When I am in the forest, my senses are usually in delightful overload. All around me stories of wild life are being told, layered within hues of gold and green, russets, tangerines, grays and blacks, hidden in symbiotic textures of soft moss ribbons, bulged knobby burls, chipped craggy stone, fuzz and thorn. Information sifted through changing shapes and angles, spoken on wind crescendos, in the grind and groan of trees, chirps, chatters, twig snaps, howls and screeches.
Within this cacophony of sensory bliss, I often stumble across holes and tunnels, the doorways to homes of mammals who live in these wild spaces. I rarely pass a den or burrow entrance without studying the opening for clues to its occupant. Sometimes these doorways are found in rock piles or cliff sides, sometimes the entry is a perfect dark mystery leading into an old stump or beneath the tangle of mossy roots of a live tree.
I have sprawled on the ground, eye level to den and burrow openings, hoping to glimpse an occupant or see bones from a recent meal. I’ve peered into well used, narrow grass tunnels in search of fur tuft or quill, the clues to understand who travels them. I have patiently watched the holes in rotting snags to see if birds are nesting inside.
I have climbed inside the cramped hollowed core of colossal old stumps, the cavity inside just big enough for me to squeeze into, exploring a space where some creature probably slept, hoping to experience what it must feel like to curl up on the duffy floor, smell the gloriously musty interior and sense other creatures as they move through the ferns outside the safety of the dry den.
These spaces all feel magical and mysterious to me, a gateway to another world.
I was told as a little girl that fairies live in old stumps and within the labyrinth of exposed passages that beckon between the gnarly roots of aged trees. It was suggested that I respect them by leaving a pinch of bread or something sweet when passing by their home. It is good to stay child-like, to remember the draw of fantasy, the lure of possibility. To this day I still find myself enchanted by the same whimsical beauty, imagining that maybe fairies DO live in such places, especially living here in the moss curtained, fern draped pacific northwest where great sentient trees appear to harbor complete communities of magical beings in their arched root palaces. Sometimes I still leave a small offering of bread crumbs or a pinch of sweet granola in their root twists and recesses – just in case.
I recently returned to my home town and on a walk around my old haunts I discovered that one of the great fairy trees I used to pass on my daily walk to grade school had long since been cut down. Where it used to stand there was only an uneven hump of earth and a heave in the sidewalk from the old roots. I stopped there, with a little hitch of mourning in my throat, childhood memories flooding me with their sweet innocence. Before walking on I left a sprinkle of granola bar on the spot the tree once stood, whispering a tiny prayer of hope that the fairies had found a beautiful new home in some thick gnarly place deep, deep in the woods
I’ve always had a vivid imagination. As a child I took my bucket full of various plastic animals outside and would search the yard for just the right snaggly root cave or cozy bed in the thick litter beneath bushes for each play critter to call “home.” When traveling long distances in the car, I would watch the landscape going past the car window, imagining some animal racing or galloping along beside us, searching as we drove along for protected places that animal might stop to rest or sleep.
I guess maybe in my grown up way I am still playing those games as I investigate the wild places, constantly curious and captivated by the entrances to dens and burrows. I am still infatuated, exploring the pathways, doorways and tunnels – the secret portals to their alluring world.
Mossy whispers: Fantasy is part of every healthy society, it is life blood. Find your way back to the earth, to your hands and knees, to your imagination. The magic places are waiting. The fairies remember you….