Pioneer Poseur

The Christakis family (aka “square heads”) crossing the Connecticut river

For as long as I can remember, and with meager supporting evidence, I’ve maintained a fixed belief that I am suited to rural life. I’ve always fantasized about working (successfully) with my hands. Live off the land. Slow down. Adopt a simpler life. Raise a passel of wormy, shoeless scamps.

Growing up as a little girl in suburban Boston, I loved to hear my grandmother’s stories of her summers in rural Wisconsin. (Like Laura Ingalls Wilder… get it?) Harriet Rose Stellman Zuckerman was 96 years-old when she died last December, and she had a great aunt who was taken captive and subsequently murdered by real Indians. My sister and I had a ghoulish interest in that story and begged her tell it over and over again. We also liked to hear about her German grandparents (“who came over in the ’60s” — that would be the 1860s) and their sauerkraut business. And how her grandparents’ farm was bought up by the federal government in order to make room for O’Hare airport. Harriet was an amazing seamstress, knitter, and crocheter. She loved birds and butterflies and tending her rose garden. Never mind that she was also an uninspired cook and lived on the South Side of Chicago for more than 90 years. I always wanted to be like her in a particularly romanticized American way. I wanted to be a Pioneer Girl. I’ve had a life long preoccupation with the Little House on the Prairie books, and sometimes I feel like one of those people born into the wrong body/time/place: I’m supposed to be a Pioneer Girl, dammit!

See, I I’ve tried so hard to grow vegetables, split wood, make a decent pie crust, hem a skirt, knit a scarf, tend a perennial garden, make a poultice, slaughter a hog, embroider menstural cloths from my old quitting rags. And so on. These things shouldn’t be so vexing to me but they always are and I’m convinced it’s because I just haven’t found the right milieu, so to speak. I need a different context, a frontiery kind of context, to get the pioneerish juices flowing. I pray to be infused with that pioneer, can-do spirit! I want to whip out the old spider stove and fry up some cornmeal mush and salt pork, gather the young’uns ’round the fire and… boot up my iPad.

Ah… ambivalence, my old friend. The unbearable lightness of  being. If only we could be cats with nine lives (or two lives: urban and rural, how about?)…Sadly, I’ve only ever been erstaz Pioneer. A Pioneer poseur. A Pioneer Aspirant. A pioneer Apellant. For reasons I can’t quite understand, it just hasn’t worked out the way I’d always dreamed.

But guess what? I’m finally getting my wish. I’m moving to the North Woods next weekend. For true, as we used to say in second grade. Actually, it’s Vermont, and we’re only living there part-time. (It’s my family’s reward for living with a pod of 400 rowdy undergrads nine months of the year). But I’m jumping up and down with excitement because I’m finally going to wake up to clear mountain air and tramp around the dappled woods and ride my bike on dusty dirt roads and make maple sugar from my very own trees in my very own ‘antique’ (dilapidated) sugar shack and I’ll get to jump into a cool lake on a warm summer night (okay, a half-acre pond) and I’ll get to watch deer and foxes eat all my flower beds and I’ll get to accidentally step on hideous threatening black snakes in my wood pile, and learn (too late) all about septic systems and alienate our hearty, Libertarian neighbors with our hapless urban neediness . I’m beside myself with excitement.

Which is why I’ve been preparing for weeks by reading all about how to be a Pioneer Woman. I must say, there’s a lot to learn, so I’ve consulted a contemporary expert: Ree Drummond at ThePioneerWoman.com. She’s a sassy redhead, wouldn’t you know, a transplanted city slicker who traded in her “black pumps” to marry “Marlboro Man” (that’s what she calls him, but I think his name is “Ladd” or “Rod” or “Skeetch” or somesuch.) She’s a rancher, natch, and… a (good) photographer and… a cook book author… and a TV star and… a homeschooler of four happy rascals and … a New Yorker profilee and … a blogger who gets 13 million views per day (did I read that correctly? It has to be monthly, right?)  Hearing about Ms. Ree Drummond’s frontier-ish exploits, as I have done for years, fills me with such incredible envy, rage bile admiration for all the amazing things an enterprising PIONEER WOMAN can do.

I’m pulling out my recipes for Blackbird Pie and Long Winter Bread. Come next year, I might try some of Laura’s Hailstone Ice Cream or Snow Candy…Fingers crossed.

About ErikaChristakis

Yale Lecturer in early childhood education/Licensed teacher/Former preschool director and Harvard College house master/some-time journalist. In possession of: unmarketable bachelor’s degree (Harvard, anthropology), semi-marketable graduate degrees (public health, education…). Rewarding career at the intersection of family, society, and schools (including long stint in parenting vortex). Forging a new path to connect all of the above.
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One Response to Pioneer Poseur

  1. What a great post! I want to take bike rides on dusty roads to sit under a tree next to the lake with…my Ipad. Sigh. I can completely relate. Enjoy Vermont! Now I want some maple syrup!

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