A Tendering in the Storm
This book continues the story begun in A Clearing in the Wild. Both novels are based on the true story of the utopian community founded by William Keil in Bethel, Missouri, in 1844. Now it’s 1856, and Emma Giesy has convinced her husband, Christian, to settle in the Willapa Bay area in Washington territory with a few others from the Bethel community. They had traveled to Washington to find a new site for the community, but the site they chose was rejected by Keil, who preferred a location in Oregon. Emma is different than many of her fellow women – she is headstrong, opinionated, and questions the value of communal living. She is happy to be living apart from the community and in particular, to be away from the authoritarian Keil. She is determined to make a success of their homestead and works alongside her husband enthusiastically. Emma is a capable person and enjoys learning new skills from the Indian women in the area, such as farming oysters.
Tragedy strikes when Emma’s husband dies suddenly in a boating accident, leaving her a widow with two small children and another on the way. Emma wants what’s best for her children, but her fierce independence causes her to reject help from almost every quarter: her in-laws, brother, and neighbors. She loses her faith and makes some poor choices as she struggles to take care of her children and survive in the wilderness. Ultimately, her independence is tempered, and she learns how to receive as well as to give.
Kirkpatrick does an excellent job describing the challenges and rewards of settling a new area. If you’re like me and find the topic of 19th century utopian communities fascinating, you’ll like Emma’s story.