Yes, the Snallygaster. In addition to being the setting for the Blair Witch Project, we recently discovered that our area also boasts two local cryptids, mortal enemies who occasionally engage in fierce battles and terrorize the local population: the Snallygaster and the Dwayyo.
Apparently, German immigrants who settled the Middletown Valley in the 1730s recorded accounts of a Schneller Giest or “quick spirit”, a beast with all sorts of unlikely attributes – half-reptile, half-bird, and with octopus tentacles, in some tales – that would swoop down and carry off its victims. Some stories even suggested it drank their blood. The Dwayyo is reported to be bipedal, but with the head of a wolf, and the two creatures have occasionally epic confrontations.
For my day job, I work in an office located inside the DC Beltway, in a pretty generic city/suburb. Though there are some very nice residential areas nearby, and even a couple little parks, for the most part this area is nondescript office buildings, overpriced boutiques, and other typical city bits. Today, however, I noticed for the first time an interesting little enclave in a courtyard by an otherwise normal office building – a series of arbors (they reminded me somewhat of Japanese Torii gates) wound around by thick, prolific vines.
It offered a welcome bit of shade on this hot and muggy July day, so I wandered underneath to take a picture.
A friend linked me to this article about a family who built delightful faerie house in their yard, and I thought it was absolutely adorable. (That’s a great website, by the way, for design ideas for children.) The faerie house is not only a great idea, but the article also contains a good step-by-step description of how they went about creating it. Just about everything they used was gleaned or gathered, nothing bought from a store: discarded seashells from a neighbor for the roof, a “fairy bed” made from a boxwood bush rootball, cattail, twigs, and bark for stuffing and wall coverings, etc.
This particularly amused me: “Underneath the house sits a little stage. This is where they hold tiny Bluegrass Festivals when we’re all asleep, of course. Bet you didn’t know that fairies love Bluegrass, did you? Well, it’s true. (at least for Virginia fairies).” How cute is that?
I don’t have children yet, but this is just the sort of thing I look forward to doing with the children I eventually hope to have. What a wonderful way to let them express their creativity, use their imagination, and also encourage them to find ingenious ways to use the materials around them, rather than automatically heading for the store.
Last night, Kat and I were cruising home from dinner. Being somewhat a coffee fan, we took a swing by the local Starbucks on the way home. It’s one of those drive-through Starbucks, so we were hanging out in line with my window down. As we sat there, we heard a loud, repeated sound. At first, Kat thought maybe it was a bird. But we quickly realized that it was the kind of sound a cat makes when its in a lot of distress.
Kat immediately hopped out of the car and when in search of the cat. I grabbed our drinks, pulled the car around, and joined her in the search. As we both started pinpointing the sound, there was absolutely no doubt. This was a kitten, and it was plainly unhappy.
Now, in case you don’t have cats, there’s a few things here that are important to know. First, an experienced cat owner is absolutely able to tell the difference between “angry kitty,” “plaintive kitty,” and “unhappy kitty” meows. I’ve had some new pet owners tell me it sounds the same. Well, it takes a while, but I promise: in time, you can tell the difference. Second, cats who don’t want to be found are not going to be found. (Every cat owner tends to have a story about how they were completely panicked all day that their cat had fled off the reservation — only to have the thing lazily disentangle itself from the laundry basked that you checked ten times when dinner time comes around.)
But we were lucky. This kitty seemed to want to be found. It was mewling steady and without fail. Unfortunately, it was doing so from inside the warm, dry engine block of a GMC truck. Did we mention it was pouring down rain at this point?
You can imagine what we were thinking. Our worries ran the entire gamut from “If that kitty touches the truly hot parts, it’ll get burned!” to “What if someone starts the car?”
Over the next hour, Kat and I tried to coax the kitty out from under different engine blocks. Every time we got it out of one, it would dart to the next car and take up its frightening perch. I went inside to see if anyone had information, and they told me the kitten had been in the parking lot all day. We built up quite a gallery of well-wishers and helpers; nearly a dozen people stood around outside with us. One coffee-goer (it had been her truck under which the kitten had been taking refuge when we arrived) even jogged down to the nearby grocery store for a can of tuna. The tuna nearly worked, but the sly kitten still managed to elude capture, wolfing down the “bait” while staying just out of reach.
After an hour, Kat and I reached a consensus. This kitty was uninterested in being “caught.” More importantly, we had to trust that the kitty knew what it was doing. It had been there all day, was currently warm and dry in its hiding places. Meanwhile, Kat and I were wet from the pouring rain, cold from the October chill, and no closer to capturing the kitty now than we had been an hour ago.
So, in the end, we chose to trust that the kitty knew what it was doing, and we went about our wet and merry way.
The lessons from this experience weren’t obvious to me at first, and it’s probably not very obvious to you why I’d write about it on a Faerie site. But it reminded me so much of so many struggles we all have every day.
First, while it might seem the right and noble thing to charge in, catch the kitty, and save the day — we never really knew that it needed our help in the first place. Sure, you can’t talk to a kitten, and it’s not like we could diagnose anything wrong with it. But we instantly took our own, personal approach to the “problem,” and it took us a long time to realize that it wasn’t going to work. That’s us getting trapped in our own paradigm.
Second, there are good people in the world. We had nearly a dozen people joining us in our little wet adventure. We made quite a crowd out in the Starbucks parking lot, crawling around on the rain-soaked cement. Passersby probably thought we were crazy. But every one of those people wanted to stop and help that kitten. They were trying to do the right thing, without any benefit to themselves.
In the end, I’m left today hoping the faeries took care of that kitty. (Or, maybe, that the kitty took care of itself.) We tried, and it makes me happy to think that, if nothing else, the little kitty got a can of tuna out of the deal.
Yesterday, I wrote about making time for magic. One of my personal favorite ways to do that is by taking a walk over at Brookside Gardens, a local botanical garden in Wheaton, Maryland. In addition to the always-gorgeous gardens themselves, they have a butterfly exhibit in one of the greenhouses in the summer, and a holiday lights exhibit around Christmas time.
The most recent thing to catch my eye, though, was something I noticed while visiting the garden a few weeks ago: a new addition since my last visit. They had created a children’s activity area, with little pint-sized benches and ideas like creating a toad house in your own garden. But the best thing was this small child-sized hollowed-out treehouse – literally a house made INSIDE a tree, rather than among its branches. You’d definitely need a VERY large tree to make one big enough for all but the smallest child, but I still thought it was an incredibly fanciful and marvelous idea.