I know it’s your birthday today, you’d have been 71. We all miss you more that we can even express. I was going to come back to be there, wish you a happy birthday and work on making the world a better place. This is the note I’d leave there, if I could’ve been there. That we all love and miss you, you were the greatest Dad anyone ever could’ve had. You brightened the lives of everyone you ever met, made parts of Kansas City better for your presence, and will always be loved and missed.
This really reset my system, still having some problems but hope springs eternal. Making it through the woods and sitting at the top of my hill there was a highlight. I just had some last pictures to share, and am now walking 2+ miles where I’ve moved to. The terrain is less friendly, the weather hotter, the woods thicker and the streams cleaner. People think I must be nuts to love a strip of flood plain in Kansas, but home is home. And always will be.
Part of the beauty, and why I kept moving back (I did homework in the “brontosaurus tree”, an old sycamore, when I was 17 and my first brief time in that area, and the trail wasn’t even paved then) is that it’s not so blatant, you have to look. I’ve moved from San Francisco back to this area; there is something brilliant to me in having to discover and explore, not just have views everyone loves thrown at you. Finding beauty in a night sky closing in around some gnarled oak branches, or the sun setting through the trees, the red tailed hawks or the owls getting close enough to spot. Knowing the trail so well you can’t even lose where you are in the dark.
There is a stark beauty to this place, as well as an all encompassing one. The woods surround, the wildlife as well, knowing from years of moving back and forth that it’s now just a small strip of protected land (due to its status as a flood plain, mainly), makes it that much more precious. The snarled Kansas oaks, the sometimes twisted sycamores, the glimpse of a blue tailed skink sunning…..perhaps you must come to love it, perhaps it’s easier than that, I can’t say. And I say this living now just 2 miles from a rather famous hiking preserve, with woods and clean streams, thick with redolent pine scents, sure to turn every color in fall (my favorite woods favor yellows, occasional reds from vines, but never from maples….they aren’t native to forests there). It’s fair to look on, fine to walk there. I’m growing to like it, but I do well in the woods generally. Here’s where I’d throw in a bad Wizard of Oz joke, but I’m getting enough of those as it is, so enjoy the pics. I’ll share more of the more peculiar, non-fairy creation ones shortly.
I can only get so far at a month post op/4 months post op each side, but I did make it to one of my doors today, to find it propped back up having been torn off. I was able to repair it myself:
But the other, which took quite an effort for me to even get to, I had to give to some helpful neighbors for repair and re-installation. These vandals bent the hinges beyond the point of any forest/on site repair. Thankfully, plenty of people were out and willing to help, as the walk there this evening was a lot for me at this point. Thanks to them.
Thanks to all my Firefly Forester friends, and everyone helping to clean up. I did hear from others on the trail that the damage extended to many projects, other houses down the trail and some other doors. I can’t think of many doors beyond the one above until the new purple door and Little Owl, though they did say one was left undamaged. I’m hoping that Little Owl is safe and sound out there! But sincere regrets to all others out there building and being creative, only to have these hurtful vandals being needlessly destructive and hurtful. I remember this happening constantly to the original project, and didn’t know how on earth they could stand the vandalism, but it appears if you bring back the doors and houses, the vandals soon follow.
I will keep reporting on the woods right up to the moment I move, and will add anything else I can once I am gone. For now, fellow Watchers and Builders, keep extra watches, if you see anyone up to anything destructive, snap a picture or two. And please report to me how bad the rest of the damage was, I can only make it so far, but am doing my best to keep it all up to the very last!
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….
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.
Part 1, just some pictures I thought some might enjoy from the shooting of the film. I will post some more as time allows. Enjoy! This was a beautiful day, when I originally posted about it, I couldn’t share about … Continue reading
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.
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. There 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!
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.
Check out the film! And keep the magic alive, everyone, wherever you are!