From the time the Faery Door (or "Elf Door") first appeared in Golden Gate Park, folks have been visiting and leaving offerings to the faeries, along with little notes of praise or request.
For a couple of weeks after we first noticed the messages, Rio and I - being the ones who had fashioned the original door there for the faeries and thus feeling obligated - were responding with our English interpretations of the faeries' answers and placing the notes with their responses back through the doorway.
But the hollow of the tree started getting full, so we decided to post the messages and faeries' answers online so that all could share in the exchange.
The faeries have enjoyed the communication and look forward to further enhancing the relationship between humanity and nature and magic.
- T. Powell
Frequently Asked Questions:
Q. Is it an elf door or a fairy door or what?
A. Like Chaucer, who uses the terms "elf" and "fayerye" quite synonymously (see Poetry page) we do not discriminate. We call it the Faery Door, as the word "faery" refers to the realm of natural magic and enchantment, which includes figures such as gnomes and elves. And a faery can take pretty much any form he can envision. Some people have argued adamantly that the door actually leads to a gnome hovel. That's cool - it's all faery to us.
Q. Can you see the faeries?
A. Like us, they are spirit and can be perceived by whatever form they take or by the energy they emanate. They are rampant, but can best be discerned in calm areas of thriving life - a dense wood, a green and flowery hillside, et cetera. The ancient Greeks referred to dryads, which they called the spirits of tree and wood and American Indian tales are full of faery characters such as Coyote and Cloud-Bringer. The Celts referred to these nature spirits as the Sidhe [pronounced "shee" as in beahn-sidhe (banshee)] meaning "people who live in the hill", but whatever one wishes to name them, they are present.
Q. How do you see the faeries?
A. Look for them. Be aware of what is around you, with more than your eyes.
Q. How do you get answers to our messages from Faery?
A. By reading the messages in their presence, and then listening - with more than our ears.
Q. How do they understand your speech?
A. We are poets. A poet speaks from the heart, and the heart always speaks in rhythm. The whole universe of earth, air, fire, and water, moves in rhythm, and any faery is very much in tune with all the rhythms of life.
Q. Why do you think the door was such a big hit with people?
A. People know that magic exists although it is not always seen with the distractions in the world around us. The magic was already there in the shape of a tree which is a miracle in itself.
Q. Where is it?
A. The map below shows its general location in the Park. More specifically, between the deYoung Museum and the Academy of Sciences, there is a fountain adorned with the figures of a panther and serpent. And there is a paved path between the deYoung and the fountain, cutting through a grove of elms. Heading down that path from the deYoung, the Faery Door is in the 4th tree in the third row to the right.
Q. What happened to the original door?
A. The Parks Dept., not having dealt with such an unusually overt manifestation of the faeries before, followed their logical policy of removing anything attached to a living tree and accidentally damaged the hinges in the process. After a brief but intense public outcry, they went to replace the door, but the damaged hinges were attached to the door too well to be removed, so they used the old door as a template to trace the shape of a new door and hung that in place. The faeries are satisfied enough and grateful for the goodwill and efforts of the Parks Dept. Here are a couple of photos of the original door in place, taken by Erica Reh:
Q. Why have the Faeries moved?
A. They wanted a place a little more removed from the center of things. Also, Rec & Parks had also said, upon putting in their replacement door (see previous question/answer), that it was going to be temporary, so plans were made back then to find a suitable location which would neither be attached to a living tree.
However, we are hoping that the Faeries will get to keep it to use for correspondence. Some research I've done indicates that once a tree's inner bark is punctured, it does not mend to be functional as it had been, but scars around it to wall off potential infection; therefore, the slight damage has been done and it would not be of benefit to the tree to remove the door again. Plus, I think that although she tries hard to be stoic about it, she actually enjoys the reverent admiration she has lately received. Recently, we fixed up the replacement door so that it is again of a proper Faery design.
Q. Where is the new Faery Sanctuary?
A. We have seen quite a few people walk by without even noticing the new place. We have decided at least for now to let folks with an eye for magic find it for themselves. But in general, it is in Golden Gate Park, not a far hike from the Faery Door in the Concourse.
Q. Could you give us any further hints??
A. OK... Starting from the old door in the Concourse elm, the new door of Faery Hall, in the Faery Sanctuary, lies to the West, further so than the Tea Garden, and is in the Westward end of a eucalyptus log, over which stands a yew tree. We recently embellished upon that design too.
Q. Where is the new one (2015)?
A. Glen Canyon Park, along the main trail, near the Silver Tree Camp.
Q. Why did you choose Glen Park this time?
A. That place has always been full of Faery. Walk through at dusk, and you may feel the coyotes and stone cliff faces watching you, while the owls sing of their twilit dreams and the trees chorus in a thousand whispers. It is about the wildest place in San Francisco, perhaps second only to the surf pounded shore.
Q. When will your book, The Faery Door be available?
A. Early 2016 - at some point in February or March.
Q. Why do you spell it "Faery"?
A. It's a more traditional spelling, from before the current notion of "fairy" being taken to mean a diminutive human-like figure with butterfly wings, which is not necessarily the shape a faery takes. As spirit, they may take any form or none at all. They have been seen in human form, in various sizes, but most faeries have never even seen a human. The plural forms I use, are "faeries" for more than one individual faery (the equivalent for us might be "persons"), or "fae" which is a more collective term, referring to them as a group or species (corresponding to the word "People" for us). As a proper noun, "Faery" also refers to their whole realm of magic (and the equivalent for us would be "Humanity").
Contact T. Powell / Rio
Interview with T. Powell,
by Victoria Nguyen, of SFBay
1) First off, I just want to verify some facts that were in the SFGate article:
a) You and Rio live on a sailboat in the SF bay?
Rio bunks with me on the boat some nights, but most nights he spends at his mom's nearby. When she and I were divorced I wanted to make something more creative and positive out of the situation rather than just moving into a separate house, so I found a decent older sloop with a good cabin, got to know her by sailing around on the Bay, and moved aboard. And I made my home port not far from where Rio lives with his mom. It has been fun.
b) You work at a Richmond company that produces wood sealant for boats?
Yes - it is a sealer that penetrates into rotted wood, rebinding the wood fibers together and restoring it. I also find and sell antiquarian (old and rare) books; manage a rental property I own; find and restore old boats; and I write (currently I'm working on the second edition of my book of verse entitled Wild Gaea, and am about halfway done with a short novel entitled The Faery Door).
2) I'd love to learn more about your background. Where were you born and raised? If not in Bay Area, when did you move here?
I am native to the area -.born in San Francisco, but raised in a semi-rural area near Martinez in Contra Costa County (where the great naturalist John Muir lived). I always loved living around the oaks and hills and hardly ever came to the city until meeting and marrying Rio's mom and moving out here. I had always thought of cities as being hectic places full of concrete and metal and people who were strangers to nature. But exploring, I found the city to be full of the magic I had known in the country, just in different form and a little obscure; and there are still wild places around and within the city limits too; and the same sky is overhead, even if the stars were faint; and the human spirit glows within the city folks just as warmly. Rio was born and raised in San Francisco but he has also seen a lot of back country with me too.
3) Sorry if this next part is a little convoluted... You seem pretty knowledgeable about fairy folklore. Is this in response to people imagining the doors are a passageway for elves and fairies, or is this an interest you (and Rio?) have always had (and/or what inspired you to build the doors in the first place)?
I've been interested in both folklore and faeries for ages. The way I see it, the world is full of magic and in fact is entirely composed of it. Faeries are a great representation of the magic we may see in the natural world around us. I share the magic I see and know with Rio who is incredibly able to grasp things, and loves to learn and find out more about the wonderful world he inhabits (he actually began reading when he was 2 years old). His favorite Shakespeare play is A Midsummer Night's Dream. And the door went up for the sheer fun of sharing the magic with other people. We had no idea that so many other people would be so touched and amazed by it, and we have been touched and amazed in return. The Faeries have been gladdened and entertained as well.
4) Was it your plan to always build more doors, or did the public's reaction spur you to build another one?
When we built the first one, we had no actual plan to build any others. We may or may not have made more. But upon discovering the inspiration our door had stirred, and the controversy of its removal, we saw the need to help the situation turn back toward something positive. I met with some of the Recreation and Parks Dept folks and showed them some designs for faery housing which steers clear of attaching anything to a living tree or otherwise obstructing any living thing or facility in the Park. So now while we are still working with nature and on faery inspiration, we do have to run everything by the Recreation and Parks Dept. I think it is a nice cooperation amongst Nature and Humanity and Magic.
5) Can we expect further doors/projects in the future?
The Faeries have showed us a couple of more things which are presently in the works.
6) You told the Richmond Blog that this time the faeries requested a door "more removed from the center of things" -- any idea why? Was the original door getting too much attention?
The Faeries are generally happy wherever they are, and neither need nor dislike attention. But they thought it would be nice for the people who find them to be in a more relaxed and quieter place, thus better able to hear the faery voices if they've an ear for it.
7) Obviously there are many parks and trees in San Francisco. Why have you and Rio chosen Golden Gate Park?
That is where we were when we saw the little doorway and were inspired to give it the door. We both had the same idea. The Faeries wanted us to put a little door in the tree so as to inspire a little wonder. You see, the real miracle is the tree itself, and the whole park, and actually the whole world. And by adding just a little pinch of magic, we were able to make more accessible to more people the miracle that was already all around there. So that more people could open the door to magic, we gave them a door.
8) I love the photo you attached! Where do you create these doors? (i.e.: do you have a studio? do you work on the boat?)
The place where I work on the Richmond shore is a manufacturing plant and large ramshackle warehouse with a machine tool shop. I'm always working on some little project like making a wooden table for a friend, a new hatch for my sloop, etc., so I put together my own little work area in the loft. Currently in the works there are the restoration of a table I'd made for Rio a few years ago, and something that looks like another little door.
9) I'm not very knowledgeable in carpentry, but your doors are very beautiful and seem well made. How many years of experience do you have? In what ways does Rio help you in the process?
Thank you. I am the son of a carpenter and have been making things out of wood for decades. I never paint it because I really like the natural grain patterns, which are all unique. Rio helps with design, taking measurements, holding things in place while I mark lines, etc.
10) Can you give us any hints about where the second door is located? ;)
Ok... if you had a compass and were to walk due West from the Faery Door in the Concourse, you'd probably pretty closely pass the Faery Sanctuary - but you shouldn't try to hold to a straight line course or else you'd have to walk right through trees and the fences of the Tea Garden on your way and some people might get pretty ticked off.
11) The first door had a hollow space where people could leave notes and presents. Does this new door (which seems to be built into a turned over tree stump?) have a place for people to leave notes too?
Yes. It is in the end of a fallen log of eucalyptus that is hollowed back about 3 feet. It's actually roomier and yet cozier than the elm in the Concourse.
12) If there are new notes left for the faeries, do you and Rio still plan to answer them on your website?
Yes. I post our English translations of the Faeries' answers there.
13) What do you and Rio do with all the notes and gifts received?
Near my computer in Richmond I have a bag of notes and filled notebooks, many of which have already been answered and some of which do not really require a response beyond what would be just a simple "thank you" kind of acknowledgement which I hope would be implied, as I cannot afford the time to post every message. The gifts tend to come and stay around the tree or sometimes go. I have seen an interestingly painted stick of wood show up, disappear not long afterward, reappear the next week and later vanish again - with never a word of explanation nor even a hello or goodbye. The treats we usually have to clean up after the Faeries have let their snails have at them.
14) What is the best part about putting up these doors? (i.e. the time spent with your son, seeing the public's reaction, etc?)
I never knew love so deep and vast until I had Rio. But we get to spend a lot of time together whether doing Faery Door stuff or going somewhere or just playing. I also help out at his school whenever I can and am coaching his soccer team, so we do get to share a lot and see quite a bit of each other anyway. So I'd say the best thing for us was seeing the inspiration in other people - the rings of stones around the base of the elm, the daisy chains hung on her trunk, and the children gazing into the door with wide open wonder. Some of the messages to the Faeries have been very interesting and profound and a preacher in San Diego even wrote a sermon about the Faery Door, encouraging his congregation to look for the beauty and wonder in the world. Getting to see this great sense of wonder stirring and awakening in people has been awesome. Getting to share the experience with Rio has been about the most fun I've ever had - and that is really saying something.