Arbor Lee


Mindful Field Notes is an online journal of writing and photography by Arbor Lee | Oh My Darling Days. 

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A Handful of Elephants


Four years ago, I made the courageous leap from a teaching career into uncertainty. I didn't know what was next but I knew that I had outgrown a career that originated out of survival and necessity. After fourteen years, I was emotionally depleted and finally in a financial position that enabled me to choose something more life-giving. I felt called to grow my creativity and although I didn't know what that would look like, I knew I had to give it a go.

As my final teaching year came to an end, I was participating in a woman's group that was also coming to an end. The group had been a significant source of healing and support. As we neared our final gathering, I wanted to create an offering of gratitude to the circle of women. I decided to make some small elephants.

The elephant was a symbol we had worked with in our group as a way of letting go and cultivating a life-giving relationship with the support of the earth. While laying on the ground, we imagined ourselves resting on the back of an enormous pet elephant— an elephant that was strong enough to hold all our emotional and physical weight. This symbolic elephant had a profound influence on my ability to access a deepening sense of physical and emotional release. It was the first time in my adult life that I experienced such profound ease.

I cut out 12 palm-sized elephants from some scraps of gray flannel fabric and added a small pocket to the front. Then I hand stitched each elephant with a different color of embroidery thread and stuffed them with soft fill. I wrote an intentional word for each then tucked the words into the tiny pockets. During our final gathering, I passed a basket of these small handcrafted elephants around the circle and invited each woman to choose one. Then, our group leader asked us to share the words that came with our chosen elephant. As the women read their words aloud, I was delighted by the serendipity of these small hand-stitched offerings. Each word perfectly aligned with what each of the women needed to hear that day. It spoke to the power of heartfelt connection and the magic of a single intentional wish.

That moment became the seed for my creative direction. Over the past four years, I opened and closed several Etsy shops and websites. I experimented with a variety of creative mediums and explored a multitude of ideas with various levels of success and failure. I had moments of feeling completely lost and frustrated. But I stayed committed to discovering my way to run a creative business. And through all the trial and error, my original idea of an animal with a pocket for intentional words has remained.

My first version of critters with pockets evolved from the hand-stitched elephants. They were simple, small bunnies crafted from felted wool with embroidered faces. I called them Love Bunnies. They were crafted with the intention to hold and exchange small handwritten notes of endearment— a ritual of connection inspired by my childhood. My mama and I would leave small handwritten notes for each other to find in pockets and under pillows. It was a ritual that ignited my love for writing and an affinity for handwritten letters. I loved the idea of those small endearing notes being held and carried by hand-stitched critters.  

The Love Bunnies evolved into other animals and grew into a collection of Communication Critters and Pocket Pen Pals, including commissioned work. With each iteration, I learned new skills and improved the quality of materials and stitching. And I learned that I still have more critters to offer.

My newest rendition of critters is called Connection Critters. I am using watercolor linen and felted wool with some fabric appliqué. They are larger with a pocket that stitched into the seams, making them sturdier and easier to use. Each new critter is available for adoption, including a certificate of adoption. With each adoption, $5 will be donated to my on of my favorite animal advocacy organizations. Currently, I am donating to Best Friends with a desire to integrate my creative work with causes that align with my heart.

Reflecting on these past several years, I realize how a small moment of inspiration can forward our dreams in big ways. For me, it was a handful of elephants that rekindled my creative voice.