I just finished reading The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure. This author traced the pioneer path the Ingalls family took from the Big Woods of Wisconsin to the plains of Kansas as described in the “Little House” book series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Just like me, Wendy McClure read and loved the stories as a child. I, like most readers, identified with the spirited “Laura”.

I admired the way the Ingalls family lived so cleanly with nature. They bravely traveled across the grassy plains in a covered wagon seeking to make a home for themselves somewhere “out west.” They were self-sufficient. Because there were no big trees to build a cabin from on the prairie, Pa built a sod house in the banks of a river, Ma cooked wonderful meals from whatever Pa was able to hunt or she was able to plant. The little girls sewed nine-patch quilts from clothing scraps and played with corncob dolls. The family was close and loving and happy. It was easy to imagine yourself to be inside the book.

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The life of the pioneer was “green” because that’s the way people lived back then. All the labor-saving devices the modern world uses weren’t invented yet! They recycled because of necessity. Worn clothing was used to make quilts and “organic” food was grown because there were no pesticides. All livestock were “free-range”. It sounds glorious!

Ms. McClure thought so too. We have to remember, however, that the Little House books were fiction!  Yes, there was a real Laura Ingalls and she wrote the stories about her family, but they are akin to Norman Rockwell paintings – the gritty realities have been sanitized.

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In Laura’s real life there was disease [Mary became blind] and death [A baby boy died] due to poor medical care. There was pestilence [grasshoppers] and drought that caused crop failure and starvation [The Long Winter]. We tend to forget those parts.

As an adult, I have done some of the things Laura did, but because I wanted to–not because it was a necessity. No matter how much I have gardened, or canned, or cooked or sewed I don’t think I’ve ever been as obsessed about it as Mrs. McClure, who bought a churn and made her own butter. I began to notice her mania early on before she herself recognized it.

For throughout her journeys into “Laura’s World” I got the sense that she was searching for something much bigger than insight into Laura. Something was missing from her life and she didn’t know what it was. Like many people, she felt a sadness that could not be named. She thinks she wants to find “Laura”, but it is herself that is lost. She is disconnected from her own life.

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She has yet to learn that until you make peace with who you really are, not who you WANT to be, you’ll never be content with what you have or the life you are leading. There is only one journey–going inside yourself. You have to discover yourself first. She has not discovered that there is something inside each of us from which we can extract everything we need to live joyously and abundantly.

If you are unhappy about killing animals for food, then become vegetarian. If you are concerned about chemicals in your food, grow your own. If you are dismayed by waste, then re-cycle. Prices too high? Go without or seek an alternative solution. The only things that are necessary for your life are those that make you happy.

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While reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, I wanted to be a pioneer too. So did Wendy McClure. Neither of us has really ever outgrown that wish. A part of me has often thought that, when I retire, I’ll “go pioneer”. I’ll wear long cotton skirts (with flip-flops), quit wearing make-up and stop dying my hair. I’ll let it grow long again and plait it. I’ll expand my vegetable garden, drink herbal tea and bake bread. I’ll sew. I’ll read more (if that’s possible).

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But, another part of me is sensible enough to know that it’s really the SIMPLICITY that I am longing for. And nothing is ever really as simple as you think it is. I already do some of those things and it hasn’t actually made my life any easier. I’ve had fun. I’ve learned a lot. It’s been interesting. But it might be “simpler” to keep my hair cut short, buy my veggies at a farmer’s market and my bread from the bakery.

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I’m willing to let go of that life I originally dreamed, so that I can have the life that is waiting for me. Whatever it turns out to be, I’m sure it will be a wilder life than I can imagine right now. I know that because it will be my own story – not Laura’s. And I can live with that.

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