backs,braids,females,girls,households,leisure,persons,Photographs,remote controls,television sets,televisions,TV,TV sets,TVs,watching television,watching TV,womenAs shocking as it may seem, we don’t have any television service. For what little time we have for sitting in front of the tube, paying for cable or satellite TV doesn’t seem worth it. We can catch up on critical news via the radio or Internet. After a while living without TV, you just don’t miss it. We do, however, enjoy a Netflix subscription, and squeeze in an hour here or there to make it partway through a disc before we hit the hay.

Here are some semi-real-life vids on farming and frontier life that we’ve enjoyed lately.

Having grown up with a grandmother and great grandmother who were full of stories of frontier farming life, I am keenly interested in what it was like back then. I do enjoy sometimes doing things the old fashioned way, like making popcorn in oil on the stove, baking from scratch, making preserves, or growing our own meat. But I fully appreciate what my great grandma used to say, you can have your good ol’ days, I like modern times! Because life was definitely hard back then; stressful and often hanging-by-a-thread; and we have few opportunities to really grasp just how easy we have it now. It’s nostalgic to make jam, chop wood or pluck a chicken, intermixed with ordering a pizza or online goods, driving a car to run an errand or making a cell phone call. It’s another matter entirely to think of doing everything from scratch, and where your very life depends on it. These DVDs are a small reminder of that!

PBS’s Frontier House

Class skitPBS must have decided to get in on the reality show action with Frontier House. But of course they took more of a film industry high road: no million dollar prize, foul language or loony participants selected to make more drama than necessary. The premise was simple: three diverse families chosen from thousands of applicants, all willing to spend a summer and fall on their own Montana plots, attempting to establish a homestead and prepare for winter. Just to see if they could do it and to learn something along the way. The old-school way.

The journey starts off with some historians and agriculture experts giving tutorials and setting everybody up with a fair start of essentials in the way of tools, animals, cash and staples. Each family was given a story of who they were and how they got there. The rules were strict: all modern luxuries were symbolically surrendered into a box at the beginning of the show: makeup, curling irons, electronics and the like. PBS doesn’t bend on technical accuracy of history, so everybody wore vintage clothes, right down to the undies, stockings and accursed button-up shoes. They used vintage tools like scythes to harvest loose hay and old fashioned cooking utensils on wood stoves.

What follows is a metamorphosis of youth and adults alike and some painful to watch personal growth moments. A true reality show mix of triumphs, task mastery and meltdowns. A lot of weight loss and muscle development, pure hard work, dirt and rodents, strategy and planning ahead, and gelling on what it’s like to eat too much and then run out of food. To feel the weight of your own survival, and that of your children, resting squarely on your wisdom, knack and luck, or lack thereof.

I believe the producers did a good job of choosing good, decent, normal folks; but even still, they had their moments of drama, competitiveness, pride, cheating, self-pity and self-righteousness. Which may be brought out in any of us given trying enough circumstances. What I found the most impressive was the grace of the kids on the show, how quickly they adapted, and how robustly they coped with some serious hardship. They went from tearfulness over butchering their first chicken to stoically milking a cow with frozen hands in the snow with little complaint in just weeks.

So, definitely a good watch, we really got sucked into this one and couldn’t wait to see how it ended! Now I can’t wait for Texas Ranch House to come out on DVD!

Discovery Channel’s Out of the Wild: The Alaska Experiment

RabbitThis is another reality show, and though it’s not about farming, it shares a lot of elements with Frontier House. The premise I never really got: a random group of individuals thrown out into the Alaska wilderness with a map and a goal to get from A to B. Again, no apparent prize money, just the glory of seeing if you could make it. Some did, some didn’t; and both the drop-outs and conquerors were surprising.

They were allowed to choose the equipment to take with them (which naturally they figured out later was all poorly chosen). But they were apparently not given any food to start with. Which made for sort of a ridiculous situation- it’s nearly impossible to maintain enough energy to get food if you don’t start with any food. Especially if you are still developing your food-getting skills! They apparently weren’t given any training on foraging for plant material (and there wasn’t much edible in view anyway) so hunting and fishing was their only option. The people were portrayed as actually starving in this circumstance (I secretly wondered if the film crew ever cheated and gave them something, but there was no hint that they did). So their trip ended up being mostly about ability to withstand serious calorie deprivation and cold, and still travel across difficult terrain and build shelters, hunt, and cooperate.

But the oddity of mission aside, the show was still interesting. Again, to see the metamorphosis of people who cringed at their first kill and wrestled with learning to skin an animal, into people who realized the value of food in any form. They soon butchered with ease and appreciated meat in even the tiniest of rodents and small birds, boiled plainly into a broth where every last drop was devoured. And the closeness the survivors developed, the grace with which they handled really tough times, all for the sake of mastering a challenge, was impressive. (If not a little crazy.)

I think I’ve been so interested lately in the dichotomy of rich and poor and how we eat. I consider the region where I live, and how snobbish we can be about our at-any-cost organic meat demands, or holier-than-thou vegetarian and vegan diets; and how squeamish people are about the basics of how food gets on the table. Then compare to much of the rest of the world, where maybe people would be grateful for having a squirrel to split amongst eight people for dinner, so desperate for protein are they who live in regions where row crops are just not a realistic fundamental source of food. I really think things are out of whack in the world right now; so watching middle class folks live a little like third worlders or frontiersmen for a few weeks or months really puts things back into perspective and humbles us.

Little House on the Prairie

LHOTPAh, the classic. I read all the books, more than once, as a kid. The TV show, I think, takes a lot of liberties and departs from the written books a lot. But it’s still good. At times the stories are too dorky, and I wish there was less of the town politics and more of the farming details. But it’s well-acted, the characters are timeless, as are many of their problems. And I have to admit, that Oleson family gets a lot of belly laughs from us. They are truly funny characters, and they do match accurately my memory of how they were portrayed in Laura’s books.

This show also brings you back to realizing how much easier life is nowadays. Back then, many towns didn’t even have law enforcement; and the doctor was also the veterinarian, or vice versa! Money was scarce, luck was thin, Mother Nature was brutal, pressures were constant, hard work was endless, and people and animals died frequently. Frontier times make for endless TV show subject matter: each episode poses a serious problem, and an hour dedicated to how the people were barely able to solve the problem. Just in time for the next problem to crop up! And, there is a Border Collie in the later seasons; filmed at a time when you didn’t see a lot of those in the U.S.- at least at dog shows.

I think we are in season six of nine. Long enough that now frequently the tune Mr. Edwards sings comes to my mind: Oh, old Dan Tucker was a fine ol’ man, washed his face with a frying pan, combed his hair with a wagon wheel, died with a toothache in his heel!