Creative people. There are all kinds. Some paint pictures. Some write stories. Some design houses. Some do nothing but dream. And then there are the few that take the world by storm. They're not content to simply paint pictures, write stories, design houses, or dream. They're determined to do something that has never been done before... something that could just change the world. Passionate, eccentric, quixotic, revolutionary artists.
Many artists have been called "Dreamers", "Fools". "Don't be a poet, be a TV repairman!" was the advice offered to one budding young writer in a movie I adore. Facts are facts -- a very small percentage of artists actually make a living from their art. So some take careers in other fields... they become retail clerks, teachers, dental hygienists. They may struggle to find time to pursue what they really love. And sometimes they listen to the naysayers in their life who tell them they'll never amount to anything, and so they quietly give up.
"Dreams can come true," some say. Surely you've met a few of these incurable optimist types. Those peppy Pollyannas who are convinced gold lies at the end of the rainbow. They're the kind that think merely wishing is enough to make anything happen. If you believe strongly enough, your prince will come. This is BS and most people know it. Dreams don't tend to just come true on their own, unless you're a princess in some fairy tale, but even with those we tend to forget that Cinderella lost her parents and was treated like crap, Snow White was poisoned, and Sleeping Beauty was gouged. You want something nice? You'll have to pay the price.
Somewhere in between these two extremes are people who know that if you want something, you'll have to work for it.
And for the record, Roger Tofte is my new hero. I met his wife, Mavis, earlier this month. She was signing copies of some books she'd written. One was on the creation of The Enchanted Forest, a family-built-and-owned amusement park near Salem, Oregon. I gravitated toward her table, since the Enchanted Forest was one of those places I'd enjoyed when I was seven and had kept meaning to return to, just for kicks. I had no idea who Mavis was until she began talking, and when I realized she was the wife of the man who had created the Enchanted Forest, it was all I could not to leap across the table and hug her and ask if I could dip her in bronze. Or something less creepy. Seriously, though... this was akin to meeting Walt Disney's mother. Awesome by association. Of course, after reading the book (duh, of course I bought it!) I realized Mavis was equally awesome.
According to Mavis, Roger had always been a creative type. He enjoyed painting and inventing. Many of his ideas were dreams never realized, but I suppose he knew that one day, one of those dreams would happen... he would make it happen. He would do whatever it took.
The work on The Enchanted Forest began in 1964 and would take seven years to complete -- not that it was ever really "complete" -- like Disneyland, it's an ongoing project. From 1964 to 1971, Roger (with help from his family) built the Enchanted Forest on some land they'd purchased near Salem, along the I-5 freeway. Roger wanted a place for families to visit while traveling along the route; back then, there were no tourist attractions between Portland and San Francisco. And it wasn't that he wanted money -- he wanted to do it for children and families... but at the same time, I believe he needed to do it. The artist within him was not content to be still and quiet. While once he painted pictures, now he had an enormous "canvas" on which to work.
The family did it themselves. No corporations were behind the endeavor. They worked hard and used their own money to finance the project. When there was no money, they had to wait until there was. Many people thought Roger was crazy; they didn't think what he was doing was going to amount to anything.
In 1971, the Enchanted Forest opened to visitors. Thirty-five years later -- and with many new attractions -- the place is thriving. Undoubtedly, Roger proved those naysayers wrong.
The whole story is chronicled in Mavis Tofte's book The Enchanted Forest and Its Family (Cascade Printing Co., 2001). An overview of the place's history can also be found on the official Enchanted Forest website.
It's an inspirational story that makes me believe anything's possible with a lot of hard work and sacrifice. It is fitting that much of the Enchanted Forest is dedicated to fairy tales, because in a way, the Tofte family was part of a modern-day fairy tale. Their dream came true. Maybe others' can, too.
This article was originally published on my old website AlligatorJuice.com on September 29, 2006.