Kevin’s such a sweety. Last night he caught me a toad. (This took some effort, as the toad was determined not to cooperate.) It was a gorgeous lumpy brown critter about the size of my palm. The internet would indicate that this was probably an American Toad,* although apparently they interbreed frequently with Southern and Fowler’s toads around here, it’s hard to say with absolute certainty. The toad was released unharmed, to go tell his amphibious brethren about his horrific alien abduction experience.

And there are large lavender mushrooms coming up under the back deck. This place is so cool.

In other news, I’ve been reading the Little House on the Prairie books. (Hey, as a children’s book author, this is technically research.) Bizarrely enough, I got out of my childhood without reading most of these–I had "Little House in the Big Woods," which I re-read about fifty bizillion times, and that was it. (A blogger I read now and again refers to this sort of book as "frontier porn.") Somehow, however, I never read any of the others, and my knowledge of Laura Ingalls Wilder mostly consisted of the intro to the TV show. (I remember the opening sequence, but I don’t actually remember any episodes.) 

I have, so far, gotten through "Little House in the Big Woods," and "Little House on the Prairie," and I’ve sort of skimmed through "On the Banks of Plum Creek" and "By the Shores of Silver Lake," mostly to see if the ratio of butter-churning to character conflict was going to continue at current levels.**

The disadvantage of reading this sort of thing as an adult is that you keep looking atthe adults in the books, not through the worshipful lens of a small child, but as people making decisions that you might concievably make yourself, and so you look at the series of trials and travails they’re going through, and find yourself saying "Okay, Pa Ingalls is either the unluckiest human being known to man or a friggin’ moron." I mean, sure, he can bring home the frontier bacon, but he’s backed the wrong horse in every single book, and has to pick up and move repeatedly, dragging small children behind him. I grant you, there was no predicting the locust thing, but not checking whether he was settling in open territory was inexcusable.

And then there’s Ma Ingalls. Hmm. Although it’s not really covered in great detail, she apparently lived back East, had been very fashionable, and had a dressmaker to make all her clothes, which would presumably indicate at least an upper-middle-class lifestyle. She handed all this over, in order to live in near-total isolation, wash clothes on a rock, and be menaced by bears, and then to be dragged from pillar to post by a crazy man with itchy feet and the fastest skinning knife in the west, shelling out babies and playing Frontier Disease Bingo.

Yes, yes, I know, it was a different era and all that, rock washing and roving bands of bears were just part of the experience, plenty of otherwise sane people took part in the land rush, yes, they were In Love, but am I really the only one reading these and going "Okay, either Ma Ingalls has advanced Stockholm Syndrome or else Pa’s hung like a Clydesdale"? 

To me, this is a far more interesting dynamic than anything Laura comes up with, since Laura is only sporadically interesting, generally when she is resenting her smarmy older sister, who I think goes blind at some point, just to really twist the knife. I realize that not having finished the books yet, I may not have reached the key point at which Ma gives up on her patient "Oh, Charles!"ing, stops cheerfully making the best of things, snaps, screams "I COULDA BEEN A DEBUTANTE!" and goes after Pa with the axe. (Please, god, let me just not have reached that yet!)

I being to suspect that I am past the target age for these books. Speak to me, O readers! Is it worth continuing? Does Laura ever DO anything, besides obey and sulk? Does the saintly Mary get knocked up? Does Pa finally settle somewhere that doesn’t end in tears? Does Ma snap and run amok with a butter-churn?

* My brain insists on rewriting a Tom Petty song to suit.

**In that respect, it reminds me of the Jean Auel books, except that Ingalls-Wilder’s characters don’t get to have increasingly tedious and repetitive sex, and you hardly ever get to see anybody hunt anything. Pa just vanishes and returns with furs, possibly from the pelt aisle of the local Piggly-Wiggly. (Pity, really–Little Mammoth on the Prairie would have been a worthy addition to the pantheon.)

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