Commonplace Connections

As I read books, I make notes of passages to copy in my Commonplace book. When the book is finished I add it to my stack of books that are waiting for me to transfer notated quotes into my Commonplace. When I sit down to the joyful task of copying those quotes, I choose which book by what mood I am in at the moment. I wax and wane the habit of adding to my Commonplace. The habit swings from regular daily entries, to lucky-if-I-get-to-it-this-month. This is not the most efficient system, but it keeps my commonplace non-stressful. I am happiest when maintaining a daily habit of Commonplace Keeping. 

When I have let the habit slide, often the catalyst for rebooting the daily habit is when I notice connections in the books I am reading. This happens quite frequently when I am reading deeply and widely. I usually have more than one book ‘going’ at a time, but reading volume alone doesn’t always mean connections will happen. I still need reading mass. An easy rule of thumb for achieving deep reading is engaging in the powerful trifecta advised by Charlotte Mason: “a stiff book, a moderately easy book, and a novel”. Three simultaneous or back to back fluff reads, may help me have a restful night’s sleep, but are not going to get my brain juices flowing or get my heart pumping excitedly. 

To achieve the most fruitful reading, I also need another dimension: mental investment. Sadly, I am capable of reading without engagement. I connect best with books when narrating, orally or written, or reading in community, and reading with enough habit of attention to have pencil ready for marginal notations.

Recently, I noticed a connection from two books that made my heart sing merrily. No two people will notice the same connections in their reading, even if reading the same books at the same time at the same speed. Reading is personal. And every person is unique. 

Hand embroidered table scarf from The Widow’s Friend ministry, and Record journal for my Commonplace.

I choose known and unknown books to rescue from the thrift store, The Singing Creek Where the Willows Grow was almost left behind. I wasn’t sure if it was fiction or non-fiction. I had never heard of Opal Whiteley, but Mr. Hoff was an author on my reading radar because of Pooh and Piglet. I barely had time to skim before deciding, and now delighted I took the chance. This book is a reprint of a nature diary written by a six-year-old, first published in 1920. The beginning of the book contains persuasive writing on the credibility of the diary, with biographical details of the author’s life. Soon after publication, for selfish reasons of their own, Opal’s family and others discredited the diary’s authenticity. After reading the defense, I lean toward believing in the truthfulness of the diary. She lived with undiagnosed, untreated schizophrenia, and the story of her life as a whole is melancholy, her later years tragic. Yet her connection with nature was innocently beautiful, and brimmed with unwavering Faith. I found myself quite moved by some of her entries, and also able to relate to the fervid connection to God’s Creation. Young Opal hears the many varied voices of nature speaking to her, the audible and silent voices. And she “feels the feels” that nature feels.

I have many quotes to add to my Commonplace from her diary. Opal Whitley is a naturalist worth quoting. Here is a small descriptive portion about Opal from her biographer and personal literary champion, Benjamin Hoff: “The haunting quality of her writing, it seems to me, is its unique intensity of vision. Opal Whiteley did not merely care for the world; she was in love with it. It told her many of its secrets, and she did her best to pass them on to others. She was able not only to understand, but to communicate that understanding, with a spiritual and emotional power unequal, in my opinion, by any other American Writer.” 

“As I did come back through the near woods, I did stop by some grand fir trees to pray. When one does look looks up at the grand trees growing up almost to the sky, one does alway have longings to pray.”

Opal Whitely

“Then I nod unto the willows, and they nod unto me. They wave their arms, and I wave mine. They wiggle their toes in the water a bit, and I do so, too. And every time we wiggle out toes, we do drink into our souls the song of the brook— the glad song it is alway singing. And the joy-song does sing on in our hearts.”

Opal Whiteley

As a woman endeavoring to live a Charlotte Mason lifestyle, post homeschooling, I have been craving community connections with like minded women. From its debut, I have been considering joining Leah Boden’s Collective. When I found out from a friend that the next book club book choice was one of my dearly beloved, The Keeper of the Bees by Gene Stratton Porter, I didn’t blink again and joined immediately. To catch up my re-read in time to join in on the final discussion, I began listening on Audible. Only a few chapters in, and that zap of connection tingled in my brain as I listened. Oh, what an exciting moment! Two oh so different books giving me the same beautiful idea and starting my mind and heart to ponder deep emotional and spiritual thoughts. 

With Opal, it was not one particular quote that sparked connections, it was the whole substance of her diary. As I listened to these thoughts of Jamie MacFarlane, I thought of Opal’s relationship with trees. 

“He had meant to be a tree man. Always he had loved the woods, the fields, the flowers: but to him a tree had been a living thing, a thing with feelings, a thing with feet in the earth and a head in the sky and widely reaching arms of beneficence that gave either shade or fruit or the pleasure of flowers for the benefit of the world.”

Jamie MacFarlane (Keeper of the Bees by Gene Stratton Porter)

I began to ponder my own relationship with trees. There is a peace that settles over my heart and mind, no matter how troubled and burdened by this world, when I take time to be still in nature. To commune with nature. I believe God speaks to us through his Creation if we allow. When I am outside and “considering the lilies” there is restoration in my soul, and the presence of the Holy Spirit surrounds me. I believe that God would teach us much of His truths through nature study, if we are open to the possibility. The flowers, birds, insects, the trees.. they are alive, nature is life. And I believe they have voice. And that their voice is one of Worship. 

 “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

Luke 19:40

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