Multicultural Muses

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Muses to Inspire Creativity

Seeking the Elusive High Desert Gnome

A Muse Close to Home

By Molly J. Anderson-Childers | Updated September 9, 2018

I am no expert on Gnomes, but a few years ago I was able to observe one myself. According to Gnome experts Wil Huygen and Rien Poortvleit, author and illustrator of "The Complete Guide to Gnomes," no Gnome sighting can be confirmed and deemed official unless observed by two witnesses, and I was alone at the time, on a walk down a lonely dirt road near my home in Durango, Colorado. So this can't be considered an official sighting, or a confirmed and documented Gnome encounter. I'll just call it a story instead.

There are two kinds of stories: true stories, and stories that are made up. This story is true.

It happened very quickly, too quick to think or to blink. I was walking along quietly and slowly, looking all about me as is my habit when walking alone. If I'm on a hike with friends, I try to match my pace to theirs. But on my own, I'm a dawdling wanderer, content to walk only a few miles with plenty of time to rest, sketch interesting trees and flowers, and explore every inch of the trail. I was admiring the roots of a giant pine tree growing at the top of a hill when I suddenly spied a Gnome. He wore a pointed cap and trousers the color of freshly dug earth, with a rough shirt the color of dried elm-tree leaves in autumn. His hair and beard were brown, and his eyes gleamed darkly like two stones in clear water. He squatted near the base of the tree, about eight inches in height. He did not look like a tiny bearded man; he looked surely and incontrovertibly like a Gnome, which is exactly what he was and is. He was completely still and silent, watching me intently to see what I would do. He was not afraid of me, for I gave him no reason to be. He merely waited to see what I would do.

And what would you do if you came upon such an ancient and fantastical creature on an otherwise ordinary day? Ask yourself this question. It is an important one, for you never know when you might spy a faery or Gnome, or other folks from the pages of a story-book, if you go walking in the woods alone, and it's best to be prepared.

Would you try to capture him, and make him tell all the secrets of his ancient race? Or perhaps try to engage him in conversation about the sly habits of foxes, and the minds of ravens? Or would you just stand and stare? (I suspect most of you would. That is exactly what I did.)

I could not collect my thoughts quickly enough for conversation, and capture never crossed my mind. Something about his presence seemed to forbid words or rash actions. His silent dignity was amazing, and intimidating as well. I sensed his age, and gazed into eyes that had seen many generations of Man come and go; he was ancient. I also sensed that he was a solitary Gnome, and wanted mostly to be left in peace. I nodded to him, and gave him a small, respectful bow. He nodded a nod that was more felt than seen, and I continued upon my way with his blessing at my back. When I turned to glance back over my shoulder, he was gone.

I never saw the Gnome again, and I knew better than to go searching for him. They like their privacy quite as much as writers and artists do. But this encounter awoke in me a great curiosity about the Gnome I met and his kind. I read all I could find on the subject — which wasn't much — and discovered that Gnomes are an ancient race, found all over the world. They inhabit — and protect — wild places, communicate with birds, and heal wounded and sick animals. They also possess a great number of creative talents, such as painting, wood-work, spinning and knitting. Gnomes excel in the culinary arts, creating their own gourmet cuisine from mushrooms, herbs and greens gathered in the wild, baking bread from ground acorn meal, and even brewing their own beer! They are also accomplished in the arts of painting, metal-work, and pottery. Gnomes have much to teach us. Artistic, mysterious beings, part of an ancient race that dwell in trees, dunes, and gardens. Gnomes make fabulous muses for a mountain girl like me!

But try as I might, I could find no references to the elusive High Desert Gnome I had spotted. Even in "The Complete Gnomes," which featured Gnomes from all over the world, made no mention of the type of Gnome I encountered here in the Southwest. I can only surmise that Gnomes of this breed are more secretive and wily, and more isolated from human contact in this remote region than in more populated areas. And really, knowing humans as I do, I don't blame the Gnomes for staying away, hiding deep in the trees.

In this age of greed, waste, and a more-more-more mentality, their way of life shines out like a beacon to those of us who seek simplicity and harmony with nature instead of a huge trophy home with a four-car garage.

Gnomes do not seek dominion over all the Earth and every living creature, as man is wont to do. In fact, this behavior is foreign to them. Their very existence depends upon and reveres the sanctity of wild places.

As greedy developers circle our valley like vultures scenting a fresh kill, trying to turn this town into the next Vail or Aspen, I despair at the changes they have wrought. Summer homes for rich Texans replace high alpine meadows, destroying the wilderness that is home to so many creatures. The noise and stench of snowmobiles, ATVs, Jet-Skis drive the wildlife — and the Gnomes — deeper and deeper into the woods. They seek peace, a silence unbroken by Man.

Because I wish to protect these folks in some small way, I will not reveal the location of my encounter with the elusive High Desert Gnome. I don't want Gnome seekers and experts bothering him and his family, driving them out of the Valley altogether.

In place of hard facts, I seek here to reveal a bit of Gnomish wisdom to you, in hopes that you will learn something of value from it.

Be still and silent as a stone. Watch and wait. Love the birds and trees, the ravens and shadows, and leave them just as they are. Tread lightly. Use only what you need, and replace it when you're done. Do not seek riches, but beauty and mystery. Do not constantly take and take from Nature's bounty — you must also give something back to restore the balance. Know that this world is full of mystery, joy, and hidden delights. Don't be afraid to believe in stories, for even a little Gnome knows that there is much truth to be found in even the most fantastic of tales.

Try This! Finding Inspiration Close to Home

Go on a Gnome Walk! You'll need comfortable shoes or boots, a backpack with a sketchbook, art supplies, a small blanket to sit on, and an empty bag. Go to your favorite wild place and start to explore.

Step quietly and slowly. If you see litter by the trail, pick it up instead of adding your own to the pile. This will show the Gnomes that you respect their home and mean them no harm. Look around carefully. Keep the secrets of the wild places deep inside your heart.

Allow beauty to inspire you. Sketch or paint anything that catches your eye. If you are quiet enough (and lucky enough), you may spot a Gnome! If you are not, you can be sure a Gnome has spotted you, and is hiding nearby, watching with ancient eyes.

Next Muse: From Sirens to Selkies: Mermaids as Muses

©2007 Molly J. Anderson-Childers. All rights reserved.