I have long wanted to write a thank you, especially now that the film is out (and I can thank our creative friends!), and the reason I started this blog. We all need someone to bring us candles, when the world seems to turn off the lights. These candles are hope, kindness, love, any number of things that are difficult to put into words.
First, why I started this blog, why the candle of hope that was and is the Firefly Forest meant so much to me, beyond just being “the watcher”. I started this to share this project with the world, mainly just for friends out of state who wanted to see what I was seeing on my walks. My walks just came to a rather abrupt end, due to two pretty bad injuries I suffered, and to take my beloved Firefly Forest trail with me for out of state surgeries, I also wanted to be able to access it online, to share with my surgeons and physical therapists what I wanted so much to get back to….off crutches!
My journey began with my first move to Kansas, and my parents moving to the top of the hill behind this lovely, wooded trail. I’ve long thought it a magical place. My father passed away at the top of that hill, and when I moved back to this area, this was the place I liked to take my seemingly endless walks, which I loved, walking through blizzards, through intense heat, always happy and cheerful, always healthy and athletic, near to where I felt my Dad’s spirit the most, where he left this world.
Then, I suffered a hip injury, though I wasn’t sure at the time what was quite wrong, and I kept on going. My walks didn’t seem quite right suddenly, my body didn’t seem to want to cooperate in the quite natural action of merely, well, walking. But I was in my forest, I surely could keep my mind off of it….except that I couldn’t. I didn’t know why I was in pain, why my muscles wouldn’t work correctly and was spiraling into feeling quite alone in the world. Always active and healthy, this seemed very off, the doctors unable to diagnose. Labral hip tears are often like this. I later suffered a far worse injury, tied to the hip, a set of injuries, still being sorted out by doctors, few of whom practice in this city, two not even in this region. I kept going as long as I could, keeping up with the Firefly Forest, running on multiple soft tissue and nerve injuries.
Except that one day, when it was still just the hip, I noticed an adorable little house. With a note on it! From a magical, mystical being! While just down the path, there was another tree with a door, another address matching the one who left the note and the bottle at the other house. Fairies (as I referred to them) were alive and inhabiting my favorite place! I was still strong, and still walking twice a day, so I began to change my route to include the area behind Deanna Rose (west of Switzer), and there were more houses! There were also people I saw daily on my walks, people I’d never done more than the traditional head nod and smile to, talking about these doors and houses. Amazed, hopeful, some very protective of any damages, everyone was suddenly talking, the trail didn’t just become home to a project, it suddenly became a community. I had always looked forward to these walks, now I had to go, to see if something new had popped up overnight! When the sun was still shining in my world, these were joyous, shining lights. As things got worse for me, they became candles in an increasingly dark world.
One of these new friends was Robyn and her son Tyler, who always managed to look beautifully (and dutifully) bored by any discussion of these doors and homes. This young man always managed to affect just the perfect, teenaged look of, “Oh no….Mom’s talking about these crazy doors and houses again….” boredom, and is also an amazing person. I don’t even know how much his brother did, though apparently quite a bit, and extend my thanks to him as well. We would discuss the doors and homes, group chats would suddenly just happen on the trail. People took time to get to know each other. I never suspected Robyn and Tyler were the ones behind it all, along with the son I only met once. It seemed like it could’ve been anyone, though it never could’ve just been anyone, but the discussion was always that this gave people hope. I cannot stress enough how much, at that time, I needed some hope.
I still remember the day I took my family to see the west of Switzer side of the project, and the red door had been torn off its hinges, everything strewn about, in poison ivy no less. We picked up a bit, headed up the hill, and within 10 minutes returning to the tree there, most of what was left to be recovered had been. All of those others we’d passed on the trail had done the same, taking time out to try and fix the damage. Every single time there was any damage, or the event depicted in the film of the house being removed by the city temporarily, people would stop and ask each other what had happened. In a community where people run, bike and jog with headphones on, this was not everyday behavior! This was clearly something impacting a lot of lives.
Fast forward a bit, and I was diagnosed with a set of core injuries, including the hip, that involved some rather extensive out of state surgery. I had been contacted by Sharon Liese, who was making a documentary about the Firefly Forest, and got my first return after surgery thanks to her film crew, in a wheelchair they’d managed to get for me. It was like coming home, finally, at a time when I couldn’t have managed the trail on crutches with my surgeon’s restrictions. I got to be part of the Firefly Forest community, The Gnomist film documentary, once again, at a time when loneliness and despair were starting to creep in.
Then it ended. As shown in the film, Robyn and family had to move. Everything but Allie’s Little Owl door was gone, I was still struggling to walk. I scraped up some of the artifacts missed in the nighttime evacuation (yes, I still have them!). I was angry, at first. Angry at the world, angry that this part of my life had vanished, while another had also vanished (my health was getting worse instead of better). I clearly wasn’t getting the message, writ large around me. Despite the fact that I’d started a support group to help others with my injuries, and was working to help them nonstop, I was missing the “Kindness Begins With Me” and it had been replaced by “angry activism begins with me”. No. This was not right. The Firefly Forest didn’t disappear, it never could.
As time passed, I was unable to attend the local premiere of The Gnomist as I was in the hospital, yet again. I was having to face that I had more injuries than first suspected. I have never been the type to give up or give in, and not much the type for accepting things, either. Life and time do not care about your preferences, you have to change and accept, you have to adapt. So, I let the Firefly Forest teach me yet again. I still go there, wrapped in ace bandages and a brace, to walk when I can. I work, as much as possible to help others, and am working towards helping other “average joes” out there with major sports injuries, especially core injuries, particularly sports hernias (core muscle tears). Not for me, I have nerve damage and that’s a bigger problem. But for them. For the spirit of the time I spent there, for the sentence I repeated with Robyn at least half a dozen times, despite only knowing her first name and never meeting her outside of the trail and the film, “this gives people hope“.
People NEED hope, perhaps above all other things, to heal. They need love and kindness. I see Team Little Owl at work, raising awareness about brain cancer, the very thing that took my father’s life, and a cause close to my heart. This brings another candle into the world, held up by those who are suffering but to give others hope, like the candle Robyn and her family held up in the form of the Firefly Forest. I hope now, too. And I hope that many of these candles can be brought into the world, that one woman’s decision to spread happiness over a terrible situation can spread as well. That we can all work to bring a little more to the lives of others. Not stumble around blindly, being anxious, in pain and upset, but moving onward in ways that bring more magic into the lives of as many people as possible.
Most of all, I want to thank Robyn for her ingenuity and strength of character, her dignity and grace, and her brilliant sons. To thank Sharon Liese and her team at Herizon Productions for their kindness and for so poignantly capturing this story and sharing it with the world. To thank the Fishers, for sharing their story and creating a foundation to help others, spreading awareness for pediatric brain cancer. To the many others I met on the trail, so many who shared their own tales of healing and hope with me, all from this ingenious project. That, that goes to Robyn, the woman I’ve referred to as “the creator” along with her son. Robyn, you brought all of this out, you changed lives forever. Thank you, because we all can never thank you enough.