Green Hands — "Green Hands"
Green Hands
The Column Archive
2000 columns

2001 columns
2002 columns
2003 columns
2004 columns
2005 columns:
2006 columns
2007 columns
What's New
CHC Home
Taking Fairies Seriously

On Monhegan Island, off the coast of Maine, for some time now people have been building houses for fairies. After author/illustrator Tracy Kane published her storybook, “Fairy Houses” in 2001, the idea caught fire.

The resulting building boom, however, is spoiling the natural state of park areas. On Monhegan, the trailhead sign no longer suggests how to build, but says “These wildlands are all privately owned. Please help keep them pristine.”

On Mackworth Island, below Monhegan, park managers have created a “Fairy Village” which perhaps they hoped would preserve the rest of the woods. Although it certainly concentrates the houses, I saw them spreading beyond.

Mackworth’s sign says “You may build houses small and hidden for the fairies, but please do not use living or artificial materials.” I didn’t see here any of the glitter or plastic reported elsewhere, but almost every structure incorporated pretty green sprigs of spruce, and I saw several imposing fairy condominiums.

Kane’s work focuses on a loving and respectful attitude toward nature. I think the problem is, we need to take that in more deeply. In Thailand, people put beautiful “spirit houses” in front of their homes and businesses, beside a lake or in a cave — there’s even one for the whole city of Bangkok. Some, like that one, are big enough to walk in, but most are the size of a birdcage, and sit on a pedestal.

Inviting guardian spirits to live in them, people decorate them and leave little food offerings, to ask for the spirits’ goodwill. The descriptions I read of these practices, written from a Western point of view, labeled them with terms we’d never apply to ourselves, like “spirit worship” and “animism.” But it seems to me that these practices, like fairy houses, are creative ways of relating to forces we Westerners need to deal with better.

I’m not saying the Thai have better environmental consciousness than we do. (Old, worn-out spirit houses often pile up in their own section of the local dump.) Rather, that there’s a reason connecting with nature inspires creativity.

And we can tap that source to invent ways to improve both cultures’ customs. I can’t speak for the Thai ... but for us, I'd like to see a way to take our fairy houses home, instead of leaving them all over. We could develop them further, landscape them in our gardens, decorate them how we want, and lovingly nourish the magic.

Photos © Wendy Clark - Top one: a petite fairy house, within Mackworth's village; Second: a fairy condo, outside it

Text © Copyright 2005 Catherine Holmes Clark

Published in the six Nashoba Publications papers on Friday, 10 June 2005

Next story (by date)

For more information