Having to Leave: I Thought There Was No Hope Left in the World

(One last picture of this redbud in bloom before I move)

Apologies for taking down my little house (it was near to Antioch, the red roofed one pictures here with the two red doors), we hit some unexpected hardships. In between staggered hip surgeries (arthroscopic joint repair, not replacements), my husband was laid off. I am still here recovering from the final surgery, but emotionally quite torn about having to move, which is quite a tremendous ordeal with this sort of health issue still ongoing. We had to immediately take a job (we were very lucky in that respect!) but it has been difficult having my spouse gone, little help in terms of moving, as well as having to leave my woods. We spent all we had getting me the medical care I required out of state, but I kept my sense of humor and hope, and that’s got to count for something, I mean, the only way I can go is up from here, right?

I’m not the wallow in self pity type, so I made my way today on crutches about 1/4 mile to the door I built for my Dad. I’m so happy people are decorating it, and as always, a kindly jogger walked me back to make sure I was alright. I apparently was wincing a bit! But I was struck, the beauty of the redbuds and the spring flowers, along with the nonstop kindness I meet from those on the trail, especially while everything is so hard here at home right now! Kindness is contagious! Let it be so!

Anyway, I doubt (I’ll see how bad I’m flared up tomorrow) I’ll be able to see the woods much before I move, which has become an impossible task, though we count ourselves lucky in having at least secured a job somewhere. It makes me tear up even thinking of it all, and having to move with so little help….we need a kind word or two. I don’t expect anyone to rush in, but please think a kind thought on our behalf. I’m still surprised that a few efforts to revive the Firefly Forest idea worked and keep growing! Leave me a word of encouragement if you have the time, please send pictures if you can, and all of you out there being so kind and supportive, just keep being yourselves!

 One last note, towards Antioch from the parking lot at 137th, I put in a door for a friend. I can’t take it down, I just can’t. A friend here lost her only child when he was 20 years old. He was a brilliant young man, and her grief was always with me. She asked for just his initials, J.T.F. so if you see the very small yellow door there, take a moment and remember the vibrant life and the joy he still brings to so many. Remember Josh for a moment, and his family too, then know that door is a symbol of love and hope, of healing from enormous grief and hardship, and picture a young man full of life, laughs and music, happy somewhere and no longer suffering.

I miss Josh, I miss my Dad, and I miss walking in my woods. But it all will pass, as long as the kindness of strangers and new friends endures. I’ve felt like a caretaker of that stretch of woods since I first encountered it at 17, and I know it will always be well tended. I will just miss it. I’ve walked it in darkness and never lost my way. It is always dear to me. So, just keep a hobbled trail lover in your thoughts if you could. Be thankful for what you haven’t lost. Think of me and others no longer out there. I need all the positive, well, anything I can get right now! How on earth do you move when you can barely walk? I guess I’ll figure out soon enough! Luckily, a woman who loves The Gnomist (which, let’s be honest, I was basically the comic relief in, it was about the work and stories of others made by a filmmaker here, I just wrote about it and posted pictures here…..until I finally built some things myself for the sake of hope itself) saw my plight, is a realtor and is stepping in to give us some help. Otherwise, it was honestly just a woefully underfunded family in a very bad situation, me still filling glass bottles with messages of hope, love and healing–for everyone but myself.

One of my greatest joys in a year filled with immense hardship truly was being asked by children, “But where will the fairies live now?” (the neighborhood children were truly quite worried….), the building of at least one house (children approved, repurposed from a wine rack), crutching my way to the bench near it and watching the little ones open the doors, hearing parents say, “they must be out right now, maybe we’ll see them tomorrow!” It’s easy to forget, as an adult mired in difficulty, the joy of a child on the lookout for magic, but always a balm to the soul. I got caught so many times doing repairs I could no longer do at night, it sort of stopped being much of a secret.

 Thank you all so much, and if I’m able to rehab a bit before leaving, well there’s no better place to relearn how to walk than my favorite woods. Stop and say hello, if you can,  I’m the short lady in The Gnomist who generally has crutches these days, always the Watcher in The Woods. I’ll otherwise be out here advocating for those with the very poorly understood condition of labral hip tears, the surgery for which often goes awry, is mistaken for total hip replacements, and is a joint repair that takes up to a year to heal–if nothing goes wrong. I am passionate about that advocacy, even as I am more so about these woods, this wonderful project Robyn Frampton and family gave to us all. As I have thousands of pictures, I will add more here even after I’m gone, I just have a hard road for a while before I can do much. Harder than I knew, the hardest is often just breaking down in tears that I have to go. Thank you all for following, for reading, and for believing.

Kindness is contagious, it’s catching, and all it takes is but a kind word to change someone’s entire day. Carry this with you, always, and if you lose hope for yourself, find a way to give some to someone else. Hope is a magical thing. Keep it close to your hearts, always.

Update: The magic of the forest is the only hope I can feel at this point. Having to move with so little help at this point, well, I’ll just say that this is a hopeless endeavor. We need help.

Now I Must Say Goodbye to The Forest

I’d like to to thank everyone for visiting my blog here, and enjoying my digital scrapbook of all things related to these lovely woods, the Firefly Forest, and The Gnomist. Sadly, I’m between surgeries number 2 & 3 and my ability to get to the trail and make my way along it are now gone. I wish I could say goodbye, but….pathwoods

A sudden switch in jobs is causing a move across country, and as I won’t fully recover before moving, it is with great sadness that I must post that I will not likely even be able to see my trail again. I will continue to post what people send, perhaps find new woods to chronicle (of course I will, I’m rarely out of the woods except at the moment!) and post other old photos of the project from 2013 and 2014, but it’s not looking like I’ll get to stay here long enough to have the 3rd surgery and recover sufficiently to ever get back to this particular trail. Apologies for sounding pitiable, I am just very sad about it. If you’ve read this blog or seen The Gnomist from afar, you’ll understand the depth of that with full knowledge that I don’t post this lightly or for pity.

Farewell, my beloved woods. I take your acorns to foreign turf in hopes I can nurture a Kansas Oak far away. Thank you, everyone.

Request for Pics of Christmas Lights in Firefly Forest!

RackhamChristmasI heard from some on the trail today that there are some lovely lights set up throughout the woods, though I cannot currently get that far or onto hills, even with crutches to capture myself for the blog here. Keep sending some pictures my way! I’d love to post these new festive additions! Thanks to everyone out there keeping the magic alive, and thanks for the pictures being sent my way to post here, and thanks to the many people I saw out there this afternoon. I only made it about 20 yards or so, so it’s always nice to see some regulars on the trail, and meet some new people as well, all sharing tales still of the new additions up the hill and along the trail for the holidays. One said the Little Owl tree is decorated with lights, so I look forward to seeing some pictures of all of this and being able to share it here!

Have a lovely Christmas Eve, and a Merry Christmas everyone, and remember the spirit of kindness and giving just that much more this year. Remember how special this world is, how lucky and unique you are, every step you take, every breath you breathe. Heal the hurts, make sure someone else knows they’re special, let someone know how much they mean to you; help the lonely to feel less so. Do what you can, and never worry that it’s not good enough. It’s always good enough, because you’re always good enough. Have a beautiful holiday season, everyone!

A Door For My Dad…and a Small Confession

This past September, long before I’d seen The Gnomist film (and quite a while after my bits of filming in it) and with the anniversary of my father’s death approaching (followed by what would’ve been his 70th birthday 20 days later), I distinctly didn’t want to be sad. I needed hip revision surgery, but that took two trips out of town to even get sorted out anyway, so I put on my brace and started walking the path again. Joyfully. I didn’t want to be sad, I wanted to live life as a celebration, celebrating a man who died too young, not letting myself get down about it. I wanted the joy of the Firefly Forest, the hope, the discoveries, the happiness, which I find without doors or houses already, but there was quite a bit more of it when there were doors and houses, as readers here well know!

My Dad died in 2003 of a brain stem glioblastoma, a very aggressive form of brain cancer, which took his life within 7 months of diagnosis. He died at home, at the top of the the ridge to the trail itself.  My Dad never really acknowledged or allowed us to talk about the fact that he was dying, and it was very fast. Glioblastomas are merciless, brutal killers. One moment stood out to me. He had never read J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, but had fallen in love with the films. The first two, that is….the final installment was to come out that December…he would never get to see it, never get to learn the ending. One day, already paralyzed by the tumor, he asked me how the epic story ended, worried about his favorite characters, wondering what would happen, and wanted me to tell him everything. So I did. He smiled, he was content. That was the closest to saying goodbye we really ever did. A scene in the final film always brings tears to my eyes, as the character Gandalf describes death to the Hobbit Pippin in a beautiful way, “Death is just another path, one that we all must take….”. 

This was a man who, without a diagnosis but with increasing double vision, joined a gym because he was starting to stumble on his morning jogs…he could hold onto a treadmill, you see. He had his glasses fitted so that he could still drive to work, he kept fighting right to the diagnosis, fought some more, then accepted his fate. Then, in the ultimate bravery, was able to face the news that the tumor would eventually cut off either his respiratory system or heart and he would die; he faced this without fear, and took care of us all, even from his hospice bed. All the age of 57, working for Hallmark in a state far from home for us.

Realizing that he would have turned 70 this September, I wanted to do something to memorialize him, give him a space, closest to where he left his mortal  life. I took to the trail, and I suddenly knew what to do. I must add, I’d not seen The Gnomist at that point, I didn’t know if I’d ever see it with hip surgery looming, to me the magic had mainly just gone. I wanted to bring some of it back for everyone, for those who missed it, those who still needed hope, those who, like me, didn’t want to face the world with sadness, but with hope and laughter, like my Dad had. I wrote some messages on rocks that first day, one I later found in the purple door someone else had built, that read “The Magic Never Left!”, but I also took measurements at a tree Robyn had used briefly, but abandoned after the door was taken too many times. I turned, briefly, from The Watcher to the builder.

Across the street and down the hill from where my father passed away, this tree became a space for him….and for anyone. For everyone. I decorated it with harvest materials at first, waiting to add something else I had made for his door, waiting to add his initial. I wanted it to seem like just anything, wanted people (as more activity picked up in the woods of this type) to just think it was just another door, something to peek inside of, something I’d have to make it to, even on days my hip said no, to replace my little bottles with messages of hope, love, heal, smile and share.


I felt actually quite terrible when I posted it here, as I was posting new pieces of Forest Art as I found them, as I don’t post what I made–but I never meant to make anything! I just kind of….did. My head was in my hands, I had broken my code! I didn’t want recognition for it here, I didn’t want to blog anything I’d made just to fade into the background with the purple door someone else made, but as time wore on, I wanted to finally tell the story not of what I did, but of my Dad. Because no one else was going to. For all those who remember him, they remember him well. They love him still. He was a remarkable man, and deserves a memorial far surpassing my second rate door making skills, but this was, in that moment, what I was able to do, and I do hope it cheered some up on their bike rides, walks and runs, as they passed by, or even looked inside.

Right before surgery, I finally added the initials I had meant to from the beginning, on the door a “G” for George. On a little pot inside, I added one of Tolkien’s runes for the character Gandalf, also standing in for “G”. Then I added something else, a box I had made with a line from Tolkien’s poem concerning the character Aragorn, my Dad’s favorite character, painted onto it:

“Not all those who wander are lost”.

(“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.” )


I have friends and neighbors watching over my Dad’s door now, while I recover, but I posted this story in brief in a beloved Tolkien group I am in, and finally decided to add the story to this blog here. The Firefly Forest, my beloved Dad, a dash of Tolkien (the master of woodland magic!) and a tie we had together, the space closest to where he died….the woods where he ran….I wanted to make it happen, and please excuse me for telling the tale before going back to being The Watcher once more.

And please remember that that door has a story, too, as do all that others have put up, everyone and everything has a tale to be told. George’s Door. I’m no great carpenter, I broke a neighbor’s bandsaw just trying to make this. I have a bum leg for now, and am no artist as Robyn was, but I did what I could for my Dad. For George, for others to be able to see and ponder for a moment who the “G” stands for.

Finally, I just told the tale here. As The Watcher, I hope to bring many more of these stories out and post them here, this is just the only one (perhaps) I could tell myself.

And, I Still Miss You, Dad. I hope you got to see those white shores, and beyond, a far green country…..maybe I will someday see you there.


Two Newer Homes I’d Left Out

Apologies to those who made these homes that I did not include them, and keep maintaining them. I have realized, especially now that I’ll be on crutches for rather a long time, that these woods have been sacred to me, and must be to many others, since the first time I was in them as a teenager. This very stretch. It can never become less than magical, nor can broader media coverage limit it. As the beautiful period here known as the Firefly Forest is now well documented elsewhere, others can enjoy seeing that part of the story while also enjoying the ongoing, and sometimes prior, story of this lovely trail here. I had added a link to photographs when I started this blog, and welcome any other pictures anyone would be willing to send.

I will continue to post the magic, as well as the mundane here for all to enjoy, at least as I am able and as fellow watchers continue to update me. All trail and forest lovers are welcome here, so make yourselves at home, sit back and enjoy the woods.


“I’m inviting everyone……I believe in innocence, little darling, start again, I believe in everyone.

I believe, regardless, I believe in everyone.” -Joanna Newsom

I, too, believe in everyone. Everyone.

–The Watcher

Fellow Watchers, Please Keep Watch!

I’ve done my best to make it through the woods since re-injuring my hip, but I’m heading out for surgery and can no longer make it with both hips now down. I’ll be off my feet for a month for the first surgery. JTFDoorThere are new additions out there, a few of them memorials for grieving families and all important to those who put them up. We have a dedicated team of Watchers, for whom I am constantly grateful!

Please send anything new or wondrous, whether in these woods or elsewhere, and I will try to post what I can from out of state!

What The Firefly Forest Means To Me; A Thank You


2ndFairyHouseI 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. 

–The Watcher