By Erika Webb
It never hurts to believe in magic. And if along the way some lessons about caring for the environment are absorbed, implemented and shared with others, all the better.
The Rev. Dr. Louis Gates, a fifth generation medium who lives in Cassadaga with his wife medium and healer Marie Gates, said the woods surrounding the Spiritualist camp are alive. There are deer, gopher tortoise, bears, foxes, raccoons, opossums and all sorts of critters foraging and going about their business back there.
And maybe some otherworldly entities.
Although fairies are not part of the Spiritualists' belief system, many individuals are open to all mystical possibilities. Why not?
Rev. and Mrs. Gates have lived in the camp for 35 years, in six different houses. Three years ago, they decided it would be nice to create paths in the woods near their present home for people to enjoy nature and whatever else might materialize.
Extremely busy teaching and reading schedules prevented them from getting too far with the project, but along came Lillian and Ray Carroll who were only too happy to work at creating a place where "children of all ages" can explore and learn about beneficial environmental practices.
Just in front of the wooded area is a more open place of refuge. Islands of plants, herbs, rocks, fairies and gnomes as well as benches and an enormous fairy chair adorn the more open parts of the two-acre property.
Eventually, with the camp board's approval, a labyrinth may snake through the woods where there is a natural amphitheater, Rev. Gates said, and where he saw a fairy once.
"It was around dusk," he said. "I'd just started working on it. I asked a fairy to show up and one did."
Mrs. Carroll said she agreed to "take on" the project (that has become the Fairy Trail) "not knowing anything about fairies or much about gardening."
The endeavor has been nothing short of enchanting.
But has she seen any ... you know?
You can't help but ask.
"Their presence is sometimes felt more than seen," Mrs. Carroll said. "When we do something here and we need something and it just somehow shows up or the plants we want go on sale ..."
"Does it hurt to believe in something innocent children believe in," Mr. Carroll asked. "That's what it's really about, being open and receptive."
Michaela Kramer, an artist who lives in the camp, will guide a fairy house workshop at Slater House next door to the park 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, July 26. The cost is $25.
"Entice fairy energy into your home or garden by building a 'fairy house door,'" the workshop flyer suggests. "See how Michaela builds large and small fairy structures. Bring your favorite materials if you like: stones, pots, broken china, old jewelry, shells. Fairies like recycled and natural materials!"
Natural materials will be used and anyone who so desires may learn, create their own, take it home or place it in the park.
Paint and doors will be supplied.
"If the fairies like it, they might take it away," Mrs. Carroll said.
Or they might take up residence in the structure along the trail.
"It's really a neat thing for the imagination," she said. "If you're going to believe in something, believe in something powerful."
Women of all ages frequent Cassadaga, bringing children and grandchildren.
"We're trying to develop this as a way for children to learn about nature," Mrs. Carroll said.
Also called elementals -- referring to earth, wind, air, water and fire -- fairies oversee plants and the air while gnomes are the caretakers of the earth, hillsides, rocks and such, she explained.
"The belief in fairies seems to reach back into ancient times, being traceable both in written and oral tradition," according to themystica.com. "Traces stem from the Sanskrit gandharva (semidivine celestial musicians) to the nymphs of the Greeks and Homer, the jinni of Arabic mythology, and other folk characters of the Samoans, Arctic, and other indigenous Americans."
It's all OK with Mrs. Carroll. Her days tending the gardens along the Fairy Trail have yielded rewards like peace, growth and anticipation.
She wants to create a medicinal herb garden there.
It's also generated a spirit of cooperation. Her husband has happily built everything she's asked him to for the space.
Watching people wander in, sit in contemplation and wander back out, looking contented is a great source of joy for her. She also likes discovering the offerings people leave behind.
"Look," she said, pulling something tiny and red out of a tree. "It's a parachute. And over there someone left a bracelet."
"A fairy paratrooper," Mr. Carroll joked.
A lot of people are too busy these days to walk in the woods, the Rev. Gates said.
"People say, 'you don't want to do that, you'll get all ticked up,'" he added, laughing.
Adults need to play more, he believes, but he was inspired to start a fairy trail more "because children need to play."
"They still see," the Rev. Gates said, referring to the spirit realm. "When we get older, we start to lose (sight of) it and look only at material things."
Cassadaga's northern counterpart, Lily Dale, N.Y., established a fairy park and Rev. Gates thought it was a good idea -- a way to attract younger people; drawing more young visitors will "keep the religion viable," he said.
Mrs. Gates said when people are grieving it's common practice for them to go into nature to be soothed.
"For me it's the cardinal. For others a butterfly and, for some, even a spider," she said. "They find that quiet and relief from sorrow. The fairies are good with that ... natural."
Eventually, Rev. Gates said, various organizations could be represented there by items they construct and place in the park.
"Really, it's just supposed to be fun," he said.