Our neighbor called last weekend, inviting us to take a tour of his Christmas light display. I’ve written about his property before, describing the elemental ways in which he composes and nurtures his land. This man builds stone cairns and labels them by spiritual influence. He creates contemplative labyrinths and invites folks to walk them. He builds bird houses with slate roofs reclaimed from an old train station. Although their own kids are grown, his two-story tree house, complete with a trap door and turret, will host a Boy Scout camp-out soon, and he and his wife hold an annual Easter egg hunt for neighborhood kids involving thousands of eggs hidden around their property. During the summer, they grow vegetables and raspberries, fat chickens cluck in a pen, rhododendrons and day-lilies flourish—and while the place is stunning, and in a way, mystical, during Christmas it transcends everything.
This neighbor spends two full weekends in November setting up lights that cover about 120 bushes dispersed through the woods. There are no synchronized flashes or hot air Santa's bobbing on the breeze. Don’t get me wrong. Those things have their place, and trust me, I’ve driven miles to see them. But here; it’s as if, rather than stringing the lights, he finds a way to make his bushes bloom with them, and because of their luminescent, magical quality, one might expect to see fireflies and druids, maybe even Tinkerbell flitting about. Each time we drive by, I tell my husband the place is a fairyland.
Keep this in mind as I tell you about Saturday night, when my husband and I and our sister-in-law, along with our daughter and nephew, both 22, walked over to visit. There we joined another group, including two young children, and almost as soon as we began walking the paths, our host told the little ones, “If you find any fairy doors, make sure you knock before looking inside,” He pointed his flashlight toward a tree, where he’d carved a door to fit the shape of the natural opening between the roots, complete with a knob. Following instructions, one of the little boys opened it to find a plastic figurine inside, ordinary I suppose, except nothing was that night.
All throughout the walk, even the adults took turns, tapping at tiny doors to discover the surprises inside. Our daughter marveled at one, “It even has a slate floor.” Toward the end of the tour our host spoke again to the little boys. “If you come upon the fairies' treasure, only take one piece, so they don’t get mad.” The last door they opened contained a pile of shiny beads and baubles.
Our daughter and nephew have visited this neighbor since they were little. They already speak its history, of the days before the cairns and labyrinths, when as toddlers they petted his goats and held chicken eggs, warm in their hands. They learned generosity through the Easter egg hunt, when first, they experienced the joy of retrieving, and later, spent afternoons filling plastic eggs for those who still believed. They encountered mystique as they climbed into a tree house castle at twilight, and discovered how raspberries just off the bush taste so much better than what comes in a carton. All through their lives, through his land, our neighbor has offered up stories and lessons. This time, I hope they learned one more--that it's always right to invest in whimsy.