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Not the Portland I’m used to.

I just returned from a two-week trip to New England. Since I had never been to Maine before, Will and I started there and moved slowly south during my visit. I thought it would be fun to go to the other Portland. After spending some time in New Hampshire at America’s Stonehenge, that I talked about in my last post, we went on up north. Portland, Oregon is named after Portland, Maine by the way.

Will had found something online about fairy houses in some park in Falmouth, near Portland. We began searching for it, but all we had was the name of the island on which they were supposedly located. Google maps drew us a route directly to the center of the tiny island, accessible by a bridge, and we obediantly followed. On the island we passed through some open gates and looked around at a parking area, with buildings in the distance, but no signs helping us find fairies. Will pulled to a stop to look at the map again, and I noticed a man outside that had been staring at our vehicle and walking toward us. He came from the direction of a building with a sign on it that said SECURITY.

“Will, I think this guy wants to talk to us,” I said, as I noticed that we were in a parking lot for Baxter School for the Deaf. “Maybe he can give us directions.” As the man approached, Will rolled down the window of the car.

“Can I help you?” the man asked, in a state-your-business kind of way.

Will says in the most sincere and earnest sort of way, “We’re looking for the fairies.”

The man was perfectly still with a face devoid of any expression. He blinked. After a pause he said, “You can’t be here on campus.”

Telling the story later, Will said it was as though the security guard heard the words, decided to ignore them, and chose to state what he had intended to state in the first place. In retrospect, it is hilarious! “We’re looking for the fairies!” We must have seemed like crazy people. Ha ha!

View of Casco Bay from Mackworth Island.

We turned around and noticed what we missed at first: a parking lot to be entered immediately after crossing the bridge. There is a state public area that encompasses the beach and shore of the island, but not the center. From the lot we could access a lovely 1.25 mile trail that runs in a ring around the circular island. For a chilly evening, there were a surprising number of people there to use the trail for fitness, walking the dogs, or just to enjoy the views of Casco Bay.

With or without fairy houses, it was a nice evening to take a walk, so off we went. There are multiple places to access the beach, and we did. I was mesmerized by the rock formations we found. Will and I wished for Tara (studying geology) to help us understand what we were looking at. We chatted and enjoyed the wildlife, and waved cheerily at people who passed us multiple times going the other direction and clearly moving at a pace faster than ours.

This 1 1/4 mile trail wraps in a ring around the small island, with non-stop beach views.

We liked this old tree.

We clambered around on the beach, with its fabulous rocks.

Will in the distance. Wonderful rock formations in the foreground.

Suddenly we spotted one: a small tipi stack of sticks against the base of a tree.

Once we knew what to look for, we saw more. And more. Farther along the trail the little forest debris creations were everywhere! Some very simple, some elaborate. They were right beside the trail, but as we plunged deeper into the forest off the trail, we found more.

Fairy homes built against the bases of the trees.

Since we had visited America’s Stonehenge earlier in the day, I named this Stickhenge.

This one was so big that I fit into it! I’ve never been in a fairy house before.

Eventually we spotted a sign that explained what we were looking at, and the rules for participating. I experienced a bit of glee that something official as a State of Maine, Bureau of Parks sign acknowledged the faeries who visit the forest. I’m not religious, and find it hard to have faith in anything that can’t be scientifically explained, but I do believe in faeries. And while most of my life is practical and analytic, there is this one thing about me that doesn’t fit at all, and I’m usually too shy to mention it. But on Mackworth Island, clearly there are others who believe with me.

Officially sanctioned fairy homes.

Some fairy homes were made of simple construction.

As we hunted through the forest, we found more and more elaborate houses, often adorned with shells collected from the beach.

This one looks two stories high, with a stone patio.

While the sign cautions not to use living materials, it is likely these were collected from the ground and not picked.

This one rolls out the green carpet, between columns of pine cones.

This home has exceptional landscaping and an artistic flourish of oak leaves on top.

We had fun for nearly an hour as we explored the fairy homes. Possibly there were hundreds of them; it’s truly a sight to see. That humorless security guard should take a walk over here on his lunch break.

Leah Stetson, whose LinkedIn page says she did a senior college thesis project on island fairy houses, said in 2011 in a comment on another blog: “In Maine, there are over 60 islands with active “fairy house” villages tended by children and adults alike. Monhegan is most famously known for its Cathedral Forest (and the 50-year controversy on whether to ban fairy houses–still ongoing among island officials) but islands like Squirrel Island (Boothbay Harbor) and Bear Island (Buckminster Fuller’s island, where he built the famous geodome) in the Penobscot Bay, as well as several of the less-inhabited Cranberry Isles (e.g. Baker) have fairy houses.” Stetson may have been the author of an article in a no-longer-available post from The Compleat Wetlander, which stated fairy houses are “a 100+ year tradition in Maine, especially along the coast and on the islands, when many island communities had working farms. Traveling schoolteachers brought folk tales involving fairies that inspired islanders—children and adults alike—to build gnome homes to attract fairies in order to watch over the livestock and children during Maine winters. A fairy house traditionally included a tiny altar with a small offering, such as a coin, to pay the fairies to help the farmers…”

Good Things Jar

A long time ago I wrote a post called Good Things Jar, in which I explained that I had heard about this project and had successfully completed my first year of recording good things in 2014. I never wrote about it again.

The idea is easy to find in many versions on the Internet. And as blogger friend at Contented Crafter mentioned in my first post on the topic, it’s been around for years. You find a container to hold notes, and simply drop in your “good things” thoughts all year long. Then at the end of the year, you review them. It helps you remember how much you’ve come through emotionally in the year, and it gives you perspective. It also allows you to feel joy for those things again, even if they happened months ago.

The good news about the good things jar is that Tara and I have kept it up ever since! I’ve saved all the little slips of paper because I knew that some day I would do another post. Tara and I kept up the tradition of reviewing the notes together in January of 2016. However, this year, with Tara staying at college more and more, the only notes in the jar were from me.

I still use the original jar, pictured here. It’s an antique glass canning jar of my mother’s. The lid says it was made in Canada, and that makes sense, since Mom spent nearly her whole life in Idaho, close to the Canada border. Back in the old days it was easy and common to cross the border without any fuss, planning, or paperwork because all the authorities cared about was whether you were bringing in cheap cigarettes to sell. She may easily have picked it up at a shop in Creston or Nelson, BC.

Disneyland

In the spirit of looking back on New Year’s Day, I reviewed the good things we’ve been thinking about during the past 3 years.

Steam! It’s great

2015 favourites

In 2015 we both wrote a lot about the new house, since it was the biggest thing going on that year until Tara started college in the Fall, which itself earned multiple notes. Tara wrote about Disneyland multiple times. Macaroni and cheese made it to Tara’s list again, to my amusement! Oregon’s wild daffodils made it to my list again. I think seeing items repeat year to year says something about us. We both repeatedly mentioned our friends, and I included my brother Ian twice. We both also wrote down self-affirmations, like mine that says “I am beautiful.” The power of statements like this can’t be denied.

The parts in parentheses are comments I added today that were not on the original pieces of paper.

Tara:

I met awesome and relyable and relatable people @ OSU

  • Your own room and bathroom again
  • I met awesome and relyable and relatable people at OSU (Oregon State University)
  • Finding the perfect squirrel gifts for Mom for Christmas (I agree that squirrel things are good.)
  • Steam! It’s great (I have no idea what this is about, but it’s hilarious)
  • Sudden cookies 2-21-15 (again, don’t know what this means, but I think we can all agree that sudden cookies are a good thing)
  • Friends that you remain friends with even after separation 8-31-15 (the date shows that Tara was still connecting with friends after starting college)
  • Making cosplay is awesome! (costumes for Tara’s favourite annual anime convention)

Me:

Genevieve

  • I managed to keep my spirits up while trying to buy a house 6-20-15 <– still no close
  • Stand up paddle! 4-24-15 (this was in the top 5 of best first dates ever)
  • Ian is an awesome brother & I got to visit twice in March and April 4-9-15
  • My blogging community is filled with real friends 6-20-15 (I love you guys)
  • I was born white in America 9-8-15 (I do not know what prompted this comment. It is a good thing, but saying it publicly makes me flinch a little. I wish I remembered the context.)
  • I had the courage to ask for help 8-7-15 (a pack of friends came and helped me at my house)
  • I am beautiful
  • I have the confidence to apply for the DRO position 10-1-15 (Not only applied, but got the job!)

    A pile of joy

2016 favourites

mac n cheese

Tara only dropped three notes into the jar in 2016, due to hardly ever being at home. They had the idea to start up a Good Things Jar while at college, but I don’t think that has happened. 2016 was a transitional year for both of us, while Tara reconciled a new self-image that included successful college student and let go of the comforts of being a kid, and I learned to take care of my new big property and got used to living alone.

Tara:

  • Snow! 2-15-16

    U-cuts when forests let you down 12/14

  • U-cuts when forests let you down 12-14-16 (ha ha, this pretty much explains itself. We couldn’t find a good tree in a national forest, and on the way out of the mountains we came across a U-Cut Christmas Tree Farm, whipped in and found a gorgeous 10 foot spruce tree for only $28.)
  • Kahlua 12-15-16 (Uh, methinks someone was into the liquor cabinet… But at 19 years old, I’m not concerned.)

Me:

  • I get to watch Spring happen across my land 2-17-16
  • My employer allows me to take the time off that I need 8-3-16
  • Tara has embraced being a student 11-18-16
  • Genevieve! 9-17-16 (I had this same exact one in 2015, but this year there was an exclamation point. Three cheers for best friends.)
  • I can forgive 8-31-16
  • I love my chickens 1-6-16

    A storage system I also adopted from my mom.

2017 favourites

I love my chickens. 1-6-16

This past year had the fewest contributions, partially because Tara was gone, but also because I am growing more accustomed to seeing the Good Things Jar on the countertop among the other jars, as you can see in the photo above.

  • I always rise back up. I smile. I laugh. I see beauty 6-28-17
  • Tara is brave and strong 5-31-17 (You only know half the story, but this young person… is so brave and strong.)
  • Sometimes, when I least expect it, I find out lots of people love me. 11-18-17 (I made a purely casual facebook post that said only cryptically that both good and bad things happen in a person’s life and it’s up to us to choose which things to focus on. Blam! In 24 hours I had been contacted by fb messenger, text, phone, and email by eight separate people checking on me. It was not at all my intent, and I was startled by the reaction. And then… I was touched.)
  • I became a squeaky wheel, and it worked!! 11-24-17 (Speaking up about injustices done to myself is hard for me to do. I am overly concerned about being perceived as acting whiney and entitled. But finally, I was convinced that people needed to get off their butts and do right by me, and I started rattling cages and calling in favors and talking to people up the chain, and viola! It got done.)

    Romain and I love and appreciate each other. 4-21-17 (with the 4-21 underlined for emphasis)

  • Romain and I love and appreciate each other 4-21-17 (Romain is a Rwandan priest I met in school in 2005. He has a tough time every April, the anniversary of his personal tragedy. Note, I underlined the date.)
  • My blogger people always make me feel better
  • My cards to Suz worked exactly as planned 3-15-17

    My cards to Suz worked exactly as planned 3-15-17 (Susie was diagnosed with breast cancer at the beginning of the year. She lives on the East coast and I live on the West coast. I couldn’t think of what to do for her. So I began writing cards and postcards in which I talked about only non-cancer related topics. I never expected a response, but she took the time to tell me that’s exactly what she liked about my correspondence: no cancer for just a moment.)

I have a hunch that writing this post places this tradition squarely into my conscious mind once more, and when I see it I’ll act. Because, you know, I can always think of something. Every single time I look at the jar and ask myself, “What is a good thing, right now?” There is always an answer. And that’s probably the best good thing of all of them.

 

JP Johnson and me at the Mt. Hood Cherokees event

On February 25th Tara and I attended the monthly meeting of the Mount Hood Cherokees, who hosted cultural specialist JP Johnson and COTTA Technical Assistant Ryan Sierra, both visiting from the Cherokee Nation in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

The Community Organization Training and Technical Assistance (COTTA) Program was formed under the request of former Chief Chad Smith when it was becoming evident that many groups claiming to be able to teach Cherokee culture were not authentic and were misrepresenting true Cherokee culture. The Cherokee diaspora was paying careful attention to the wrong information! Now COTTA maintains a center to assist satellite groups such as the Mt. Hood Cherokees, and also offers assistance to anyone who contacts the group on their website.

Ryan Sierra talks to us about how to strengthen our group and maintain ties to the Nation

Recently we’ve been able to learn from storyteller Robert Lewis, and stickball players Ryan Sierra and Jessica Harkreader. This time we had the privilege to listen to JP Johnson talk without pause on history, traditions, language, and religion of Cherokees. JP said that once he began researching, he could not get enough knowledge. To our great benefit, he is now employed by the Nation as a Cultural Specialist. He is a veritable encyclopedia of Cherokee facts, as well as an embodiment of knowledge, since he lives as authentically he can by speaking the language, participating in stomp dances, and other activities of Cherokee traditional life.

JP’s command of this body of knowledge is so profound that he simply began talking and allowed himself to wander through all the digressions that came to mind. When MHC members asked questions, he was able to answer in depth. JP revealed his motivation to keep the culture alive, and why he feels so strongly about it. When he talked about the original homeland of Cherokees, in North Carolina, he told us with tears in his eyes that there are only 332 people left who can speak the language there. “That’s terrible,” he said. He did not say what a devastating loss it would be if there were no more speakers in North Carolina, but told it clearly to us nonetheless.

We learned details of stomp dancing, and the importance of keeping the home fires lit (because we can go to the fires for medicine), typical traditional garb for stomp dancing and how men and women have different roles when they dance (women wearing turtle shell rattles on their legs). He also talked about the violent tradition of stickball, how several tribes played it, borrowed each other’s rules, and how modern Cherokees have had to adopt safety rules to avoid accidental serious injury and even death. We all faced East and JP sang a prayer for us at the conclusion of his talk.

We ate a potluck meal then, and as always I am warmed by this tradition of eating together. It reminds me of the potlatches from my early childhood along the Umpqua River. All cultures have eating traditions, and it makes sense to bring food to a single table and then share it amongst everyone. We are symbolically ingesting the companionship, the traditions, the learning. We are gaining sustenance from the gathering.

As we wrapped up our meal, Ryan Sierra took the floor and talked business. He explained the mission of COTTA, and described some of the basic steps toward becoming a chartered satellite group. He explained taxes, steps toward voting in Nation elections, financial expectations from the Nation, and that kind of thing. He insisted that he is always available for questions and happy to help.

Tara and I left before he was completely finished. I had only planned for 4 hours, and it was time to go. The time went by quickly, as always. One of the senior members of the group came up to me this time and thanked me for coming. I haven’t been active with the board, and so they recognize me, but don’t know me. His thanks seemed very genuine and it made me glad that I continue to make the effort to show up, even if infrequently.

Frozen faery to take home

Historically, Faerieworlds in Eugene, Oregon has always been in August. In 2009 the venue moved to a very exposed location during the same year that a heat wave hit on Faerieworlds weekend. There were many sunburns and unhappy people. The following year event planners tried to remedy the situation with a greater amount of constructed shade areas. This year, the event was changed to the second week in June.

I wonder if the new date was a result of trying to make conditions better for festival attendees. June sounded to me at once like a poor choice because in Portland June is consistently cold and wet. Eugene may have better weather, but I was doubtful. My prediction came true, and this year, for the first time ever, Faerieworlds was cold and wet. The grounds were muddy, our wings filled with water droplets, damp dead grass clung to us. *sigh!* Why would they take my favourite holiday and move it into my least favourite weather?

raindrops on sunbeams

raindrops on sunbeams

Brian Froud kindly stands with me for a photo

But I suppose faeries are creatures of nature and thus should gracefully accept raindrops as easily as sunshine.

We got a very late start to our day. Miss T had stayed the previous night with friends on the other side of the river (so FAR away, ha ha), and so I had to retrieve her. When she got home she had to pack for summer at dad’s. We’ve been so busy I had completely forgotten to have her pack earlier. We finally set off for the two and a half hour drive, arriving late afternoon, which is totally out of character for me. I’ve had a drastically full two weeks, and I simply couldn’t pull it all together to get there at the moment the gates open, like usual. Besides, as Tara kindly reminded me, the festival carries on till well into the night, so arriving late is really no loss. It’s Solstice time anyway, so the sun remains up as long as possible for our benefit.

Grey skies and wet faeries. An avenue through the vendors. You can see the mast of the pirate ship in the background.

Puppet theatre in the pirates area. A stage for musical acts is partially visible to the side. This is in addition to the Faerieworlds main stage.

Tara left my side immediately once we entered the faery realm, which was fine with me. Thus, I was alone when I wandered past Brian Froud, one of my favourite artists of all time (cherish the Pressed Fairy Book). I interrupted his talk with another man to gush a little at him, and make my best (albeit poor) attempt at a compliment/request for photo op. Mr. Froud graciously acquiesced, and I am terribly grateful. His wife, Wendy, is an equally talented artist. However, I prefer his work because he tends more often toward the grotesque and bizarre, which somehow is more beautiful to me. Does that make any kind of sense?

Main stage at Faerieworlds. The center of the magical realm.

steampunk glasses

I browsed the tents of wares quickly, mindful of the gathering gloom. Steampunk faeries have a burgeoning population in the past two years, and now have their own kisosks. Despite the rain, the ubiquitous faery children ran rampant, leaping and shrieking with joy amongst the creature children who joined them. I never tire of the variety of characters who attend. Many creatures I cannot describe: only that they are otherworldly. There are fae folk, and dragons, a surprising number of pirates! There are fauns and dark, creepy souls, as well as wizards and angels.

What a character!

What a character!

Check out that nose.

Check out that nose.

Perhaps also because of past years’ complaints of the heat, this year the faire reached farther into the forest than before…and it was the pirate’s realm. There was a life-sized ship constructed (but only from the deck up, using the grass as the deck – it was cool), and trails (if you dare!) into the trees, as well as a second stage and a puppet theatre. Back in the trees was a shrine constructed by the Lost Boys.

Miss T occasionally found me and begged for money, but otherwise, I barely saw her. She made friends in a hair-braiding tent, and ended up spending a huge amount of time there. A bored friend in the tent paid for her to get braid after braid, and she was thrilled with all of it.

A butterfly adds more braid art to Tara's hair.

A butterfly adds more braid art to Tara’s hair.

pirate faery

pirate faery

Do your faeries need a home?

Do your faeries need a home?

Periodically I brought her food while she repeatedly had her hair done.  I wandered and smiled and shared pleasantries with the fae folk, even though I was dressed rather devilishly due to it being Bad Faeries Day. (no one passed judgement :o) I got to talk to Toby Froud a little. Talked to him more last year. He’s a super sweet guy, very pleasant. Love that British accent. This year his costume was to die for! The BEST faun legs I’ve ever, ever seen.

Toby Froud, the babe with the power. That's his wife to the left.

Toby Froud, the babe with the power.

Tara got a shot of me, devily faery.

Tara got a shot of me, devily faery.

Tall and Short

Tall and Short have a little chat.

T was a water faery, in honor of the weather.

T was a water faery, in honor of the weather.

Ahhh, it’s a scrumptious tradition. This was our fifth year and I hope the habit doesn’t fade. From what I can tell, the festival grows larger every year. I will still cross my fingers for more sun and less rain at faery gatherings in the future.

 

Posing with the storyteller

The Mt. Hood Cherokees invited Robert Lewis to Portland to tell us some Cherokee stories. Miss T and I brought some food to add to the potluck, then pulled up chairs and had three hours of fun. (The event was four hours, but T had a commitment before we could go.)

Mr. Lewis explained that he got into professional storytelling by accident, when he found himself in an emergency situation: with a group of children on a school field trip in which 30 third-graders needed to be kept still and quiet for about 10 minutes. The only thing he could think of was to tell the kids a story his father had told him, about how Coyote put the stars into the sky as a special job for The Creator of Everything.

He works for the Cherokee Nation, sharing and teaching cultural knowledge in the form of storytelling, and also teaches art at Northeastern State University, where he gained his formal education in literature, music, and humanities. He works a lot with kids, and says it is his greatest joy to watch the look on their faces when they “get it.” He told me it was his very first trip to the Pacific Northwest. I offered to take him on a quick tour of Mt. Hood and the Columbia River Gorge, but his schedule allowed only storytelling and travelling: no exploring. I told him that was positively sinful. Next time, he needs to insist on a couple of hours of free time!

Mr. Lewis told stories for an hour and a half, pulling audience members into the center of his performance space. Each character in his story had to be acted by someone from the audience as Lewis narrated, and told each character what to do and what to say. We took turns playing roles such as Opossum, Rabbit, A Beautiful Woman, The Creator of Everything, Bullfrog, Panther, Alligator, and Bear.

Each story had a lesson, of course. We learned why Rabbit and Opossum aren’t friends anymore, how Rabbit got big ears because he already has knowledge,where the first Cherokee clay pot came from, how Thunder is a Mighty Warrior, how Woodpeckers came to be, how the Stars got into the sky, why Opossum has no hair on his tail, how Rabbit’s song is so powerful he sings it from his heart, and even why you shouldn’t do what everyone else is doing just because they’re doing it!

Then it was time to eat. Mr. Lewis blessed the meal and we invited the guest of honor and elders to take their food first. Then we began to eat from the tables piled with goodies, as always. When we were finished eating, Lewis told stories for another half an hour. Then he had to jump in his rental car and zoom off to Eugene to tell stories to the central Oregon Indians!

I was proud to see my girl eagerly anticipate the event for the last two weeks, and then attend with me, fully committed. Once there, Lewis recognized her willingness right away and pulled her twice onto the floor to participate. I am hoping to continue to gift some of our Indian heritage to my child.

One of my many guises

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