Pioneer Delusions Doused

would you be a good pioneer?

Nebraska State Historical Society

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.

self-reliance on the homestead

Nebraska State Historical Society

About Laura Grace Weldon

Laura Grace Weldon is the author of four books and served as 2019 Ohio Poet of the Year. She's the editor of Braided Way: Faces & Voices of Spiritual Practice. She works as a book editor, teaches writing workshops, and maxes out her library card each week.
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3 Responses to Pioneer Delusions Doused

  1. Katherine Plowman says:

    I feel for you, Laura. Also, I am envious of your usual prolific gardening and canning skills! This is the first gardening season that I actually planted on time.However, I did all the turning of soil by hand with a spade fork. Thus, I have small 6 x 6 planting areas strewn about our 200′ diameter garden, As I harvested the handful of tiny red potatoes the other day, because the above-ground plants had all shriveled and virtually disappeared, I realized that I need to plant much, much more in order to actually have more than one meal from a certain veggie. I also realized that by next spring, I will have needed to build up the soil with compost, etc. Until it rained later that day, the ground had become dry, with no earthworms in sight. I am not complaining. I just wish I had been working harder at this gardening endeavor all these years I have been here, Now I find myself alone doing the work required to have any fresh, organically grown food. As I become more and more aware of how necessary it is to grow my own food, I muse, as well, on how how I am not really that great a pioneer. I am glad you have your family with you, for the support you surely receive. My kids want little to do with this place that is so wonderfully secluded and peaceful, with so much potential for allowing self-sufficiency, especially with regards to food production. There is no getting around it..people need each other for companionship, mutual assistance, and the joy of sharing meals and good conversation. Sounds like you have this, and it sounds lovely!

    Thank you for sharing your on-going reality with us. I love reading your posts.

    • Laura Weldon says:

      Katherine, I hope you pursue gardening methods that don’t force you to work harder for your food. Are you familiar with “lasagna gardening?” You can apply permaculture methods while getting away with the ease of lasagna gardening, amending the soil more and more each year.

      Your secluded place sounds heavenly.

  2. Pamela says:

    This made me smile. I have also had delusions of pioneer life, and they are usually squelched by the reality that a self sufficient life is really stinking hard. I love the baskets of tiny apples, and cartons of eggs produced here on our own land, but it would be a pretty bland existence without the bounty at the store and farmers market. Eating acorns all the time would probably make me grumpy as well, and no chocolate? I don’t even want to think about it.

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