‘A tall stand of orange-flowered jewelweed hummed with bumblebees. I yanked off a handful of the leaves and bent to the job of pickin off the knobbledly red fingers that circled the stem a few inches above ground.
“Emma looked on frog-eyed as I rubbed the jewelweed leaves and red fingers acrost my hands, neck, and face.
“Gettin ready to pick some poison ivy. It don’t never bother me, but I’m takin care jus in case it acts up on me this time.”
Lark is preparing one of the most appropriate acts of revenge in all literature against a slave bounty hunter in Northern Virginia in the 1850s. The poison ivy not only puts a “pox” on the bounty hunter, but proves to be an essential ticket for the Underground Railroad’s escape toward freedom.
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Sharon Lovejoy’s enthralling novel, “Running Out of Night,” is the story of a motherless 12-year-old white girl. Her “pa” and brothers call her “girl.” She knows no other name and is forced to do their bidding as a starving servant.
When “girl” encounters Zenobia, an escaped slave who has seen her own family separated and sold, the two form a bond. The girls then run away together.
Both understand that “girl” has a great advantage in the color of her skin, but share a life of misery. Hearing “girl” mimic the song of a lark, Zenobia names her after the bird.
The pair are pursued by Pa, angry over the loss of “girl’s” labor and eager for a large reward for a runaway slave of child-bearing age. Soon, other bounty hunters join the chase. All of Lark’s and Zenobia’s knowledge of the world of nature help the pair survive.
They are finally given shelter in the abolitionist Quaker community of Waterford. Hidden from prying eyes in the basement and attic, both Zenobia and Lark heal under the care of Auntie Theodate, where they get to know Brightwell, another escaped slave.
Lark discerns that Zenobia, Brightwell and Auntie Theodate are her real family, a circle of friends who love her.
But Pa and the bounty hunters are relentless. Lark hears a terrible struggle in the house from her attic hiding place. When she comes down, she finds her new family missing. She is determined to rescue them.
The novel is set in Northern Virginia near the Maryland border. It’s the South, but the village of Waterford is a real place, proud of its heritage of abolitionism as a key stop in the Underground Railroad. Founded in 1733 by the Quaker Amos Janney, the village thwarted the Confederacy during the Civil War.
Sharon Lovejoy is descended from these Quaker families along the banks of Catoctin Creek. The creek flows into the Potomac and now is receiving attention for its distilleries producing premium whiskey. Her “voices of the Catoctin” are authentic. Her personal knowledge of the local traditions and folklore make Running Out of Night an essential read for those interested in American history.
Sharon is well known for Heart’s Ease, an herb and garden shop she founded in Cambria, as well as best-selling garden, nature and children’s books. Her knowledge of plants and animals is integral to the plot, especially for Lark’s, Zenobia’s and Auntie Theodate’s potions and antidotes.
Incidentally, if you suffer from poison oak, our Western version of poison ivy, you can choose from at least 17 different brands of jewelweed soap and salves on Amazon. It does indeed remove urushiol, the invisible oil from plants that causes the contact dermatitis from poison oak.
Count on Sharon Lovejoy for some terrific insights into human nature and the world around us in this fun read.
Sharon Lovejoy will celebrate the release of Running Out of Night on Nov. 9, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Steynberg Gallery, 1531 Monterey St., San Luis Obispo, 547-0278. The public event is free. All proceeds from book sales will benefit The Dallidet Adobe.