Opal Whiteley
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Already interested in the mind's power to influence actual events, Opal attended a series of lectures her first year in college on the "Young Man or Woman too large for their Present Place." The speaker was Jean Morris Ellis, and her subjects concerned character analysis, brain building, hypnotism and telepathy. "Our imagination is the instrument of reality," Opal wrote in her notebook. "By means of it we are brought face-to-face with the past, and by means of it we prophesy the future."

But a double misfortune in early 1917 could not have been prophesied. Lizzie Whiteley died in May, after a prolonged bout with cancer. Her maternal grandfather died the next day. "I do not believe Opal ever quite recovered from the blow," wrote Inez Fortt in 1969. "She was never again active in Junior Endeavor or the church. She very seldom saw her family." (A reaction that has since been attributed to her worsening schizophrenia.)

Living now in a small house on Franklin Boulevard in Eugene, Opal turned her attention fully to nature studies. She supported herself through lectures, charging a ten-cent admission. Using handbills picturing herself in a white dress, with butterflies perched on her head, shoulders and hands, she advertised topics such as "Nearer to the Heart of Nature" and "The Fairyland Around Us" -- which she would later incorporate into a book bearing the latter title. "When she was a little girl, Opal dreamed of someday writing books for children about the inhabitants of the field and forest," writes Hoff in The Singing Creek. "As she grew older, the dream became a driving force."

But it was her move to Los Angeles that brought the next stage into full relief. Before she left Eugene in February 1918, Opal had a set of photographs taken of her in various poses -- including one in an Indian costume and another playing the violin. Mrs. Elizabeth Fox De Cou, then dean of women, recalled that watching Opal on campus with the photographers and props was like watching a movie queen direct publicity shots -- which was precisely Opal's intention. The photos were for a portfolio she took to California, hoping to make a name for herself in the burgeoning movie industry. "Look first for work in films," begins a list of her plans for California, followed by "Study at the studio", "See DeMille" and "Write and see other directors." Lecturing and nature studies are farther down the list.

The movie people, however, were unimpressed. After six weeks of daily trips to the studios and agencies, Opal admitted defeat. But turning again to her lectures, she soon was teaching the children of wealthy Californians about nature. Her lectures became so popular that Opal saw an opportunity to create the book she'd long dreamed of, and set about soliciting funds from the rich and famous. She raised an amazing $9400 on subscription, but made so many changes in the book that the printers demanded more. When she ran out of cash, the plates were destroyed, and Opal was left with a collection of some of the printed sheets. Heartbroken, she then methodically set about pasting in and labeling hundreds of illustrations by hand, working herself -- again -- to exhaustion.

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