Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Long Winter

The Thinker has been reading through the "Little House" series of books over the past few months. I cannot count how many times I read the "Little House" books as a girl. Heck, I still read the series every year or so. There is so much to learn from and love about these books.

The Thinker is in the middle of The Long Winter and I have been looking forward to discussing this book with her ever since I got into prepping.

For those of you who may not have read the "Little House" series, shame on you! Get thee to a library and check them out.  In the meantime, here is a quick summary of The Long Winter,which is a mostly factual account of a real event:

The people of the tiny town of De Smet, South Dakota nearly starve to death during the "Long Winter" of 1880-1881. A cheerful topic for a children's book, eh? Back to back blizzards mean the trains cannot run, stranding the townspeople for months without food and fuel. Laura's family heats their home by burning hay and survive on plain brown bread made from wheat laboriously ground in a coffee mill.

There are so many lessons and modern day parallels in this book that I'm not going to attempt to detail them all. These are simply the first ones that struck me.


The endless cycle of blizzard after blizzard meant that the stock in the grocery stores was depleted rapidly. Folks nearly starved, avoiding this only because of the bravery of two men who managed to find some wheat for the townspeople. It was months and months before a train could finally make it through.

I've heard it said that the average grocery store in America only has enough stock on hand for about 3 days. If there's ever a disaster that disrupts the food supply, a critical situation will assuredly develop. You need to have food storage and be prepared to feed your family for a length of time.


The Ingalls family would have frozen to death except Pa Ingalls had the foresight to harvest a huge amount of hay the previous summer. Normally, hay burns up very quickly, but Pa figured out a way to twist the hay into sticks to extend their burning time.

You need to be able to think outside the box and be creative enough to find solutions in a crisis. To be able to do this, you need to have your head on straight, which leads me to my third point.

Mental state:

                   "It can't beat us!" Pa said.

                         "Can't it, Pa?" Laura asked stupidly.

                         "No," said Pa. "It's got to quit sometime and we don't. It can't lick us. We won't give up."

                         Then Laura felt a warmth inside her. It was very small but it was strong. It was steady, like
                         a tiny light in the dark, and it burned very low but no winds could make it flicker because it
                         would not give up.
                                                         -From the chapter entitled "It Can't Beat Us", The Long Winter

The difference between a victim and a survivor often is a matter of psychology. Your will to survive, the belief that you will make it through whatever trial besets you, and a faith in a higher power are key. You can have all the survival gear and gizmos on earth, but if your head isn't right, you'll never make it.

You need to believe you can survive in order to survive.


I've barely scratched the surface of this book. The Long Winter may have been written for children, but there is enough in this book to interest and educate any adult. Pick up a copy and draw your own conclusions.


  1. I have a confession: Although I watched the show with religious fervor, I have never read *any* of the Laura Ingalls books! Thanks to your review -- and your comparisons to prepping -- I just asked my daughter to get down our dusty copy. Sounds like a perfect read-aloud with plenty of discussion topics. Thanks for the idea!

  2. Yes, get the book and read it!! I never watched the TV show much and what I did see had little resemblance to the books, IMO. Let me know what you think when you're done.

  3. I found this post while looking for things about the book to discuss with my daughter. We're reading and enjoying the whole series aloud. The tv show also recently started playing on the Hallmark channel and my boys are particularly enamored of that. I just read the boys the first book and they had more trouble paying attention-too much detail for them. I loved the show as a child, but as an adult I do get annoyed at the liberties they took. Kind of silly though, when you realize that even the book takes liberties with her actual life. I've just been reading a few snippets online about her actual life and found out there was a couple living with them through the hard winter, and that they likely had a bit more food than was described. It's really interesting.