We’ve spent a few dinner table conversations happily agreeing that we’d make great pioneers. Not dour humorless pioneers. We’d be our usual witty and companionable selves while facing pioneer difficulties with resounding success. Chances are the kids included me in that positive assessment just to be polite. They (and their dad) have real skills which include animal husbandry, the ability to construct shelters and fences, a good sense of direction, and a wonderful knack for fixing anything. They’re rarely bothered by temperature extremes. They readily take up challenges and better yet, have fantastic endurance. I may know how to make cheese, bake bread, and preserve garden produce, but I suspect I’d make a pretty grumpy pioneer.
The instigator for these conversations? The only reality shows we’ve ever watched. Pioneer Quest and Frontier House. These shows, along with the fantastic series World’s Apart (not pioneering in the typical sense) place ordinary families in long term, somewhat historically accurate situations requiring hard work, ingenuity, and the kind of character that my grandfather would have called “gumption.” Week after week we looked forward to the travails and triumphs these families experienced. And we couldn’t believe what factors held them back. Laziness, disinterest in planning, interpersonal squabbles, fussiness about bland foods, and lots of complaining. Which led to our dinner table conversations, admittedly in our cozy home, where we weren’t plagued by stones in our beans or splinters in our chairs. It’s much easier to diss others from a comfortable vantage point.
Well, the downpours these last few months have doused any pioneer delusions I might have harbored. Weeks of weather extremes, which we’re told may be the “new normal” for our planet, have made a mess of my usually prolific gardens. Normally by this time of year I’m harvesting lots of veggies and putting in a second crop of green beans, lettuces, and green onions. Usually the tomato, cucumber, and squash plants are growing so fast their progress can almost be seen overnight. Not this year.
Heavy storms repeatedly washed away my seedlings. Even now the ground is too wet in some areas to replant. And where I did manage to replant, many seedlings were eaten by hungry rabbits. It’s a hard confession for a staunch “start em from seed” gardener who swears by her Turtle Tree Seeds, but we had to grab some veggie plants from a local greenhouse just to stay in pace with the growing season.
It looks like we’ll have a good crop of potatoes, garlic, basil, and rainbow chard. But I’m not so sure about the tomatoes. Last year we canned hundreds of jars of salsa, sauces, juice, and stewed tomatoes. I hope that will still happen this year. But as I look at my two vegetable gardens, I’m glad my family’s existence isn’t based on my ability to grow and preserve food for the next winter. If we were pioneers my family would likely have sturdy barns, great fences, and well maintained tools but we’d be very very hungry.
And hungry people are probably downright dour.