Today, June 8th, is Kirsten Larson’s birthday! To celebrate, she joined my husband and me for a hike at a prairie preserve near my town. Kirsten lived on a farm in Minnesota, and I too am from the upper midwest, so I think this landscape completely true to what Kirsten would have experienced in the 1850s. When Kirsten and her family settled in Minnesota she would have experienced vast prairies that many settlers described as an ocean; the grass rippling in the wind was like waves in a great body of water. By the time her family arrived, though, the prairie was already being consumed by settlers transforming it into farmland, and today less than 1% of native prairies remain, according to the Minnesota DNR. Of course the reason prairies have all but disappeared is because that land is now used to grow food that helps to feed the world, so it is hard to argue with that, but it still is so sad that what was once such a beautiful and important ecosystem is now all but gone.
In Happy Birthday Kirsten, Kirsten’s birthday celebration was combined with the social aspects of a barn raising. Birthday parties in the 19th century were common only among wealthy children, though traditions such as having birthday cake were starting to become more mainstream. [Source: Korab, Holly. (2001, Summer). A Brief History of Birthday Parties. LASNews Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.las.illinois.edu/] Kirsten got an extra special treat in the book in being allowed to spend the day with her friends quilting rather than doing her regular chores. This certainly would have been a rare, if not unheard of, special day for a pioneer girl in the 1850s!
I love the barn raising aspect of the book, and whenever I drive past an old barn, I always think about Kirsten’s family’s barn raising party and wonder if the barn I am looking at has the same history. Here is Kirsten looking through the not-yet-finished walls of her family’s new barn:
Of course, I had to convince my husband that the purpose of this outing was to enjoy a nice hike out to the observation tower to cook breakfast as well as train for some big hikes later this summer (that’s why his pack is so big), so here is Kirsten in some “behind the scenes” shots 🙂
Annnd, speaking of birthdays. Mine is coming up (as a kid I loved that Kirsten and I shared a birthday month!) and this year I bought myself an extra special present. On my birthday this year I will be opening….Caroline! I ordered her weeks ago (I was afraid she was going to sell out) but have exerted excellent self-control in saving her to open for my birthday. As a little girl my dolls were all given to me on a birthday, so I decided to keep that tradition alive, even though this one is a gift to myself. Friday is the day!