New England Fairy Houses

By Amy Miller

The hundreds of little girls prancing around historic Portsmouth in pink tutus and silvery fairy wings were adorable. Of course. And even the mothers that put a splotch of glitter on their cheeks were endearing. But what really warmed my heart were the men – police officers? – directing traffic in flowing princess skirts and organdy wings.

For eight years, Portsmouth has welcomed the community for a weekend of viewing incredibly artful fairy houses. Fairy houses, for the uninformed, are essentially tiny houses made of twigs, leaves, pinecones or whatever else you find in the woods, the yard, in nature. And they are the residences of fairies.

The Fairy House Tour invited visitors to tour five dozen abodes tucked under maples, hidden among tomato plants, blooming from Prescott Park’s flower beds and sitting in the pathways of historic Strawbery Banke. Thousands of people came to see the diminutive garden center, the tea room, the yarn store, the dress shop and so on.

The fairy house craze has been a New England tradition for decades or longer. But in the last few years it has taken off as a way to encourage kids to be outside and enjoying nature.

Author Tracey Kane of New Hampshire set the tradition on fire and inspired the Portsmouth tour after her book “Fair Houses” came out about a decade ago. Her website suggests building fairy houses as an antidote for the so-called “nature-deficit disorder” affecting kids these days.

Nature deficit disorder, a term coined by author Richard Louv in 2005, refers to the trend of children spending less time outdoors. After traveling the country, Louv concluded children are spending more time on either organized sports or inside on screens. He partly blames a culture of fear among parents that he says is exacerbated by the media.

Although my 10-year-old son watches nowhere near the average amount of TV, and neither of us is particularly fearful of the outdoors or the people you find there, he was predictably sullen about going to the land of girls in tutus. He was lured by his 9-year-old female cousin and the boats I promised he’d see from Prescott Park.

Still, when we got to the part where you build your own, everything changed. Benjamin’s testosterone (culturally derived training?) kicked in and he erected a construction site. A twig log here, a milkweed stalk there and he was off hunting the woods for more building materials.

And so it seems, the pull of nature once again is hard for a child to resist. Given half a chance.

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

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