Friday, March 19, 2010

The starving time

Awhile back I read a compilation of stories about pioneer families who moved from their East coast homes to wild, untamed places west. They were moving because they were going broke or felt crowded out by others or a host of other situations. They were looking to begin a new life some place where they could start over. They packed all they needed (not wanted) into a very small area. Then endured the walk to their new home. I use the word "endure" here because I cannot even image packing everything I would need into a place as small as the back of my suburban. Then to walk to my final destination? WALK? Could I "endure" walking like that? I am a total weenie!
One of the characters was quoted to have said that she was afraid of just two things out west: Indians and ..........a toothache. A toothache? I have never had to be afraid of a toothache. It has never occurred to me to be afraid of a toothache. I am spoiled.

One of the most impressive part of the stories, for me, came later in the book when the author was describing the spring. Nowadays, we think of springtime as warmth and of great growth and relief that the snow is gone. But the pioneers thought of spring with dread. They called spring "the starving time" or "season of starvation". Even if a family went into winter with an ample meat accumulation and a nice harvest from the summer garden, spring usually found them with an exhausted food supply. People were left to forage green edibles from the forests and the beginnings of small, meager gardens. Here in Northwest Montana, spring is still frosty. This morning it was 18 degrees on my front porch. Even May days are unpredictable. The pickens' would have been slim for months.

With that in mind, last night I took survey of what we have left from our summer garden food stocks. Here it is. One pumpkin, a handful of spouting beets, 5-7 pounds of white potatoes, 5 onions, 2 heads of cabbage, 7 stalks of dried out Brussels sprouts, some leeks, and 4 wrinkled Pink Lady storage apples. This wouldn't have fed us for a week.

I was pretty proud that I had anything left to show for our garden. But now I am humbled. And a little embarrassed. I could never begin to care of my family without the support of grocery stores. I am a spoiled weenie who couldn't survive without the diligence of others. Because of my weakness, I am reminded that that I live here, without too much toil or threat of sickness or injury, warm and toasty in my big house-- solely on the backs of the hardy pioneers who came before me.

So, in honor of my ancestors, (and just in case something catastrophic happens and I can't be a weenie anymore) I think I'll go down to my basement and plant a few more cabbage seeds, and maybe more Brussels sprouts, or cauliflower. Or maybe I'll order more carrots seeds.

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