There is something in a good book that carries the reader away on a journey into goodness, truth and beauty, that leads out into an unknown and imaginative land where anything perhaps is possible. Sometimes this is fiction, the lie that tells the truth, after all as Neil Gaiman says. Sometimes however it’s autobiography mixed with remembrances that may or may not be fiction so long ago was the memory from the writer.
The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder is one of those stories that our family has enjoyed twice in the last ten years, narrated wonderfully to us through the voice of Cherry Jones. The audiobook has twice carried us south to Kansas from South Dakota, to visit family, usually as the cold of winter sets in around Christmas time. Mrs. Wilder’s stories are always painted in the hues of Michael Landon’s television series, robbing our own imagination of creating the pictures, the faces and the landscape of the series. But we don’t worry about that too much. The TV series did the stories well.
The Long Winter is just as the title describes. The length and intensity of the winter is solemnly prophesied by both a muskrat and a stoic native American right at the outset and neither were wrong. The first blizzard storms across Dakota Territory in October and the snow doesn’t melt until May. Everything in between is snow and wind and blizzard and a desperate struggle to survive. It’s a mesmerizing story, surprisingly captivating seeing as how much of the story is trapped by snow inside the Ingalls home. But there is something in it that captures the imagination, that draws the reader into a time and place, something about the experience of winter that slows a person down and causes one to take stock.
Winter is that way, isn’t it? Or at least it could be if only we’d lean in, shut off the TV and listen. The short days and cold weather drive us inside to books and to reflection. Annie Dillard put it this way: “It’s winter proper; the cold weather, such as it is, has come to stay. I bloom indoors in the winter like a forced forsythia; I come in to come out. At night I read and write, and things I have never understood become clear; I reap the harvest of the rest of the year’s planting.”
The Long Winter is an excellent choice of book to read in the cold of winter. As the days grow shorter and then miraculously, slowly begin to lengthen again even as the temperatures drop, it’s a book that will help you slow down, take stock, and find the blessings of the year that has passed even as you begin to dream about the one that lies ahead.
by Aaron G Myers