Endings and Beginnings

Today feels momentous. It’s the last day of the month, certainly. From a personal perspective, it’s also my kids’ last full day of school. In the world of Laura, it’s the last day of registration for this summer’s second-ever LauraPalooza conference. And it’s the last day of the 1st 31 days of blogging for the 2012 WordCount Blogathon here at Little House Travel. I did it!

I’m glad you’ve joined me. Thanks for reading.

But the blog has just begun.

This guy wore a sunbonnet to report from LauraPalooza 2010 for a Minneapolis TV station. What a sport! Think he'll be there this year?

Next up: ebooks. I’m putting the final touches on the draft of the first ebook in the Little House Travel series. This inaugural guide will be all about the homesite that is the focus of four (or depending on how you look at it, five) books in the Little House series: De Smet, South Dakota. For the next few days, while the book is with editors, I’m going to work on augmenting this site to accomodate the book releases. Stay tuned.

Good and Bad Literary News in Laura’s World

Bad news first, shall we?

Amy Lauters' Rediscovered Writings of Rose Wilder Lane, Literary Journalist is one of many Laura-related books published by the University of Missouri Press

The bad news in the world of Laura comes from The Columbia Daily Tribune in Columbia, Missouri. The University of Missouri System announced earlier this week that it was going to shut down its press. This is sobering for the Laura Ingalls Wilder community, as many books—William Holtz’s Ghost in the Little House, Amy Lauters’ The Rediscovered Writings of Rose Wilder Lane, John Miller’s Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Stephen Hines’ Little House in the Ozarks among them—were published by the University of Missouri Press. (Rose Wilder Lane herself had personal ties to the University of Missouri.)


But the good news—it is fabulous. Pioneer Girl is going to be published! That’s right, the autobiography Laura wrote before the Little House books were published is going to be available through the South Dakota State Historical Society Press in the summer of 2013.

We’ve been waiting a long time for this one. Die-hard fans have copies of the manuscript, which has always been available through the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa. But obtaining it has never been easy. The SDSHS Press has negotiated a deal with the Little House Heritage Trust to publish an annotated version of the autobiography, largely on the strength of 2010 LauraPalooza speaker Pamela Smith Hill’s extraordinary 2007 biography Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life.

Pre-order your copy (cost is $35) by emailing the SDSHS Press at orders@sdshspress.com.

One door closes, another opens.

Haiku Monday: Little House on the Prairie Museum

(… except it’s Sunday … shhh)

Verdigris River
Some snakes down here are poison
Carrie was born here.

This replica cabin on the homesite grounds was built by volunteers in the 1970s.

Indians close by
Boundary lines aren’t that clear
Settlers or squatters?

Creek roars at Christmas
Tin cups, a penny, cookies
Happy little girls

People call “racist”
But reflection of the time
Learn from our mistakes

“Barnum Walks.”

Want a laugh? For the read-along of These Happy Golden Years going on over at Beyond Little House, Erin Blakemore and I have been posting chapter summaries together. Our latest is a summary for “Barnum Walks“—everyone’s favorite chapter in the book (maybe even the series), because of what takes place in it: Laura’s and Almanzo’s engagement.

We have a lot of fun writing these.

What’s In a Name?

Today I was on Facebook, trying to share a link about an author reading at a bookstore. The bookstore is in a city where a friend of mine, who likes the author too, lives, so I wanted to let her know about it. I clicked the “Share” button for the link, then looked at my options: share in a message, share on my own timeline, share on a friend’s timeline. None of those applied, I thought. I wanted to share it on my friend’s WALL.

Oh, right. There is no more wall. There is now only timeline.

I ultimately made a successful share (on my friend’s TIMELINE), but it reminded me of a Little House issue. Names are big things. When you’re a writer thinking about your audience, you consider names a lot. Names have importance. They help us associate one thing with another–be it a place, an emotion, a person, whatever. Changing names changes our association. In Boston, where I’m from, two event centers, two in Boston and one in the suburbs, have had their names changed more times than I can remember in the past 20 years. But regardless of what they are called now, I will always think of them by their original names: Harborlights, Great Woods, the Boston Garden.

The folks who did such a wonderful job preserving the site at Malone made one misstep, I think. The site was always known as the Almanzo Wilder Farm; to this day, the url remains almanzowilderfarm.com. And that makes sense. Almanzo’s a farmer boy. We read about his ninth and tenth years in the book Farmer Boy, which was all about farming, farming, farming—to a more marked degree than the Little House series en masse.

But while the tagline—boyhood home of Almanzo Wilder—is still the same, the powers that be have in the past few years decided that the homesite is now the “Wilder Homestead.”

The Wilder Homestead?

Now, I’m no expert on the Homestead Act, but I do know it was a west-of-the-Mississippi thing. The Wilder property was never the “Wilder homestead.” But it was, quite plainly, the “Wilder farm.” James Wilder did not have to prove up on a claim, the way Pa did. He was just farming his land, land he already owned.

So why the change? I’ve never asked. And I’ve never made a big deal about it (although now, someone may Google it and find this post—ah well). I don’t want to make a stink or be disrespectful. But I can’t help wondering about their reasoning. Did they think it would sound more like “Ingalls Homestead,” thus increasing their tourist draw? Did they feel left out because all the other homesites—well, the ones in Walnut Grove and De Smet—had homesteads associated with them?

I don’t know.

The Wilder Farmhouse is the only home mentioned in the Little House books that is still standing on its original foundation.

The thing is, fans love Malone. And hey love it for what it is. It may be out of the way for the folks who go to the Midwest sites, but it’s not out of the way for East-coasters. And besides, it’s not like the other homesites. On certain days, heck, it may well be my favorite. The lovely red farmhouse is the only home mentioned in the Little House books that’s still standing on its original foundation. No other building—not even in De Smet—can claim such a distinction. The grounds surrounding the farmhouse are gorgeous—lush and green (at least in summer, when I’ve visited), with the only noticeable sound the gentle, non-Dakota winds whispering through the trees. And across the street and down the path is Trout River, still flowing, just as we pictured it when we read Farmer Boy.

It doesn’t need a name change to prove its homesite mettle.

The powers that be can call the homesite in Malone whatever they like. But I’m always going to call it The Wilder Farm.

Making My Little House Art

I’ve spent the last day or so watching, in spurts, Neil Gaiman’s commencement address at the University of the Arts. It’s twenty minutes long, but it was well worth making the time. The speech, which includes a transcript, is being widely shared, and I can see why.

If you want to go watch it, right now, go. Please. I’ll wait.

As a writer, and a freelancer at that, Gaiman’s wry references to the freelancing trenches caught my eye (and ear). But the rest of it—about art and goals and the convergence of the two—was brilliant, too. I reached the end of the speech with two thoughts:

  1. I must share this with my children.
  2. I am doing the right thing with Little House Travel.

Two things Gaiman said struck at my heart.

If you have an idea of what you want to make, what you were put here to do, then just go and do that.

There are certain places, both physical and emotional, where I feel comfortable. The older I get, the clearer this is to me. And some of these places are more “me” than others. It’s not about right or wrong or this or that, it’s about home. To me, when I am at the Little House sites, I feel at home. Not every moment, and not to the point where I want to stay; I happy I live somewhere else. But the rest of the joy is in the return. I love moving within Laura’s world. I loved it the first time I did it over a decade ago, and I’ll love it the next time I do, this summer. Unlike other trips I’ve taken that I simply checked off the list, the Little House sites, as I expressed to Wendy McClure in her book The Wilder Life, are places I always want to return to.

They are also places I want to share. People who love the Little House books want to see where Laura lived, and I want to help these people and their families experience, in as painless a way as possible, the same heartstopping moments I do. Showing people how to travel in Laura’s world and what to see when they go is my way of giving back what Laura has given me.

Make your art. Do the stuff that only you can do.

Laurafans that I know do amazing things, and they do them well. They educate young students on her impact and importance. They dig around in courthouse basements for old documents. They provide more information than you’d ever think possible on her life. They dress in nineteenth-century clothing and help us understand the world she lived in. They talk about the weather in her books. They physically guide groups of people on trips to her homesites.

And me? I write. I parent three children. I love to research, but not necessarily facts or history. My interest is people. So when I write, it’s not enough to me to write about Laura. By connecting her books to real life—today’s real life—I write about her fans and what they value, and what they enjoy, and what about Laura’s world makes them forget to breathe for a moment. No one’s skills and experiences converge in quite this way, because no one else is quite like me. No one can do this the way I can.

Jim Hicks — Physics in Laura’s World

This is Jim Hicks. He teaches physics at a high school in Illinois.

His students call him “Uncle Jim.”

Jim Hicks, physics teacher, Laurafan, entertainer

Besides being a physics teacher, Jim is a literary traveler. He has written for the Laura Ingalls Wilder Lore, the newsletter of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society in De Smet, South Dakota. He has written for the Homesteader, the newsletter about Laura’s homesites across the country. He writes about moving through Laura’s world, measuring it, recording it, recreating it. History + literature + science = Jim Hicks.

Two years ago, Jim addressed a ballroom audience in Mankato, Minnesota. For this audience of Little House fans, he reconstructed, in great detail, the trip that Almanzo Wilder and Cap Garland (allegedly) took during the hard winter of 1880-1881, the trip that (allegedly) kept the town from starving when blizzards prevented the trains from coming, as described by Laura Ingalls Wilder in The Long Winter. He talked about sled speed. He talked about wheat-sack weight. He talked about friction. He talked about the phases of the moon. And he had that audience absolutely enthralled for a full thirty minutes.

That’s why he’s an award-winning high school teacher.

He’s an award-winning high-school teacher who also happens to be a huge fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Little House books. The audience he spoke to was at LauraPalooza 2010, and in July of this year, he’s coming back for an encore.

Less than 10 days left to register for this year’s event. If you don’t want to miss it, don’t.