Monday, August 11, 2014

On the Banks of Plum Creek

Finished On the Banks of Plum Creek, the fourth book in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s series. It won the Newbery Honor Medal in 1938. Laura is now seven. She and her family leave their home in Indian Territory in Kansas and travel to Minnesota. Here they settle in a sod dugout adjacent to Plum Creek. The dugout is homey and snug. Flowers grow in the outside of it and the sound of the burbling creek is ever-present. Plum Creek has many faces. In places it is shallow and calm, home to the grumpy old crab and minnows that nibble at Laura and Mary’s feet. But after a spring thaw it is a roiling, dangerous body that could carry little girls away. Laura learns this frightening lesson after disobeying her parents and playing in the creek when it is overfilled and rushing.

Because they are so close to town, Laura and Mary go to school for the first time. Some of the other girls are quite nice, but here Laura meets her arch nemesis, Nellie Oleson. Wilder’s books, as well as the dramatization of them, have made Nellie Oleson the most notorious spoiled brat in the world.

Eventually Pa builds them a wooden house above ground and plants a large wheat crop that he has high hopes for. Sadly a great swarm of grasshoppers comes and destroys the crop and every speck of green around them. They lay their eggs in the ground promising that the next year will be just as bad. Pa must travel on foot, 300 miles to the east to work as a harvester in order to have money to pay towards the building materials for their new house and to buy supplies for the winter. He leaves mid-summer and does not return until winter sets in. Pa does this for two years. The second year he returns home in time to walk to town for supplies and Christmas candy. On the way home he is caught in a four days blizzard. Luckily he falls down the banks of the creek into a sheltered hollow and waits out the storm there. He becomes so hungry that he must eat the Christmas candy he bought for Laura, Mary and Carrie. When he returns to them the girls are glad that he ate the candy, glad that it brought him some relief during his blizzard experience.

Quite a lot happens in the book in terms of Ingalls family lore. It was perhaps my second favorite when I was growing up. The idea of living alongside a creek was always very appealing.

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