When I have a few quiet moments, I enjoy spending time at the library wandering around aimlessly. This is something that I have done since I was a child and it has allowed me to stumble upon some of the greatest books. It is refreshing to do it now as an adult because so many of the books that I read these days are ones that I specifically seek out because I have either read the author before or I have heard about it on the internet.
The book The Children’s Blizzard by David Laskin is the newest library treasure find. It tells the story of a blizzard out west in 1888. An event that I had never even heard of til I found this book. It was one of the inspirations for my earlier post A Walk on the Prairie.
On January 12, 1888 a blizzard hit the western plains and that changed the lives of almost all that lived in the area. It came on so suddenly and unexpectedly that many people and animals were caught outside and froze half to death. It is called The Children’s Blizzard because a large portion of children were the victims due to the timing that the blizzard swept in. The book tells a terrifying tale of children leaving their one room schoolhouses to walk miles home in below zero temperatures. Some of these children never made it home but froze in the prairie as the snow and wind made it impossible for them to find their way.
Highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in history or non fiction in general. David Laskin has managed to weave a very gripping tale. From the stories of the immigrants and families who came searching for a better life to the tragedies that they faced to make that happen, to the early science of weather in the country.
I was fascinated by this book on so many levels. Since I had seen only a tiny little slice of prairie when I was out taking pictures in Michigan in July, I had a hard time wrapping myself around the idea of the prairie in the winter. The endless white and the eerie quiet that only the feeling of feet of snow can bring. The howling of a storm. The fear and cold of being lost.
David Laskin helped to bring this experience even more to my mind as I read the stories of the people who were trying to make a living on the prairie in the 19th century. This is not a romantic tale of people searching for a better life. It is a tale of the bleak reality of what these pioneers went through. It is the story of how their lives were changed.
One thing has become very clear to me during the reading of this book. That is how much I love living in the 21st century. I would have NEVER been a pioneer. If someone had dragged me out onto the plains, I would have died. Not literally. I would have probably not even lasted the months long trip in a covered wagon. Something would have killed me though. Childbirth, tripping over a tree branch and breaking my neck, getting bit by a (insert any animal that carries rabies) or even a stumble into a fire. I am a lover of history who is also a realist. I do not believe that I would have enjoyed living in any other era. Especially, not this one. I love things like:
-Floors and houses that are made of things other than dirt. I will take a 1970s smelly shag carpet over a dirt floor.
-Modern medicine. If I am getting any body parts removed from my body I am going to need some heavy duty drugs. LOTS OF THEM.
-Fuel that is not made from poop. I think that you were lucky if you had fuel from poop, from the impression that I got from this book. A lot of pioneers used twisted hay. That is basically, grass. You are sitting on the prairie in sub zero temperatures and feet of snow in your dirt house putting grass in your stove to stay warm. This is not exactly American Dream stuff here.
-Indoor plumbing and air conditioning.
The list goes on and on. I realize that I am going off on a bit of a tangent here. The point is just that this author plopped me down in the middle of a pioneer experience at a time when they were enduring one of the worst events. On top of what is already a really shitty experience.
It made me very uncomfortable.
When it is all said and done, that is really what made the book so great. Yes, it made me learn a lot of really interesting facts. About the pioneer life and the reality of children’s lives at this time. What weather prediction was like during the 19th century. Something, that I had never even considered.
When I pulled myself away from this book, I found myself so incredibly relieved to be living where I am. Knowing that when I send my children to school they are not in danger of dying of hypothermia on the way home. Of course, they are probably more likely to be killed by one of their classmates, but that is really a whole other issue. Yes, every era has its pros and cons. I will sit in my air conditioned house in July and listening to the hum of my electricity and thank my lucky stars.