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The Mysterious and Beautiful Genius of Opal Whitely; Lessons from Her Childhood Diary Part 1 of 2

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posted on Feb, 25 2017 @ 05:56 PM
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It is a terrible truth that this world (in particular, the people who inhabit it) has a way of destroying or dimming some of its brightest spirits and minds. Genius, innovation, and creativity are isolating qualities that are generally misunderstood until recognized in retrospect. So is the case of Opal Irene Whiteley, born on December 11, 1897 in Washington, and relocated to Walden, Oregon, where she was raised in a logging community. (I learned all of the following information by reading The Singing Creek Where Willows Grow: The Rediscovered Diary of Opal Whiteley.)

Opal was a sensational, captivating child and young lady who charmed and impressed adults, elders, and children alike with her enthusiastic and deep knowledge of the natural world. The following is the story of her adventures; her desire to share her reverential love of nature with those around her, her short-lived but sweeping success as a best selling author, her subsequent downfall and ruin by detractors and the media, and her tragic spiral into detached isolation/mental illness.

This is a picture of Opal Whiteley at about 5 years old:



Opal fell in love early with the natural beauty of the Oregon woods, and eagerly began studying, collecting, listening to and learning from, caring for, carrying around, and naming the animals and flora in the nearby fields and woods.

She was an avid reader, writer (from the age of 3), and spoke like an adult by the time she was 6. She was the youngest child in her community to attend school, where she excelled, and there the teachers and classmates remember her bright eyes, humble spirit, small size, dreamy reveries, and observant, questioning nature. When she was 6, Opal began recording a diary. She wrote it with crayons and on various scraps of paper a neighbor provided.

In her wonderful diary is a cast of 96 people, farm animals, pets, and trees, with names such as Thomas Chatterton Jupiter Zeus (a wood rat she carried around in pockets she fashioned), Felix Mendelssohn, a mouse who loved to travel tucked under her curls, Lars Porsena of Clusium, “that very wise crow” who would steal thimbles from Opal’s home which Opal would later find in a hole in a nearby fir, and Brave Horatius, “such a lovely dog.” Friends have memories of birds and butterflies landing on her and of her menagerie, including a dog and pigs, following her around to school and through the woods.

Opal loved attending church where she was said to have memorized the Bible, cover to cover, at a very young age, but her true connection with God came from being in, admiring, loving and listening to God’s creation. She frequented a clearing in the woods which she called her cathedral, where she would later take other children to either sit and listen to the woods in silence or to sometimes listen to a lecture she delivered. One woman recalls her time with Opal:
“It was pure joy to be with Opal. I have never forgotten my summers with her. To her I owe my love of nature. Through her I learned to see beauty in everything.” Another recalls lectures about resurrection; likening plants dying, seeds falling into earth and then being reborn to our own upcoming rebirth, and similar analogies and stories which left her listeners enrapt. Opal’s belief was that God was everywhere: “God made the out-of-doors. You learn to love Him when you understand his handiwork and His creatures.”
Opal, center, age 9 or 10:



Opal was always eager to share her discoveries with others, and had a strong desire to write a book about the inhabitants of the woods and fields, the brooks and trees and stars (all of whom had a different spirit to Opal). To this end, she was constantly studying, exploring, collecting samples of and learning from her environment. She had meticulous methods for collecting, recording and storing information.

When Opal was 13, she began teaching classes out of a two room structure- all the walls were covered in the specimens she had collected and stored. Opal knew the scientific names in English and Latin for each specimen, as well as their physical characteristics, and would teach these as well as each creature’s personality and what one could learn from studying it. Children were spellbound by her lectures.

When Opal was 13, two friends remember her running to them in tears, devastated that her younger sister had ripped her diary to shreds. She saved the scraps and stored them in a friend’s house for 7 years. It was this diary that Opal sent for and had published, the same diary which made her the most talked about author of her day, at first glowingly and then as one accused of fraud. I will get back to this portion presently..

Continued below:
edit on 25-2-2017 by zosimov because: (no reason given)




posted on Feb, 25 2017 @ 05:59 PM
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a reply to: zosimov

When Opal was 17, the secretary for the Christian Endeavor Society met her and was enamored with her ways of interacting with the kids and elderly of her community through her lectures and outreach. She was invited to their state convention where she captivated her audience and earned a position as the Superintendent of the Junior Christian Endeavor Society. She excelled in this role by all accounts, including gaining over 3,000 members in the course of 2 years.

She visited the University of Oregon and astounded the professors, who were amazed at this self-taught wisp of a girl whose knowledge depth and width exceeded their best scholars. One professor was quoted wondering if Opal’s was “the greatest mind that Oregon ever produced.”
Another professor, Jean Morris Ellis, whose lectures on mental power Opal attended, later confessed to being haunted by Opal's genius.
She was given a small scholarship and granted admission to the college. It is said that Opal borrowed more books from the library than anyone in the history of the school. In any case, she was remembered as being bright, shy and feminine.. At times perched in trees on campus reading books, or dashing out of class in pursuit of a butterfly, singing hymns to earthworms. In short, she was different but charming, had a special way of interacting with the world-- as if she were inhaling life itself.

Opal (left) with Sister Pearl, age 17:



The classroom, however, was not where Opal learned best. The world itself was Opal's most beloved teacher, and books made up for all that the earth could not say, and so while Opal excelled in certain classes, the death of her mother and great-grandfather helped propel her grades to drop enough for her to lose her scholarship. She raised money for school by giving lectures about nature, many of which would later be recorded into Opal's first literary foray The Fairyland Around Us.

A Flyer for Opal's Lecture:



In Opal's second year of college she founded the Phusis Philoi ("Nature Lovers") Club for young women in science, art, and music. Her plan was that members would become teachers in their home community, using certain principles Opal found essential. She planned to build a children's museum of science and nature, built by and for children. She left school for LA in order to earn money to finance her educational plans. There she had several headshots taken and tried (unsuccessfully) to get a part in Hollywood movies. She raised $9,400 for her children's nature book The Fairyland Around Us, in which she reworked previous lectures, past writing, research, observations, diary passages, illustrations and photos into a manuscript by working around the clock for 3 months straight. Here is an excerpt from her writing:



To the Birds belongs the morning hour; but to us, to you and me, and some of our little brothers of the field and forest, this [twilight] hour begins. It is the hour that we think about things that are yet to be. We dream and we listen--listen to the lullaby songs of the trees, to the twilight chorus of the Frogs, to the Vesper Sparrow, to all Mother Nature's evening music we listen and we dream--and in the midst of our dreaming stop to ask Mother or Father about things, where things come from and what they are here for. And some things seem so far away, and some things seem so near in this the twilight hour.



Whew, been writing for hours! Please stay tuned for Part 2 in which I will discuss Opal's possible schizoprenia, her interesting beliefs about having been born to different parents than those who raised her (her Angel Mother and Father) and delivered to her adoptive parents after their daughter died, her childhood diary and its sensational reception, the relentless way in which her credibility was attacked (critics could not believe the book could have been written by a child), her travels to England and India, and her later downward spiral and life in a mental facility in England, where she grew old and passed away in obscurity.

Thank you so much for reading thus far. Hope you enjoy Opal's story as much as I have. Please keep an eye out for Part 2 of this series.. which is where the mystery and beauty of Opal's story deepens.
edit on 25-2-2017 by zosimov because: (no reason given)



posted on Feb, 25 2017 @ 06:06 PM
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Fascinating!!!!!! Thank you so much for sharing!




posted on Feb, 25 2017 @ 06:11 PM
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a reply to: Night Star

Thank you Night Star! I had no idea there was a film out.. thanks for sharing as well!


I highly recommend the book, which includs Opal's full diary, which I will quote in my next post about Opal. It's simply bewitching, and will make you fall back in love with the world (that is, only if you have fallen out).
edit on 25-2-2017 by zosimov because: (no reason given)



posted on Feb, 25 2017 @ 06:24 PM
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a reply to: zosimov


It sounds amazing! I didn't know anything about this woman until your thread popped up and I ran off to youtube to see what I could find.



posted on Feb, 25 2017 @ 06:32 PM
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a reply to: Night Star

lol, awesome! Just the reaction I had when I was given this amazing little book! (Although I'm pretty sure it was before Youtube had taken off
)



posted on Feb, 25 2017 @ 11:39 PM
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originally posted by: zosimov
It is a terrible truth that this world (in particular, the people who inhabit it) has a way of destroying or dimming some of its brightest spirits and minds. Genius, innovation, and creativity are isolating qualities that are generally misunderstood until recognized in retrospect.


This is so true. I've faced so much adversity in life from people of lower intellect who can't stand that other people aren't on their level. My own mother accused me of being schizophrenic once just because she didn't understand the words I used to describe something (this is someone who thinks the sun and moon are the same size because that's how they look in the sky).

As a fellow nature lover, I look forward to reading more about Opal. When I lived in PA, I used to go sit in the woods for hours just listening to the birds and wind and watching the sunlight shine through the trees. I mean that literally, I'd sit there for hours doing that. I'd go out on the deck at night and even have wild raccoons come up to me (and my mother would open the door and start yelling and throwing things at them because "raccoons have rabies"). Unfortunately I decided to move to one of the s***tiest parts of the country for college where I can't experience nature anymore and have felt absolutely dead inside ever since, so I can definitely sympathize with Opal ending up in a mental hospital.



posted on Feb, 26 2017 @ 12:12 AM
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I have always been in awe of nature, even as a child I would sit in the yard and marvel at everything around me, simply enchanted and wonder how it all came to be. I must read this book!



posted on Feb, 26 2017 @ 12:15 AM
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a reply to: trollz

Are there any parks nearby where you could spend some time? Fill your place with plants and nurture them. It will bring a bit of nature inside for you. Care for small pets, even one beautiful little beta fish can bring joy.



posted on Feb, 26 2017 @ 12:20 AM
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Being different or blessed in any major way is as much a gift as it is a curse. The pure hatred you get is unbelievable; people take you as a VERY personal threat and make it their life's mission to fight you on and on forever and ever. It is the most horrible crime being you, existing. The fortunate part though is that, if you have a deep and resilient mind, you can handle this crap far better than a normal human being would. Not that it still might not drive you to suicide, depression or madness, but your threshold for it will be far greater.

But I digress.

She was an extraordinarily gifted child and it is hardly surprising that insecure professionals would want to discredit her. People have long argued that Shakespeare was actually a serious philosopher or even a number of people because Shakespeare had not excelled in institutional education as a man of such brilliance was expected to. Likewise, there are rumours still that Mozart's work had been written by his father, a fully educated and respected composer of an older age. I'm sure they'd be saying Gandhi was just a myth if it wasn't for all the photographic and documented evidence to the contrary. He was a lawyer but nothing more, so how could Gandhi have been such an inspired, wise messiah? Institutions hold onto the rather religious-like belief that you must be taught in order to learn. A diploma is proof of your knowledge. I think it hurts the egos and even terrifies some people that someone else can just, naturally, be quite superior to them in many ways. Oh well.

Always we should look up to others who excel ahead of us, in whatever way/s, and learn from them so that we can grow more. Instead of being insecure about what we lack we should take pride in what we can learn. Unless of course, one has zero actual faith in his/her ability to actually grow, that is. I think what most enlightened invidivuals have in common is a passionate curiosity about things, a desire to grow. The thought of not growing, or failing to grow, doesn't even enter into it.

These are my thoughts

edit on 26-2-2017 by LoneCloudHopper2 because: (no reason given)



posted on Feb, 26 2017 @ 12:33 AM
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a reply to: trollz

I always loved nature too, always felt drawn to it spiritually. There is a healing power to it, but also inspiration and just that wonderful sense of natural spirit order (which is one way to put it, but a beautiful collective consciousness between all living things, if that makes sense.) In nature it is as if there is a collective breath which all life takes together. Like every living thing is another wave in a majestic current, flowing, flowing. This 'flowing,' feeling and being of it, is what heals and inspires; it soothes you while also pushing you to excel at things. There is a simplicity to nature, to simply existing in peaceful acceptance of existing, that shakes away all of your dramatic human world problems and allows you to feel whole again. I would always leave the woods feeling reborn



posted on Feb, 26 2017 @ 12:38 AM
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a reply to: LoneCloudHopper2


Yes, like we are connected and feel in tune with everything around us out in nature.

I just ordered a second hand copy of the book for really cheap!



posted on Feb, 26 2017 @ 12:40 AM
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a reply to: Night Star

Cool. I'm looking for the movie!



posted on Feb, 26 2017 @ 12:50 AM
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Hey there, great comments and I'm so glad you enjoyed reading about this extraordinary girl. Night Star, you're going to love the book!
Trollz, I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts once I get to some of Opal's nature writing (when she was 6-7 yrs old). Maybe you'll find a kindred spirit

LoneCloud, I'm looking forward to seeing the movie as well!

Some interesting comments on the curse of genius.. I definitely agree (though luckily not one I suffer)

Being outstanding in any way is a lonely place- and the cruelty of others make it so much more difficult as you pointed out LoneCloud.

As for being present and connected to nature, the pulse of life which beats in us all, I'm all for it.
I definitely was much more aware of the life around me after reading Opal's work. Hope you all enjoy!
edit on 26-2-2017 by zosimov because: (no reason given)



posted on Feb, 26 2017 @ 12:55 AM
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a reply to: zosimov

Thanks for bringing this to our attention. I'll definitely have to read her book sometime soon

edit on 26-2-2017 by LoneCloudHopper2 because: (no reason given)



posted on Feb, 26 2017 @ 12:58 AM
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a reply to: zosimov

There you are! LOL

I got a second hand copy for 3.81 and free postage in good condition, library edition. I don't know if I'm allowed to mention the site or not, so I wont in case. Once the weather warms up, I plan on reading a lot more.

Thank you so much for making this thread. I shall give a link to this thread in the shed thread where I spend so much time.



posted on Feb, 26 2017 @ 01:04 AM
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originally posted by: Night Star
a reply to: trollz
Are there any parks nearby where you could spend some time? Fill your place with plants and nurture them. It will bring a bit of nature inside for you. Care for small pets, even one beautiful little beta fish can bring joy.



Kindof... A swamp full of alligators. I've been to a few areas around here but I found all of them to be unpleasant. I love nature and all, but the nature down here where I am just gives me a bad feeling, sortof like it has no life force, if that makes sense. The nature here just feels... sick or diseased or something... I don't know how to explain. Everything is surrounded by developments and chain stores and highways. Something like 1/4th of the wild panther population was killed by cars just last year.
I'm a northerner from PA where the closest town had like 200 people. I'm completely at home roaming around the forest. Tropical alligator-infested swamps where it feels like the heat and humidity alone will kill me, not so much.
Thankfully I only have to be here about 1 more year before I can finish my degree and leave back north to my forests and seasons.



posted on Feb, 26 2017 @ 01:06 AM
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a reply to: Night Star

Lol, yep, I'm back

I'm excited to hear what you think when you get around to reading it! I'm just pleased to share this beautiful little spirit with others (though her story is a sad one I must admit). Reading her diary changed my outlook, and certainly gave me a little more of my childhood wonder back.

She is a little magical nature fairy.
Kind of like your avatar, now that I think of it..


Thank you so much for the link. I've read some of the love and gratitude, etc that is passed around in the shed.. lovely.



posted on Feb, 26 2017 @ 01:08 AM
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a reply to: trollz

Alligators? OMG, RUN! LOL
I'm glad you can look forward to eventually returning to PA. I am in Rhode Island.


I know what you mean about the life force. It's like you can just sense these things.


edit on 26-2-2017 by Night Star because: (no reason given)



posted on Feb, 26 2017 @ 01:13 AM
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a reply to: Night Star

Colorado lady here..


The US has some amazing nature.. and so varied. I agree with Trollz that certain places are ill/diseased, while others have a powerful feel to them (including the redwoods nearby where Opal was doing her exploring).

There is beauty in the city too, but one is hard pressed to satisfy one's urge to connect with the natural world.
edit on 26-2-2017 by zosimov because: (no reason given)



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