So exactly why is she teaching the calf to drink?
Someone needs to let me in on this. It is only now, having actually lived around cows and calves and seen many bucket calves being fed, that it occurs to me that this scene does not make sense. Is Laura trying to wean the calf? I mean, the calf’s mother – Ellen – is right there, is she not? And Laura milks the cow, then brings the milk that she got from the calf’s mother over to the calf. Isn’t that an unnecessary step to play the middleman? As I understand it, mama cows aren’t necessarily all that nice when they’re ready to wean their calves. They might just, say, kick them off – literally. But Ellen is a caring mom: she “answered with a soothing moo” when her calf “bawled anxiously.” Her “baby calf,” no less. I don’t get it.
(I’m waiting for Sarah Uthoff to comment here.)
OK, I’ll back up. I love this chapter. Not only does it set the stage for post-winter happiness and contentment, it’s full of lines that have been seared into my memory for thirty years:
Pa looked at her. He knew how she felt. “I think, myself, it’s pretty nice,” he said.
Mary eagerly offered to do all the housework, so that Laura could help Ma. … “I couldn’t tell the difference between a pea vine and a weed at the end of a hoe, but I can wash dishes and make beds and take care of Grace.”[Don’t you want someone in your household to offer to do all the housework? And not just offer but eagerly offer?]
Every time a bean popped up, Grace squealed again.
“You needn’t see it for me, Laura. I can feel how large and fresh and pretty it is.”
It was a beautiful room.
This is also the chapter where Mary and Laura have their “I wanted to slap you” discussion, which is always fun (and is where I finally decide to like Mary). Before that, “It really tastes a little like lemon flavoring, Laura,” Mary says, harshing Laura’s poetic mellow, but for some reason Laura lets this go. They then get into talking about inherent good and evil, an exchange that strikes me as very Rose in flavor. “‘But my goodness! How can anyone be good without thinking about it?’”Laura demanded. It’s the demanded that gets me. For a second, I feel like I’m reading Free Land.
Well, this is Little Town on the Praire; I guess there will be more of that to come.
Mostly this chapter is about, well, springtime on the claim. We hear about Ellen and the calves on their picket pins, and the garden, and adding onto the shanty, and spring cleaning combined with moving. We know that Pa has gotten a new plow that’s so handy he’s not too tired to joke at night. We see Mary sink down into the sweetness of the violets and hear her saying that she doesn’t want to eat the only bug in the whole of Dakota Territory. If The Long Winter was bleak, “Springtime on the Claim” is full of sharp color and vivid contentment, a reminder that the bleakness was temporary. Whenever I am on Ingalls Homestead, I think of this chapter.
Kind of makes me want to move right in with them.