Eljin O’Driscoll lives in Puzzlewood, a magical woodland in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, England. Said to be one of JRR Tolkien’s inspirations, the ancient forest is home to more magical beings than one might imagine. Eljin inhabits one of the oldest yew trees—some 600 years of age—living in its hollow trunk with his friendly neighbors, the hoverflies, ladybirds and wood-boring beetles. He’s partial to early morning strolls along faint animal trails lined with ferns and moss, and is particularly cautious of the goshawk’s keen eye and hunting prowess. Eljin is friendly, though not terribly talkative and agreed to have his photo taken holding the morning’s ‘treasures from the trail’ — ‘lil bits and pieces of beauty found on his walk.
Yevgeney Youssef was born and raised deep in the East Siberian taiga. He knows all the plants in the area and learned from his grandmother how to use them for healing. A descendant of the okapi of central Africa, Yev (as his friends call him) is partial to the warm short summers on the taiga but is drawn to the snowy barrens of the Baikal Mountains to gather rhodiola rosea—more commonly known as ‘golden root’—a powerful herb known to extend one’s life 24% longer than his otherwise healthy peers. Yev hopes to build a business selling extracts of the herb.
Update on Gunhild: She’s enjoying a little less work time on the farm and enjoys letting her hair down in the evening. Gunhild was pleasantly surprised on Valentine’s Day to receive a bouquet of yellow tulips and a ‘gaekkebrev’ - a Danish love note filled with funny rhythmic poems sent from a man to a woman. The man sending the gaekkebrev signs it using dots rather than his signature (one dot for every letter in his name). If the girl receiving the card is able to guess the right name, she’s rewarded with an Easter egg. Unfortunately for Gunhild, several of her suitors have names with equal numbers of letters. She’s decided to keep quiet about the love letter until something revealing is mentioned by one of her sweethearts. No Easter egg for Gunhild yet. (pattern by Jill Maas)
Gunhild Pedersen owns a small organic pig farm in southeast Denmark. In her country, being unmarried on your 25th birthday gives people social license to cover you in cinnamon. Being tied to her farm, Gunhild had no time for relationships and fell victim to cinnamon pelting. Wanting to avoid the traditional peppering at age 30, she hired help for the farm, purchased a pair of new suede shoes to replace her mud boots, added a bell to her bicycle to greet passing gentlemen and created an account on tinder. She now enjoys the company of several suitors, loves the opera and relishes trips to Legoland. (Pattern by Jill Maas)
One of the recurring symbols that surfaced for me during 2019 was the cardinal. Not only did the red bird often perch outside my window, but it appeared in art pieces I was creating. Its message to me was “show up in your full color.”
Cardinal taught me a subtle but important lesson. I used to be challenged with whimsical play. While I love playing with rhyme, writing stories, making dolls, or painting pictures, I hadn't equated these expressions of myself as equal in value to paying the bills, getting the week's groceries, doing laundry, or writing my senator. These latter things seemed more pressing, needing immediate attention. Whimsical play was always something that could wait, so I often pushed it to the back shelf.
Showing up in my full color, for me, means committing to joyful play, holding it in equal importance to all other things. Believe me, this is requiring a change in my perceptions and is shining light on my judgment. This commitment is asking me to be present with what's calling me in the moment. After all, I only have this present moment—in all its bounteous color—so I’m gonna immerse myself in it!
I've made my own Intention Doll in advance of my upcoming playshop on Feb. 9. There's magic in creating a doll; you can hold an intention for your creation, but you never know where it will lead. The cardinal and its message fed into my creative process, and this lovely lady has emerged. Her name, of course ~ Show Your Colors.
Publishing my book is an exciting achievement, but admittedly, I’m feeling both tender and vulnerable.
I wasn’t sure I could write this book. It called to me for twelve years before I took it on. Even then, writing it was an arduous process that required numerous breaks to grieve and recalibrate. I hired a coach/editor - someone who was intuitive and wise; she encouraged me toward each next step and understood when self-care was the priority.
Even though I was attentive to my emotional self in the process, the writing, organizing, and editing were re-traumatizing. EMDR and somatic experiencing have, once again, become dear friends.
As much as I wanted to gift others with a story that would support their journey, my writing took me to an emotional edge. So, in addition to writing, there’s been the equally important task of listening to my body and my emotions and taking the necessary steps to offer myself great care.
I’ve invested large amounts of energy, time and heart to write my story. Knowing what was required of me to get this book into its final form, I want to send it into the world with my full energy and blessing behind it. This cover was not the top choice of my publisher; it was an image I chose. Every time I look at this image, it reminds me that lightness and joy arise from dark places, that the natural world is fertile and nurturing, and that all life is both tender and resilient. These are messages that, perhaps, my readers will never know. Feeling congruent with this image encourages me in moments like this when I’m being asked to step away from my safe writing nook and stand fully behind my message.
I hold deep gratitude for your support as I follow my heart calling ~
This past year, I've been connecting more deeply with the forest and have completed several art installments there. Here's a recent piece along with my poem.
magic in the forest surely knows no bound
just yesterday upon the trail, this is what I found
another tiny ladder ascending to a door
curious ‘bout little folk, I couldn’t ask for more
I rapped below the welcome sign and whispered to the tree
I could hear the wind through branches and a distant chickadee
the tiny door stood silent, but was a sight for hopeful eyes
perhaps next I’m on this trail, I’ll spy an elf surprise
meanwhile, I’ll be respectful to this fairy, elf or gnome
the forest is for hiking, but it also is a home
to creatures, plants and spirits, some of which I’ll never see
for boundless life and magic is found within a tree