On the Nightstand: The Singing Creek Where the Willows Grow

When I fantasize about posting regularly to this site, one of the subjects I most frequently consider writing about is the precariously tall stack of books that accumulates regularly on my nightstand.  At any given time, there are usually between three and fifteen books squirreled away there, bustled in on the inspiration of fleeting reading moods.  But every so often, there is one book that I stick to devotedly, dragging it around in my Poppins-esque bag, until it is lamentably dogeared and devoured cover to cover.  These are the books that make me think I should write a post to share them, and this is the kind of book that is good enough to launch a maiden voyage.

I don’t even remember anymore how I first heard about The Singing Creek Where the Willows Grow.  I think it was a random recommendation on Amazon, but if any of you fine folks have read and commented on it already, please let me know so I can give you due credit.  And thank you profusely.

Most of the book is a reprint of a diary from the turn of the last century, written by an unusual girl named Opal Whiteley when she was only six or seven years old.  Anyone with a reverence for the natural world should know this girl.

Opal grew up in a logging community in Oregon, and wrote extensively about her relationship with animals, trees, and the natural elements.  She was remarkably observant and eloquent, and she wrote also about learning special things from her “Angel Mother” and “Angel Father” and how she hears voices in the trees and wind and water.  She also names, or renames, nearly every living thing around her after hilariously erudite and obscure authors, artists, leaders and French landmarks (a bizarre compulsion after my own heart), and almost always comes up with ways to “help” her mother around the house that ultimately get her spanked or put in time out under the bed.  Her expressions, interests (to “go on explores”) and interactions with the natural world remind me a little of my own childhood experiences (my first diary entry at age seven, written in numeric code, was also about little wild animals I was trying to rescue), but there is something extra ghostly and mystical about Opal.  Benjamin Hoff’s touching biography that prefaces the diary honors this spirit as well.  I loved how I started to look at my own surroundings with Opal’s eyes while reading this, and it helped me to recapture some of the wonderment I experience when I feel most in touch with nature.  There is heartbreak in this story as well, and I recommend trying to pick up the 1994 edition if you can find it because the afterword is extremely moving and provides a little more framework for Opal herself.

Please read this book, and dedicate some moments to Opal, her spirits, and “the man who wears grey neckties and is kind to mice.”

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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 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.

I don’t think I’ll print more tonight.  I printed this sitting on the wood-box, where the mamma put me after she spanked me, after I got home with the milk.  Now I think I shall go out the bedroom window and talk to the stars.  They always smile so friendly.

This is a very wonderful world to live in.

–Opal Whiteley (1897-1992)

With Much Love,
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Nightscapes

A few nights ago, I was invited to attend a gathering by my friend’s dead mother.  For weeks, she has been meeting this hoodoo (?) priestess woman in the middle of the night at a dance/yoga studio.  Two a.m. on a Wednesday – the floor of the studio was aged wood.  It was a hot second floor space in the city; the windows were uncovered, but the night outside was completely black.  I stood with a couple of other newcomers just at the threshold, observing.  The woman opened the ritual by slicing furiously at the floor with both hands clutching an invisible blade, then sprinkling a line of dirt, spitting on it, rubbing it in.  All efforts to open the veil just enough, then seal it before too much came in or went out.  Almost outside of my own volition, I found myself first clapping, then participating in the chant that ended in gradually more frenzied dancing.

Afterwards, leaning against the inner wall of the studio room where a small shelf was inset and dimly lit, the woman spoke quietly to me in a sidelong way, revealing short, powerful details without hesitation or ceremony, then told me my name with a sly smile.

In dazzling daylight, I walked with the small group of key members to their designated space in the woods – a white house on an airy hillside.  I observed but stayed clear of the posturing of two women who were vying for position, showing off their more menacing forms in air and water.  I brought thistles and milk, and a human-like dog greeted me in the yard.  I was told to leave roses behind, before we started up the hill to the initiation place.

Other recent dreams marrying magical tools to each other, meeting ghosts in my kitchen and elsewhere, iron charms, wolves, and a frog emerging from our blueberry bush with an exceptionally communicative gaze.

My cold spell is melting, and I feel again the welcome sting behind my eyes.