Monday, April 15, 2013

Journal of an Understanding Heart

     Her backstory intrigues me. The innocence and beauty of her childhood diary haunt me each time that I read it.

     While I claim in jest to be related to Santa Claus, her claim to be the illegitimate daughter of Prince Henri Orleans of France bears too many inexplicable coincidences to be tossed heedlessly aside. In the controversy that arises like a dust devil around her history and sometimes threatens to smother its spirit, there is no disputing her genius. While the veil of inauthenticity shrouds her claims of a heredity that cannot be ascertained because the veil of death shrouds the faces of all those who know the truth, there is no hiding the truth in the transcending beauty of her simple observations.

Opal Whiteley

Today the grandpa dug potatoes in the field.
I followed along after.
I picked them up and piled them in piles.
Some of them were very plump.
And all the time I was picking up potatoes
I did have conversations with them.
To some potatoes I did tell about
my hospital in the near woods
and all the little folk in it
and how much prayers and songs
and mentholatum helps them to have well feels.

To other potatoes I did talk about my friends—
how the crow, Lars Porsena,
does have a fondness for collecting things,
how Aphrodite, the mother pig has a fondness
for chocolate creams,
how my dear pig, Peter Paul Rubens, wears a
little bell coming to my cathedral service.

Potatoes are very interesting folks.
I think they must see a lot
of what is going on in the earth.
They have so many eyes.
Too, I did have thinks
of all their growing days
there in the ground,
and all the things they did hear.

And after, I did count the eyes
that every potato did have,
and their numbers were in blessings.

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.

     At 5 to 6 years old, Opal wrote these words with crayon on paper bags, wrapping paper and the backs of envelopes, all that was available to her in the Oregon lumber camps in which she lived. She was a self-taught naturalist, geologist and poet…and perhaps, she was even a princess.

     If you haven’t already done so, I hope you will read Opal, The Journal of an Understanding Heart. And I hope you will love it as I do.


  1. I've always been a sucker for stories of lost princesses such as Anastasia. I've never heard of Opal or her book and it's hard to imagine a girl as young as she was writing so beautifully of potatoes and pigs and mentholat__. (spell check won't let me keep the "um" in that last word, but my grandfather thought it healed every ill,)

  2. I have never heard of her until I read this. I will have to look her up. Her words make pictures in my mind, and I could read so many more of them.