The Wild Land of Fairy Houses
Words by Mandi Tompkins
Photographs by Jenn Bakos
The coast of Maine is a magical and eerie place, where cliffs plunge into the cold Atlantic and isolated islands dot the coastline. Fog often permeates the coast, hanging over cliffs and beaches, and even along wooded trails – the perfect setting for one’s eyes to play tricks and the imagination to run wild.
Folklore pours from the Maine coast like the rain in June, eccentric storytellers weaving their narrative and sharing tales from bygone eras. It’s not totally clear where many of the stories came from, what with time (and the occasional late night drinking) clouding memories. Ghost stories and supernatural tales have been crafted, and then twisted and turned over the years, but the tradition of storytelling has remained true. And it continues on each summer as new generations of children are initiated into this culture of folklore.
Growing up during the summer on a small island off the coast of Boothbay Harbor, I was first exposed to these traditions as a very young child. According to my parents (the most trusted source in my young life), the island where we lived was a popular stop over for fairies during their travels. Their wings would be tired from the long journey through inclement weather and over treacherous terrain. The problem, however, was that they didn’t have a place to stay. Our houses were far too large for and the fairies too shy. No, they couldn’t possibly stay with us - we had to build them a place to rest, said my parents. If we didn’t build them a home, they would stop coming to our magical little island. It didn’t take much more convincing than that.
Each summer as the season started we would trudge into Fairy Forest – an actual place on our small island – to find a perfectly serene location to build our fairy friends a home. We spent hours searching the woods and beaches for building materials, tirelessly building tiny, intricate facades, ensuring the most comfortable of accommodations. When done we would stand back to admire our work, and then go off hunting through the woods to see if we could find other houses.
Unfortunately, as I grew older I became wise to my parents tactics. I realized one day - although I have no specific memory of the moment - that fairies did not actually reside in our well-crafted homes each summer. I quietly stepped away from the tradition and allowed for other younger children to take my place as architect to the fairies.
This tradition is not unique to the island where I grew up. Fairies need many places to rest on their long journeys, and so this tradition has spread from Monhegan Island to Mackworth Island and beyond. To keep the magic of this tradition alive we all need to help build these architectural wonders, so we invite our fellow New Englanders to spread the tale and encourage children to participate in this imaginative celebration of New England folklore.