It’s Halloween time and there will appear to be all manner of odd nature about. In truth, nature is no odder (or more normal) than usual this time of year but because we view it through seasonal glasses we see what we seek. In part, nature fascinates us because it fulfills and encourages our fantasies and legends. I can’t attest to the reality of witches or ghosts, but I can attest to the reality of Witches Butter and Lotus Faces. Both are real and un-real.
Wow, what did I just say? O.K., let’s address those Lotus faces. When American lotus leaves break down in the autumn they bend down to touch the water. Due to the effects of breakdown, some of the leaves get strategically placed punctures in them that create faces – appearing like strange wrinkled ghosts poking out of the marsh which stare back at us like specters. No, they are not really ghosts but they are hard to ignore. I mean, we can’t control our imagination. I can’t tell you how many times my piles of clothing turned into monstrous forms in my dimly lit childhood bedroom. Pants draped over a chair were especially prone to metamorphose into lumbering ape-like beasts with horns. The forms would even appear to move if you allowed yourself to see it. They rocked back and forth and pulsated….whew, I’m getting creeped out just thinking about it. Please don’t tell me that I was the only child on earth with this affliction.
Out in the clear light of morning, you’d think something like a lotus leaf face would be anything but scary. They are dead leaves for crying out loud. But look into those eyes – or at least where those eyes used to be – and you might see them move. There, did you see that! In fact, I witnessed one of the “leaves” rise up over the surface of the water (compare beginning photo with photo below). It’s true that the water level dropped between these two photos, but that is entirely irrelevant.
Now, granted, the one face appears happy. It’s almost as if the lotus spirit is joyful at its release from its above surface responsibilities. It will live on through the winter as a tuber tucked snuggly in the muck and away from the bitter winds of winter. Unfortunately I’ve seen way too many movies where a happy ghost suddenly turns evil and attacks, so I will not trust it. The second lotus spirit is just plain ghoulish. It has no mouth and possesses an especially blank stare. By day, these ghouls are frozen into place by the bright light of the sun, but who knows what happens to them at night. I will not walk by the Lotus Bed at night because I am sure they would pulsate and moan (probably with a high whispy tone).
There is another reason I would not walk the trail at night this time of year. Just up the trail from these Lotus Specters, there are a few wrinkled orange blobs situated on a dead branch. Like pumpkin-colored brains, or clusters of severed ears, the un-holy look of the Witches Butter fungus is enough to cause reflection. The jelly appearance is deceiving, however, since these things have the texture of cartilage (like severed ears – just like I said). These ear clusters are signs of rot.
Scientists will tell you that this rot is within the decaying branch. There are thousands of threads of wood-decaying fungus working to break down this branch. The Witches Butter Fungus is a parasite feeding upon these wood decomposing fungi. It is a fungus eating fungus – a cannibal. To those who first discovered and named this thing (and by that I mean the non-scientists) these blobs represented a rot of a very different kind. They spring up, they say, wherever witches cast their spells.
Here at this branch a witch had cast some sort of evil spell. Perhaps she turned a chipmunk into a toad or a deer into a pile of pulsating night clothes. Who knows? Just to clear the air, let it be known that I am talking about bad witches here. Good witches leave piles of yogurt lying about.
I do know that this fungus is harmless by day. In fact, it is even edible to some degree. It is tasteless, but is said to add texture to soup (kinda like tofu). Even at its worst interpretation, this stuff merely indicates the scene of a heinous deed, like blood at a murder site, so it is not heinous itself. Besides, witches never cast their spells in the same place twice, right? Still, I choose not to pass by this place on Halloween night. It’s not that I’m scared or anything but the thought of an acorn-eating toad creeps me out. And, let’s not even bring up those Lotus faces again.