LeeLee's Elves

When my daughter Leelee was six she found a little hole in an elm tree in our yard and decided that elves lived there.


She didn’t tell Jennifer or me. But she wrote a sweet note to the presumptive little creatures, and made some tiny little “scarves” to keep them warm, and stuck it in all in the hole. We saw her playing in the yard, and when she wasn’t around we went to see what was up. I’m not saying it was right or wrong, but my wife wrote a note back, saying hello.


Leelee didn’t tell us she received a note, in fact she was pretty secretive about the whole thing, but she was clearly ebullient, and set to work on something in her room. When we checked a few days later she had left another note in the tree.


Needlesstosay, the conversation began to escalate. Jen created first one elf, Daphne, and then a brother, Darnell. Leelee still didn’t alert us to this new adventure, but every day she’d go to the tree to see if the elves received her notes and gifts. “Is there anything you need?” she asked. Daphne told her they had all they needed, living in the tree as they did, invisible to humans...

For fun, Jen and her friend Patrice decided to create bits of evidence of the elves’ world. It started small. A little ladder. A pile of acorns. But over time it grew in complexity.

Wedding Chairs. Rocking Horse.


Dozens of objects and notes over a couple months.

Eventually she told us of her relationship. Her brother was skeptical, but also a little jealous of her private friends. This continued adorably all Spring. We’d hear her working in her room... and later see her put something in the tree. And we’d sneak out later and collect up her notes and insert responses and cooler and cooler artifacts.


And then something happened: the City of Santa Cruz posted a notice on the tree. Apparently this elm, along with the row of giant old elm trees on our street, were infected with a tree disease and were slated to be cut down. We were despondent. Leelee would certainly be crushed. Should we just let it happen? Do we fight the city? We had about a month or so to plan.


Daphne wrote Leelee and told her that as the summer was arriving it was time for them to move on to other forests— it was their joyful life to move from woods to woods, and only sometimes they would get to know wonderful magical humans. Daphne told her that she should hang onto their furniture in case they passed this way again, but it might be many years before they’d return — it’s a big world and she looked forward to exploring it. Leelee was sad they were moving on, but happy to have new friends. And when the tree was finally removed, she was just glad Daphne and Darnell weren’t around for it.

None of us really talked much about the elves for the subsequent years... but i asked her about it not that long ago she said that she sorta figured it out at some point, around the time the tooth fairy story wound down, but still preferred to think those elves were out there enjoying the world. So do I.

— MH Rubin, Neomodern founder