Now comes the days of brown leaves.
They fall from the trees.
They flutter on the ground.
When the leaves flutter,
they are saying little things.
I hear them tell of their borning days
when they did come into the world as leaves.
Today they told me how they were a part
of the earth and air before their tree borning days.
And now, they are going back.
In gray days of winter they go back to the earth.
But they do not die.
|Opal Whiteley, age 17|
My dear friend, Annell, of Somethings I Think About, happened to come across the book The Singing Creek Where the Willows Grow, by Benjamin Hoff, in her local second-hand bookstore and immediately thought of me. It arrived at the manor last week, and although I have not yet finished reading it, I am totally intrigued. It is a biography of Opal Whiteley (1897-1992), an American nature writer and diarist whose childhood journal, published in 1920 as The Story of Opal, in serialized form in the Atlantic Monthly, and later as a book with the title The Story of Opal: The Journal of an Understanding Heart.
Biographers have confirmed that as early as age five, Whiteley, a brilliant child prodigy was already keeping a journal, as an amateur naturalist. Family members claim that Opal Irene Whiteley was born in Colton, Washington, the first of five children, in an impoverished family who moved frequently among logging camps. Whiteley, however, claimed to be the daughter of Henri, Prince of Orléans, who died unmarried in 1901, was taken to Oregon in 1902, and brought to a lumber camp where she was adopted by Ed and Lizzie Whiteley. While Opal Whiteley used several names during her lifetime, the one she preferred, and was later buried under, was Françoise Marie de Bourbon-Orléans.
Though considered odd by everyone, no one knew she was schizophrenic. Through her heightened senses and a genius for expressing herself, she crafted the most fascinating diary ever written. Opal hid her diary in a hollow log in the woods near her home. But when she was 14, her younger sister found it and tore it to pieces. Heartbroken, Opal kept the pieces at a neighbor's house in a hat box.
At 23, Opal met Ellery Sedgwick, publisher of the Atlantic Monthly who asked if she had kept a diary as a child. She said that she had, and he asked to see it at once. For months, Opal worked to piece her diary back together, and in 1920, The Story of Opal was published. Hailed as a work of genius, it became a national best-seller. But because of its brilliance, people soon began to question if one so young could have written it.
Ten months after its publication, the diary was out of print and Opal was disgraced. People returned their copies and demanded repayment. Accused of literary fraud, Opal left for England. In 1948, she was found rummaging through the rubble of bombed-out buildings during World War II. She was taken to a public mental hospital where she remained until her death on February 16, 1992. She was buried at Highgate Cemetery, where her gravestone bears the inscription "I spake as a child".
Whiteley's true origins and the veracity of her diary are still questioned today. Several plays have been written about her mysterious life, as well as Robert Lindsey Nassif's award winning musical Opal, 1993. Thank you, Annell, for introducing me to this fascinating woman. I've been thoroughly enjoying all things "Opal".