Monday, January 7, 2013

Living Word Pictures and Rough Language

I was feeling distracted and agitated this morning, pacing like a caged lion and unable to focus on anything productive.  I started a new scarf and got bored with it; played spider solitaire and dinked on facebook and got bored with them, too; took two naps; and ate junk (candy and crackers and anything easy to pick up).  I stood in the kitchen frenetically opening cupboards and the fridge.  Repetitively.  As if somehow, some new and improved sort of junk food might be waiting if I just keep checking.

Pacing, pacing.  Distracted and agitated. 

Finally I grabbed an apple and settled in reading On The Shores of Silver Lake.  

Ah, peace. 

I think this might be my favorite of all the Little House Books.  As in the other books, I love the descriptions and Laura's use of simile and metaphor.  But this one is a little more vivid, because at this time in her life, she must start seeing for Mary, who had been blinded by scarlet fever.  I love the contrast between Ma and Mary, and their pragmatic approach to life; and Laura and Pa's pining for adventure.  I so resonate with Laura and Pa.  I think that's why God gave me ten children.  What could be more adventuresome than that?

I'm going to share some of my favorite passages.

I love the following excerpt from the chapter just after they get to the railroad camp on the shores of the lake.  Laura had just come in from getting water, all a-fluster because of the excitement of seeing all the teams and men coming in from the work sight, chanting and singing their coming home songs.  Ma, in her gentle way, with just a look in her eye and a very slight nod, exhorted Pa to make it clear that the girls were to stay far away from the men and the camp.
     "There's all kinds of rough men working on the grade and using rough language, and the less you see and hear of them, the better."....
     "Yes, Pa," Laura promised, and Carrie almost whispered, "Yes, Pa."  Carrie's eyes were large and frightened.  She did not want to hear rough language, whatever rough language might be.  Laura would have liked to hear some, just once, but of course she must obey Pa.
Ah, yes, this perfectly summarizes the dance with danger in which we are so often inclined to participate.

I love how Laura shows the difference between her outlook and Mary's.  It gives a person pause, really, to stop and think about the different ways of seeing.  Metaphor or dishonesty?  Imagery or exaggeration?  These two excerpts capture that difficulty.
     Beyond the river the grassy land was a low curve behind curve and the road looked like a short hook.
     "The road pushes against the grassy land and breaks off short.  And that's the end of it,"  said Laura.
     "It can't be," Mary objected.  "The road goes all the way to Silver Lake."
     "I know it does," Laura answered.
     "Well, then I don't think you ought to say things like that, " Mary told her gently.  "We should always be careful to say exactly what we mean."
     "I was saying what I meant," Laura protested.  But she could not explain.  There were so many ways of seeing things and so many ways of saying them.
And it happens again, a few paragraphs later, after Big Jerry deterred a would-be assailant on the wide and lonely prairie.
     "Hullo, Ingalls!"  Big Jerry answered.  The other man gave them all a snarling look and went galloping on ahead, but Big Jerry rode along by the wagon.
     He looked like an Indian.  He was tall and big but not one bit fat, and his thin face was brown.  His shirt was flaming red.  His straight black hair swung against his flat high-boned cheek as he rode, for he wore no hat.  And his snow-white horse wore no saddle nor bridle.  The horse was free, he could go where he wanted to go, and he wanted to go with Big Jerry wherever big Jerry wanted to ride.  The horse and the man moved together as if they were one animal.
     They were beside the wagon only a moment.  Then away they went into the smoothest, prettiest run, down into a little hollow and up and away, straight into the blazing round sun on the far edge of the west.  The flaming red shirt and the white horse vanished into the blazing golden light.
     Laura let out her breath.  "Oh, Mary!  The snow-white horse and the tall, brown man, with such a black head and a bright red shirt!  The brown prairie all around--and they rode right into the sun as it was going down.  They'll go on in the sun around the world."
     Mary thought a moment.  Then she said, "Laura, you know he couldn't ride into the sun.  He's just riding on the ground like anybody.
     But Laura did not feel like she had told a lie.  What she said was true too.  Somehow that moment when the beautiful, free pony and the wild man rode into the sun would last forever.
Two other favorite sections come later in the narrative, but you'll have to read the book yourself for those.  They are lengthier passages.  If I could find an online text of it, I could cut and paste, but alas, I cannot.  But the reason they are also among my favorites is because of the attention to detail.  Laura is so gifted at giving a verbal description and through it, allowing readers to see what she was seeing, and even hear and smell and feel the various aspects of the scene.  She even gets the sense of excitement to come through almost visibly.

The first scene is when Pa takes Laura to the work site, where the men are building the railroad grade.  She describes so vividly how Pa explained to her all the machinations of the various workers, how each team worked together like clockwork, to be just where it needed to be at the right moment, cutting, loading, dumping.  She encapsulates in her descriptions not only a concrete description of how the work progressed, but also the excitement of that era of progress.

A second favorite part is one of which my friend Erica reminded me.  It's later in the book, after the railroad town had closed down for the winter.  The company wanted someone to stay in the fully stocked surveyor's house, to take care of it over the winter.  They asked Pa if he and his family would be willing to do this.  As the family is preparing to move in, Laura asked permission to run on ahead.  The entire chapter consists of Laura's detailed description of her excited exploration of all the wonderful food stuffs that have been put up for the winter.  The reader can almost taste and smell them.  The colors are so vivid.  Readers can reach out and touch for themselves the various shapes and sizes of receptacles.  Open that barrel and peak in.  It's an altogether wonderful chapter.

So are you ready for some winter reading?  Crack open the Little House books.  If you've read them before, isn't it time to do it again?  If you've never read them, pick one up and give it a try.  They are excellent for family read aloud time, or for individual reading.  You say you don't have time for the entire series?  Just pick one.  Any one.  Every one of them is an excellent self-contained adventure.

Just do it.

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