I’m 56 years old. I haven’t bought ice cream off an ice cream truck since I was a kid. In fact, I haven’t even heard the tinkle heralding the approach of the “ice cream man” in 40 years. I’m sure it’s a tough way to make a living. And then there’s that incessant tune you have to listen to all day. No wonder they’ve all but disappeared from our culture.
Yesterday was a strange summer day. The sky was heavily overcast with that odd sensation of pressure in the air, as if a thunderstorm would appear later. I sat at the computer, paying bills.
Into my consciousness wriggled a little tune, slowly getting louder. It was in a minor key, a bit sad, a bit child-like and, well, mystical. I listened for the neighbor’s kids who are always playing loudly in their yard. Did they have a game, a boom-box, or what? The tune was so compelling that I had to get up and see what it was. I walked out into the front yard and stood there, listening to it getting louder and more insistent; that strange, chiming, melody, drawing me in. I felt transfixed, as if I couldn’t move and had to wait there. It was an ice cream truck, no doubt about it, and it was stopping for my neighbor’s kids. Little beads of perspiration on my brow, I feverishly searched my pockets for a dollar. Really? I was really going to buy an ice cream cone from a truck in the street? At last the truck pulled away from my neighbor’s house and toward mine. My throat swelled, and a little memory bubble opened up in my mind. I was suddenly was 7 years old; I was standing in the middle of the street, clutching my quarters and listening to the receding sound of the ice cream truck. I had missed it. My world was crumbling in the way it only crumbles for deeply disappointed children. My mother took pity on me and loaded me into the car and tried to chase down the truck, rolling down the windows and sticking our heads out trying to hear the melody of bells, but to no avail. The truck was gone and only the distant tinkling of the bells on some far away street remained. She offered me a Popsicle from the freezer, but I was inconsolable.
The memory bubble burst. Here came the ice cream man, headed straight for my house, but this time I was ready with a sweaty dollar bill in my hand. The sad melody tinkled loudly now. I stood, staring, as the truck slowed down to a crawl in front of me. Driving it was a very small dark woman, perhaps 45 years old, blonde shoulder-length hair with very dark roots. Her hair stood not straight up, but straight back as though she were moving very fast in a high wind. She wore a black leather jacket with long leather strings hanging off it at intervals, like lonely fringe. She wore lots of make-up with heavy dark eyeliner and…wait for it…..a pink tutu. All business from the waist up, and all ballerina from the waist down, even to the toe-shoes. She drove the truck not by sitting (there was no driver’s seat), but by standing up, bent over at the hips, arms on the steering wheel, en-pointe with one leg raised behind her in a ballet pose. She cocked her head and never took her eyes off me as she drove slowly by, a sly smile on her face and her hair straight out behind her. I was riveted. And slightly creeped out. I fingered the dollar in my pocket and wondered if I should run after her. And just what was she selling, anyway? I snapped out of it, realizing that I had let the moment pass, and was, once again, too late for the ice cream man/woman/fairy. The familiar childhood panic crept in, as the truck continued it’s strange melody and trundled on down the street. I didn’t really want any ice cream. Still…
I jumped into the car and took off after her. When I turned the corner, I could see the ragged bumper of the truck turning onto another street, the little cut-outs of childrens’ silhouettes dancing across the back of the truck. I goosed the engine to roar down the street, and turned where she had. My eyes searched both sides of the street, and there, at the very end, was the truck pulled over with a crowd of kids around it. I pulled up about 10 yards behind the her, got out and walked up, trying to blend in with the other moms and grandmas. Slowly, I stepped closer and closer to the window, seeing an arm jut out now and then with an ice cream cone, and disappear back in with cash. I smiled at the children and sidled up to the front and peered in the window. The brown, tanned face of a teenaged boy looked back at me. From the driver’s seat. “Can I help you?”, he asked, pulling his white earbuds out, and anxious to get moving. Wide-eyed and soundless, my mouth made a little “o”. Finally, “Uh, no, nothing, thanks” and I backed away confused. I looked at the rear of the truck. There were the same silhouettes of children playing, and the same ding on the right rear fender. The boy put his ear buds back in and pulled out, turned on the music that now played “The Entertainer”, and drove off down the street.
Fairies have been known to inhabit almost anything they take a fancy to, but old clocks seem to hold a special fascination for them, as do grandfather clocks. I’ve heard from other people that they’ll even mess with alarm clocks that have a bell in them. Bells and fairies….long story there.
My own mantel clock that I inherited from my grandmother is a beautiful old thing that hasn’t worked since 1963. Apparently, the Fairies don’t care about that. They take particular interest in the glass door that covers the face. The old hands on the face are very delicate and I don’t want to have to dust them often, so before I go to bed I make sure the door is firmly closed. And, like clockwork (hmm), that door is wide open when I get up the next morning. I think they swing on it, and push each other on it like a rope swing, laughing hysterically. They fall off a lot and drop five feet to the floor, but that seems to be part of the fun.
There is a one inch clearance under the clock, that, when I move the clock to clean, is strewn with and odd assortment of fairy droppings. An empty aluminum tealight cup, some hot pink bookmark tags (by Post-Its, of course) a finch feather from my aviary outside, a popsicle stick with runes scribbled on it, the cap off an acorn (we live in an old oak grove) which has been filled with sand. I recognize that sand. It’s from the special sand box in my studio where I make the fairy cottages. They play in it all the time, throwing it on the floor, hiding my tools in it, or leaving me gifts in it. (I recently found 9 tiny brass bells buried in the sand, so they went on the cottage I was building at the time, called PineSong.) I’m not quite sure what to do with the droppings. Leave them? Throw them away? Relocate them to the fairy altar? What do you think?
If you’ve found any fairy droppings, please tell me about them.
I’m just going to say it straight out. Fairies take things. They have a very skewed sense of ownership, as in, if I live here, I must own it; therefore I’ll take this pretty thing. It’s not the queer two dollar bill your Auntie gave you for your 10th birthday that they want. Value as we see it has nothing to do with value the way a Fairy sees it. They’ll take a pad of Post-It Notes with 2 left on it. Or the only sharpened pencil in the cup. Or the back off my earring. Not the gold earring, mind you, just the back.
Some have suggested that they aren’t fairies, but rather, Borrowers. Well, no Borrower I’ve heard about would want the back off my earring. There’s absolutely nothing they can do with it, and besides, Borrowers are only after practical things they can re-purpose.
It’s impossible to know what a Fairy will be attracted to. Many say they love bright, shiny objects, but how shiny is a Post-It Note, exactly? And have you ever seen the back of an earring?? I do have a bowl of plastic Mardi Gras throw beads to which they seem attracted. At least they poke around in it a lot.
Occasionally, they’ll take something that is important to me, and I’ll have to ask for it back. Like my glasses. They are either in my purse or on my face…nowhere else. Suddenly gone. My fault, having left my unzipped purse in the dining room. I should have known an open purse would be irresistable. I was desperate to get the glasses back, so I wrote a very small request on (what else) a Post-It note, and left it on the fairy altar in the dining room. I put a small cup of fresh water on top of it….fairies need fresh water and will be attracted right away. Then I waited. The cat drank all the water, so I had to refill it a couple of times. Two days later I heard a crash come from the dining room, and running back in, I found the cat staring intently up at the ceiling, where my glasses swung every so gently and precipitously from the chandelier.
Most people don’t know this, but fairies often sing to the Moon. For them, the Moon represents all that is beautiful and precious. Of course, because of the curvature of Fae eyes, the moon appears a hundred times bigger than it does to us. If we saw something that big rising over the horizon, we’d be awed, too. So, fairy culture mandates that when respect or honor or awe is offered, it is done in song or chant.
There is a pod of Fae that regularly show up on my property, and sing at the full Moon. I can’t go outside to listen, or they will slowly de-manifest . So I sneak around the house and peer out the windows, especially around midnight. (Fairies love those liminal times; not quite day, and no longer night.) It starts with a sort of whispered cacophony, gradually taking shape into a chant. The chant goes on for a while, then one by one, a single descant is heard above the others, in a perfect counterpoint. The intensity builds and peaks, then after a while, the voices fade out, one by one, and the Moon has been properly honored. There are a variety of chants, one for each phase of the Moon.
I have spent years developing the ability to hear their song. But it began not with my ears, but with my heart and eyes. Let me give you an example. Have you ever driven into Yosemite Valley in California, and come around that curve that exposes Half Dome, a mighty granite face that has to be one of the most breathtaking sights in the world? Or have you ever seen dolphins body-surfing just for the joy of it? Or perhaps a huge wheat field blowing in the wind? Those moments when you catch your breath in wonder is your recognition of fairy song. Even though you think that response is coming from your visual cortex, it’s actually a response to what you are hearing with your “inner ears”.
A good place to begin learning to hear fairy song is to stand beneath a pine tree when a wind is up. Raise your mind up into the whispering needles, close your eyes, and listen for the song, embedded in the soughing of the wind through the branches. Call them with a small jingle-bell; roll it around in your palm. Listen, listen and listen some more. Pine trees hold many fairies.
The Fae who live in my pine have asked for a purpose-built cottage. The many steps leading to the front door strengthen their lungs for singing. On the back side of the roof is a special Moon Window. It is specially angled up so that a fairy sitting in the window seat can easily view the Moon. The branches that reach out from this house are, of course, pine; they are from my huge pine tree that has been struck by lightning at least two times that I know of. Very magical wood, that. There is a string of tiny bells attached. (Fairies are very fond of bells.) Somewhere above the front door is a special stone that will help you talk to fairies when you place your finger on it. You just have to figure out which one that is…
PineSong has been sold to a young musician.
The fairies of Windspinner Cottage live in tree branches when they’re on land. They spend most of their days running over the surface of ponds, lakes, and anywhere they can find quiet water. Fish are sometimes fooled into thinking they are little insects on the surface, but are never quite quick enough to actually catch one.
Why the constant movement on the water’s surface? It is thought that they have something to do with oxygenating the water in quiet, slow flowing places. Their shoes are like little cushions that allow them to glide over the water’s surface tension, without breaking the surface. The slightest breath of a breeze can propel them 15 feet if their wings are fully extended.
When they asked for a cottage of tree branches, I was happy to oblige. When it was finished, I sat in my studio and stared at it. There they were, again, nagging me about something. (This was a very vocal group.) It isn’t finished yet, they said. There is something more, they said. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what it was. So I went to bed. The next day, the moment I sat down in front of the cottage, they cried out, “Make a sail! Make a sail! We need a sail!” On a tree branch house? Never second-guess a fairy. Just go with it, I thought. So here is Windspinner, under full sail.
Windspinner is currently available at: www.fairycottages.etsy.com
Tricklewood Cottage is a fairy dwelling with a past. It used to be a fairy church. Time and weather have had their way with it. Bushes and trees grow up and around the windows and across the front door. And though it looks a lot like regular fairy cottages, if you look closely you’ll see a different architecture. The sapling trees in the woods bend toward one another to frame the walls, resulting in a perfect Gothic arch on all three sides…irresistable to the Fae.
What do Fairies do in church, you ask? Well, since they love to imitate what humans do, they file in somberly and sit for a while. Then they sing, which is their favorite bit. One will sit up front and pretend to bang on a pretend organ. Then one will pass the offering basket, and everyone gives what they can. A quick glance in the basket will reveal some string, a penny, some fishing line, a crumpled feather, some dryer lint, and maybe a marble. Soon they run out of all the Fairy songs they know, so they light candles and hum for a bit. When restlessness gets the better of them, they file out with great dignity.
Who knows why this Fairy church was abandoned. Pesticides? Developers? Feral cats? We’ll never know. But if you sit at a distance and watch it carefully at twilight, that sacred, in-between liminal time, you’re apt to see the flicker of a candle or two.
Tricklewood has been sold. More cottages are currently available here: http://www.etsy.com/shop/fairycottages