- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 31, 2002

The press of calamity in this still-new century may turn even the futuristic among us to thoughts of a quieter time, an earlier era when the "pioneer spirit" was not just a metaphor but an indomitable reality transforming endless wilderness into a brilliant new nation. Long ago, in other words. No later than around 1880 say, 1883, to be precise. That's the year PBS re-created, time-machine-style, in the summer of 2001 for three families chosen to participate in "The Frontier House," a reality-TV series airing in April.
No tawdry tropical flesh-fest here; this is educational television. These couples are married. Meals include homemade scones and chokeberry jam, hold the maggots. Cast costumes feature period corsets, eyelet lace and yards of blue gingham no sarongs. Little wonder an account of the series has appeared in fetchingly decorative Victoria magazine. There, Adrienne Clune, California wife and mother of three, reveals what life is like on the old frontier.
With amenities that include the purple mountains majesty and fruited plains of a lush Montana valley and with the added bonuses of no CNN, no Britney and no "peace process" was 1883 just about heaven on Earth? Not exactly, according to Mrs. Clune, 40. "My expectations were so far from reality," she told the magazine. "I dreamed about having all this time to do quilting and enjoy the countryside."
Uh-oh. Sounds like a spot of trouble in paradise. "Chores immediately consumed the family's daylight hours," Victoria explains. "Just doing laundry took two days a week. The mundane fare of salted ham and potatoes wore on her children, who missed burgers and sodas and candy."
Frontier life, even stage-managed, make-believe frontier life, didn't agree much with family patriarch Gordon Clune, 41, either. On the PBS web site for the show, Mr. Clune notes the difference a year makes. "This year his birthday will be celebrated in a small log cabin in Frontier Valley, but last year, he says, he fondly remembers renting a villa in Tuscany, where his wife and friends drank fine wines, watched the Italian sunset, and ate incredible quantities of fantastic food." Gee. Sounds like the year 2000, not 1883, constitutes the good old days for these PBS pioneers.
Likewise, daughter Aine Clune, 15, couldn't wait to rejoin the 21st century. Why? As a web site sketch explains, "she's been living with her family in a small log cabin and has to do chores every day." Talk about cruel and unusual. The web site elaborates: " 'Eating the same foods, wearing the same clothes and seeing the same people each day can be tiring,' she says, and she's gotten so bored with her life that she is even looking forward to going back to school." It's that bad. All that got her through the ordeal was the thought of her new home being built (in Malibu), as well as "the idea of shopping at the mall for all the things she's missed."
Maybe the real clash of civilizations has been going on right here in the heartland. Fortunately, not all the Clunes were homesick. In his web site sketch, 9-year-old Conor waxes enthusiastic about his time-travel, fondly recalling the bow and arrow his older brother, Justin, whittled for him. Meanwhile, the lad can't "wait until he turns fifteen, when he can apply for his own deer-hunting license." The sketch continues: "He says that hunting is 'a part of nature,' and it makes him feel good, because he can use his skills to feed his family. His favorite part of living on the frontier has been the puppies, climbing all the mountains and trees, and seeing all the wild animals that live around the area."
Sigh. The pioneer spirit lives.


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