The Big Elf tells this story…
Everyone has a dream or a vision. In Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner hears a voice that tells him, “If you build it, they will come.” He sees a baseball diamond. In 2009, while wandering through the woods behind our house, I heard that voice, too. And I saw a treehouse.
I had been letting this dream bubble in my subconscious. For years. Many years. I wanted to have a tree house built in the midst of the beautiful trees surrounding our home.
My goal was to build that tree house so our grandchildren could always carry great memories of visiting us in The Buckeye State with them into adulthood.
All grandparents hope their grandchildren will want to spend time with them as often as possible. But that becomes difficult when those grandchildren live far away. Sadly, Ohio was 1,000 miles away from some of those precious grandchildren. What could possibly give them a reason to want to visit us frequently? Especially since three grandsons lived in Orlando (FL), the children’s entertainment capital of the world? How could the Midwest compete with Walt Disney and the myriad over-the-top fun things to do in Orlando?
Ohio is not blessed with the beautiful mountains of Colorado or the oceans of the California coast, but it is blessed nonetheless. I had wanted for years to take advantage of Ohio’s gifts and construct a tree house in the midst of the beauty in our yard. And now that our grandchildren were old enough to actually spend time in Ohio without their parents, it was time for the tree house to be built. And so, it was. I went full steam ahead with the tree house construction. I knew that actual human university studies had proven that PLAY and LAUGHTER were just about as important to our health and well-being as food, clothing and shelter. Imagine that! So I really didn’t even need an excuse to create fun.
I was certain I could dream it up and have it built. And I did. The 3-floor tree house was completed just hours before the arrival of our grandchildren’s visit in July of 2009. Now, it was a matter of bringing it to life. One of the big, adult secrets is this: What magic exists in the world is solely of our own making. I suspected I would have no difficulty with that.
It all fell into place as it was supposed to. There was nothing I had to do at all. Immediately upon their arrival, the boys followed the path into woods. They looked high and low and kept walking until they spotted something in the trees; the tree house that had been created just for them. It had nooks and crannies for hiding, and tables on which to play games. It had peep holes for bird watching and ladders for climbing. From the crow’s nest, they could see over the big house and almost touch the sky. It was a spectacular moment.
William Wadsworth said, “Come forth into the light of things. Let nature be your guide.” And it was! This surely would have made my mother happy. God and nature were her guides and the tree house was dedicated to her memory.
Something very exciting and special happened in that summer of 2009.On the first night of the boy’s trip to Ohio an elf appeared in the tree house. And to the boys’ everlasting surprise, elves appeared every single day thereafter, leaving a note and a small surprise. And that was the beginning of it all. The friendship between the children and the elves was cemented. It was George Washington Carver who said, “If you love it enough, anything will talk to you.” Imagine the attitudes and accompanying faces when children thought they heard or saw the elves! Some say it may have been nothing more than an imaginary voice in the wind, but they heard it and so did I. And let’s just say, there has been a lot of tree house conversation between humans and elves since that hot, July day.
Now it came to pass that the boys quickly discovered the elves had waited a long time for their arrival. Maybe decades. Maybe centuries. Who knows? But how wonderful it is when someone picks us to love. Bright and early each and every morning, the boys raced out to the tree house to find notes and surprises from their wee forest friends. The boys left them notes and surprises back.
The very first note from the elves was left on July 12, 2009. It read like this:
July 12, 2009
Welcome to Ohio. And welcome to the tree house in The One & Only Forest. [Which we later discovered was what the elves named the woods behind our home.] We have waited a long time for human friends to come play with us. We had so much fun yesterday listening to you and your friends laughing and playing in the tree house. We know your names and what you like to play…and the projects you do together. It is especially fun to watch you climb high up to the crows nest. We love to climb all the way to the top ourselves. We will enjoy watching you each day as you have fun in the forest and the tree house. We do so hope you will want to be our friends.
Love from your woodland elves at the tree house
And the notes have continued for over 5 years. They have been saved in what the boys refer to as their “Ohio Books.” The boys revisit their Ohio journals frequently. Each summer, the grandchildren wanted to stay longer and longer. 2013 found the boys staying most of the summer. They even made rather elaborate elf houses for their small friends, so the elves could be more comfortable. The journal of extraordinary, daily visits from the elves led to the next phase of the story of the woodland elves. We learned some of life’s most valuable lessons while playing in the woods. No one carried any problems with them to the treehouse. It was a place of joy.
Through the years, there have been momentary elf sightings and on the occasion of a full moon, even the elves’ homes have been made visible by the light of the moon shadows, only to disappear by the morning’s light. Whether other humans could see the elves made no difference. They were there!
At the beginning of the summer of 2011, something unexpected happened. One of our grandsons became critically ill and was hospitalized for a long period of time. After what I am certain was Divine Intervention, he was finally released from the Arnold Palmer Children’s hospital in Orlando. His parents were so overcome with joy at his recovery that they told him he could do ANYTHING he wanted. By which I mean anything. Included in the list of grand possibilities was a Disney cruise (and he could take friends). All he had to do was name it. And guess what Casey wanted to do? My heart swelled more than words can say when Casey’s immediate response was that he wanted to come to Ohio to be with Gigi and Pops and The Woodland Elves… Can you just imagine? Jackpot!
We all have secret places we love to go to and I had found the secret place where our grandchildren loved to go. There was real magic in the treehouse. It had little to do with the structure itself. It was a great place for the adults to get away from their cell phones and shrug off responsibilities, just following the children into the woods as they pretended and created and played and enjoyed. We could let go of our angst, our agendas, and ourselves for whatever time we allowed. The lessons in the treehouse were several and varied. It was there we discovered our God-given right to enjoy the overwhelming spiritual power of play. It restored our souls by playing like big, giant children.
I took a leap of faith and believed the elves are there somewhere amidst the trees. My good friend, Russ, suggested we hide a mini-recorder in the woods to see if we could capture the sound of the elves. We did even better than that. We captured (and recorded) a chorus of spontaneous squeals that came from the woods. Then came the sounds of the elves laughing and singing. Imagine that! If you were willing to adjust your expectations of the forest just a tad, you could see it and hear it.
The little voice that sings in my head in three-part harmony convinced me to follow Russ’ advice. We added our own voices to theirs so the elves would know that we supported and encouraged hearing their continued joyful sounds from the forest. Music absolutely does influence people. The elves themselves had unknowingly given us the theme song of The Woodland Elves. We just kept right on going.
I sprawled out in the grass by the tree house with glorious abandon. My brain danced with glee at the thought of what was happening.
Casey heard the voices of the elves that summer and went over the edge with enthusiasm. That prompted us to then go right on over the edge with him. When the grandkids asked something about the elves that I had no idea how to answer, I just respond by humming…one long, continuous hum that they could interpret any way they liked.
The songs led me to writing a book about our experiences with the woodland elves. The story itself is loosely based on fact. I did have that three-floor tree house built. The first grandchild to step foot in it actually did climb right out of the crow’s nest and continue straight on up the branches of the old hemlock tree (it was Fritz in the story, Parker in real life. Luckily he did not fall from that height as he did in the book). We still do have a cat named Coco. We did discover a very tiny, crashed cart with a harness by the side of a tree. And the elves truly did help return a sick child to a state of laughter and joy. But after writing the story, I knew it needed vivid illustrations to help bring the story to life. Jay Johnston, another good and talented friend, had already made a national name for himself. His paintings were always rich with detail but here was his opportunity to illustrate, which was his passion. It was a win/win/win situation for everyone involved. The elves, the creators, and the children who would, hopefully, benefit someday.
Presently, the second book began to evolve, The Parade of Gnomes Homes. It was not long after that book began that gnome home sightings were evidenced throughout Marion County. And so the story continues. Where it will all lead, we don’t know.
We all have the ability to bestow super powers on people. I felt like we were standing on a magic pond and we wanted to invite everyone to find it and join us there. I chirped merrily down the wooded path, knowing what I knew to be true and wondrous. I felt as cool as a mountain meadow, eager to share our new-found knowledge of the woods.
And so, dear friends, that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it!
For the past 40 years, I have had a well-known and expressed “mission statement” of my life. Why am I here? What is my purpose on this earth? I had this mission statement hung in my classroom for all of the years that I taught children. It hangs in our house still today. It is on my stationery. It ends my e-mails. It is the motivation behind most (sadly, not all) of the choices that I make. I will end the story of the woodland elves with it, as it is what the story of the discovery of the woodland elves is truly all about. Simply put, it is this: Pass the Joy of Life Around!