Her books have been six years in the making; rejected by publishers; but Darcee O’Hearn is trudging along, undaunted.
The 39-year-old mother of three has been through trials and tribulations before, and her latest venture is just another in a growing list of challenges.
O’Hearn created a series of children’s books that will help children gain a better understanding of the forest.
After completing a degree in forestry at Selkirk College, O’Hearn was funded by the West Kootenay Education Fund to teach kids “the good news about the forest industry.
“I was alarmed to see that children didn’t know the difference between a coniferous and deciduous tree; they called a cedar a pine tree and had absolutely no clue what the difference was.
“What was more alarming was, even the teachers didn’t know what trees were called in their own backyards.”
O’Hearn found the easiest way to translate information to children was to make up stories.
While conducting her program at a school in Ft. St. John, a native woman overheard her stories and told her she should write them down.
“She cried, and said they reminded her of the stories her elders told.”
The books: Legends of the Forest are broken down into stories about individual tree specimens.
Leonard the Larch tells the story of the larch, the only coniferous tree that drops all its needles every year.
“He’s a real character who likes to make trouble. He likes to spook people and Halloween is his favourite time of year. Mother Earth told him if he shed his needles, he’d look like a skeleton and be much scarier.”
Others in the series include: Lenny the Lodgepole Pine, Wendy the White Pine, Harry the Hemlock, Bruce the Spruce, and Douglas Fir and Mack the Mouse.
A Douglas Fir cone looks like the tail and feet of mice are sticking out of it.
“That’s because Mother Earth trapped the mice for stealing all the seeds.”
Hemlocks are the trees with the bent tops.
“Harry the Hemlock looks like a fir, but the difference is the bent leader. That’s because he has the smallest of coniferous cones. He hangs his head in shame due to this ‘small cone syndrome.’”
The books give a complete profile of the tree, bark, cones, and include a craft section as well. So children can go out to the woods and use the books to identify various trees, leaves, needles, etc. In the first book, she’s also included a recipe for making Plasticine amber out of tree sap.
“If you take kids into the bush, they usually will rip up leaves or tear off tree bark. I like to teach them that trees require the leaves to grow, to absorb carbon. I want them to realize that trees have personalities. I want them to slow down and enjoy nature.”
The 24-page books are in an easy reader style, 9 by 6 inches, to fit in backpacks; and filled with projects.
“Kids can take them into the forest and try to match the different trees by using the books. They are also good bed time stories.”
O’Hearn went through several publishers and is opting to publish and market the books herself.
“I had a lot of positive feedback. But getting them onto store shelves would take three years, and I’d only make 33 per cent of the sales.”
She sees this as just another life challenge, of which she’s endured several.
In 1997, a kayaking accident on a river in Chile left her with a broken neck and the threat of becoming permanently paralyzed. Just getting back to Canada for medical treatment was an incredible journey in itself.
When she recovered, she wanted to make a difference in the world and decided to cycle all the way across Canada to raise money for spinal cord research.
While the trip was a success, O’Hearn was disillusioned by the “mere $10,000” she raised.
But the real downer happened in Newfoundland, when she visited a 14-year-old boy who was a quadriplegic due to a diving accident.
After sharing her own experience, “I told him I believed he’d walk again.”
She was quickly ushered out of his room and doctors chastised her for giving the boy false hope.
“They said I shouldn’t inspire people with empty promises.”
A few years later, she received an email from the boy and it blew her away.
“The first line was ‘Guess who’s typing.’
“He’s walking now, with support. He said all kinds of people came to see him and try to inspire him but out of all of them who had the most influence, he chose me.”
The email had O’Hearn in tears.
“His name is Chris Campbell. I didn’t know I made such an impact. But he didn’t know how much of an impact he had on me.”
She looked back over that two-and-a-half month journey.
“All the wind, the rain, the bugs; it was all worth it, just because of him.”
While in the north working for a forest company, she was once chased by a grizzly bear.
“Demonstrating what not to do when you meet a bear in the woods – I sprayed a whole can of bear-spray in my face. Then I ran blind, clearing an entire creek in one leap.”
Today, jumping through the hoops of writing and self-publishing, O’Hearn is inspired by her children.
“Whenever we go in the truck, they always want me to tell them a story – the same story, over and over again.”