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  • Harper Audio presents Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder,

  • performed by Cherry Jones.

  • [MUSIC]

  • Little House in the Big Woods.

  • [MUSIC]

  • Once upon a time, many years ago, a little girl lived in

  • the Big Woods of Wisconsin, in a little gray house made of logs.

  • The great dark trees of the Big Woods stood all around the house and

  • beyond them were other trees and beyond them were more trees.

  • As far as a man could go to the north in a day, or

  • a week or a whole month, there was nothing but woods.

  • There were no houses.

  • There were no roads.

  • There were no people.

  • There were only trees and the wild animals who had their homes among them.

  • Wolves lived in the Big Woods, and bears and huge wild cats.

  • Muskrats and mink and otter lived by the streams.

  • Foxes had dens in the hills and deer roamed everywhere.

  • To the East of the little log house, and

  • to the West, there were miles upon miles of trees, and

  • only a few little log houses scattered far apart in the edge of the Big Woods.

  • So far as the little girl could see, there was only the one little house where she

  • lived with her father and mother, her sister Mary, and baby sister Carrie.

  • A wagon track ran before the house, turning and

  • twisting out of sight in the woods where the wild animals lived.

  • But the little girl did not know where it went nor what might be at the end of it.

  • The little girl was named Laura and she called her father Pa and her mother Ma.

  • In those days and in that place, children did not say father and

  • mother, nor mama and papa as they do now.

  • At night, when Laura lay awake in the trundle bed, she listened and

  • could not hear anything at all but the sound of the trees whispering together,

  • sometimes far away in the night, a wolf howled.

  • Then he came nearer, and howled again.

  • It was a scary sound.

  • Laura knew that wolves would eat little girls, but

  • she was safe inside the solid log walls.

  • Her father's gun hung over the door, and

  • good old Jack, the brindle bulldog, lay on guard before it.

  • Her father would say go to sleep Laura, Jack won't let the wolves in.

  • So Laura snuggled under the covers of the trundle bed close beside Mary and

  • went to sleep.

  • One night, her father picked her up out of bed and

  • carried her to the window so that she might see the wolves.

  • There were two of them sitting in the front of the house.

  • They looked like shaggy dogs.

  • They pointed their noses at the big bright moon and howled.

  • Jack paced up and down before the door growling.

  • The hair stood up along his back and

  • he showed his sharp fierce teeth to the wolves.

  • They howled but they could not get in.

  • The house was a comfortable house.

  • Upstairs there was a large attic pleasant to play and when the rain

  • drummed on the roof, downstairs was the small bedroom and the big room.

  • The bedroom had a window that closed with a wooden shutter.

  • The big room had two windows with glass in the panes and

  • it had two doors, a front door and a back door.

  • All around the house was a crooked rail fence to keep the bears and the deer away.

  • In the yard in front of the house were two beautiful big oak trees.

  • Every morning as soon as she was awake, Laura ran to look out of the window.

  • And one morning she saw in each of the big trees a dead deer hanging from a branch.

  • Pa had shot the deer the day before and

  • Laura had been asleep when he brought them home at night and

  • hung them high in the trees so the wolves could not get the meat.

  • That day Pa and Ma and Laura and Mary had fresh venison for dinner.

  • It was so good that Laura wished they could eat it all.

  • But most of the meat must be salted, and smoked, and

  • packed away to be eaten in the winter.

  • For winter was coming.

  • The days were shorter and frost crawled up the window panes at night.

  • Soon the snow would come.

  • Then the log house would almost be buried in snowdrifts and the lake and

  • the streams would freeze.

  • In the bitter cold weather,

  • Pa could not be sure of finding any wild game to shoot for meat.

  • The bears would be hidden away in their dens where they slept soundly

  • all winter long.

  • The squirrels would be curled in their nests in

  • hollow trees with their furry tails wrapped snugly around their noses.

  • The deer and the rabbits would be shy and swift.

  • Even if Pa could get a deer, it would be poor and thin, not fat and

  • plump as deer are in the fall.

  • Pa might hunt alone all day in the bitter cold in the Big Woods covered with snow

  • and come home at night with nothing for Ma and Mary and Laura to eat.

  • So as much food as possible must be stored away in the little house

  • before winter came.

  • Pa skinned the deer carefully and salted and stretched the hides for

  • he would make soft leather of them.

  • Then he cut up the meat and

  • sprinkled salt over the pieces as he laid them on a board.

  • Standing on end in the yard was a tall length cut from the trunk

  • of a big hollow tree.

  • Pa had driven nails inside as far as he could reach from each end.

  • Then he stood it up, put a little roof over the top and

  • cut a little door on one side near the bottom.

  • On the piece that he cut out, he fastened leather hinges,

  • then he fitted it into place and that was the little door with the bark still on it.

  • After the deer meat had been salted several days,

  • Pa cut a hole near the end of each piece and put a string through it.

  • Laura watched him do this and

  • then she watched him hang the meat on the nails in the hollow log.

  • He reached up through the little door and

  • hung meat on the nails as far up as he could reach.

  • Then he put a ladder against the log, climbed up to the top,

  • moved the roof to one side and reached down inside to hang meat on those nails.

  • Then Pa put the roof back again, climbed down the ladder and said to Laura,

  • run over to the chopping block and fetch me some of those green hickory chips.

  • New clean white ones.

  • So Laura ran to the block where Pa chopped wood and

  • filled her apron with the fresh sweet smelling chips.

  • Just inside the little door in the hollow log, Pa built a fire of tiny

  • bits of bark and moss and he laid some of the chips on it very carefully.

  • Instead of burning quickly, the green chips smoldered and

  • filled the hollow log with thick, choking, smoke.

  • Pa shut the door.

  • And a little smoke squeeze through the crack around it.

  • And a little smoke came out through the roof.

  • But most of it was shut in with the meat.

  • There's nothing better than good hickory smoke, Pa said.

  • That will make good venison that will keep anywhere in any weather.

  • Then he took his gun and slinging his axe on his shoulder,

  • he went away to the clearing to cut down some more trees.

  • Laura and Ma watched the fire for several days.

  • When smoke stopped coming through the cracks, Laura would bring more hickory

  • chips and Ma would put them into the fire under the meat.

  • All the time there was a little smell of smoke in the yard, and

  • when the door was opened, a thick, smoky, meaty smell came out.

  • At last, Pa said the venison had smoked long enough.

  • Then they let the fire go out and Pa took all the strips and

  • pieces of meat out of the hollow tree.

  • Ma wrapped each piece neatly in paper and

  • hung them in the attic where they would keep safe and dry.

  • One morning Pa went away before daylight with the horses and wagon.

  • And that night he came home with a wagon load of fish.

  • The big wagon box was piled full, and some of the fish were as big as Laura.

  • Pa had gone to Lake Pepin and caught them all with a net.

  • Ma cut large slices of flaky white fish without one bone for Laura and Mary.

  • They all feasted on the good fresh fish.

  • All they did not eat fresh was salted down in barrels for the winter.

  • Pa owned a pig, it ran wild in the big woods living on acorns and nuts and roots.

  • Now he caught it and put it in a pen made of logs to fatten.

  • He would butcher it as soon as the weather was cold enough to keep the pork frozen.

  • Once in the middle of the night Laura woke up and heard the pig squealing.

  • Pa jumped out of bed, snatched his gun from the wall and ran outdoors.

  • Then Laura heard the gun go off once, twice.

  • When Pa came back, he told what had happened.

  • He had seen a big black bear standing beside the pig pen.

  • The bear was reaching into the pen to grab the pig and

  • the pig was running and squealing.

  • Pa saw this in the starlight and he fired quickly.

  • But the light was dim and in his haste, he missed the bear.

  • The bear ran away into the woods not hurt at all.

  • Laura was sorry Pa did not get the bear.

  • She liked bear meat so much.

  • Pa was sorry too, but he said, anyway, I saved the bacon.

  • The garden behind the little house had been growing all summer.

  • It was so near the house that the deer did not jump the fence and

  • eat the vegetables in the daytime, and at night Jack kept them away.

  • Sometimes in the morning there were little hoof prints among the carrots and

  • the cabbages.

  • But Jack's tracks were there too and the deer had jumped right out again.

  • Now the potatoes and carrots, the beets and turnips and

  • cabbages were gathered and stored in the cellar for freezing nights had come.

  • Onions were made into long ropes braided together by their tops, and

  • then were hung in the attic beside wreaths of red peppers strung on threads.

  • The pumpkins and the squashes were piled in orange and yellow and

  • green heaps in the attic's corners.

  • The barrels of salted fish were in the pantry and

  • yellow cheeses were stacked on the pantry shelves.

  • Then one day, Uncle Henry came riding out of the Big Woods.

  • He had come to help Pa butcher, Ma's big butcher knife was already sharpened and

  • Uncle Henry had brought aunt Polly's butcher knife.

  • Near the pig pan Pa and Uncle Henry built a bonfire, and

  • heated a great kettle of water over it.

  • When the water was boiling, they went to kill the hog.

  • Then Laura ran and hid her head on the bed and stopped her ears with her fingers so

  • she could not hear the hog squeal.

  • It doesn't hurt him, Laura.

  • Pa said, we do it so quickly.

  • But she did not want to hear him squeal.

  • In a minute she took one finger cautiously out of an ear and listened.

  • The hog had stopped squealing after that, butchering time was great fun.

  • It was such a busy day with so much to see and do.

  • Uncle Henry and Pa were jolly, and there would be spareribs for dinner.

  • And Pa had promised Laura and Mary the bladder and the pig's tail.

  • As soon as the hog was dead, Pa and Uncle Henry lifted it up and

  • down in the boiling water till it was well scalded.

  • Then they laid it on a board and scraped it with their knives and

  • all the bristles came off.

  • After that, they hung the hog in a tree, took out the insides and

  • left it hanging to cool.

  • When it was cool, they took it down and cut it up.

  • There were hams and shoulders, side meat and spare ribs and belly.

  • There was the heart and the liver and the tongue, and the head to be made

  • into head cheese, and a dish pan full of bits to be made into sausage.

  • The meat was laid on a board in the backdoor shed and

  • every piece was sprinkled with salt.

  • The hams and the shoulders were put to pickle in brine, for

  • they would be smoked like the venison in the hollow log.

  • You can't beat hickory-cured ham, Pa said.

  • He was blowing up the bladder.

  • It made a little while balloon and he tied the ends tight with a string and

  • gave it to Mary and Laura to play with.

  • They could throw it into the air and swat it back and forth with their hands, or

  • it would bounce along the floor and they could kick it.

  • But even better fun than a balloon, was the pig's tail.

  • Pa skinned it for them carefully and into the large end he thrust a sharpened stick.

  • Ma open the front of the cook-stove and raked hot coals out into the iron hearth.

  • Then Laura and Mary took turns holding the pig's tail over the coals.

  • It sizzled and fried, and drops of fat dripped off it and blazed on the coals.

  • Ma sprinkled it with salt.

  • Their hands and their faces got very hot, and Laura burned her finger.

  • But she was so excited she did not care.

  • Roasting the pig's tail was such fun that it was hard to play fair taking turns.

  • At last it was done.

  • It was nicely browned all over, and how good it smelled.

  • They carried it into the yard to cool it, and even before it was cool enough,

  • they began tasting it and burned their tongues.

  • They ate every little bit of meat off the bones and

  • then they gave the bones to Jack.

  • And that was the end of the pig's tail.

  • There would not be another one till next year.

  • Uncle Henry went home after dinner and Pa went away to his work in the big woods.

  • But for Laura and Mary and Ma, butchering time had only begun.

  • There was a great deal for Ma to do and Laura and Mary helped her.

  • All that day and the next, Ma was trying out the lard in big iron

  • pots on the cookstove Laura and Mary carried wood and watched the fire.