By Ellen Carroll
I have learned that everything is connected and I am at peace with not knowing how everything will tie together because life has taught me that at the right time, it will be revealed.
Many years ago, my good friend Elaine died from cancer. The night of her passing, she came to me in a vivid dream. She was as happy as a lark, pain free, and, even though it seems like a cliché, she ran towards me over a charming bridge that linked a hill covered in wild flowers with the trail I was on. Bouncing along with Elaine was a playful, black dog. We were elated to see each other. She gave me messages for two couples who were friends of ours and I wrote them down when I woke up. I hadn’t known Elaine before she was struggling with physical ailments – she had not been spry at all and wouldn’t have been able to run across any bridges. And her dog was a yellow lab – the friends gasped when I described the black dog. They knew her name and showed me some photographs. I was glad that Elaine and her old pet had come to me. The messages were welcome to her friends, and I will never forget the hope that seeing Elaine gave me.
Animals have always been a kind of angel in my life. “Angel” comes from a word that means messenger, and there have been many messengers. Last year my horse, Rocky, who is buried here on my farm, arrived in a dream to take me to see my parents. I had been about to pull a trailer carrying many horses over a large but somehow empty bridge when I had a feeling my deceased father and mother were close by. I pulled over with caution and commented to some passengers that I needed to take a moment to see my parents. I looked out over the railings but I saw no one. Rocky kept nudging me to stay and then, there they were. Down below and further away, almost like dots on the horizon, I could see my parents and some of my aunts and uncles sitting in chairs on the grass enjoying the scene before them. They were looking towards me with big smiles and laughter, waving, calling me to join them. Then I woke up.
My dreams are always much busier than this life. Often, I feel I’m living multiple lives all at the same time in different dimensions. Or at least catching up on working through struggles on various planes. In my childhood there were many difficult struggles and animals were often my lifeline, offering unconditional love when life seemed very dark. It was always safer to be with my dogs and horses rather than in human interactions. I also learned to love and eventually trust people through loving my pets. I grew up in a chaotic family with parents who had their own struggles. I was a truth-teller – I told my parents they should not hit us. Instead of seeing the light as I would have hoped, they would attack me more than the other kids.
The attic area that became my bedroom was my haven. I would sometimes crawl out my window onto the roof just to breathe and feel free. The room had ceilings that angled as attics often do and the room was not large, an L shape with two windows, one on each end, but it was all mine. I often went to sit in the closet which was large enough to step inside and close the door. After family fights that is where I would go. My father actually kicked through the door to the attic once and burst through in a fit of anger. I was already balled up on the shag rug to protect myself from what was coming – swift kicks and random fist hits. My awareness would float high above my body to get away from the pain.
Later, I would write on my walls and ceilings with pens, pencils, and crayons, putting my feelings into code words and images only I could understand. Because it had been an attic, my mother was fine with my writing on the walls and ceiling that became my emotional canvas. I covered every square inch with phrases and sketches which relieved my feelings of fear and expressed my wishes and hopes. I dreamed of a better life and promised it to myself in the coded words scripted on the walls. Often, I pulled lines from separate groupings of words written in different moments that then flowed together as poetry. My connection to my pets and to dream animals of many kinds, including dolphins, unicorns, and beautiful birds, is still clear and incredibly important in my life.
As I grew up, my parents changed and in their later years we had a positive, loving relationship. I have many good memories with my family. My father surprised me at random times with kindnesses and great advice that guided me. The same was true with my mother. Life has its chapters. I have been able to learn from them all yet not believe any one chapter is who I am – they are simply part of what brought me to this moment. I am grateful for all the moments of my life.
My art is like my life – I paint and write, watching what evolves without judgment. I don’t know ahead of time where I’ll go or what will show up and perhaps turn into a story. That’s what happened when I created the image of a frog crawling up a tree. It was first a print and then, when I saw a new world burst forth from within the tree, I realized that the frog was in fact a character in a book I created months later. I enjoy being a conduit and I have faith in this process. Both my paintings and my children’s books involve animals that just arrive to become friends and teachers about life in the stories that unfold.
There’s one that has become a picture book about a beautiful grey pony that lives out on a farm and is friends with the geese. They frolic together. One day she takes a snooze standing in a large pasture. While she drifts off into sleep, flurries come down and before she knows it, she is enveloped in snow. Then, the geese who had flown off, begin to look for her and one by one they make their way back to find her near a familiar pine tree. They find a surprise there with her in the snow – a little filly has been born and the geese sing lullabies to her. (The filly is named Surprise!) When I created this book, page by page, I had no idea what would be next. I simply allowed the colors to flow, felt the emotions, and watched the pictures come into being. Then it’s like a puzzle – I begin to organize the pictures and see for myself the final story.
I am working now on a book which will have the title THE PEACE TREE – a collection of stories that began with my horse, Rocky, and a dog, Hope, and a group of other horses and dogs who sense magic in the air and decide to plant a leaf that will create a Peace Tree. There are bubbles that float across the land to inspire curious creatures from far and wide to join together as they recognize intuitively that something magical is “in the air.” A peaceful world is arriving as ponies sprout golden, ethereal wings and become small unicorns with the powers of kindness. This story is to become a series with colorful images and messages of hope, friendship, and love for all.
We are in a time when we would like to add hope and peace and purpose to our world. I have come to see that every living thing, every blade of grass, every tree that sways in the breeze, and certainly all the animals, share consciousness. We are all here on this planet for a reason and each one of us is unique. Life is a journey, an enlightening “dream” which we enter. It’s where we plan, question, react to, grow from, and are confused by what happens. Then later we realize we wouldn’t change any of it because we are who we are because of what we live through.
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Ellen Carroll treasures her two sons, her farm on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and creating books and paintings.
Ellen created the image of frogs that heads this post – they are kin to the one that appeared and climbed a tree in one of her stories.
You can learn more about Ellen’s books and art at