The First Four Years

Laura Ingalls Wilder had more sense than I do. She knew she didn’t want to be a farmer’s wife. I had the silly idea I might like it.

Laura’s husband Almanzo persuaded her to let him try farming for four years.* The disasters that followed are the subject of the last of the Little House books, The First Four Years.**

It's not as much fun as it looks

It’s not as much fun as it looks

We moved to our farm exactly four years ago. It’s safe to say we’ve had better luck than the Wilders: no crops ruined by hail, no diphtheria, no house fires, and no children dying in infancy. We also don’t have to make our living farming. But I’m not as tough as Laura, and some days just living on a farm is enough to drive me insane.

Here’s what our crazy experiment looks like four years in:


Abundant garden veggies, and even more abundant weeds. That’s what we get for going on vacation for 2 1/2 weeks. There are tomatoes. If you can find them.


Bees overflowing from their hives. I need to buy more bee boxes.


Blueberry bushes I can’t find in the weeds.


Several broken down tractors that Sam might eventually fix. At one point, there were five.


More cats than we intended. If cats were a farm crop, we’d be all set.


Seven hens that have stopped laying (the rooster is now in the freezer). When hens get too old to lay, you’re supposed to eat them and start over with new ones. But these hens are named Amelia Earhart and Marilyn Monroe and Boss Hen and… well, there’s no way we could eat girls with names like those.


One border collie to run the show.


Oh, and one girl who really wants a horse. (Disclaimers: This is not her horse. This is not our farm.)

Also nine pigeons, just because, and no wood in the woodshed for next winter because why would we plan ahead?

After four years, I’m beginning to realize things will never calm down around here. Never. There isn’t going to be a time when we’re “caught up” on farming. There will always be pokeweed in the flower beds, and Japanese beetles in the cherry trees, and Varroa mites in the bee hives.

Sam thinks I should relax and not worry about it. He likes to say, “the farm is my book.”

The difference is that we don’t have to live in my unfinished books. Luckily.


What would that even look like? Maybe like this… (The Conception of Alexander, from The History of Alexander the Great by Quintus Curtius Rufus, Netherlands, c. 1468-1475)


Also, what happens if I can’t find my writing shack in the weeds?



* Actually three, but they added a fourth “year of grace” because their first three years were so unsuccessful.

** It’s also the only book in the series that was not edited (rewritten) by Laura’s daughter Rose. It reads very differently from the others. The Ghost in the Little House by William Holtz argues that Rose’s rewriting made the Little House books what they are. It’s an eye-opening read — especially if, like me, you’re interested in writing and rewriting and what goes into making a good book. I highly recommend it!