This goes beyond wanting to tell you about someone, this is about needing to tell you about someone.
A part of me is shocked I got to be this age without discovering her before. She is exactly the sort of woman I started the Women Writers in Literary History (which turned into Literary Grannies in 2013) Series. I want to spread the news of inspiring and offbeat women writers from the past and even a handful of some from the present.
Opal Whiteley was both a naturalist, a writer, a storyteller and a teacher. She was published when still a child. AND she was eccentric, so eccentric that her very oddness became a part of her eventual downfall.
The Cottage Grove Historical Society says this: “In the early days of this century, Opal was the most popular teenager in Oregon. It was thought she might become the greatest scientist, writer and teacher that Oregon had ever produced. Instead, in 1921, she became biggest Oregon literature's biggest embarrassment ‑ and mystery.”
Her brilliance in natural science was a gateway to the University of Oregon without a degree. She had been giving lectures since she was thirteen, including tales of plants, trees, and animals speaking to her. Personally, I would never deny some very sensitive people may be able to tune into nature so much that it speaks specifically to them to share with the rest of us.
She wrote books when she was young and magazine articles when she was older.
Included in her resume are The Fairlyland Around Us, Her Famous Diaries which had to be reassembled from scraps of paper and documented which sold under the title The Story of Opal: The Journal of an Understanding Heart and was a runaway best seller. She also had a book of poetry published titled The Flower of Stars.
Some of my favorite quotes from Opal include these:
“And all the time all day long I did have longings to go on exploration trips. The fields were calling. The woods were calling. I heard the wind. He was making music in the forest. It was soft music. It was low. It was an echo of the songs the flowers were singing. Even if there was much works to do, hearing the voices helped me to get the works done in the way they ought to be done.”
“All those trees are my friends. I call them by names I have given to them. I call them Hugh Capet Hugh Capet and Saint Louis Saint Louis and Good King Edward I.; and the tallest one of all is Charlemagne, and the one around where the little flowers talk most is William Wordsworth, and there are Byron and Keats and Shelley. When I go straight for the milk, I do so like to come around this way by the lane and talk to these tree friends. I stopped tonight to give to each a word of greeting.”
I have a confession: I talk to the trees of my neighborhood as well, but I have yet to name them other than their “official” names. Sounds like an idea whose time may have come!
She used several different names as she matured until 1948 when she found herself institutionalized at Napsbury Mental Hospital in England. She had a lobotomy during the 1950’s. The longer she stayed at the institution, the more she was loved. This is a good thing because she lived until she died at age 95 in 1992.
I wonder what might have happened for Opal if she had been accepted and allowed to continue “on the outside”. I wonder what would happen if Opal was a child now. Would they try to discipline her uniqueness into conventionality?
I am grateful I found her and will continue to come to know her via her writing. Perhaps you will now, as well? Thank you, as always, for reading.
Julie Jordan Scott has been a Life & Creativity Coach, Writer, Facilitator and Teleclass Leader since 1999. She is also an award winning Actor, Director, Artist and Mother Extraordinaire. She was twice the StoryTelling Slam champion in Bakersfield. She teaches a teleclass/ecourse "Discover the Power of Writing & Telling Engaging, Enlightening Stories" which begins again May 23, 2012, 2012. Find details by clicking this link.
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