If you've read Laura Ingalls Wilder's On the Banks of Plum Creek, you probably remember the scenes that took place in the creek itself. Plum Creek was a water source and a place where the children played. It also had a darker side: You probably remember the leeches, and the time that Laura nearly drowned in the springtime, when its waters ran fast and high.
In her book about visiting the places that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about (The Wilder Life), Wendy McClure describes her own visit to Plum Creek:
"I was going to wade in the creek. Others were doing it ... A little cloud of silt rose up with each step, just like On the Banks of Plum Creek had described. ... that smokelike swirl that wavered in the water was how I knew the book was true.
A little girl about seven years old was standing on the bank. She'd
stopped short when she saw me, and I could tell she was trying to
reconcile her sense of Laura World with the strangely crowded reality:
here was Plum Creek, but here was this lady, too. Over the course
of the trip there'd be other little encounters like this ... where
everyone's reveries bumped up against one another. ...
walked back to the car, I could see other people trying to have their
private creek moments, children and adults alike, everyone standing in
their little rings in the water."
This scene made me think about
the power of books. While the popularity of the Little House books (and
thus the Little House pilgrimage spots, like Plum Creek) has no doubt
been helped by the long-running TV series based on them, what people try
to reach when they stand in their little rings in Plum Creek is almost
certainly drawn from the books. The books made us feel what it was like
to wade in Plum Creek in a very immediate, direct way that couldn't be
duplicated on TV.
"Where they waded in the shallow water a
footprint would not stay. First a swirl like smoke came up from it and
wavered away in the clear water. Then the footprint slowly melted. The
toes smoothed out and the heel was only a small hollow."--Laura Ingalls
Wilder, On the Banks of Plum Creek
I picture all these
readers converging on Plum Creek year after year. What people try to
capture when they stand in Plum Creek is an experience they first
imagined when reading a book. Each standing in his private ring in his
own reverie, communing with an author who now lives on through her
books. Taking an experience off the page, and back into the real world
it was drawn from.