Tuesday, September 8, 2020

TRAIL BLAZE BETTY -- by Jane Kelley

A drawing by a student from St. Mary's in Richmond Center, WI.

Many people's favorite character in my middle-grade novel Nature Girl is a cranky old lady with gnarly legs, shorts with too many pockets, and a goofy orange sun hat. 

Why do readers of all ages love Trail Blaze Betty? 

It's true, she is admirable. She's hiked the Appalachian Trail many times. And even though those days are over, she still takes care of a section of the Trail, and provides brownies and encouragement for hungry hikers. 

She does get to shout at some juvenile delinquents. "Don't tell me who to yell at. I yell at anybody I want. Especially people who throw trash everywhere and don't respect the Trail or themselves." 

Trail Blaze Betty's appeal is about more than the brownies and the outspokenness. She serves as a guardian angel. When she meets Megan, she realizes that Megan has embarked upon a dangerous journey. Most adults would stop Megan. But guardian angels know that it's important for us to keep going. Even when we don't know what we're getting into. And we don't have nearly enough food or water or any of the appropriate gear. And we haven't learned the skills. But like a good guardian angel, Trail Blaze Betty follows Megan as she makes that important journey almost all by herself.

Trail Blaze Betty also needs Megan. She has the energy and naïveté that enable her to begin this impractical journey in the first place. If she knew what she was getting into, she wouldn't have attempted it. It is Megan and all the young hikers who will keep the Trail alive. 

I often say that I put Trail Blaze Betty in what would be my first published novel to encourage myself. As we all continue on our creative journeys, we need guardian angels to yell at the people who would throw trash on our trail. To keep an eye out for us when we stray from our path. To provide treats and encouragement. 

I still quote her to myself. The only way to fail is to quit. 

(Of course, it's also possible people like her just for that goofy orange hat.)