As a child, my favorite books were the ones about wandering through the forest and discovering something magical—a key to a hidden treasure chest or a tiny doorway in a tree that led into otherworldly realms. My older brother fueled my fantasies with artifacts he claimed to have found in the woods that bordered our backyard: a pixie's acorn-cap beret, a stone with a hollowed-out depression that could've served as a fairy's washbasin, and once, a miniature bronze goblet that an elf had surely left behind.
Alas, I never found a secret door or gnome house, no matter how I searched those same woods. So you'll understand why I'm excited to learn that I'll soon have a second chance at Camp Newaygo's "Enchanted Forest" event. On April 30 from 3 to 6 pm and May 1 from 2 to 5 pm, visitors to the camp can wander the surrounding forest, with the help of a trail map, to search for fairy and gnome homes.
Between now and then, Camp Newaygo—an independent not-for-profit camp located on 104 acres along a chain of lakes in the Manistee National Forest region of mid-western Michigan—is recruiting creative types to fashion one-of-a-kind fairy and gnome dwellings for the event (and for the little creatures that will no doubt inhabit them!).
Young visitors will also have a chance to make a fairy wand or gnome hat and to enjoy a tea party. Local greenhouses will be on hand, selling supplies for fairy- or full-sized gardens. The week after the event, the houses will be displayed and auctioned off, with proceeds going to support improvements to the camp's Foster Arts and Crafts Lodge, built in 1949. That's where generations of campers have explored painting, pottery, dark room photography, nature crafts, jewelry making, tie dye design, wood burning and other activities. But the lodge is no longer adequate for the camp's growing number of campers and programs. (In addition to being a girls' residential summer camp and a coed day camp, Camp Newaygo offers year-round community events: dinners, girlfriend getaways, winter sleigh rides and more.)
"The proposed renovation will maintain the building's integrity and original structure, as well as winterize the facility to include a restroom, heat, insulation and high-efficiency windows," says Christa Smalligan, the camp's events specialist.
I love the whole idea of this project, not only because it brings back memories of my childhood imaginings, but also because it showcases our creative community in a way that will benefit this very special place. What's more, the project builds bridges between established artists and young creative spirits.
This won't be the first time Camp Newaygo has called on Newaygo-area talent. In 2009, the camp started a program called Stone Soup Studio, in which local artists and creative minds designed and made mosaic lamp shades for the newly-renovated Lang Lodge.
"The Enchanted Forest event has allowed us to reach out and provide another opportunity for creativity," says Smalligan. "I'm excited to see the unique perspectives people take in making each fairy home and garden."
You can certainly expect a unique perspective from Valerie Deur, who plans to create a "pixie palace" in a mossy tree stump.
"I believe in little people, and I have a special fondness for pixies," says Deur, who once co-wrote a book about pixies with her daughter and even donned pixie outfits, complete with turned-up-toe slippers, for the photos that illustrate the book.
"I'm thinking of making this house a retirement condo for pixies," she says, "although of course all small creatures would be welcome--pixies don't discriminate."
Valerie and Christa have got me thinking up designs for fairy-sized structures I might make from the twigs, acorn caps, stones and feathers I collect on my walks through the woods, and I caught Ray rummaging through the recycling bin for inspiration the other day. How about you? Can you resist this creative challenge?
The camp would like to have 25 to 30 little houses to hide in the woods, so that's going to take a lot of busy hands and fertile minds between now and April 1, when creations need to be finished and delivered to Camp Newaygo.
Here are a few guidelines to follow:
And mark your calendars for the walks on April 30 and May 1. If you can't make it, rest assured I'll share pictures and details of my enchanted adventure.
Meanwhile, I'd love to hear about other examples of creativity in service of community, here in Michigan or wherever you live.
Written from the heart,
from the heart of the woods
Read the introduction to HeartWood here.
Nan Sanders Pokerwinski, a former journalist, writes memoir and personal essays, makes collages and likes to play outside. She lives in West Michigan with her husband, Ray.