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Washington County Circuit Court Judge Gayle Nachtigal runs her Hillsboro courtroom with a firm hand, routinely sending convicted criminals off to prison. But Nachtigal has a soft spot: gnomes.

She received her first gnome as a gift, and now her collection features about 20 of the bewhiskered rascals. by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO - As the chairman of the seven-member Metro Council, Tom Hughes is a Metro-gnome.

“Once you get one gnome, they seem to find you,” explained Nachtigal, who also sports gnome key chains, earrings and socks.

She and her husband, Hillsboro City Councilor Fred Nachtigal, decided to bring along one gnome — Clyde — on a trip and have since continued that tradition.

Clyde, alas, fell off a railing at a German zoo and died, Judge Nachtigal said, but he was replaced by Clyde II, a veritable gnomad who has since traveled across the United States and Europe, from the Grand Canyon to England’s Parliament.

“When you start taking pictures with your gnomes, soon people want to be in your pictures,” Nachtigal said. “Then you just meet all kinds of whimsical people.”

Under Nachtigal’s watchful eye, Clyde will never end up in gnome-man’s land.by: COURTESY PHOTO: GAYLE NACHTIGAL - Clyde II went to Bike Week in Sturgis, South Dakota, last year.

“If more of us had whimsical things like this, life might be a little brighter,” Nachtigal said. “It’s hard to get angry or upset when you’re with a gnome.”

Traveling gnomes

Becky Tengs doesn’t just leave her gnomes in her yard.

She brings them inside her home. She takes them to weddings. She eats with them at nice restaurants, where they have their own place-settings (and very small portions served by indulgent waiters).

From outdoor décor to traveling companions to community builders to conversation ice-breakers, garden gnomes aren’t just funny figurines with hearts of stone. For local gnomeowners — a Bald Peak resident, a Washington County judge, the entire Banks Country Garden Club — they’re passions.by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: STEPHANIE HAUGEN - There are six types of gnomes -- woodland gnomes, dune gnomes (pictured here), garden gnomes, farm gnomes, house gnomes and Siberian gnomes.

They’re also steeped in folklore, history and popular culture, with roles in books and movies.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, gnomes were first named by Medieval scholar Paracelcus.

They were seen as mythical creatures much like trolls or dwarves, considered spirits in Renaissance magic and were penned into early fairy tales, such as the Brothers Grimm story, “The Gnome.”

Gnome statuettes started appearing in Germany in the 19th century to decorate and protect lawns from sorcery, and are still a staple in many a local yard.

Tengs has about 70 gnomes dotting her five partially-wooded acres near Bald Peak, and they all have what Tengs calls “old man grandpa” gnomenclature — Carlton, Martin, Farney, Leigh, Jack.

Many were given to her as presents on birthdays, anniversaries, holidays or at the end of the school year.

Tengs’ preoccupation with gnomes is legendary at the Forest Grove Community School, where she teaches third and fourth grades. Students know her classroom doubles as a gnome sanctuary and have wallpapered it with gnome drawings. This year, one student even painted Tengs in the likeness of a gnome.

In her yard, Tengs’ mini-man menagerie is carefully arranged so there are always two or three huddled together in the shrubbery — so they don’t get lonely, she said.

Tengs is drawn to their docile faces, subtle charm and coy expressions.

“They inspire my childlike imagination and wonder,” she said.

‘Pick me, choose me’

In Banks, the ladies of the Banks Country Garden Club also offer refuge to these unshaven gents. They rescued one particular sleepy gnome from the bleak shelves of a big store, christening him “Gerome the Traveling Gnome.”by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: STEPHANIE HAUGEN - Gerome the Traveling Gnome, who travels with the ladies of the Banks Country Garden Club, appears as if he sleeps all the time, but is actually quite active.

“He is so popular, at our meetings we have to put our names in a hat just to see who gets picked to take him home. Whoever gets picked gets to have him for a whole month, 30 days. We wait with bated breath; ‘pick me, choose me,’” Banks Country Garden Club President Rita Hofsheier writes, describing Gerome as “a gentleman that roams from woman to woman, garden to garden, never asking anything in return but a soft place to sleep.”

Gerome composes a monthly update for the club’s newsletter.

“I was placed under a very pretty Japanese maple in the front yard until I learned there was a large garter snake in residence there and I said, ‘No way,’” Gerome writes under his gnome de plume while staying at Nancy Haskin’s house.

“Does she think that gnomes hibernate just like a bear?” Gerome complains at Dalice Sawyer’s house — writing under a pseudognome, of course. “She has kept me in the basement since she brought me home in October.”

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