The Enchantments of Maine
Building fairy houses in the woods out of bark, twigs, and moss has long been a favorite activity of children in Maine. In a new
- Photography by: Robert Mitchell
Maine’s rocky shores, stony soils, and old fields framed by stone walls are reminiscent of Ireland. And like Ireland, Maine seems to be one of the world’s great fairy haunts. Perhaps a few fairies stowed away across the sea to North America and sought out places that reminded them of their Old World homelands. With its lush, stream-rich woods and rocky shores, Maine would have been a perfect new home. Its boreal nature has an otherworldly character, inspiring us to look and listen deeply and sense an unseen realm of earth spirits drawn here by the carpets of moss, the lichen-covered ledges, the sounds of waves and seabirds and splashing waterfalls, the fragrance of pine forests, and the winter skies splattered with twinkling stars. Of course, fairies must be here. How can they resist being here?
This sense of magic in the air perhaps explains why Mainers developed a fairy house-building tradition. It’s a tradition that seems to be growing in popularity today as people of all ages want to connect more with nature and spend more time outside. Building fairy houses is simple, thoughtful, fun. A way for us to exercise our creativity and bond with nature — all the while using our own imaginations.
Maine islands, in particular, are linked with the tradition of building fairy houses. Monhegan Island, the best known, is one of Maine’s and the world’s great magical places. Twelve miles off the mainland and a world away from the everyday, Monhegan is a captivating place of breathtaking beauty. Its beautiful coastline and woods are so enchanting and gorgeous that you are amazed that such a place still exists. This fishing community and artists’ enclave is the Maine coast at its finest.
The magic of Monhegan seems to inspire us to acknowledge the fairy realm by building little houses. In the island’s Cathedral Woods, tall spruces stand like the pillars of a grand cathedral, drawing our eyes upward. For a generation, this moss-floored forest has been the site of Maine’s most well-known and beloved fairy house village. (Note: Due to too many people building fairy houses there in recent years and damaging plants and mosses in the process, visitors are now asked not to build any new houses. Just enjoy seeing any that you may spot on this enchanted island.)
At privately owned Squirrel Island, off Boothbay Harbor, fairy houses are also a cherished tradition. Flanking a narrow woodland path is a whole little fairy village. Many of these homes are no ordinary twig domiciles. One fairy house might boast a “china cabinet” filled with tiny shell dishes, while another features a little garden with “topiary” trees.
Mackworth Island lies just outside of Portland but feels like it’s miles away from the city. The small island is circled by a lovely coastal walking trail. About halfway around the circuit is a charming woodland fairy house village with views out to Casco Bay. Some of the houses are built against trees and stumps, while others are freestanding upon the thick, soft cushion of pine needles that cover the forest floor.
Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, on the mainland in Boothbay, is home to a large fairy house village where all young visitors are encouraged to build their own fairy shelters. Reached by a winding shoreland trail, Fairy Village is enclosed by a twig fence. The seemingly hundreds of fairy shelters inside range from basic lean-tos to fortresses to multilevel homes with gardens and shell swimming pools. Some domiciles, made of larger branches, look like they were made for fairies’ bigger gnome relations. During the summer, when hundreds of children build fairy homes there, a vast “fairy sprawl” develops, with even more wee homes springing up like mushrooms and wildflowers outside the fairy village fence.
Of course, most fairy houses are built in countless backyards and woodlots where children gather sticks, twigs, leaves, moss, pine cones, nuts, stones, bark, shells, flowers, and more to construct little dwellings for the fairies. In doing so, they are also encouraging their imagination, empathy, and creativity to take root and grow. And there is nothing to buy — all this creative play is absolutely free, as the best things usually are.
Make sure you look carefully for all the signs of fairies the next time you are in a Maine garden or walking in the woods. Don’t forget to look for nature’s fairy houses, too!
Visiting Fairy House Villages in Maine
Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. Open all year. Children and families can build fairy houses in the Fairy Village. CMBG also hosts an annual Fairy House Festival in August. Located on Barters Island Road in Boothbay. 207-633-4333. www.mainegardens.org
Mackworth Island. Open to the public year-round and accessible by car. From I-295 in Portland, take Exit 9 North to Route 1 and cross the Martins Point Bridge. Take the third right onto Andrews Road to the causeway (follow signs for Baxter School for the Deaf). Stop at the guardhouse and turn right to the parking area.
Monhegan Island. Monhegan makes a great day or overnight trip. In summer it is accessible by daily ferries from Port Clyde and Boothbay Harbor:Monhegan Boat Line (Port Clyde). 207-372-8848. www.monheganboat.com
Balmy Day Cruises (Boothbay Harbor). 207-633-2284 or 800-298-2284. www.balmydayscruises.com
Nature’s Fairy Houses Just like children, nature provides cozy nooks, crevices, and tussocks where fairies can hide. Look carefully as you explore outdoors — one of these tiny natural shelters can be the perfect starting point for building your fairy house.
- Photography by: Robert Mitchell