I collected fairies once. Somewhere along the last couple years, I sort of got over it. Tucked them into boxes, possibly to save for my niece if she gets into such things when she’s older. At thirteen and nearly-thirteen, our girls have outgrown magic and packed away their own fairy collections; dull practicality is rushing into its place at a frightening pace.
Everything is becoming lame. School is lame. All their parents are lame. Hiking and camping are definitely lame. As far as I can figure, electronics are the only not-lame things left in existence.
Except we found this place in Oregon, out in the middle of nowhere. We were looking for campsites along this dirt road; a near-hidden muddy turnoff caught our eye almost too late. I reversed a bit to make the turn and we edged down a muddy path toward a stream.
The whole drive was gorgeous– tall pines, clean air, dappled sunlight– but this was a pocket of even more perfect. Every living branch and fallen trunk enveloped in quiet moss; water curling around smooth stone islands and wandering into tiny waterfalls; hazy green light and some delicious unidentifiable smell.
“This is such a fairy place,” I said before we even got out of the car. The phrase was reflexive; I haven’t used it in years. Maybe because I’ve been stuck in the desert, where fairies and their places are in mighty short supply.
I thought the girls’ apathy was impenetrable, but they lifted their heads like racehorses scenting a track. Within seconds, they were out of the car and across the river and calling to come look! come look! with the level of excitement usually reserved only for new Glee episodes.
We pitched tents and played barefoot in the water till dark. The girls kept saying “It is a fairy place; it is SUCH a fairy place” all heady with delight. They collected raspberries and flowers and little pretty things, arranging them just so near certain places they thought the fairies would like best.
In the morning, they woke us with delighted shouts that the berries were missing!! And nothing else had been touched at all, Mama! They found oddly dry rocks left in conspicuous places and were sure the fairies left them in gratitude. Giddy from success, they vanished into the brush to collect more berries, more flowers, more little pretty things to leave behind.
In spite of the dizzying speed at which they’re approaching adulthood– too slowly and too quickly, all at once– I feel freshly anchored. Even though they are careening away from childish things, becoming unrecognizable from the ‘them’ we’ve known for the length of their lifetimes, there’s a kernel there that wants to believe in fairies, a smidgen of innocence left unaffected by cell phones and skinny jeans.
I remembered why I started collecting fairies in the first place: so I could remember that too. The simple strength of childhood faith in magical things: Mom’s kiss will make it better; other worlds await beyond wardrobe doors; fairies live near waterfalls.
Maybe it’s no accident that life got real dull and cranky right around the same time I felt irritated with fairies in my house. Maybe it’s faith that threads magic through our lives instead of the other way around.
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