Blogger: Wendy Lawton
Location: Books & Such Central Valley, California Office
Weather: Rain from the remnants of a Pacific hurricane
There is nothing like loving a book or an author and finding a way to make that passion personal.
My mother’s favorite author was the naturalist/novelist Gene Stratton Porter. Mom saved all her books and gave them to me when I turned twelve. Some of the books, like Keeper of the Bees and Michael O’Halloran, we read together. Porter became a favorite of mine as well and I fell in love with her setting, the beautiful Limberlost wetlands of Eastern Indiana. I remember feeling a deep sense of loss to discover that the Limberlost was no more. It had been drained to make arable farmland. During my years of doll designing I created a portrait of Elnora, the Girl of the Limberlost. It was through this doll that I connected with the Friends of the Limberlost and their project of reclamation, Limberlost Swamp Remembered. That began a literary pilgrimage I will treasure forever.
The Friends and I decided I would create a one-of-a-kind doll, The Swamp Angel, also from Girl of the Limberlost and from Freckles, and auction it to help with the reclamation project. I was invited to come to the Limberlost to kick off the project. In the end, the doll raised more than a thousand dollars but for me, the best part was my trip to the Limberlost. I brought my octogenarian mother and we stayed in an Amish bed & breakfast in Berne, Indiana. Each morning we awoke to the clip clop of horse’s hooves as the Amish farmers drove their wives into town to cook and clean for the B & B guests.
My friend, Crystal Miller, joined us for the trip to the Limberlost which made it even more fun. We sidetracked to visit the covered bridges on the way. When we finally stood in the cabin at Limberlost it was if we stepped inside the books we had loved. My mother couldn’t stop smiling to realize we were honored guests that day. I was presented a “Golden Acre of Swamp” and two books—one the beautiful Morning Face, the other a special edition of only 300 copies of the Bird Woman. (For a book collector like me, this is heady stuff I tell you.) Perhaps the most precious of all were the pressed flowers sent to me afterward from the successfully reclaimed Limberlost.
This literary pilgrimage was a rare treat for me. First, it was a never-to-be-forgotten experience I could share with my mother who inspired my love of story. But even more, it allowed me to “own” the setting I had come to love in a small way.
If we are book people, we know that we all somehow personalize the books and the authors we love. You may not have been gifted with an acre of land from your favorite setting, but what book (or author) is undeniably yours? Like Judy Gann, getting to do a book signing in Tacy’s house (from the Betsy, Tacy and Tib books). Or my friend LeAnne who studies C. S. Lewis in his own stomping grounds.
Confession time: Which book is more yours than anyone else’s? Why?
The Lord of the Rings. I read the trilogy (including the Hobbit) four times through before I finished high school. Tolkein’s world felt real to me, and his characters were my friends and heroes… Plus, who doesn’t have a little Gollum within? And who doesn’t long to step into his/her royal glory at the end?
Wendy, your post makes me realize how mighty the written word is; we don’t just write books, we create worlds within our readers’ souls.
Maybe that’s why God wrote a book…
Wendy, I had tears in my eyes as I read this account of your Limberlost pilgrimage. What a treasured memory.
Are you familiar with the book Storybook Travels by Colleen Bates & Susan Latempa? It’s a guidebook to 30 landmarks in children’s literature. I read it and dream…
I need to tell the other children’s librarians in our library system to read the Books & Such blog this week. 🙂
If you don’t have the budget to visit C.S. Lewis’, Dorothy Sayers’, and JRR Tolkein’s stomping grounds in England, you can visit Wheaton College in suburban Chicago.
They have duplicated Lewis’ home, and it houses a collection of Inklings memorabilia, including: the wardrobe that inspired The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and the desk on which Tolkein penned the Lord of the Rings. You can actually sit at the desk and write! You’ll also find the personal ephemera of the various authors (letters, collectibles, rare books). Imagine reading handwritten letters by Lewis or Sayers!
Last time I went, it was free. The collection is called the Marion Wade collection. It used to be housed in the college library. Now, it’s in its own building.
Here’s the website:
Thank you, Wendy. My mom loved Girl of the Limberlost, too. She is with the Lord now or I would be planning a pilgrimage with her.
What a beautiful story! I’m so happy to hear that you visited and enjoyed Limberlost. Isn’t it so much fun to share those experiences with friends and family? My husband took me to the Gene Stratton Porter cabin on Sylan Lake on one of our first dates. Fifteen years later we still try to visit as least once each summer, sharing it with our three children.
This may not answer the day’s question, exactly, but while my husband was stationed in Germany, we lived about 3 miles from the ruins of the castle that inspired the story of Rapunzel. It’s in a tiny village called Bruch. I was enchanted every time I drove by it, and my daughter, who was about 3 at the time, was inspired to grow her hair “as long as ‘Punzel’s.”
I’m sure that fairytale became real for all of us once we saw the actual setting.
Brian T. Carroll
One of my favorite genres is missionary diaries and memoir, the more obscure and remote the better. I guess we each escape to our own Neverlands. One of my favorites is the diary of Samuel Pollard, an Englishman who served in Yunnan, China, 1880s to 1914. He saw 4,000 Miao (Hmong) come to Christ. I visited China in 2004 and asked some Chinese friends to accompany me to Zhaotong, Pollard’s outpost. They complained that it held nothing of interest to tourists, but we went. Local officials gave us a tour of the hospital, school, church, and seminary founded by Pollard, all still vibrant after half a century of communism. Then they gave me a copy of Pollard’s translation of the New Testament, now rendered obsolete by a new alphabet. I was not allowed into the adobe building where Pollard had lived and worked, but only because they feared the building was close to collapse. A few hours after we left, a major earthquake left 120,000 homeless in Zhaotong. I may have visited Pollard’s headquarters on the last day it stood. Or seen another way, God may have left the building upright just long enough for me to stand beside it and picture the events in Pollard’s diary. Once I’d seen it, God let it return to the dust from which it had come.
Brian, I love your story. I too have connected deeply with some who had died even before I was born.
Confession: I always secretly believed that G. K. Chesterton was an uncle of sorts. He made me laugh and I always thought we would have had such great family gatherings.
Heaven will be such fun when we can connect outside of the constraints of time and place.
Debbie Fuller Thomas
I must admit that the Lord of the Rings is my choice. After I found them in the 70’s, I read them through, over the course of several years, six times. Then I began the Fellowship of the Ring again every September for awhile, just to recapture the autumn flavor of the fellowship starting out again. Some characters you never want to let go.
But when I was a child, I fell in love with Blue Willow by Doris Gates. I was pleasantly surprised as an adult when I found myself living in the setting of the book. It was so unique to me, having grown up on the east coast. It was just how I’d imagined it.
Debbie, Blue Willow was a favorite of mine as well. So few readers know this treasure. Don’t you think (especially these times) it’s a must read?
Crystal Laine Miller
I loved this post because it brings all sorts of good memories to mind–my mom (who also loved Gene Stratton Porter and introduced her books to me,) stomping around in the Hoosier wetlands in my own backyard, memories of visiting Limberlost with great people! 🙂
I loved seeing what inspired GSP because these things inspire me, too. Everything she writes about is familiar to me.
I would love to see PEI and the place that inspired the Anne of Green Gables stories, too. She paints such wonderful pictures in my mind, I know going there would be like deja vu.
I love your stories about the Limberlost trip since I’m a Hoosier and have a fascination with Gene Stratton Porter.
I kind of did an author trip in reverse. I became a fan of an author after visiting their home. Years ago, my husband and I took a trip to the Biltmore. On our way home, we stumbled onto a sign that pointed to Carl Sandburg’s home in Flat Rock, North Carolina and decided to stop in.
Being in the home and on the property of he and his wife was so inspirational. His home had many windows overlooking a country view with the goats she grew (as I remember). There were books everywhere, filling bookshelves, stacked on tables, on the floor. It was wonderful to walk among all those books and it wasn’t a museum but felt like things had been left the way he had used them and he would return any minute.
My mom also appears to have loved A Girl of the Limberlost. She owned a 1909 edition in reasonably good condition (some wear on the binding, and some separation inside). My mom passed away recently and we have wondered whether we should be making this book available to collectors, but aren’t sure where to start. Any advice is welcome.