Creatures, too, have ‘dark’ Halloween rituals

Under cover of darkness, a raccoon sets out in search of dinner. Under cover of darkness, a raccoon sets out in search of dinner.

Under cover of darkness, a raccoon sets out in search of dinner.

To the editor:

When we think of Halloween, we think of witches and ghosts, jack-o-lanterns and trick-or-treaters and all things spooky and supernatural.  Our minds may drift toward the underworld and the afterlife as we annually shroud ourselves in the costumes of vampires, mummies, skeletons and phantoms.  It is only natural to fill our minds with these thoughts at this time of the year as we see the world itself going underground all around us.  Just as we close the shades and curtains around our homes when nighttime closes in, so the autumn leaves drifting and falling from our trees outside herald the longer nights of the season and the imminent approach of winter.

Our cultural fear of the approaching darkness is only just beneath the surface.  Our rituals help us face the approach of winter with honor, but also with a sense of fun and the thrill that comes with the constant changes that our seasons have to offer.   As we prepare our jack-o-lanterns and ready our disguises, how is nature dealing with the changing seasons and the coming darkness?

We love to watch the leaves change color and marvel at their bright autumnal glory.  Yet for the tree, letting loose its leaves is an important step for avoiding the trauma of harsh weather and heavy snow. We also see our gardens and wild flowers die back but we know that they are not really gone.  We count on the promise that the lush plant life that has surrounded us all summer is not dead, but dormant below ground, tucking itself away for the long sleep of winter.

Animals also are preparing themselves for a season of dormancy and hibernation.   Pond frogs will soon burrow under the mud  and go still as the world of darkness freezes overhead.  Just as ancient mummies were entombed with the expectation of a journey to a new life on the other side, so our plants and wildlife will rise again when the sun returns.

For us, fall is a time of putting foods by and preparing for a time of scarcity.  With grocery stores conveniently stocked, we may not be thinking about salting, pickling and canning, but we can see the animals in our yards acting out this ritual.  Squirrels have been busy building up their leafy nests and stuffing them with food  that they have worked so hard to gather, caching more acorns underground to be found with their good noses when needed.  On Halloween night, our children gather up their own kind of bounty and we begin a season of feasting from now until the New Year.

On October 28, Mass Audubon will celebrate these rituals by honoring the changing of the seasons and the ways that nature prepares for its descent into darkness.  The Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary offers a family-friendly exploration into the preparations of the natural world  through their Halloween Family Spooktacular.  On a Spooky Trail Walk, participants will find stations to probe the world of night creatures and how they adapt to the changing season. Participants will consider the disguises and transformations the animals must go through in order to survive the coming winter. There will also be craft stations, cider and other creative fall snack options and a treat hunt in the ‘Boo’berry Grove.

All activities are available from 2 to 8 p.m.at the Stone Barn Farm. Cost is $8. for members and $10. for non-members.  Costumes are strongly encouraged. Stone Barn is is located at 786 East Horseneck Road, Dartmouth.

For more, visit www.massaudubon.org/allenspond or contact us via phone at 508-636-2437.

Joanna Cadorett

Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary

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