Halloween creates images of frightening creatures and spooky scenes. Homes are decorated with orange lights, carved pumpkins and plastic skeletons. This has to be a dentist’s favorite holiday because of all the candy kids receive and devour, resulting in a new batch of cavities.
There are many takes on this confectionary holiday—negative from a Christian sense and a child’s holiday for others. But history tells us that Halloween’s origins can be traced back to the ancient Celtic festival about 2,000 years ago known as Samhain, held on November 1st in contemporary calendars. They believed that souls of the dead returned to their homes and people dressed in costumes and lit bonfires to ward off spirits.
Halloween decorations that somehow evolved from this history and other past events incorporates spiderwebs, snakes, spiders, bats, owls and all sorts of frightening creatures. In other words, creatures you might encounter on a midnight fall walk in the woods.
During my youth we ran coon hounds. A raccoon’s furs were worth quite a bit of money back then and the coon carcasses were sold for two or three dollars. People barbequed the meat and it was surprisingly very good.
Making a few grocery dollars brought us to nighttime woodlots when most sane people were in their homes and asleep. Halloween imagery becomes real in this dark world, especially during a full moon. For example, looking at a large leaf-bare tree in front of a rising full moon is a beautiful sight, although eerie to some.
While walking through the woods at night, a flashlight or lantern is needed to avoid tripping over some obstacle, or worse, falling into a hollow. Artificial light often picks up images like spider webs made of silk.
Spider silk is one of the most versatile materials on Earth. Spiders use this silk for transportation, shelter, courtship, and all kinds of creative ways to trap prey.
When temperatures drop, spiders produce an anti-freeze type chemical called polyhydroxy alcohol. It works similarly to the antifreeze we put in our cars, allowing spiders to survive temperatures as low as -5°Farienheit.
Because the spiders were still out, we found their webs covered in frost, illuminated by lantern light creating beautiful designs. We walked face first into unseen webs, a nasty feeling. Your first thought becomes if a spider is in the web. They don’t have teeth, but can transmit a venom that is not dangerous to humans, but is like any insect bite. Still, the thought of a spider crawling around on you is creepy.
Moonlight is powerful in a dark woodlot and you can occasionally see owls flying. Their powerful wings make a swishing sound as they search for food or even a mate.
Want to hear an eerie sound? Stand in a dark woodlot and listen to a large barred owl hooting to its mate. They often exchange hoots back and forth. Occasionally four or five owls will chime in, filling the woods with awesome sounds. Many consider this spooky, but those that spend a lot of time in the woods enjoy the serenade.
Bats are another favorite Halloween creature. Hollywood made bats evil creatures associated with vampires, another Halloween favorite, and that may have led to them being a big part of Halloween decorations. But bats are amazing creatures. They will occasionally swoop over your campfire or even in moonlight, but they are smaller than an owl and harder to see in sparce light.
Brown bats mainly found in this region are fascinating creatures that nightly eat their weight in mosquitoes; occasionally females eat 1,000 per night. Bats eat other types of insects including moths, wasps, beetles, gnats and others.
Brown bats are active at night, leaving their roost at dusk. The next two or three hours are peak activity periods, including an added period just before dawn.
According to the National Wildlife Federation, bats use a system called echolocation, similar to sonar used in ships. Bats emit a high frequency sound that bounces off objects. They determine the location and size of prey by listening to the sound echo.
Brown bats are amazingly fast. Biologists claim that a bat can flip over in midflight, grab a mosquito and flip back over faster than your eyes and brain can register.
On average, little brown bats weigh less than half an ounce and have a wingspan of 8 to 11 inches. Females are typically larger than males. A normal brown bat life span is 6 to 7 years, though some live longer.
I caught a brown bat many years ago, just before dark while fly fishing for bluegill. I was using a popping bug and started whipping the heavy line through the air to dry feathers. The bat swooped down and took my fly. I put on heavy leather gloves and gently unhooked the poor creature that was likely in shock and laid it on a rock. I believe it survived.
Halloween is what you make of it, an evil holiday or a fun evening for children. But you can find some of this imagery in a dark woodlot. Make sure children go with an adult and let someone know where you are going. Getting lost in a nighttime woodlot is easy to do and that is scary!