PERU — There’s an old logging trail behind Mary Pulsifer’s house that leads from her backyard to Greenwoods Road. Lining the trail are more than 300 fairy houses.
Fairy houses are small houses built using natural materials, such as sticks, bark, grass, pebbles, feathers and pine cones, Pulsifer said.
“The whole story behind fairy houses is that if you make a house and leave it in the woods, it gives ‘fairies’ a place to sleep at night,” Pulsifer said as she walked through the trail. “Every year, there are more and more houses lining the trail.”
Pulsifer, who taught at Rumford Elementary School for 34 years, said that five years ago, she visited the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay, saw a “fairy garden,” and decided she wanted to do something similar on her property.
She returned home and reached out to her neighbor, Nancy Demings, the founder of the WingNuts Improv Troup, for help in constructing fairy houses.
For Demings, building small structures out of natural materials was something that fell directly into her wheelhouse.
“I remember I saw a fabric collage exhibit in Sedona, Ariz., and it blew my mind,” Demings said. “It was very dimensional art. I don’t draw that well, but I can paint and sculpt. I started doing fabric collage, and eventually, started adding more material to my art.”
After Pulsifer returned from the Botanical Gardens in Boothbay, Demings said that she was excited to start building fairy houses.
“It’s definitely kept me busy these past few years,” Demings said. “Right now, I have six fairy houses that are ready to go onto the trail. If Mary doesn’t come and pick up them up right when they’re ready, they start getting backed up.”
While fairy houses are typically built using natural materials, Pulsifer said that after two years, “we had used up all the good materials in the area.”
As a result, she and Demings turned to man-made craft materials purchased from Marden’s in Rumford or donated by residents who had walked the trail before and wanted to lend a helping hand.
Pulsifer said that Demings’ work on the houses is impressive, since she can “use any material to make something.”
“I can make art of anything, much to people’s chagrin,” Demings said, laughing. “Someone might give me a small piece of jewelry, and I look at it and think, ‘This might look good in some of my art!’”
Pulsifer added Demings is great at repairing houses that are damaged on the trail due to weather or vandalism.
“Whenever houses are broken, I very seldom just repair them,” Demings said. “I’ll take the entire house apart and make something new with it.”
At each end of the trail, Pulsifer leaves a bag of red stones for people to take to mark their favorite houses.
“The idea is to leave one red stone in the fairy house that you think the fairy would want to sleep in, and you take another red stone home with you, as a remembrance,” Pulsifer said, stopping in front of a small fairy house that used shells as a walking path to the front door, and a small rock as a bed.
On top of the small rock was a red stone.
“Someone must have thought this would make a good fairy house, so they left a red stone here,” Pulsifer said.
In 2014, Pulsifer said she counted a total of 232 fairy houses, a majority of which were built by Demings and Pulsifer. The other fairy houses were built by locals, including clients with the Hope Association and a local Girl Scout troop.
“The surprise is, I find houses that someone else has put up,” Pulsifer said. “I’ll be looking at a house, thinking that it’s mine, and suddenly realize, ‘I didn’t do it.’”
It’s not just children that are walking through the trail and looking at the fairy houses, Pulsifer said.
“The other day, I was gardening, and I could hear two voices near the trail,” Pulsifer said. “I could heard one voice saying, ‘Look at that one! Oh wait, look at that one!’ I thought it was a young boy walking through the trail with his mother, but when I got down there, I realized it was an older couple in their sixties. It’s really amazing how much adults are interested in this stuff too.”
She said that a Rumford resident was asking her questions about fairy houses and trying to figure out why it was so alluring to children and adults alike.
“He asked me, ‘What if someone puts something out you don’t like?” Pulsifer said. “I told him that if it’s in poor taste, I’ll take it out, but otherwise, people are welcome to place whatever they want there.”
“He later told me that he understood the allure,” she continued. “He said he he thinks fairy houses give people a chance to come out and feel young again. I agree with that. When I flip through the guestbook, I see a lot of people saying that there’s something peaceful and calm about walking through the trail. If the trail and the houses are doing something to make the world a better and more creative place, that sounds pretty good to me.”
This year, Pulsifer said that the number of fairy houses lining her trail is more than 300. She typically gets close to 1,000 people from different states and countries walking the trail from May to September.
“At the end of the trail, I leave a guest book for people to sign,” Pulsifer said. “It’s free to walk the trail, but I just ask that people sign the guest book. This year alone, I’ve seen people from California and Tennessee signing the book. There are even people from other countries that have walked the trail.”
As she flipped through the guest book, glancing at the names, Pulsifer said, “I’m just trying to do my part in making the world a prettier place.”