Friday, July 20, 2012

"The farther they went into the west, the smaller they seemed..."

Laura said it best:

“Laura said to Mary, ‘This prairie is like an enormous meadow, stretching far away in every direction to the very edge of the world.’

“The endless waves of flowery grasses under the cloudless sky gave her a queer feeling.  She could not say how she felt.  All of them in the wagon, and the wagon and the team, and even Pa, seemed small.

“All morning Pa drove steadily along the dim wagon track, and nothing changed. The farther they went into the west, the smaller they seemed, and the less they seemed to be going anywhere….

“Laura thought of the many times they had eaten under the sky, while they were traveling all the way from Wisconsin to Indian Territory and back again to Minnesota.  Now they were in Dakota Territory going farther west.  But this was different from all the other times…Laura couldn’t say how, but this prairie was different.

“…There was really almost no difference in the flowers and grasses.  But there was something else here that was not anywhere else.  It was an enormous stillness that made you feel still.  And when you were still, you could feel great stillness coming closer.

“All the little sounds of the blowing grasses and of the horses munching and whooshing in their feedbox at the back of the wagon, and even the sounds of eating and talking could not touch the enormous silence of this prairie.”

~By the Shores of Silver Lake

Okay, the prairie grasses are gone, but there is still a wind and a vastness here.  I felt it at my first stop after arriving at De Smet, at the cemetery where Ma, Pa, Mary, Carrie, Grace, and Laura’s unnamed son are buried.  I sat and looked out over the slough and listened to the wind, and then I left a penny on Mary’s gravestone, thinking of the Christmas in Little House on the Prairie, when Mr. Edwards went into town and found Santa Claus so he could bring back Christmas gifts for the girls:  candy sticks and a shiny penny for each of them.


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.