November 6, 2021

Of course I went back to sketch these wonderful Stick Spirits at the Descanso Gardens on Halloween! In a way it’s not really surprising they would feature such creatures made from sticks whipped together. Over the past year I have sketched a number of similar creations. If you look back at a couple of my posts you will see what I mean. (August 14, 2021=woven archways, August 8, 2021=a giant dragon fly in a pond, July 3, 2021=bird nests, and January 1, 2021=fencing around the gingko tree.)

When I got home and looked again at these charming creatures I got to thinking about another long ago stick creature I had envisioned for a picture book. Here it is. Back in the late 90s and early 2000s I tried to break into the trade book market—writing and illustrating picture books. This creature/monster was to be the protagonist in a book I was calling “Monsters Count.” The story was about a “tree-like” monster who had found a couple nests of birds that had blown down onto the ground during a storm. And the monster is kind of obsessed with all things related to birds in nests—counting them in as many ways as possible as well as figuring out all ways to put them back up into the tree. (If you look at the “contact” illustration for One California Girl you will see the pen and ink sketch I did for the actual birds in the story. And based on what I wrote in that section of the website you might also guess that I probably prefer a world of monsters and birds to people. I wrote that a while back and it’s probably still true today.) 

In the story the monster clearly appears to be beyond excited–looking to save the birds from certain death. So, it then decides to help them get back to the appropriate tree branch posthaste. Of course the monster gets carried away, devising unique ways to get them home—parachutes, a crane, a sling shot, asking a friendly eagle to give them a ride, and a strong fan to blow them back up on the branch—reversing the action that blew them to the ground in the first place. Of course the monster lets that one go right away when it realizes it didn’t have an extension cord that would reach that far from his treehouse. The birds soon tire of all the commotion, finally convincing the monster to just pick them up, one at a time, and carry them aloft to a safe spot in the tree, but not too close to the monster’s treehouse. 

It was fun to be reminded of my own long ago tree monster and the picture book story I had written to go with it. The original image for this monster was based on a very scary creature in a reoccurring nightmare I had when I was very little. This creature was not a bumbling tree monster, nor was it a playful stick spirit running around the grass. It was so scary to me and I can still picture it in my mind today. The scene and images of that nightmare were so vivid. Many mornings I would describe every exact detail to my dad. It always began and ended the same. I would find myself standing on the back porch of a neighbor’s house, all alone. And each time I would check the door going back into the kitchen of the neighbors’ house, but of course it was always locked. Then something would compel me to go down the steps. It was at this point I knew that something was waiting for me at the side yard of the house. As I turned the corner into that part of the yard I would see a tall scarecrow creature made of straw standing inside a kind of straw house. It had huge holes for eyes and a long pointy nose. And the minute I would see the creature I would stop dead in my tracks. But of course the monster would then begin coming towards me. Thankfully, it would be at this point I would wake up in a cold sweat, but wake up nonetheless. There was really nothing funny or charming about this creature at the time. However, I had told the story to my dad so many mornings, that when I got to the part where I demonstrated the monster’s long and pointy nose with my hand and fingers, he would join in and mime that part along with me. Somehow it would then seem less scary, until the next night when it would start all over again. Quite a scary Halloween story for a 4 or 5 year old, right? 

Time to move on to a new holiday I think…Bye bye for now!

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