Today I climbed upon the old rail fence close to the Yellowjacket’s home with a piece and a half of bread and jam and the half piece for them and the piece for myself. But they all wanted to be served at once, so it became necessary to turn over all bread and jam on hand. I broke it into little pieces, and they had a royal feast there on the old fence-rail. I wanted my bread and jam; but then Yellowjackets are such interesting fairies , being among the world’s first paper- makers; and baby Yellowjackets are such chubby youngsters. Thinking of these things makes to a joy to share one’s bread and jam with these wasp fairies. (Excerpt from Opal Whiteley’s Diary)
Last week, when we returned to SF from Shasta, a little package awaited me.
It was from Heather of Moonshine Junkyard. Underneath the brown paper, the feather and old postcard, was a sweet copy of “Opal Whiteley: Journal of an Understanding Heart”. In my voice, and in the pictures of Fern, Heather had recognized something of Opal Whiteley, and offered to send me her diary. All this with only having recently become acquainted. Such generosity and beauty of spirit. Thank you so much Heather. You have introduced us to a long lost soul mate.
Opal Whiteley grew up in the Oregon lumber camps at the turn of the century. She was considered a child genius, and also an eccentric. She kept a diary of her “explores” in the Oregon forests, and of her friends….a woodrat, a crow, a pig, a dog, the trees, the fairies. When she grew up, she initially tried to publish a book of natural history, but the publisher, on an intuitive hunch, asked her if she had ever kept a diary. She had…but her sister had torn it into pieces, which Opal had kept. The remnants were sent for, painstakingly put back together, and the diary published. It tells of her keen insight into the universal bond that connects all of us here on this beautiful earth. In her conversations with animals, trees and stars, I caught glimpses of myself as a kid, but without the shame or confusion around being “different”.
After her diary was published, the truth of Opal’s life was brought into question when she began making claims of being the long lost daughter of french royalty. Early research suggests that she was schizophrenic, current theories posit that she had Asperger’s. The scandal around her personality became so inflamed, that she ran to Europe to escape it. She did have further adventures there, including being the guest of the Majaraja. Eventually she wound up in a mental institution. She was given a lobotomy in the 1950s.
When I learned of the lobotomy, I cried. A gentle soul, Opal was never a threat to herself or anyone else. Yet, she was deemed to be so threatening, that they turned her into the walking dead in order to quiet her voice.
In a way, what she experienced as a child was mirrored later in life. She was physically abused for being different and strange. She also experienced great sorrow at the loss of several of her animal friends, a grief that was not understood, and was even ridiculed by the adults in her life.
I wish I had known about Opal when I was younger. I also struggled when our farm animals were slaughtered and endured severe bullying in school for defending caterpillars or crying when my peers crushed a line of marching ants. Unlike Opal, I was given love and support at home, which allowed me to retain health. Still, I would like to have known there was another little girl who related to non-humans as equals, as it could have normalized my experience. Thanks to Heather and Opal, my heart is being repaired now….better late than never.
It will be my great honor and privilege to nurture this kind of intuitive sensibility in my own daughter.
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 stargleams on their leaves. And I have heard the wind ask of them the star-songs the star-gleams did tell in shadows on their leaves. And as the wind did go walking in the field talking to the earth-voices there, I did follow her down the rows. I did have feels of her presence near. And her goings by made ripples on my nightgown Thomas Chatterton Jupiter Zeus (the rat) did cuddle more close up in my arms. And Brave Horatius (the dog) followed after.
You can read the diary of Opal online through the University of Oregon.