Celebrating Wilder's 147th

Originally posted February 9, 2014

At this very moment, I’m snow- and ice-bound, and am starting my fourth day of this confinement.  Laura Ingalls Wilder would have described this weather event in Portland as a three-day blizzard.  Over a foot of snow is on the ground, skimmed with a layer of ice.

The snow began earlier than expected, on Thursday afternoon, February 6.  I thought I was prepared.  On Wednesday, I’d stocked up on groceries, and when the snow began to pile up, I set a big pot of stew to simmer on the stove and baked two loaves of cinnamon bread.  That would see me through the weekend, although I really didn’t believe the forecasters' dire predictions.  Usually when TV weathermen predict snow in Portland, it never materializes.  This time, however, they were right—although the series of storms brought more snow than even they imagined.

So much snow, that early on Thursday afternoon, Chris e-mailed, wondering if his niece could ride out the storm at my house.  She works just two blocks away in an assisted living residence for seniors, and couldn’t get her car out of the driveway.

“Of course,” I said.  And then it hit me:  One pot of stew and two loaves of bread might not feed two women for an entire weekend.  But surely the predictions were wrong; surely this storm wouldn’t hang on for three or four days.

Dominee arrived on Friday afternoon—snow, fierce winds, and nightfall had conspired against her arrival on Thursday.  She hiked over to my house on February 7, through swirling snow and howling winds.  That’s when I had another revelation:  It was Laura Ingalls Wilder’s 147th birthday.  And although Dominee and I didn’t have to grind seed wheat in a coffee mill or twist hay for fuel, I’m keenly aware of the dwindling supplies in my pantry, just as Laura was in The Long Winter:  “There was half a bushel of wheat that they could grind to make flour, and there were the few potatoes, but nothing more to eat until the train came.” 

On her birthday weekend, Laura Ingalls Wilder seems suddenly more relevant than ever.

Snow turned to ice last night, and the National Weather Service has sent out text messages to Portlanders, telling them to stay inside and wait for the thaw.  Dominee and I ate the last of the stew for supper last night—and even that reminded me of Wilder and The Long Winter:  “…the good brown smell and taste of the beef for dinner…”

There’s a bit of soup for lunch today and eggs are on the menu for supper, along with the last of the cinnamon bread.  Tomorrow morning, I can make biscuits.  And by then, surely rising temperatures and rain—real Portland rain—will open the roads and clear my driveway.  So what I now perceive as a 21st century hardship will disappear, almost as suddenly as a Chinook wind.

But for now, I’m celebrating Wilder’s birthday weekend a teeny tiny bit like the Ingalls family did over 130 years ago:  “The blizzard stopped at last.  After three days of its ceaseless noise, the stillness rang in Laura’s ears.”                                                                                              

Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Long Winter (Harper & Row: New York), 1971.

Holly Atkinson