Thursday, April 11, 2013

Literary Dream Tour, Part 4

We have returned from the land of literary wonders, also known as Minnesota, and I at last have some eyewitness pictures and info for you. To keep things straightforward, I'm going in author order, rather than chronological order because really the trip was more like: poet John Berryman to BetsyTacy to F. Scott Fitzgerald to Sinclair Lewis to Laura Ingalls Wilder to BetsyTacy reprise, with a little research for one of my four WIPs thrown in.

So let's begin with Half Pint. We finished listening to On the Banks of Plum Creek as we drove south and east across the state to Walnut Grove, including a portion down the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Highway (14). All I can say about the scenery is: (1)Minnesota isn't totally flat, and (2) we don't actually have seasons in Bellevue, Washington, after all, because our "winter" is still green and lush. Who knew the world could be so gray and beige?

Yeah, baby!
The town might actually have been bigger in Laura's day, but at least it made the museum easy to find.

"This must be the place," Pa said.

From reading Wendy McClure's The Wilder Life, we were prepared for the place being more TV Little House than book Little House, so what we did find was fun. The portion devoted to the book Little House is actually more like a really, really well done research project: big on foam-core posters and lean on artifacts. They did happen to be having an exhibit of illustrator Garth Williams' original sketches, which was fun.

Fave book pic: Nellie yanking on Laura's braids!
See what I mean? Whoever put this exhibit together must make awesome Creative Memories scrapbooks.
Liked this one for the close-up of the engagement ring which, yes, was for sale in the gift store.
Willie's Woes
And who says even die-hards like us didn't learn something? Read that caption under Willie "Oleson's" picture--it's enough to make you doubt if there is a God. Even the nine-year-old was horrified that Willie suffered blindness because of two totally random accidents, while his much awfuller sister Nellie seems to have gone through life relatively unscathed. And why did no one think of setting up a match between blind Willie and blind Mary??? Granted, she was in DeSmet by then, but the territory didn't seem to be overrun with blind singletons.

There were a few authentic Ingalls items at the Museum. The first, which I forgot to take a picture of, you might remember from the chapter "Surprise" which recounts the first Christmas after the darned locusts eat up everyone's livelihood:

"Merry Christmas, Laura!" Miss Beadle said, and in Laura's hand she put a beautiful little box. It was made of snow-white, gleaming china. On its top stood a wee, gold-coloured teapot and a gold-coloured tiny cup in a gold-coloured saucer.
The top of the box lifted off. Inside was a nice place to keep a breast-pin, if some day Laura had a breast-pin. Ma said it was a jewel box.
The other precious item was no less than Pa's "big green book" described in Little House in the Big Woods:
They must sit quietly and listen while Ma read Bible stories to them, or stories about lions and tigers and white bears from Pa's big green book, The Wonders of the Animal World.
Maybe Laura was more interested in what lay between the covers than in getting the exact title correct.
I confess the girls hurried me through the book Little House room because they weren't too excited about reading all the poster boards, but the TV Little House room had some treasures of its own sort.

 No way--a scale miniature of the TV house! Both exterior and...

interior! The wee Pa even has a wee 70s shirt on! I don't remember the girls' up-ladder bedroom being so open and lofty, but, heck, I only watched a few episodes.

It was no Pacific Science Center Harry Potter exhibit, but there were numerous props and such from the show, including the hearth.

Not to mention some awesome kitsch, like sunbonnets and patchwork tote bags. Thus,

I kid you not.
Outside there were some replicas--a schoolroom, somebody-un-Little-House-related's house, a covered wagon and general store and post office and such. Plus a rebar-enforced "soddie," built to the dimensions of the Ingalls' on Plum Creek. Let's just say I have no idea where the kids slept or how Ma and Mary could bear to sit in the thing all day.

Home, sweet replica
After doing our share for the local Walnut Grove economy in the gift store, I asked directions to the actual Ingalls homestead. "Oh, just across the highway and up the road about a mile and a half," the woman answered, "but it's not open yet for the season because it might be too messy still." I thanked her politely but neglected to mention that, Lady, we've come all the way from Washington State, and we don't care if we have to slog through snow or mud, but we are going to see that site! This is the Literary Dream Tour, dagnabbit!

So out we drove, looking furtively in the rearview mirror and the windows of the deserted farmhouse to see if the sheriff of Redwood County was going to get after us. No one did, so we put our $4 in the honor system box and drove out on the unpaved road to the creek.
The path went across short sunny grass, to the edge of the bank. Down below it was the creek, rippling and glistening in the sunshine. The willow trees grew up beyond the creek.
Over the edge of the bank, the path turned and went slanting down, close against the grassy bank that rose up like a wall. 
Laura went down it cautiously. The bank rose up beside her till she could not see the wagon. There was only the high sky above her, and down below her the water was talking to itself. Laura went a step farther, then one more step. The path stopped at a wider, flat place, where it turned and dropped down to the creek in stair-steps. Then Laura saw the door.
The door stood straight up in the grassy bank, where the path turned. It was like a house door, but whatever was behind it was under the ground.

I didn't take a picture of the actual depression in the bank because it was...well...a depression in the bank. But you could picture how the rebar-enforced replica soddie would exactly fit there and how the path wove down and around. The dugout site was located up the bank from the creek some ways, which really brought home how high the creek rose in the "Spring Freshet" chapter:
Right at her feet the creek was rushing and roaring.
The path ended where she was. Angry water was leaping and rolling over the steps that used to go down to the footbridge. The willow clumps were drowned and tree tops swirled in yellow foam.
One our visit we found a quiet, low creek and had it all to ourselves.

From the footbridge built for tourists we spied the "tiny small that you could hardly see them," and the girls combined two childhood literary favorites by playing a game of "Poohsticks." (If you haven't cracked your Winnie the Pooh lately, it's where you throw sticks in the water on one side of the bridge and see whose comes out first on the other side.)

We explored what the map claimed was "Tableland," but it was suspiciously too near the dugout and too anti-climactic for the geographical feature described in the book. More like a tame slope. We managed to find the spring because it was still partially iced over, but no luck locating the big rock (also marked on the map) that the girls sat on to watch Johnny Johnson drive the cows home at the end of the day. And no one exactly knows where Pa built the wood house. I would dearly have loved to see where the leeches and old crab were, but those are also lost to time.

All in all, the three-hour drive was totally worth it. Not for the museum so much, unless you're a huge fan of the TV show, but for the chance to hang out on the prairie with the Ingalls and to scramble over mud and rocks that once felt Laura's bare feet.

Next...on to Mankato, Betsy's "Deep Valley"!


  1. Welcome home! And after talking to my sister in Cambridge, MN, it sounds like you left just in time as they are expecting 5-8 inches of snow there today and more next week. Makes our rain look pretty good, I'd say. It sounds like you had a good trip!

    1. Thanks, Judy. Yes, a wonderful trip--and apart from a couple inches the night before we flew out, and having to have the plane de-iced, we caught great weather for outdoor sightseeing!