The secret life of Rassie Wicker Park

By Claudia Watson     Photographs by Laura L. Gingerich

It was dawn, the hour when the sun’s rays bloom golden through the forest treetops and the birds speak to an invisible world. The air was chilly and leaves crunched underfoot as I stopped to pick up a hawk’s feather tangled in wisteria along a trail in Rassie Wicker Park. Over the bridge and into the woods, I followed the tiny brook into a naturalist’s nirvana — an area to explore, lush with native ferns, fluorescent moss, inkberry, sweet pepperbush, laurels and hickory.

Minutes later, the woods fell silent when a jay’s squawking signaled alarm. I checked my surroundings and was drawn to a path the deer had shaped through a jumble of vines and briars. Working my way through, I found the massive upturned hollow base of an ancient hickory festooned in lichens. I placed my hands on a large burl to steady myself and peered into the dark cavity.

Staring back at me was a diminutive chap with a long white beard wearing a well-worn yellow cowboy hat. He had a slight hitch in his gait, presumably because he wore only one blue boot, on his left foot.

I pulled back, not sure of what I was seeing.

“No need to be fearful,” he said with a wink. “My name is M.T. Chamber and a hundred thousand welcomes.” He pointed to a nearby log. “Please, stay and sit for a while.”

I obliged, though I’m not sure why.

Without warning, the hollowed-out stump suddenly became a lively amphitheater. Dozens of colorfully capped tiny beings appeared out of nowhere, waving their hands, and welcoming me.

“We’re forest gnomes,” explained Chamber, charmed I believe by my wonder and confusion. “A subrace of the common gnome,” he clarified.

“What’s with the colorful hats?” I asked, believing as I did until that very moment that all gnomes wore only green or red.

“We forest gnomes prefer to take on the colors of our world — the pokeweed, the walnut hulls, and those pink, purple and yellow flowers at the Big Garden. They all make unusual dyes. Our friends, the foxes and squirrels, donate the fur we weave into our hats, where we keep our most prized possessions,” he said, giving a firm tug to the wrinkled brim.

“Some in our clan are 200 years old,” he boasted. “As a poet of some renown, I use my gnome de plume, M.T. Chamber, but in the community, I’m called Hop Along.” He pointed to his one bare foot.

Strum Stetson, alias Tex — a noted songwriter, I would learn — took center stage and sang his hit single “Gnome, Gnome on the Range.” It’s a ballad recalling a treacherous journey by ship over the Great Water and later by wagon to this woodland, Rassie Wicker Park, the land they’ve called home for eons. Curious and impulsive, these pocket-sized gnomes take up adventuring and jubilantly eke out a life wherever they land.

Now, nearly 100 forest gnomes inhabit the park, from the verdant valley edges of Board Branch brook and the magnolia garden to the upland zones of the longleaf pine savanna. Their primary purpose is to nurture and protect the Earth, including animals and humans.

Underground burrows and holes in old trees provide cozy homes. They share an elaborate tunnel system with their friends — moles, mice and rabbits — and use it for inconspicuous travel within the realm. Aside from their work as craftsmen and tending to the forest, they spend their days gathering mushrooms, nuts and berries for the long winters.

A voice hollers from the side. “Don’t mistake us for all work and no play. It’s dancing, singing, and telling jokes we love,” says Frobby, the ale-maker. “You missed the winter solstice celebration at the Great Moss Stump where we soaked up the last of the warm sunshine.” Maybe next year.

Then, Chamber told me, to celebrate the New Year and, in lighthearted recognition of their characteristic large noses, they held their annual snoring contest, aided by abundant ale consumption. This year’s award went to Tolkyn Snuddlemoor, the clan’s storyteller.

The gnomes go where their impulses lead them but remain respectful to others in the clan. They promote peace in the domain and are rarely ensnarled in disputes. However, on occasion, human activity may need to be addressed. That falls to the village elders, who meet irregularly up on The Hill. Since settling in the forest, most members of the gnome clan rarely make their presence known. But there’s always the exception.

“Some people carry an unusual energy,” Chamber explained. “We’ll observe them to determine if they’re a threat or if they’re peaceful. The elders decide if we should make contact, like today.”

Chamber pointed to a fellow in a broad-brimmed orange hat. “That’s Milkweed. He keeps watch at the Big Garden. There’s been a lot of digging activity there, which was of great concern. But they’ve cleared out the litter from the old landfill and planted an abundance of flowers and trees. They’re good stewards of all the living creatures — bees, birds, butterflies, dragonflies, spiders, little frogs, and, of course, gnomes.”

Chamber jumped from the tree to stand beside me. He removed his big yellow hat and pulled out a translucent rock that glowed like the sun.

“It’s come a long way,” he said, placing the rock in my hand. “It’s a treasure from our homeland to the guardians of the Big Garden and offers great protection. Keep it safe. Put it under your hat.”

With a boisterous toast to our meeting and a hoisting of ale, the gathering of gnomes was gone as suddenly as it appeared. Staring into the quiet dark of the hollowed stump, I knew the true magic that fills this realm.

Though the gnomes of Rassie Wicker Park are tiny, they have extraordinary power unique to the enchanted realm. Remember, they are shy. They will use their fade-away power and disappear if they are spotted, leaving only a figurine behind. Once you pass, their spirit will return. Enjoy the moment of discovery, and let it bring you joy. But please leave the figure behind so others can experience the same delight.

If you’re lucky, here are some members of the gnome clan you may see.

M.T. Chamber

Aliases: Hop Along, Boot

Height: 2 1/2 inches

Forest gnome, male, white hair and beard, yellow hat

Expertise: Cowboy lore

Special abilities: “Hop Along” has trouble walking, but he is good at herding caterpillars. He is a renowned poet who authors cowboy poems and enjoys reciting them in the Ale Hall.

Strum Stetson

Alias: Tex

Height 1 1/2 inches

Forest gnome, male, white hair and closely cropped beard, yellow Stetson-type hat, brown boots

Expertise: Songwriter

Special abilities: Writes and sings his own original country music ballads. Though Tex has never been to Texas, he hopes to make it as far as Nashville one day. His first ballad, “Gnome, Gnome on the Range,” remains popular today. He recently released “Country Roads, Take Me Gnome” on tiny streaming services.

Pollyanna and Dollyanna

Aliases: Sin Twisters

Height: 2 1/2 inches, each

Forest gnomes, female, flowing golden hair, coin and gem necklaces, red hats, blue dancing shoes

Expertise: Dancing, singing, teaching, joy

Special abilities: These twin sisters are affectionally called the Sin Twisters for their ability to turn bad into good. They embody the original spirit behind Rassie Wicker Park, transforming “Going to the Dump” into “A Walk in the Park.” Though once believed to be a sinful waste of energy, these active sisters prove that dancing is a terrific exercise for the body and uplifts the soul.

Frobs Dreazielbub

Aliases: Frobby, DZ

Height: 2 inches

Forest gnome, male with an ale gut, white hair and goatee, ruddy nose, droopy yellow hat, orange boots

Expertise: Ale maker extraordinaire

Special abilities: Frobby is often welcoming friends to his Ale Hall, located one street off the main trail. He’s known for his uncanny ability to identify any ale from smell alone. When he has a new batch, he holds raucous parties and invites the whole neighborhood.

Hagby Bukwert

Alias: Haggy, Mustachio

Height: 1 3/4 inches

Forest gnome, male, white hair and beard, red cap, brown-as-the-mud boots

Expertise: Nature Trail Inspector

Special Abilities: After a rainstorm, he enlarges minor trail washouts until they are repaired by park maintenance. Haggy perches in a tree hollow near the pavilion to observe morning dog walkers and Tai Chi participants. One member of the Tai Chi group has an identical beard, mustache, and cloak but no hat, so some gnome affiliation is suspected.

Forrest Fahrenheit

Alias: Sparkie

Height: 2 inches
Forest gnome, male, white hair and beard, a flushed purple nose, red Fire Chief hat, yellow boots

Expertise: firefighting, flame dousing, hot stuff

Special abilities: Forrest Fahrenheit is Rassie Wicker Park’s First Responder. He is on 24/7 alert to keep the forest safe from the dangers of fire. He shuts down out-of-season fireflies or the unexpected appearances of old flames. Young couples need to heed him if they let sparks fly, or he may show up to douse the flames.

Officer Krumpke

Alias: Occifer

Height: 1 3/4 inches

Forest gnome, male, shaped like a fire hydrant, white hair and beard, wide-brimmed green hat, navy blue boots

Expertise: law and order and policing the park

Special abilities: Officer Krumpke is punctual and begins his daily patrol outside the police station on the long brick trail. Though he seldom finds problems, when he walks the west side, he befriends youthful gnomes who gather around him, dance wildly and sing funny songs.

Chauncy St. Richland

Alias: Mayor

Height 2 1/2 inches

Forest gnome, male, white hair and beard, dark green pointy hat with a perforated brim, blue boots.

Expertise: Forest treasure preservation

Special abilities: Top elder of the forest gnome clan, he can be found perched in the central office up on The Hill where he works on the day’s essential business activities before mixing with the community to share his wisdom and advice, sometimes over a mug of ale. He inspires all to save and protect the forest’s treasures.


Alias: Wiz

Height: 2 3/4 inches

Forest gnome, male, white hair and beard, orange pointy hat with an exciting twist, and green boots.

Expertise: fortune-telling, astrology

Special abilities: The Wiz is the Professor of Prophecy. A world-class astrologer and seer, he obtained his advanced education at Avignome University in France. While other soothsayers read tea leaves for guidance, the Wiz, being of the forest, prefers to read pinestraw for inspiration. “One day others will also consult the pinestraw,” he predicts.


Alias: Milkweed

Height: 1 1/2 inches

Forest gnome, male, white hair, beard, wide white mustache, orange sombrero, tightly laced black boots to keep the fire ants from biting his feet.

Expertise: Caterpillar farmer and butterfly identification

Special abilities: Milkweed spends most of his time in the Big Garden. He roams the area by foot (versus the tunnel system) to watch the native flora and fauna. Sometimes he works on his balance skills while standing atop the big rock. He enjoys visiting with the butterflies and shows the monarchs the freshest milkweed. He assists in their first training flights before migrating to Mexico.

Sir William

Alias: The Bard

Height: 2 1/4 inches

Forest gnome, male, white hair, pointy white beard and mustache, ruffled collar, black hat with a small white feather, black boots.

Expertise: Playwright and author

Special abilities: Sir William writes Elizabethan plays and organizes performances for the community, held at the Amphitheatre-in-the-Round at the old hickory stump. Nearly everyone in the forest gnome community has had a role in his plays. An early work, “Gnomio and Juliet,” received wide acclaim and, disturbingly, became an animated film. The attention caused him to be more careful with his manuscripts. He’s working on a new play about the inner conflict of a little piglet who ponders life’s choices as he matures into a Hamlet.

Pursey Moneypocket

Alias: Jingle

Height: 2 3/4 inches

Forest gnome, male, white hair and beard, tall yellow hat with its crown pulled forward, black boots.

Expertise: Treasure collection and preservation

Special abilities: As a coin collector and silversmith, Pursey descends from an ancient line of numismatists. A close friend of the mayor, they spend long hours talking about the treasures of the forest. Weather permitting, he sheds his clothes and frequents wishing wells and garden fountains, diving for coins that were offered in exchange for a wish.

Tolykn Snuddlemoor

Alias: Tall Tales

Height: 2 1/4 inches

Forest gnome, male, white hair and beard, green hat with a bulge at the top, yellow boots.

Expertise: Storyteller

Special abilities: At dusk, he travels between tree hollows to visit the children and read gnome adventure tales from the book that he hides under his cap. This calms the children as they snuggle for bed. He’s also been spotted at the Ale Hall where he rehearses his tall tales with his friends.

Bernie Family

Alias: Beanie’s Bunch

Height: 1 inch to 2 1/2 inches

Forest gnomes, male, female, animal

Expertise: Family business

Special abilities: Melanie is the milliner and Bernie is the haberdasher. They design and sell gnome hats, offering a variety of styles — plain, patterned, buckled, buttoned, pleated, or puckered. The hats are guaranteed not to frizz, fuzz, or fade. Buster Brown, the pig, and Tagg, the dog, welcome shoppers.

Claudia Watson is a regular contributor to PineStraw and The Pilot. A special thanks goes to M.T. Chamber, the poet and potter, who wishes to remain anonymous.  PS

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