Empty Walnut Shells

On a hill at the Keene farm is a copse, mostly beeches, their twisted roots covered in moss, the spaces between them filled with ferns. Nippy Keene’s daughter, Allison, five years old, her pockets full of walnut shells, sneaks from tree to tree, placing the shells in nooks beside the roots, in case a fairy might need a place to stay.

She chose the copse because she found a fairy ring that morning, a perfect circle of mushrooms white, where fairy feet had trod and danced while Allison slept in the night. A child will see wonderful things when standing inside a fairy ring, but I cannot write what things she saw; I would not break a spell that lingers still, and such delights must be kept to heart.

While she places the shells, her father, Nippy, waits in the sun, too far away to scare the wee creatures, an unlit cigar in his mouth, his rough hands wiping the sweat from his brow. The fence needs mending and the grass wants mowing and there are a hundred other things to do, but he waits patiently because he is her father. That is what fathers do. And though Nippy does not understand the ways of little girls, he understands that Allison must stand inside the ring. When she has finished, he takes her hand and they walk home together.

“I love you, Daddy,” she says.

Perhaps she did not put the shells in their proper place on that distant day, or her scent had lingered, or the shells were not the fairy sort and fairies preferred another place to dwell. Maybe, because she knew little of fairy ways, she put the shells where they remained undiscovered, empty homes that would not know the high-pitched buzz of fairy wings. But I can see the thing she saw, that walnut shells would be a pleasant place to lie, snug inside the nut-brown curve, the holes that squirrels had nibbled like little windows through which fairies could greet the day, before they stretched their wings and flew away.

Allison is grown now and lives in a house near Nippy’s land, a house they framed and roofed and wired and walled together with their hands. When they had finished and put their tools away and stopped to look at their work, for a moment Nippy held her close.

“I love you, Daddy,” she said as he walked away.

“Do you remember the walnut shells?” he turned and asked, unaware that she held several in her pocket.

She had placed them there earlier that day, after noticing a promising spot in the shade of a shrub, a place that a fairy might wish to stay.

If the vast expanse of creation is beyond our understanding, so is the unbounded imagination of a child, for who else can take a place so small and dream a world of such delight?  I know what happens when we stop placing walnut shells; we call it maturity, and we give it some things that we should keep.

IMAGE CAPTION:  It’s a cute story but few fairies would fit inside a walnut shell. Most fairies overeat, growing fatter each year until they can no longer fly, which makes them easy prey. Have you ever noticed a pair of gossamer wings lying on the ground? You probably thought they were from an insect, such as a dragonfly or a beetle. Wrong. Most likely, they were all that remained of an obese fairy eaten by a predator. Now you know why fairies (and children) should exercise more and eat less.

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