A couple of years ago I wrote a short story called “Soft Pretzels” (Primal Picnics: Writers Create Origin Myths for Their Favorite Foods,Whole World Press, 2010). In it, I wove a tale about a pregnant queen inexplicably drawn to a cottage in the forest. On her journey she comes upon several other cottages: one made of candy, one with chicken feet, and one in which the cupboards are bare, until she finds the one where she will give birth and twist dough to mold her child’s fate (or not). There has always been something about the fairy tale cottage that fascinates me – it is a safe harbor and magical portal all at once. And for the past 25 years, I’ve been lucky enough to have one of these enchanted cottages in my family.
My aunt Nancy lives in the North Georgia Mountains in a beautiful cabin surrounded by towering trees, a rambling brook, and a mountain-top skyline. To get there, you turn off the main road and drive through the trees following the wooden arrows she’s planted to find your way. On my venture in, I’m often greeted by Fox, Rabbit, Deer and Hawk. You definitely share this landscape with the wildlife. Once, she had a bobcat “adopt” her for a year or so. We called her Baby. Nancy would look up from washing dishes at the kitchen sink and Baby would be tip-toe up on the bear sculpture outside looking in.
Behind the cabin is a wooden staircase my cousin and his friend built that winds down to a brook – which constantly whispers about all those who have run through the mountains before us. In the winter, when the leaves have fallen, you can see her neighbor’s house in the distance and hear their laughter over the bonfires.
There are many places inside the cabin to sit and tell tales and sit with nature…
I’ve sat in this kitchen numerous times eating warm, homemade soups and breads. Recently, Nancy and I sat here late one night counting up all the first cousins in the family. My mom is one of 15 children, so we arrived at 42 FIRST cousins! Many who have brought their own children to race around this cabin and its porches.
It’s a very inspiring place for me, where I can sit and look at the mountain and imagine all kinds of myth and fairy tale folks among the trees. I’ve taken so many photos here, and hope to film an episode for my upcoming web series on the myth of PERSEPHONE. In many ways, time stops. My cell phone doesn’t get reception here and it doesn’t matter. My mind breaths for a while and my priorities reset themselves.
I have a book of Polish fairy tales in which Fairy Tale is personified as an elder woman who travels over seven mountains and seven rivers to come knock at your door, rest by the fire and tell you a tale. I think of her often and believe her to be translated quite literally into my life – for it was in my aunt’s home that I sat and talked and listened to my dear grandmother for the last time over 20 years ago now.
The cottage will be sold next year, and new adventures will begin at the ocean for my aunt. But the memories and stories we take from our time spent in her cabin will fold themselves in our family’s fairy tale lore and be told for generations to come.