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Southwest Book Review: 'The Journal of Sedona Schnebly' by Lisa Schnebly Heidinger

If you’ve got a reader on your holiday list—including yourself—and you want to go with something local, you might consider the recently released “Journal of Sedona Schnebly.” Told by Schnebly’s great granddaughter, Lisa Schnebly Heidinger, the journal recounts the pioneering family’s arrival in Arizona Territory in 1901. The story chronicles life in Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona and Slide Rock before they became tourist destinations. In KNAU’s latest Southwest Book Review, Mary Sojourner says it will make you fall in love all over again with the beauty of northern Arizona. 

Lisa Schnebly Heidinger ends this remarkable western story of a remarkable western woman with these words: “There’s facts, and there’s truth … and I hope, in combining them both, that this book answers the ancient, universal human request, ‘Tell me a story.’” In writing her historical and beautifully imagined memoir about her great grandmother, Sedona Schnebly, Heidinger has succeeded.

I read this book not just as a woman in love with our area, but as a sister discovering another sister. Sedona Arabella Miller Schnebly stepped down off the wagon that had carried her to her new home in Oak Creek Canyon in early October, 1901. There was no house. There was a tent, and trees and bushes she couldn’t name. There were red canyon walls rising around a creek rippling over rocks and pebbles. And there were her children, Tad and Pearl at her side.

Her husband, Carl, pointed out where the corrals would be, and the orchards, garden and outbuildings. Sedona wrote in her journal that she felt like landed gentry—not with puffed-up pride, but with a humble amazement that would become one of the strongest qualities of her personality—even when the local post office was named “Sedona.”

The journal follows the hard-working and ever-curious homesteader from her childhood in Gorin, Missouri, through her marriage to T.C. (Carl) Schnebly, to their immigration to Oak Creek Canyon, their return to Gorin, re-settlement to Boyero, Colorado, and final return to Oak Creek Canyon. As I read, I felt that I was having a cup of coffee with Sedona as she told me of her travels; of learning to homestead; of the death of Pearl, her beloved little daughter; of her bouts of sorrow and discouragement; of her children’s lives; and of learning about the cancer that would end her life.

I saw familiar places with eyes newly opened by knowing their history: Grasshopper Point, Schnebly Hill Road, Old Munds Highway, Slide Rock. And I longed to be Sedona’s friend in her times, to sit in her quiet kitchen and walk down to the creek and be in a century long before 89A became a Manhattan rush hour. We would tell each other the challenges and frustrations of being women in a world that insufficiently valued our gender. She would speak of her respect for the native residents, for the earth that fed her family and held them in beauty—and for her tender, wry and generous love for her husband.

If you love this place in which we live, “The Journal of Sedona Schnebly” will grant you passage into the past, and remind you of the remarkable people who settled here long before most of us did. Lisa Schnebly Heidinger has written the perfect story not just for those of us who live here, but as a living history for our distant friends and relatives who are curious about our desert home.

Mary Sojourner is the author of three novels: Sisters of the Dream Northland Publishers, 1989; Going Through Ghosts, University of Nevada Press, 2010 and 29, Torrey House Press, 2014; the short story collection, Delicate, Nevermore Press, 2001 and Scribner, 2004; essay collection, Bonelight: ruin and grace in the New Southwest University of Nevada Press, 2002 and 2004; memoir, Solace: rituals of loss and desire, Scribner, 2004; and memoir/self-help guide, She Bets Her Life, Seal Press, 2010. She has been a ten-year NPR commentator and now reviews books for KNAU’s Southwest Book Reviews. She’s the author of op eds and columns for High Country News, Yoga Journal, Writers on the Range, Matador Network and dozens of other publications. She was chosen as a Distinguished Writer in Residence in 2007 by the Virginia C. Piper Center for Creative Writing, ASU.
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