According to my dad, as a child he used to ask my grandfather if there were still bears roaming around when he was a boy. That was his gauge of how old his father was and how wild the landscape was in those olden days. That particular measure would not work for my own children. We share our wooded suburban New Jersey neighborhood with numerous black bears. We've seen them go through our garbage and climb our trees. The morning after a barbecue last spring, one very large bear comically licked tortilla chip crumbs from my front walkway. These are not, however, the deep Wisconsin woods of the 1870's. From our front door we can be at a Starbucks, Home Depot, or Burger King in minutes.
So as we continue our nightly reading of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods, the bear stories fail to awe my children. For years, I'm sure Wilder's tales of run ins with bears have impressed children and helped them picture a wilder, more dangerous United States. My kids hear stories of bear encounters almost weekly, told by soccer moms drinking lattes at school functions. Ho hum.
Here is the detail which impressed upon them how very different Laura Ingalls Wilder's childhood was from their own: "Laura and Mary had never seen a town. They had never seen a store. They had never seen even two houses standing together." Never seen a store! They refuse to believe it. To my daughter, whose third or fourth word was "mall," this is an impossible concept to wrap her head around.