The winter of 1880/1881 was one of the worst winters on record in South Dakota. The Long Winter, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, is the story of her family’s experience in surviving that dreadful winter. One of the books in her Little House on the Prairie series, this book chronicles the seven months of blizzard after blizzard, the deep cold, and the terrible hunger that the citizens of DeSmet, and Laura’s family, suffered. Even the supply train became stuck in the snow and could not bring in the desperately needed supplies.
The story of how this family and the townspeople survived is riveting and amazing. Laura’s parents were amazing with their survival skills, as the homesteaders of those days had to be. But I was inspired by their inner strength and how they encouraged that strength in their daughters. Laura was a tremendous help to them throughout that winter struggle.
However, that long long winter took a tremendous emotional toll on the family along with the physical struggle to survive. It became increasingly difficult to keep up their spirits, as the struggle to stay warm went on and endlessly on.
I couldn’t help but draw some parallels to our year+ of quarantine and isolation due to the Covid 19 pandemic. So many people have really suffered from the isolation and feeling of endless restrictions on “normal” life. Reading this book gave me a new appreciation for the resilience we find deep inside at times of intense hardship and difficulty.
For the storm was white. In the night, long after the sun had gone and the last daylight could not possibly be there, the blizzard was whirling white. A lamp could shine out through the blackest darkness and a shout could be heard a long way, but no light and no cry could reach through a storm that had wild voices and an unnatural light of its own.
“Now, girls!” Ma said. “A storm outdoors is no reason for gloom in the house.” “What good is it to be in town?” Laura said. “We’re just as much by ourselves as if there wasn’t any town.” “I hope you don’t expect to depend on anybody else, Laura.” Ma was shocked. “A body can’t do that.”
After Ma had seen them all tucked in bed and had gone downstairs, they heard and felt the blizzard strike the house. Huddled close together and shivering under the covers they listened to it. Laura thought of the lost and lonely houses, each one alone and blind and cowering in the fury of the storm. There were houses in town, but not even a light from one of them could reach another. And the town was all alone on the frozen, endless prairie, where snow drifted and winds howled and the whirling blizzard put out the stars and the sun.
Illustrations by Garth Williams.
I read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club.
I also chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “WANDERLUST: Reading the States,” my effort to read books that are from or take place in each of the 50 United States. This book took place in South Dakota.