At the end of October, there is just Halloween between nature and its winter slumber.
On a wet, autumn night I have a good chance of finding a toad hunting for a sluggy dinner. If threatened, it can puff itself up and “sweat” venom making it a grand companion for any witch. They are beginning to hibernate now, so be careful when moving logs or stones in your garden or risk the witch’s curse.
This autumn has been a bumper one for fungi. While many fear them and whisper tales of potions and hallucinations, their real magic is their ability to recycle fallen leaves and other dead things into nutrients for the benefit the living. My favourite is the wonderfully sinister Magpie Inkcap, which appears for just a few days in the West Park nature reserve before disappearing with the speed of a charm.
Encountering a crow’s intelligent, piercing gaze as the sun slips below the horizon makes it easy to believe tales of witches transforming into these graveyard birds to fly free over Sussex woods and villages.
Bats are the truest children of the night. Although they hibernate, they will fly and feed during warmer spells and, one Halloween past, a pair swooped in front of a group of trick and treating girls, causing the false witches and demons to scatter and shriek.