Saturday, June 4, 2016

A GIRL OF THE LIMBERLOST

(Note: Am writing this at 3:30 am in Bellingham, WA and the horizon is already visibly light with the coming dawn. Love this time of year so far north.)




Isn't Limberlost the most beautiful word? The Limberlost is a swamp forest in eastern Indiana, which at the time the book A GIRL OF THE LIMBERLOST was written was about 13,000 acres. THE GIRL OF THE LIMBERLOST  and its companion book FRECKLES were written by Gene Stratton Porter (1863-1924), "one of the most popular, successful and prolific authors of her day. Her deep and intense interest in nature led her to write magazine articles and to illustrate them with her photographs. She then turned to novels and also wrote many books on natural history."

Photography in Ms. Stratton Porter's day, shortly after the Civil War, was no easy matter, but required carrying large, awkward camera and tripods, very expensive film stock, and endless patience for focusing and capturing the one great shot.

"Set in the shimmering atmosphere of Indiana's Limberlost swamp, this is the moving story of Elnora Comstock -- courageous, independent and bright -- whom through her teenage years, must confront and overcome enormous odds to achieve success on her own terms.

"Elnora will remind many readers of the fabled Anne of Green Gables. Although not an orphan, as Anne was, Elnora's father died when she was barely three, and her mother, hardworking, bitter and cold, does not seem to appreciate her overwhelming desire to continue her education through high school. Elnora must find a way to pay for her own books and appropriate clothing, and she discovers the solution is in her beloved Limberlost swamp, with its fascinating and beautiful specimens of insect life.

To earn the money she needs for books and clothes, Elnora gathers rare moths in the Limberlost and sells them to collectors. She has grown up by the swamp and knows its every mood and resident. "Early June was rioting in fresh grasses, bright flowers, bird songs and gay-winged creatures of the air...A turtle scrambled from a log and splashed into the water, while a red-wing shouted 'O-Ka-lee' She paused and looked intently at the slime covered quagmire, framed in flower-riot and homed over by sweet-voiced birds. then she gazed at the thing of incomparable beauty clinging to her fingers."

Of course, there is romance, heartbreak, disappointment, dancing, tragedy and a very happy ending.

There is an old black and white movie of THE GIRL OF THE LIMBERLOST free on YouTube.

The book is old fashioned, shockingly modern in its understanding of the environment, and as sweet and innocent as the song of birds. "The Limberlost is life....What I like is the excitement of choosing a path carefully, in the fear that the quagmire may reach out and suck me down; to go into the swamp naked-handed and wrest from it treasures that bring me books and clothing, and I like enough of a fight for things that I always remember how I get them."

This book took me back to my college days of studying environmental science. There was a professor who all of us girls in my all girls school were madly in love with. He'd been a medical doctor, but had given it up to study environmental science. He'd recently married a woman who was an entomologist, which is a person who studies bugs. I'll never forget when they had our class over for brunch and she showed us her specimen cabinet. It was a chest high bureau as wide as your outstretched arms with about fifteen drawers two inches high. As she pulled out each drawer to show us the contents, we were all amazed at the hundreds of beautifully colored and delicately patterned moths displayed in each drawer. The wildly extravagant variety and design of the moths was staggering. That nature could recklessly bestow such complex effort on even these insubstantial creatures, whose life was so fleeting and whose function so minimal, was truly a lesson in the incredible complexity of the web of life for all of us.

But most romantic of all, like Elnora in the book, the professor's new wife also played the violin with great skill. How we envied her. Not only had she found joy in the study of the most humble of God's creatures, but she played the violin, the most romantic of all instruments, which we girls knew was only played well by those with deep and intense heart strings.

If that wasn't enough to set our girlish hearts afire, they told us about their honeymoon hiking the Appalachian trial. They'd timed their honeymoon hike for a section of Georgia in spring so that their progress north kept up with the spring bloom of all the flowering trees for which the Eastern Deciduous forest is famous: magnolias, Mountain Laurel, dogwood, and so many others. The way they described it, it was like camping out in a sensuously fragrant and magical bower of fairy land. To all of us environmental devotees, it was the dream honeymoon.


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