Lessons From My Ancestors – by Ann Baird

The long Winter, By Laura Ingalls Wilder

My ancestors are the Wilders. I am a 5th generation ancestor of James and Angeline Wilder. Laura’s book, “Farmer Boy”, is one year in the life of my (Uncle) Almanzo Wilder as a young boy, and it provides insights and lessons that impact my home, the Highlands. The homestead in “Farmer Boy”, described in detail, was created by my Grandma’s, Great Grandparents.

Aside from this being super cool for me to learn about, there are similarities in my ancestors lives to my own life here in the Highlands with my husband Gord and our own Eco-Sense homestead. But that’s not what this post is about today. Maybe in a future post I will write about that.

Back to the book, “The Long Winter”. It is about how Almanzo Wilder saved the town from the incredibly cold and long winter. He just about froze to death making the trip by horse drawn cart to find some grain for the town. It’s quite the book describing how the town came together and shared what little food there was while burning straw in their uninsulated wood framed houses to keep from freezing.

My Little House books, and my Grandmas jewelry box

The main lesson in this book, a true story, was about modern progress and how the people became dependant on the brand new railroad to bring weekly necessities. These town people had all recently moved off the farm and into the new town. They had skills and could have weathered the long cold winter in their farm houses. They knew how to live. But in one or two years had given up that life to live in the town and become fully dependant on the train. They gave up being resilient. It didn’t take much to wipe out the tracks in those days, and so all of a sudden, there was no grain and no coal…and no one except my great uncles Almanzo and older brother Royal, had prepared for winter by stocking wood and grain. Yet Almanzo risked his life to save the town (and his future wife, young Laura Ingalls).

What does this have to do with Highlands?

In 1880, when Laura Ingalls was 14 and living through the worst South Dakota winter ever, Highlands was just starting to be populated by homesteading settlers. Of course, First Nations were a very resilient people with their rich relationship with the land we now call Highlands. It’s a sad colonization history with First Nations and one that I am still learning about. The book, Beautiful Rocks, (written by Highlanders Daphne Allen, Allen Dobb, Bob and Nancy McMinn, and Pattie Whitehouse) is a fantastic read to learn about the History of the Highlands both pre and post settlers.

Today in the Highlands we are not dependant on one train for coal and grain and we do not face the harsh South Dakota winters. Technology has changed our world so much in the last 140 years.

Supply chains are long and complex and most of us no longer have the basic life skills of our ancestors. These days we can fly and drive cars, communicate instantaneously on our pocket devices, and have pretty much anything delivered at the touch of a finger. But we are even more vulnerable now. Most of us get our food from the store and electricity from the wall which pumps our water and heats our homes. This seems normal…this is what we have done most or all of our lives. Why would we think this could ever change?

Unfortunately, our reality is changing…one climate event after another. Highlanders for the most part have been spared really abrupt climate impacts so far. But as we just saw this week in Canada’s Maritimes with Hurricane Fiona, our turn will be coming. We are very vulnerable. Reality REALLY sucks.

Highlands’ direct risks include fire, flooding, drought, wind, heat domes, and of course Earthquakes. But if we play these events out globally and think it through locally…especially living on an island, we know that our food supply, all material supply chains, energy (for pumping water, heating, cooling, and transportation), and communications could be knocked out for long periods of time.

Will we learn from our ancestors? Will we hope that one person, our Almanzo will save us?

There is so much that we can do as a community both at the municipal level and at the neighbourhood/family level.

For my part I will continue to volunteer my time in teaching members of the community about growing and preserving food, re-wilding, sharing excess garden plants and produce, and about becoming more resilient just as I have since we arrived in Highlands 17 years ago.
At the council table I will continue to:

  • ensure the community is financially sustainable, by NOT growing.
  • Fund our asset management plans (which includes natural assets),
  • support and fund our excellent volunteer fire Department,
  • continue work on our community emergency plan and implementation
  • Make all council decisions through the Climate Emergency lens of Adaptation, Mitigation, and Resilience to enhance community well being and protect the Highlands from needless growth.

The more we grow, the more we will need to grow…and I’m not talking about vegetables.

If we look after Highlands, Highlands will look after us.

Let’s be prepared and work together.

On Oct 15th, Please vote for me.
I also recommend voting for Gord Baird, Karel Roessingh, Marcie McLean, Rose Stanton, and Leslie Anderson.

Ann Baird, BSc Biology, homesteader and two term councillor, District of Highlands

4 responses to “Lessons From My Ancestors – by Ann Baird

  1. Thanks for sharing Ann. My Dad also wrote a book about growing up in Alberta- amazing resiliency back in the day!!

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