On The Banks Of Plum Creek (Chapter 9)
On The Banks Of Plum Creek
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Now plums were ripening in the wild-plum thickets all along Plum Creek. Plum trees were low trees. They grew close together, with many little scraggly branches all strung with thin-skinned, juicy plums. Around them the air was sweet and sleepy, and wings hummed. Pa was plowing all the land across the creek, where he had cut the hay. Early before the sun came up, when Laura went to drive Spot to meet the cattle at the gray boulder, Pete and Bright were gone from the stable. Pa had yoked them to the plow and gone to work.
When Laura and Mary had washed the breakfast dishes, they took tin pails and went to pick plums. From the top of their house, they could see Pa plowing. The oxen and the plow and Pa crawled slowly along a curve of the prairie. They looked very small, and a little smoke of dust blew away from the plow. Every day the velvety brown-dark patch of plowed land grew bigger. It ate up the silvery-gold stubble field beyond the hay-stacks. It spread over the prairie waves. It was going to be a very big wheat-field, and when some day Pa cut the wheat, he and Ma and Laura and Mary would have everything they could think of. They would have a house, and horses, and candy every day, when Pa made a wheat crop.
Laura went wading through the tall grasses to the plum thickets by the creek. Her sunbonnet hung down her back and she swung her tin pail. The grasses were crisping yellow now, and dozens of little grasshoppers jumped crackling away from Laura’s swishing feet. Mary came walking behind in the path Laura made and she kept her sunbonnet on. When they came to a plum thicket they set down their big pails. They filled their little pails with plums and emptied them into the big pails till they were full. Then they carried the big pails back to the roof of the dugout. On the clean grass Ma spread clean cloths, and Laura and Mary laid the plums on the cloths, to dry in the sun. Next winter they would have dried plums to eat. The shade of the plum thickets was a thin shade. Sunshine flickered between the narrow leaves overhead. The little branches sagged with their weight of plums, and plums had fallen and rolled together between drifts of long grass underfoot.
Some were smashed, some were smooth and perfect, and some had cracked open, showing the juicy yellow inside. Bees and hornets stood thick along the cracks, sucking up the juices with all their might. Their scaly tails wiggled with joy. They were too busy and too happy to sting. When Laura poked them with a blade of grass, they only moved a step and did not stop sucking up the good plum juice. Laura put all the good plums in her pail. But she flicked the hornets off the cracked plums with her finger nail and quickly popped the plum into her mouth. It was sweet and warm and juicy. The hornets buzzed around her in dismay; they did not know what had become of their plum. But in a minute they pushed into the crowds sucking at another one. “I declare, you eat more plums than you pick up,” Mary said.
“I don’t either any such a thing,” Laura contradicted. “I pick up every plum I eat.” “You know very well what I mean,” Mary said, crossly. “You just play around while I work.” But Laura filled her big pail as quickly as Mary filled hers. Mary was cross because she would rather sew or read than pick plums. But Laura hated to sit still; she liked picking plums. She liked to shake the trees. You must know exactly how to shake a plum tree. If you shake it too hard, the green plums fall, and that wastes them. If you shake it too softly, you do not get all the ripe plums. In the night they will fall, and some will smash and be wasted. Laura learned exactly how to shake a plum tree. She held its scaling-rough bole and shook it, one quick, gentle shake. Every plum swung on its stem and all around her they fell pattering. Then one more jerk while the plums were swinging, and the last ripe ones fell plum-plump! plum-plump! plump! plump!
There were many kinds of plums. When the red ones were all picked, the yellow ones were ripe. Then the blue ones. The largest of all were the very last. They were the frost plums, that would not ripen until after frost. One morning the whole world was delicately silvered. Every blade of grass was silvery and the path had a thin sheen. It was hot like fire under Laura’s bare feet, and they left dark footprints in it. The air was cold in her nose and her breath steamed. So did Spot’s. When the sun came up, the whole prairie sparkled. Millions of tiny, tiny sparks of color blazed on the grasses. That day the frost plums were ripe. They were large, purple plums and all over their purple was a silvery thin sheen like frost. The sun was not so hot now and the nights were chilly. The prairie was almost the tawny color of the hay-stacks.
The smell of the air was different and the sky was not so sharply blue. Still the sunshine was warm at noon. There was no rain and no more frosts. It was almost Thanksgiving time, and there was no snow. “I don’t know what to make of it,” Pa said. “I never saw weather like this. Nelson says the old-timers call it grasshopper weather.” “Whatever do they mean by that?” Ma asked him. Pa shook his head. “You can’t prove it by me. ‘Grasshopper weather,’ was what Nelson said. I couldn’t make out what he meant by it.” “Likely it’s some old Norwegian saying,” Ma said. Laura liked the sound of the words and when she ran through the crackling crackling prairie grasses and saw the grasshoppers jumping she sang to herself: “Grasshopper weather! Grasshopper weather!”