before the open prairie. Wow, that is really scary. Laura and Carrie keep thinking about that awful Christmas on cursed Plum Creek, when Pa was lost for so long and almost died in the blizzard.

There’s no more school till the storm ends, so the girls study on their own. Pa visits with his friends, and we get an interlude with Royal and Almanzo. We find out that Almanzo knows how to cook, or at least, he can fry pancakes. These guys eat a lot of pancakes. I keep wondering, where do they get all the supplies for that? Aren’t they worried they might run out before winter’s over? Also, what the hell does “stored in a teacup” really mean?

The weather turns better and there’s talk of the train trying to get through. You know, the train that’s carrying all the supplies the families in town are going to need to survive winter. It’s stuck in a place called Tracy. Pa offers to go help cut it out of the snow. All the men ride off, singing. There’s lots of singing in these books.

Pa comes back with Mr. Edwards. Yay! Mr. Edwards is awesome. He has dinner with them and then heads off West to the train. After he’s gone, Mary finds twenty dollars that he hid in her handkerchief. They are all impressed, and Pa decides it’ll go toward saving for Mary’s school. They’ve saved $35.00 so far!

A lot of this book is “blizzard – no blizzard – repeat.” It gets a bit redundant to type it all out. Just assume there’s always a blizzard I guess.

Oh, then they find out there won’t be any trains, at least not for a long while. There’s a goofy story about some jackass who tried to run the train through an ice block or something, and crashed. So thanks to this fool, the little town won’t get trains till spring.

They do get some mail, though! They get papers and stories to read, and Reverend Alden sends them a letter and tells them in the letter he’s sending them a Christmas barrel with some gifts, clothing, and a Christmas turkey. Obviously he didn’t intend that to be mean, but it comes out as sort of like that.

Mary’s like, “Well, we have the letter at least.” Are you planning on eating the letter, Mary? Then shut the fuck up.

Christmas is actually very nice. They think the train is coming, because the weather has been good for a bit, and Laura has gifts for everyone. Pa managed to buy some oysters, so they have oyster stew. And they read the papers that Reverend Alden sent them.

There’s another blizzard, though, so there’s no hope of the train coming any time soon.

Pa figures out how to twist hay into sticks so it’ll burn faster, once they run out of coal. This is actually a great idea. It’s the best idea I think Pa’s ever had. He teaches Laura how to do it, so she can help him.

We check in briefly with Almanzo and Royal. Almanzo builds a – well, something. I don’t know what you’d call it. Hideaway? He builds a wall up a few feet from the wall and hides his seed wheat there so Royal won’t sell it. Royal’s all, don’t be so precious about your fucking seed wheat, you can always buy more. Almanzo objects, and says he knows that Royal will sell it if people want to buy it. Because they’re starving. So Almanzo is maybe okay with people starving rather than selling his wheat?

Luckily he makes up for this by organizing a rescue with his friend (and Laura’s apparent crush, considering how often she mentions him), Cap Garland! There’s a rumor that some random homesteader has tons and tons of wheat that he either brought from the East or maybe raised himself the previous year. He’s quite a ways from town, and nobody’s really sure if he exists. But Almanzo and Cap are determined they will save the town! They will head out in the freezing cold with no clear idea where they are going or whether they will find anything when they get there, but they will do it!

Oh, Almanzo. So very cute. So very, very dumb.

Before that, though, there’s a herd of antelope outside town, so all the men go after it. Almanzo loans one of his horses, Lady, to a dummy who can’t ride. Or shoot, as he shoots when the herd is way out of range and loses both the herd and the horse. Almanzo chases her, and manages to find her and bring her back home before the next storm hits. Hooray!

So anyway. Almanzo and Cap start off one morning when the weather’s clear. They wander a really long time and finally, magically, find the homesteader! He’s a weird guy named Anderson who lives all alone and hasn’t seen anyone since October. It’s now something like mid-February. He has tons and tons of food and his house is super warm because he’s built it from sod or something, and it’s also buried in a snowdrift.

Anderson is really friendly, and shares his food with Cap and Almanzo. Then they tell him they need to buy wheat, since the families in town are starving. Anderson refuses, because it’s his seed wheat and he’s going to use it to make a crop. Oh, the irony! Now Almanzo has to talk a man into doing exactly what he refused to do!

They do manage to talk him into it, and buy sixty bushels of wheat. Anderson tells them to stay with him that night, but they refuse, since it’s already lunchtime and they’ve only had one day between blizzards.

So, let’s review: Almanzo and Cap set out on their crazy journey to save the town, without a map, and without weatherchannel.com to tell them if a blizzard was coming. They managed to go twenty miles in half a day, going in aimless circles, it almost seemed, since they had no idea where they were going. And they found the guy, and he actually had the wheat!

I am thinking this Anderson fellow is not human, is what I am thinking. He’s like some kind of elf or fairy or other creature, except benevolent.

They boys manage to make it back just before a storm hits, and there’s discussion between Royal and Almanzo about him being frostbit. They RUB HIS FEET WITH SNOW, holy cats, because HIS FEET ARE SO COLD THAT THE SNOW IS WARMER. And he manages not to lose any limbs, either.

You know what? Forget the Anderson-elf theory. I now think that Almanzo, and possibly Cap, are actually frost demi-gods.

Pa tells Ma and the girls that the boys are back with the wheat, and even though they don’t show it, you just know that Laura’s swooning a little bit inside. I mean, come on. I’m swooning a little bit inside, and these people have all been dead for at least fifty years.

But then! It’s (almost) disaster! The shopkeeper who paid the boys to go get the wheat is price-gouging. Ah, capitalism – nice to know you’ve existed as long as you have in this country. The shopkeeper is not that bright, I think. There’s a mutiny, but Pa keeps his head and leads the group to talk to Loftus (the shopkeeper). He basically threatens the guy, telling him that if he doesn’t lower his prices some, come spring and summer, he’ll be out of business. So Loftus decides to do the decent thing and drops the prices so people can afford it. Personally, I think he’s lucky they didn’t kill and roast him over the fire and then steal the wheat. I mean, come on. I know he paid for it, but the idea that he’d sit back and allow people to just starve to death is pretty reprehensible, in my opinion.

So all the Ingalls family had had to eat for months now is bread, some potatoes, and a little bit of meat. Why don’t they have scurvy?

The rest of the winter passes kind of anti-climactically, what with the excitement of Almanzo and Cap’s rescue already done. One night Laura realizes that the “Chinook” is blowing, which is I guess the wind that signifies spring has come. I Googled “Chinook” and found out it’s a boat, so changed it to “Chinook wind” and it’s some sort of prairie thing. But nothing I read talked about spring coming. I’ll just take Laura’s word for it.

They wait for the train. I think it would be really ironic if somebody died in the spring waiting on the train. It finally comes, but it’s not a food train, so the townfolk break into the food car and steal a bunch of food. I don’t blame them. I’m just curious – this was the train they’d been waiting for originally back in September or October. So it just sat at the depot for all those months? What the heck was the conductor doing all that time?

And then the next train comes, and it’s got the Christmas barrel that Reverend Alden wrote them about, with clothes and toys and a frozen turkey. So Ma invites the Boasts, who survived the winter on their claim, to a Christmas dinner in May.
This book ends with happiness, as most of them do, as the Christmas dinner has been finished and everything in right with Laura’s world again.

Our plague count is now at seven. The Ingalls family has survived seven of the plagues of Egypt, people! Couple Laura’s crazy survival power with Almanzo’s frost god status, and I’m thinking their kid was probably invincible.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

et cetera
%d bloggers like this: