I moved to the Portland area in 1999. It was during that first year when I met a wonderful woman named Mary, who quickly became my best friend. Mary had cancer, as did my own mother, and was one of the most giving and special people that I had ever met. Before she died, she made me a wonderful birdhouse from twisted driftwood branches she found on our Oregon coast. Making things was just one of her many gifts. I’ll never forget the morning I woke up to find one of her beautiful birdhouses that she had apparently placed in my garden without my knowledge. It seems that Mary was making them for all the special people in her life and I was blessed to be one of them. Mary died a few months later, but ever since the day her birdhouse appeared in my garden, the magic began to happen.
I soon noticed that the birdhouse was attracting all varieties of colorful birds to my yard. I delighted in watching them every day from my kitchen window, but it was one special little chickadee that really got my attention. She made her nest in unusual places like the big flower pots on my deck, my window box and even the artificial wreath on my front door. I eventually came to realize that this wasn’t normal chickadee behavior. I wanted to share all the wonder and amazement that I was experiencing as I watched her on a daily basis. I named her Emily and, putting my pen to paper, began the task of telling her story in my first attempt at writing a book for children. The words came out in a simple rhyme that seemed to flow out effortlessly. In one sitting, my very first children’s book was written, which I titled Emily Waits for her Family.
I started asking friends who had young children or grandchildren to read my story to them. I valued their opinion and the reactions of their young audience. Friends and family continued to encourage me. Eventually, my mother also passed away and I found myself writing lots of poetry after her death. I soon realized there was more of Emily’s story that could be shared. I also wanted to teach children how to take care of the chickadees in their yard, which resulted in the writing of my second book, Caring for Emily’s Family. Somehow I always knew I would write one more book for this to be a three-part series, but had to wait a few more years for the inspiration to finish the story of Emily, the chickadee.
After my mother’s death, my husband and I built our very first home and we moved to the country, where birds and deer were daily visitors. It was in the following spring that my husband opened our front door and couldn’t believe what he saw. He wouldn’t tell me what it was, but rather called me there to have a look for myself. There appeared to be a pile of straw on the floor and some sticking out from a bird nest in the artificial wreath hanging on the door. I was even more amazed to learn it was a chickadee nest, when I later saw the familiar little bird flying from it. Finally I had the inspiration for the third book, and sat down to write Emily’s New Home. People always ask how I can be sure it was Emily, the same little chickadee. I tell them that even though I can’t be certain, the little girl telling the story had no doubt at all that it was indeed her little friend who followed her to her new home!
That summer my uncle passed away and I was gifted with some inheritance money. With my husband’s support, I now had the funds to hire a local artist to do the illustrations for all three books. Six years had passed from the time I wrote the first book until May of 2008 when it was finally published. The second book was released in August, followed by the third book in November. It has been quite a journey, but one well worth taking. I originally wrote these books with the hope of increasing children’s awareness of nature and its precious gifts that can be found as close as our own backyards. I never realized the important role they would soon play in my own personal life. My husband passed away suddenly of a heart attack in late November while we were vacationing with our family in Mexico. Had it not been for these books that I’d written and the local children charities they led me to, I never would have been able to get through the month of December. It was important to me that I fulfilled my previous commitments to donate my books to Doerenbecher’s Children Hospital as well as the Children’s Cancer Association before the holidays. I realized that I still had so many blessings left in my life to be grateful for. Even though I miss my husband every day, I am so grateful that the work I’m doing with my books continues to give me a greater purpose, gently reminding me to keep looking outside of myself and connecting with others. That is what is truly important and the gift they bring to me.
Carol Zelaya is a former nurse, recently widowed, and mother of two grown children. She grew up in the Chicago area, where she eventually met and married her husband and where they raised a family. Having relocated to Oregon in 1996, Zelaya began her love affair with nature and its beautiful creatures. Inspired by her surroundings, she started taking pictures and writing. Writing poetry led to writing three children’s books, of course, in rhyme. Zelaya’s Emily the Chickadee books are the true story of the special bond between a tiny bird and a little girl and the true meaning of family.
Carol is now moving to the San Diego area to be near her children. You can visit her online at www.emilythechickadee.com.