Once upon a time there were enchanted kingdoms inhabited by elves who overcame evil creatures during the night. Today these tales come to life in the elf houses lovingly handcrafted by long-time Maple Grove resident, “Grandpa Don.”
Quick with a joke and endlessly charming, Grandpa Don has qualities any elf would admire. Fitting, since it takes a special character to construct elf houses of special character. These enchanted wooden structures provide ideal places for elves to hang their hats.
In the mind of a child, elves chase away trolls and other evil creatures. Of course, an elf has contemporaries in the form of fairies, gnomes, hobbits, leprechauns and dwarfs, too. Grandpa Don says elves and other guardians begin their work around bedtime and continue as children sleep, clearing entire houses of evil, room by room. Children can doze off knowing they’re protected by the mystic forces contained in an elf house. But first, the children must believe.
Most believers are between 2 and 10 years old, but grownup folk can join in, too. Imagination and faith make an elf house work. (And a few elf-scribed notes attached to cookie or candy treat bags enhance the magic.) Who is not taken in by the wonder of an elf house?
Grandpa Don found inspiration in 1997 when a 10-inch-diameter tree fell in his yard and its hollow trunk was an ideal elf habitat.
When neighbors caught a glimpse of the first-made elf dwelling, requests started coming in for more. He's made more than 100 elf houses so far. One elf house even made its way to Mexico to the front yard of former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura. And, while donated materials are appreciated, Grandpa Don typically makes elf houses for free.
More work goes into them than meets the eye. Drills, sanders and other carpentry tools are required for construction. Each elf house has its own unique personality and appearance, but all have a nightlight capability. “When the light goes on, the elves chase away evil things,” Grandpa Don says.
The typical elf house rests on a 11/2 foot tree trunk base with craggy trimmed windows and doors covered by a mossy or stoned roof. Elf houses are always made of “tree wood,” Grandpa Don explains.
He shares his wisdom and wit on his Facebook page Mystical Willows - Elf, Gnome, Hobbit, Dwarf and Angel Houses and in other ways. If a parent or grandparent wishes to make one for their own kids or grandkids, Grandpa Don invites them into his shop and helps them make their ideas into a reality.
While most materials are natural, wood glue holds everything together with a few coatings of polyurethane for a smooth, lasting finish. Bark, leaves, twigs, branches, berries, flowers, pine cones and ladders add a whimsical touch. Dreamlike natural-sourced structures have the nooks and crannies elves need to thrive. Ladders enable the elves to move about freely. After all, the life of an elf has its share of challenges.
With four grandchildren of his own, Grandpa Don knows how stories of elves and other good creatures can brighten up the life of a child. “If there is a kid in need of an elf house, I’ll make one,” Grandpa Don says. His new hobby became a way to give something back. He has five elf houses at Maple Grove Hospital available for kids to enjoy during their stay. Grandpa Don says, “It’s a one-time thing—it can’t be sterilized properly, so they go home with the kids, so that’s fine with me. They’re for kids.”