Opal Whiteley and the Singing Creek Where the Willows Grow
NEW OBSESSION ALERT.
i picked up this lovely 1983 book at a used bookstore in fort bragg while we were there last week.
i'm totally in love.
(tangent - meanwhile i just finished the amazing novel i was reading which i never wanted to end: The Living by Annie Dillard - i hiiiiggghhhly recommend it for an engrossing account of frontier life, farming, family, marriage, native peoples and the settling of bellingham, washington)
okay back to Opal Whiteley.
opal was a little girl born in 1897 and charmed by an incredibly astute understanding of nature, spirituality, and an ethereal quality of life that i will call, to use wordsworth's term, the great flow. she was attuned to what she called fairies singing, or the earth-song.
here she is at four years old. she could already read and crudely write and she was living with her family in a logging camp in oregon. her family was utterly confounded by her quirks, and could not see the rhapsody in her nature wanderings.
the little girl created a fairyworld in the forest, with longwinded incredible names for her animal friends such as "agamemnon menalaus dendon."
as she grew, she gave lectures and led classes for children about the joy and harmony found in nature.
later she moved to hollywood to (unsuccessfully) try to earn money to go to college.
her story goes on to become a tragic one. she pieced back together her destroyed diary (torn to shreds by her little sister faye years before) for the publisher of atlantic weekly who proceeded to publish her childhood childhood diary serially in 1920.
after immense success, skeptics began to call the diary a hoax (with little proof as such) and everyone lost interest in opal whiteley. i haven't read the entire biographical sketch but i think she ended up getting diagnosed with schizophrenia and hospitalized in london.
in recent years, a new interest has arisen in this inspiring work of american literature.
here is a page from her self-published book, The Fairyland Around Us.
i love the way she handwrote the pages and combined images to create a highly personal book that was a work of art. this idea inspires me!
i'll leave you with this illuminating passage from the original diary, written when she was between 6-7 years old:
"And all the times I was picking up potatoes, I did have conversations with them. Too, I did have thinks of all their growing days there in the ground, and all the things they did hear. Earth-voices are glad voices, and earth-songs come up from the ground through the plants; and in their flowering, and in the days before these days are come, they do tell the earth-songs to the wind. And the wind in her goings does whisper them to folks to print for other folks, so other folks do have knowing of earth's songs. When I grow up, I am going to write for children -- and grownups that haven't grown up too much -- all the earth-songs I now do hear.
I have thinks these potatoes growing here did have knowings of star-songs. I have kept watch in the field at night, and I have seen the stars look kindness down upon them. And I have walked between the rows of potatoes, and I have watched the star-gleams on their leaves."
and that, my friends, is how i want to live.