October is nearly upon us. For me here in Aotearoa New Zealand, that means springtime planting, flowers, and lots of weeding! But for many of my readers, it means colourful autumn leaves, pumpkins, and the spooky season of Halloween. And for writers of fantasy, like me, it means story inspiration too (even if my witches aren’t always who you might expect …).
When I was a child in the United States, Halloween was one of my favourite holidays. Yes, the candy was a draw (I’ve always had a weakness for candy corn), but what I liked most was the chance to make a costume and then walk around after dark wearing it.
Halloween imagery is all about darkness and things that go bump in the night. It’s meant to be scary, but I quite enjoy the night and all the creatures that inhabit it.
As an interpretive naturalist in America, I led a lot of night hikes. ‘Spooky’ owls and bats are old friends I’ve had the privilege to not only observe in the wild, but teach with in classrooms and nature centres in a variety of places.
And those nocturnal animals can be helpful. When I lived in Panama, there was a sizeable gap between the top of the walls of my mud house and the roof. At night, little bats would swoop into the house through the gap, zipping around snapping up mosquitoes. I used to lie awake at night waiting for their arrival before falling asleep, knowing they were keeping guard against the little blood suckers that wanted to disturb my rest.
New Zealand is blessed with a fabulous array of nocturnal animals. If Halloween had originated here, the icons of the season might be a bit different …
- Kiwi—Imagine this beach-ball-sized bundle of fluff with a deadly beak spearing hapless hikers in the dark. Maybe there would be vampire kiwi.
- Kakapō—What could be scarier than a nearly invisible nocturnal parrot with a booming voice that echoes through the night?
- Wētā—Okay, lots of people already find these giant crickets spooky. And some of them bite. They’d be a perfect candidate for Halloween horror.
- Owls … maybe not—The morepork and the little owl might need to up their game to be Halloween mascots. Their cute factor is pretty high, and their calls are far from scary. I’d even go so far to say that the morepork’s call is soothing.
- Bats—Unfortunately, New Zealand’s bats are all endangered, so you’re not likely to encounter them frequently. However, they have some interesting habits that would play out well on the spooky scale. Short-tailed bats don’t hunt from the air like many other bats. Instead they scramble around on the forest floor, using their wings as legs. What’s that rustle in the undergrowth?
- Moa—Yes, these giant birds are extinct and were probably only partly nocturnal, but maybe their ghosts or skeletons could haunt a New Zealand Halloween. Their diet was mostly plants, but I still wouldn’t want to meet up with a 3.5-metre-tall bird in the dark.
Of course, a Southern Hemisphere Halloween would have to fall in April or May, during the autumn here. We could all dress up as kiwi or moa and eat pavlova …