Evidence for the existence of fairies began appearing around Cloverdale just before Mother’s Day this year. Like mushrooms, tiny fairy doors sprouted overnight on the foundations of buildings from Hamburger Ranch in the north of town to the snack shack at Furber Park in the south. The fairies seemed particularly busy downtown, with tiny wooden doors appearing on Dahlia and Sage market, Jefferson school, the Cloverdale library, KO Studio Art and Tattoo and even the police station.
(The post office was not amused and removed its door.)
Where did these doors come from? And what’s up with the little painted rocks that cluster around them like offerings to the Gods of the Fey? And most of all, who’s responsible for these random acts of kindness/weirdness?
Last week, this Cloverdale Reveille reporter was privileged to discover the answer to these questions when she accompanied the town’s previously anonymous “Fairy Door Maintenance Crew” on its weekly rounds, replacing rocks and adding new fairy doors to other businesses around town. The Reveille gave the Fairy Door folks—Cloverdalians Marisa Scalese and Debbie Charkins Handy and Petaluman Lynn Calza—the chance to remain anonymous, but they demurred.
“We are the least anonymous anonymous group that’s ever existed,” Calza said, with a laugh. “We tried to be sneaky putting up the doors, but everyone in town knows Marisa, and wherever we went, it was ‘Hey, Marisa what’s up?’ Then there was that day when we were trying to be really quiet about it, but ended up setting our box of supplies on the car horn and blasting the whole neighborhood.”
It was Calza who had the idea for the fairy doors in the first place, and it started not with fairies, but with rocks. Calza, who began painting rocks as a way of recovering from surgery-induced PTSD, is an avid participant in the “Rocks” subculture of people, who paint stones and hide them in plain sight for other people to find and then post on Facebook.
The Rocks movement is part art movement, part community builder, part Facebook treasure hunt. Rocks groups are usually centered around specific geographic areas, and most towns in Sonoma County, including Cloverdale, have their own Rocks Facebook pages—Cloverdale CA Rocks and, now, Cloverdale Rocks & Fairies—where participants post photos of rocks they’ve either painted or found.
Calza, who says she never does anything by half, soon found herself painting and posting hundreds of rocks. She became an administrator of 707 Rocks!, a Facebook group for Rocks hounds in the 707 area code. At first she hid her rocks around her hometown of Petaluma, but soon she began to think about her home away from home: Cloverdale.
Calza, whose boyfriend lives in Cloverdale, has been a frequent visitor to the town for the last seven years. She met waitress Marisa Scalese at Hamburger Ranch several years ago, and they became fast friends. They met the third member of the trio, Debbie Charkins Handy, through the Cloverdale Rocks group. Now they gather regularly just to paint rocks, sometimes with local artist Ipolani Bovee.
“I think that kindred souls find a way to each other,” Calza said.
This May, Calza was perusing a Hawaiian Rocks site when she noticed that some of the rock photos featured fairy doors. “It really captured my imagination,” she said. “I immediately called up Marisa and Debbie and said, ‘Guess what we’re doing for Mother’s Day this year?’”
Marisa and Lynn drove around town before Mother’s Day, scoping out all the possible places to attach the doors. Lynn brought the supplies—the little wooden doors, the double-sided tape, and the tiny laminated cards wishing Cloverdale a Happy Mother’s Day and explaining the rocks philosophy of take one, leave one. They salted each location with hand-painted rocks.
Calza created a “Fairy Door Map,” and Marisa and Debbie agreed to do the regular maintenance on the 21 fairy sites they established.
“Debbie does downtown Cloverdale, and I do the south and north ends of town and also Jefferson Elementary School,” said Marisa Scalese. “I just go and check and make sure everything’s good, pick up rocks if they’re left and spread some new ones.”
The town has been delighted by the doors and the rocks—children especially. The local Rocks Facebook pages have filled up with photos of happy children, discovering rocks at the fairy doors and leaving rocks of their own. Some children have elaborated on the existing fairy doors, building entire fairy villages around them. Other children have built completely new fairy wonderlands on their own, like the one at Plank Coffee.
“It’s really become a family thing,” says Charkins Handy. “That’s my favorite part about it. I love to see the faces of the kids when they find new rocks or see that fairies have taken the rocks they left the day before. The smiles on their faces. That’s my reward for doing this.”
Bovee wrote on Facebook, “I think what is most addicting is watching the wonder in the little ones faces. They imagine what the fairies do and how they live. Making kids happy makes the world happy. People are walking and creating and connecting... ‘oh how this has helped us through some of our darker days’....’thank you for starting this movement’.”
Because this is the real world, there have been some potholes on the road to fairyland. Nine of the 21 fairy doors vanished almost immediately, and a couple of the doors have been vandalized, including the one at the senior center and in Handy’s front yard. The Fairy Door Maintenance Crew is working hard to replace them.
The Cloverdale police have even gotten in on the act. “At the police department, Teresa Hegarty has been our behind-the-door fairy help. So we told her that one of the doors had been taken, but that we’d noticed on Nextdoor that it seemed to have moved somewhere else, like up a trail somewhere. So we said, “Hey Teresa, can you find this door for us?” And she was, like, 'I’m on it—Fairy Door Recovery Service,' and she retrieved it.”
The station has even been pressed into service handing out Fairy Door Maps. (You can also download them from the Facebook group Cloverdale Rocks & Fairies.) The Fairy Door Map, which Calza updates every couple of weeks, is a work in progress. New sites are appearing all the time, while others disappear. The tiny doors, like fairies themselves, seem to appear and disappear at will. You never know where one will pop up next.