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A Sense of Wonder

When my husband Ward was little, Santa would visit the kids on his block. One year — "I must have been about six," he guesses — Santa was wearing a rubber mask, and Ward realized that Santa was a lot like neighbor Mr. Dunn. When he commented on this to his parents, they were noncommittal. A short time later, his grandmother arrived saying "I just saw Santa's sleigh take off." Since Grandma would never lie, this affirmed the reality of Santa Claus for that year — and a few more.

In 1897 in the New York Sun, Francis P. Church explained to Virginia O’Hanlon that Santa Claus — and fairies, too — are more real than the whole world of what can be measured and proven. They are the windows we have on a greater world, beyond our understanding but not beyond the perception of our hearts, or imagination.

When I was little, I treasured the Flower Fairy Books, written and illustrated by Cicely Mary Barker. Still in print, each contains portraits of a group of fairies; for example there's one book for each of the four seasons. The fairies wear clothes made of parts of the plant: a flower might be a hat or a skirt, the ruffled collar of the narcissus fairy is a jonquil corona — and Barker's work is botanically accurate. She used real children for models; their personalities express the nature of the plants. Her delicate style; her caring, detailed attention ... nourished my sense of wonder.

A little older, I would cut one side off a waxed-cardboard quart milk carton, add soil, and arrange tiny woodland plants, moss, and fungi: fairy habitat. For the short time these little terrariums lasted, they brought home some of the wonder of the woods.

As an adult, I feel pressured to keep a rational point of view. I certainly couldn't say I "believe" in fairies or elves. But I know they stand for something I don't want to lose touch of, something I hardly know how to talk about without talking about fairies, elves, magic....

And flowers. All three of my winter-blooming cactus are exploding in their glory right now, hanging in the three sides of my bay window. I go stand right up next to them: they are inches from my head, and surround me with a rainforest, with life so abundant it hushes me, ... with magic.

© Copyright 2002 Catherine Holmes Clark

Published in the six Nashoba Publishing papers on Friday, December 20 2002
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For more information
  • Yes, Virginia — text of Frank Church's editorial, with some added history. From The People’s Almanac, pp. 1358–9.
  • Flower Fairies of Cicely Mary Barker
  • Bryan on Bulbs, Chapter 1, by expert gardener John E. Bryan. This is where I checked my plant anatomy terms, and found what to call the ruffled collar on the narcissus fairy.