I suspect the spirits of the woods teased the tree branches overhead just at that moment, allowing the sun to suddenly dazzle my eyes. Because at first I didn’t see it. But then the breeze sighed the leaves back into place and shade again. And Quincy the dog became still and alerted his ears. And, following his gaze, I found what I had been searching for.
The fairy castle in the woods.
It was still there, just steps beyond a crumbling, crusted, fallen tree, only a few yards from the ragged edge of the path, just as I remembered it.
I first spotted this earthy yet otherworldly delight in the very early spring of this year – perhaps during the last proper walk in the woods I had taken. But a new dog with old illnesses, and raging summer heat and storms, and books to write and talks to give and projects to complete, and all the daily necessities (that are forgotten within another day), had taken the place of woods-walking for me for far too long. So I wasn’t sure that this bit of woodland joy and fantasy would still be there – even less sure the spirits of the woods themselves would let me find it for a second time.
But this day was different, somehow. It was a day of rare autumn warmth. A willing and well Quincy companion was at my side. I had a breath of time between promises to keep, and a heart that sorely needed to be embraced by the peace and reassurance that only the natural world creates and holds waiting in the palm of its hand for us.
The moment I entered the woods, finding the fairy castle seemed terribly important and compelling to me. Something in me longed to feel its charm and touch its substance as I remembered it, heavily draped in moss and subtext; I wanted to listen for its music and messages, hoping to hear some sort of lost wisdom or suspended secrets.
I thought back to when I had been writing the book The Secret Child. I remembered how I had explored through a depth of literature and lore about fairies and sprites, water babies and changelings, Celtic spirits of the woods and all the other beings that have inhabited the realms just at the edge of our own reality for as long as time can remember. There is far too much written and recorded about them to allow for total disbelief. And, of course, my own Celtic roots are deep, and tangled well with my childhood memories and books – and a singular ability to imagine most possibilities.
With that being understood, and that perspective in mind, I sat and watched and listened to the fairy castle in the woods for quite some time. And I remembered reading the texts that recounted how fairies had once walked beside and shared the earth with humans on equal ground. Until human conceit declared its own superiority. And discrepancy and disparity were allowed to exist. And in the gaps that formed, respect fell in from both sides. And trust crumbled and dried into dust.
The fairies were suspected of all crimes without reason or reality. They were driven into slavery, captured and imprisoned, hurt and hunted into the woods.
Some accounts say they retreated underground. And then, in some dark, liminal crack in time, the fairies slipped away to the other side, to another plane of reality. And with that loss, all their magic and secrets and knowledge, their music and art, all their stories and dance, their friendship and cooperation, their affection and loyalty and laughter and energy disappeared from our world as well.
Sometimes you can still hear their echoes on a clear night under a full moon, or see their remnants in the woods between the sun and shadows or next to streambeds or where the wildflowers grow. A few times there may be a perfect tree stump castle still above the ground, or a field of smooth cool moss patched over a bed of rocks, or footprints left in an early morning dew. I suspect that these are left only to remind us. To keep our memories of them alive just enough.
I left the fairy castle in the woods glad that they had shared this bit of themselves with me. Yet my heart was exceedingly afraid and ashamed and sad that the lesson of the fairies hasn’t resonated deeply enough among the humans of the earth. We haven’t heard it or seen it or felt it or recognized it for what it is, or embraced its universal truth.
Perhaps one day we will. Perhaps then we will stop losing each other.