In the first chapter, Lyddie battles a bear and is abandoned by her mother to live on the farm on her own.
The chapter begins when Lyddie is stirring a pot of oatmeal when a black bear appears in the doorway. She is alone in the room with her four and six year old little sisters, and her little brother. She sends her brother for their mother and they all climb into the loft and take up the ladder. The only food he finds is the oatmeal, which is still boiling, and it scorches him and scares him off. The children laugh, but it is no laughing matter. Their mother is not laughing. She thinks it is a sign from the devil, and it is no longer safe for them to stay in the woods by themselves. She has been “somewhat queer in the head” since children’s father had left, “headed West” (Ch. 1).
Lyddie’s mother decides to take the younger children and go to Aunt Clarissa, leaving Lyddie and Charles with the farm. A bright spot in the gloom of winter is the birth of a calf.
The calf was born to great rejoicing and a new abundance of milk and cream. Lyddie and Charles felt rich as townsfolk. A sweet little heifer she was, arriving on the first warm day in March… (Ch. 1)
The children are thrilled that they are able to make syrup and sugar. In May, a letter arrives from their mother letting them know in broken that the word hasn’t come to an end and they can “stil hop.” The pasture, fields, and sugar bush have been lent to a neighbor to repay debts, along with the cow and horse. So have Lyddie and Charlie. Lyddie will work at a tavern, and Charles at a Bakers Mill. The children hold back tears and try to keep a stiff upper lip.
The first chapter begins with foreshadowing in the form of the ominous bear. It already demonstrates Lyddie’s quick thinking and resolve, as well as her perseverance and endurance in being able to live on her own. She is quick and talented, and we expect big things from her.