Chasing Laura Ingalls Wilder: traveling through her world, one homesite at a time

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.

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