Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: pioneers

But God Can Save Us Yet

[This is an excerpt from a Canadian Classic, Roughing it in the Bush, by Susanna Moodie, first published in 1852.  At the climax of the crisis described here, she buries her head in her apron. It was her custom to  pull up her apron to cover her head for privacy when praying.]

The winter and spring of 1834 had passed away. The latter was uncommonly cold and backward; so much so that we had a very heavy fall of snow upon the 14th and 15th of May

A late, cold spring in Canada is generally succeeded by a burning, hot summer; and the summer of ’34 was the hottest I ever remember.  No rain fell upon the earth for many weeks, till nature drooped and withered beneath one bright blaze of sunlight; and the ague and fever in the woods, and the cholera in the large towns and cities, spread death and sickness through the country.

Moodie had made during the winter a large clearing of twenty acres around the house. The progress of the workmen had been watched by me with the keenest interest. Every tree that reached the ground opened a wider gap in the dark wood, giving us a broader ray of light and a clearer glimpse of the blue sky. But when the dark cedar swamp fronting the house fell beneath the strokes of the axe, and we got a first view of the lake my joy was complete: a new and beautiful object was now constantly before me, which gave me the greatest pleasure.

The confusion of an uncleared fallow spread around us on every side. Huge trunks of trees and piles of brush gave a littered and uncomfortable appearance to the locality, and as the weather had been very dry for some weeks, I heard my husband talking with his choppers as to the expediency of firing the fallow. They still urged him to wait a little longer, until he could get a good breeze to carry the fire well through the brush.

Business called him suddenly to Toronto, but he left a strict charge with old Thomas and his sons, who were engaged in the job, by no means to attempt to burn it off till he returned, as he wished to be upon the premises himself in case of any danger. He had previously burnt all the heaps immediately about the doors. While he was absent, old Thomas and his second son fell sick with the ague, and went home to their own township, leaving John, a surly, obstinate young man, in charge of the shanty, where they slept, and kept their tools and provisions.

The day was sultry, and towards noon a strong wind sprang up that roared in the pine tops like the dashing of distant billows, but without in the least degree abating the heat. The children were lying listlessly on the floor for coolness, and the girl and I were finishing sun-bonnets, when Mary suddenly exclaimed, “Bless us, mistress, what a smoke!” I ran immediately to the door, but was not able to distinguish ten yards before me. The swamp immediately below us was on fire, and the heavy wind was driving a dense black cloud of smoke directly towards us.

“What can this mean?” I cried. “Who can have set fire to the fallow?”

John Thomas stood pale and trembling before me. “John, what is the meaning of this fire?”

“Oh, ma’am, I hope you will forgive me; it was I set fire to it, and I would give all I have in the world if I had not done it.”

“What is the danger?”

“Oh, I’m terribly feared that we shall all be burnt up,” said the fellow, beginning to whimper.

“We must get out of it as fast as we can, and leave the house to its fate.”

“We can’t get out,” said the man, in a low, hollow tone, which seemed the concentration of fear; “I would have got out if I could; but just step to the back door, ma’am, and see.”

I had not felt the least alarm up to this minute. Judge then my horror, when, on going to the back door, I saw that the fellow, to make sure of his work, had fired the field in fifty different places. Behind, before, on every side, we were surrounded by a wall of fire, burning ferociously within a hundred yards of us, and cutting off all possibility of retreat.

I closed the door and went back to the parlour. Fear was knocking loudly at my heart – I felt stupefied. The girl sat upon the floor by the children, who had both fallen asleep. She was silently weeping; while the fool who had caused the mischief was crying aloud.

A strange calm succeeded my first alarm; tears and lamentations were useless; a horrible death was impending over us, and yet I could not believe that we were to die.

My eye fell upon the sleeping angels, locked peacefully in each other’s arms, and my tears flowed for the first time. Mary, the servant-girl, looked piteously up in my face. The good, faithful creature had not uttered one word of complaint, but now she faltered forth, “The dear precious lambs! Oh such a death!”

I threw myself down upon the floor beside them, and pressed them alternately to my heart, while inwardly I thanked God that they were asleep, unconscious of danger.

The heat soon became suffocating. We were parched with thirst, and there was not a drop of water in the house. I turned once more to the door, hoping that a passage might have been burnt through to the water. I saw nothing but a dense cloud of fire and smoke – could hear nothing but the crackling and roaring of the flames, which were gaining so fast on us that I felt their scorching breath in my face.

“Ah,” thought I – and it was a most bitter thought – “what will my beloved husband say when he returns and finds that poor Susy and his dear girls have perished in this miserable manner? But God can save us yet.”

The thought had scarcely found a voice in my heart before the wind rose to a hurricane, scattering the flames on all sides into a tempest of burning billows. I buried my head in my apron, for I thought that our time was come, and that all was lost, when a most terrific crash of thunder burst over our heads, and, like the breaking of a water-spout, down came the rushing torrent of rain which had been pent up for so many weeks. In a few minutes the chip-yard was all afloat, and the fire effectually checked. The storm which, unnoticed by us, had been gathering all day, and which was the only one of any note we had that summer, continued to rage all night, and before morning had quite subdued the cruel enemy whose approach we had viewed with such dread.

The imminent danger in which we had been placed struck me more forcibly after it was past than at the time, and both the girl and myself sank to our knees and offered up our hearts in humble thanksgiving to that God who had saved us by an act of His Providence from an awful and sudden death. When all hope from human assistance was lost, His hand was mercifully stretched forth, making His strength more perfectly manifested in our weakness.

“He is their stay when earthly hope is lost,
“The light and anchor of the tempest-toss’d.”

Trouble with big sister

[This is another excerpt from When I was thirteen]

Waubuno, Ontario  March 30, 1897

Today was Saturday, and I did quite a lot of work. I had a set-to with Jessie, though. She gets pretty bossy some times and then I get balky. When she starts to lord it over me, it makes me have to show her that she can’t do it. She doesn’t very often tell Ma, because I think she likes to feel that she made me do it herself, and when I think that she feels that way, I see that she earns all she gets out of me. I lipped her back this afternoon and made her hopping mad. I started to make up a song and kept humming it. The chorus was:

“While Miss Gadabout, gads about,
She’d better learn how to boss.
If she lost herself while she gads about
It wouldn’t be much of a loss.”

It was my job to do what she was trying to make me do alright, but I didn’t want her to think I did it because she ordered me to, and so I hummed around awhile and then started to do it as if I was ready to do it then, and kept on humming.

Jessie is really nice most of the time, but gets a very high and mighty air once in a while. Her nickname is “Gadabout, gadabout, poverty pale” because she likes to go away and likes pickles. It always makes her terribly mad to be called that, but I don’t think it is any worse than mine, which is “Glary Mary,” because my eyes glare when I get mad.

I am rather sorry I was so snippy to Jessie now, as I’m afraid the sun will go down upon her wrath.

Ma says a real coward is one who isn’t man enough to own up to being wrong, and I’m afraid that’s the kind of coward that I am, but I guess I’ll go down now and see how the land lays.

Later — Well, it’s all made up now and I feel lots better, and not so much like a dog.
I wrote on a piece of paper, “I’m sorry,” and handed it to Jessie, and she made up friends right away. I am very glad because it’s so much harder to make up after you’ve kept from it all night. It seems to grow to be a part of you while you sleep. I suppose that’s why the Bible says to let not the sun go down upon your wrath. It’s queer how you keep finding out what the Bible means, just by your own feelings, every once in a while.

A tree falls on the prairie

One hundred years ago, settlers came to the flatlands of Saskatchewan. No need for axes and saws to fell trees, just a team of oxen and a plough to turn the virgin sod and prepare it for a first crop. Of course, the lack of trees also meant a lack of building materials, so the first home was often built of strips of sod laid one on top of the other.

The lack of trees on the open prairie also meant that you were fully exposed to the wind. And wind is an almost constant, though invisible, feature of the prairie landscape. So the settlers planted trees – poplars, willows, caraganas, Manitoba maples. Folks today consider those trees to be almost weed species, but they were the ideal trees for creating a shelter from the wind. They grew quickly and they were tough enough to survive during the dry spells and the winds. The poplars grew tall and strong, with massive trunks.

Now those poplars have grown old. Long ago, through damage caused by rodents, birds, insects and weathering, a fungus had penetrated the protective shell of the bark. Slowly the fungus worked on the inside, while the tree still appeared healthy and strong. Branches began to die and be broken off in the wind. Finally, the inner strength was gone and the trees began to fall, one by one, during windstorms. One tree was almost dead, yet one branch still produced fresh green leaves in the spring. Then one day, without a breath of wind, the tree fell. There just wasn’t enough sound wood left to bear the weight of the massively tall tree.

One hundred years ago, the settlers brought with them a faith in God. There were different varieties of faith, some seem to have been more vigorous and sturdy than others. Their faith gave them strength to persevere during the hardship of the pioneer years. Churches were established that appeared strong and substantial, able to stand for generations. Today, one by one, those churches are closing their doors.

The cause is the same: somehow a foreign life was allowed to enter in. New doctrines, new ideas, new methods of working. They didn’t seem dangerous, but the decay set in and no one knew the source, or what to do about it.

Many Christians and churches remain, but not all have a strong connection to the source of truth and life. In many places the decay is still very active and there is much confusion about how to arrest it. Some still seem healthy and strong, but how long can that last if they only want to save themselves from the decay that is evident in others? Do they perhaps have another type of decay that will eventually bring them down, too?

Only God can save His people. Will they hear His call, or will they let the opportunity to save themselves and others from the wrath to come pass unheeded?

Today we washed the sheep

Another excerpt from When I Was Thirteen, by Christina Young of Waubuno, Ontario

May 31, 1897
Today we washed the sheep.  I guess I had better describe how it is done, as the fashions may be changed by the time my descendants are able to read this.  There are so many new ways of doing things being invented these days that very likely sheep washing will be out of date in about twenty years from now.  I am glad I am myself and not one of my descendants, as I would hate to miss some of the customs we have in these days.  Still I suppose my descendants will think their ways are the best, and will pity me as they read this diary, for being so old-fashioned.

I know I rather pity old Mrs. Wilson for the times she had to come through when this country was all woods, and wolves and wild animals were common.  But still it is thrilling to hear her tell about those days, and the way they did things.  I would have loved to have lived through them for one whole year, and then skip the rest of the time till now.  I wonder if in heaven God will in some way bring back all the wonderful things of the past that we have missed by not being born soon enough.  Maybe eternity is just time going around in a circle with all the unbeautiful things left out, and everybody will be able to live through all the different ages and get the thrills out of them all.

I had quite an exciting experience while we were bringing the sheep up from the field, I had gone back with Pa to drive them up, and when we got there we found a lamb that had got on its back and couldn’t get up.  When Pa helped it up it was too weak to keep up with the flock, so Pa had to carry it and I had to drive the sheep.

Our old Billy sheep is quite cross, as we have teased him quite a bit when we would be in a safe place, such as close to a fence.

I had a big stick in my hand and was all right as long as it held out, but it broke once when I gave him a crack on the head as he was coming for me.  Then Billy saw his chance, and I knew the day of reckoning had come for me.

I jumped to one side just as he almost reached me, and he went on past the first time, but I expected he would soon get onto that dodge.

Pa was quite a way behind, but I could hear him laughing, though I couldn’t see any fun myself.

Pa yelled at me then to jump on Billy’s back, so the next time he charged I jumped to the other side, and before he could turn around I had climbed on his back.

He was that surprised he just stood still and shook his head.  He couldn’t understand what had become of me, I guess.  Pa was laughing very hard by this time, and I joined in then, as I began to see the fun, being safe myself.

Billy behaved like a gentleman after that.  As we got to the house we could hear Munroe’s sheep and Wilson’s coming down the road, Wesley’s joined us at the corner with theirs, and we drove all the sheep together down the road to the creek, a mile south of the corner.

All the boys and girls around the corner went along, as it is great fun watching the men wash the sheep and paddling around ourselves.

When they got to the creek, they drove all the sheep into a large three-cornered pen made of rails that had been built for the purpose, with one corner opening into the creek.

Then sheep by sheep the men took them all into the creek and washed them, and then turned them loose to run on the road a few days to dry.  Then they will be sheared.

As I write in my diary I can hear lambs and sheep bleating from every direction.  It is a most lonesome and sorrowful sound, the sound of a sheep that cannot find its lamb, or a lamb that has lost its mother.

Then, when they find each other, it is a most joyful and comforted sound that they make, as if all the sorrow is past and already almost forgotten.

I will be awake hours tonight, I suppose, listening for the sorrowful bleats to be changed into bleats of rejoicing.  And then I will go to sleep.

I expect that is a tiny bit like the Rest, that the angels feel up in heaven, whenever a sorrowing sinner finds God.

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