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Do I Believe in Fairies?

What do you mean by “fairies”? What does it mean, “believe”? Why does this archetype thrill the child within all of us? Do you believe in poetry? Music?

Last week, on an island off the coast of Maine, I watched a young girl building a fairy house. She lay sticks around an oval two feet at the widest, marking off the territory. Within that, she pushed more sticks into the ground, and laid fallen bark across them for a roof. Shells served as stepping stones on the path to the doorway. Off to the side of the walkway, a circle of tiny pebbles marked ... a garden bed? or a fire pit? (Do fairies make fire? Maybe magic fire, yes I can certainly see them dancing around an eerie shimmering playful fire spirit...)

Elves and brownies may inhabit your house, but fairies are deeply connected to nature. I’m sure some fairies live in meadows, I can just see them swinging on tall grasses and basking in the sun. But the woods are full of them, the mysterious woods. Tracy Kane, author and illustrator of Fairy Houses, says they “live in the spirit of all the plants and animals in the woods.”

Kane has also published Fairy Boat and Fairy Flight; and teaches people how to build fairy houses, at events across the country. (She was at the Chelmsford Public Library last summer.) She also plays herself in an award-winning video, Kristen’s Fairy House, which expands the story of the first book.

As I walked through a whole village of fairy houses in the woods, I had to be careful where I stepped. Tradition requires these structures be made of natural materials, and not living ones either, to prevent human builders from tearing off live pieces of forest beings. So the houses tend to be transient, falling apart easily and returning to the forest floor. But I could see ghosts of walls, where sticks poked upright in a line here or there, and pebble paths leading to a fallen pile of leaves and bark. Even as they decayed, they still felt as though magic tarried there....

Kane’s work is aimed at children. Educators praise how it helps gets them doing something imaginative, away from the TV, connecting with nature. But inhabitants of these islands were doing this long before Kane, and I know other adults besides me are enchanted by it.

Top photo © C.H. Clark - Maine resident Hailey starts a new fairy house
Second photo © Wendy Clark - a simple fairy house

Text © Copyright 2005 Catherine Holmes Clark

Published in the six Nashoba Publications papers on Friday, 3 June 2005

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For more information
  • Mackworth offers enchanting hike -
  • The Fairy House series:
    • The Website -
      • lots of great pictures
      • lots of info, including how to make a Fairy House, and a schedule of Fairy-House—building events. (Chelmsford, MA did one in July 2004.)
    • books written and illustrated by Tracy L. Kane, available at the website, as well as from
      • the C/W MARS regional library system
      • (Green Hands gets a commission if you buy using this link.)
    • Kristen's Fairy House
      • a 1997 PBS special by Mark Forman (from Kane's book of that name)
      • Winner of the Parent's Choice Gold Award, from the American Library Association
      • available from C/W MARS in both VHS and DVD.
  • Coming next week: further musings on this topic, in "Taking Fairies Seriously."