‘Fariy House’ author captures the supernatural wilderness

Posted Aug. 13, 2010, at 7:34 p.m.

FAIRY HOUSES OF THE MAINE COAST by Maureen Heffernan, copyright 2010, Down East, $14.95, 72 pages.

Maureen Heffernan’s book “Fairy Houses of the Maine Coast,” published by Down East, is a quick read about the phenomena of fairy-house building and naturally occurring fairy houses in Maine.

The pages are filled with photos of coastal Maine fairy houses, quotes and poems about fairies and Heffernan’s own knowledge about fairy communities.

Filled with images and simple language, the book is ideal for reading to children.

The book is her attempt to capture the mystical wilderness of Maine and the fun of interacting with that wilderness, she said in a recent interview.

A fairy house is a miniature shelter built in the wilderness with natural materials: leaves, moss, twigs, bark, shells and feathers. People build these dwellings to celebrate the legend of fairies in different parts of Europe and in the United States, including in Maine.

Heffernan first experienced the magic of nature, personified by the idea of fairies, as a young girl when she discovered a mossy area riddled with pits next to her family’s barn in Ohio.

“It had all these big holes everywhere and it looked like some great creature went in there,” said Heffernan. “We just had a sense of something supernatural.”

Years later, Heffernan learned that the area was an old tree nursery. But as a child, she named it Fairyland.

Playing outdoors instilled in Heffernan a love for plants. She worked at the New York Botanical Gardens as a college student and she studied horticulture at Ohio State University.

When she moved to Maine, she learned that building fairy houses was a tradition.

“When you look at the Maine woods, it’s so enchanting with its mosses and nooks,” she said.

She became the executive director of Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in January 2004. The gardens now contain three fairy house villages and host the annual Maine Fairy House Festival — Heffernan’s idea.

In addition to the botanical gardens, the most elaborate fairy villages can be found on Monhegan Island, Squirrel Island, Deer Isle and Mount Desert Island, according to Heffernan’s book.

She plans to create a second fairy house book soon.

To see photos of Monhegan Island fairy houses, visit www.spokaneoutdoors.com/fairy.htm. Monhegan Island’s Cathedral Woods contains so many fairy houses that people are asked not to build during their visits.

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