One can feel in the air Halloween is close. The rays of the sun slant more sharply as shadows lengthen and hours of daylight shorten. The cool winds blow ahead of winter encouraging spirits to become restless!

One can feel in the air Halloween is close. The rays of the sun slant more sharply as shadows lengthen and hours of daylight shorten. The cool winds blow ahead of winter encouraging spirits to become restless! People are energized and go outside to enjoy cooler autumn days, see the changing colors of trees, wander in pumpkin patches or hunt for ripe apples. Inside the kitchen, meals transition to more “stick to your ribs” fare with warm soups, filling breads, baked potatoes, and fruit pies. The oven can be used again. Outdoor temperatures have fallen below 90 degrees!

The giant hay bales seen sitting in rows in many pastures deliver nourishment wrapped in big packages to animals through the winter. One roll or bale of good quality hay will feed one cow one month. Another purpose for the round packed layers of grass rolled up recently. On top of the hill from my house three hay bales were arranged in a vertical triangle. Two form the base with the third on top. The three were transformed into a giant piece of candy corn with landscape paint. Not just any orange, white and yellow replica of a corn kernel, but a carnivorous, wide mouthed toothy sweet just about to swallow a farmer. This natural sculpture is not only eye-catching during the day, but the red spotlight zeroing in on the corn at night makes the looming giant quite menacing. Halloween is only five days away.

Candy corn in the three autumn colors appears before Halloween like clockwork. The seasonal confection has been produced since 1898. It was called Chicken Feed. The recipe has remained basically the same for over 100 years. One glowing description from a candy corn lover: a blend of creamy fondant and rich marshmallow with warm vanilla overtones. That works. I prefer the mix with candy corn and their first cousins the candy pumpkins, although those appeared in the 1960’s. Each kernel of candy corn has 7 calories and every pumpkin 25. Don’t forget. National Candy Corn Day is October 30th. Time to stock up.

I have been keeping Southwest Airlines busy between here and Baltimore. This time my knee brace garnered much interest before I was cleared to fly the friendly skies. The neighborhoods of Countryside Maryland have become Halloween Central with ghosts, jack-o’-lanterns and mock graveyards to accompany the decorated light poles. This area is really into All Hallows’ Eve. The huge inflated green spider perched on her web atop a trimmed bush was waiting for her next meal. Across the street three ghosts rose from the ground behind their gravestones. At the end of the block white skeletal dogs romped in a yard. One canine with glowing red eyes, stationed at the front of the driveway, howled as you walked by. An inflated deep purple cat with iridescent yellow eyes moved as if it was stalking you.

The beach called to us. Off-season travel to the resort area has always been our goal. We drove three hours just to spend one night in Ocean City, Maryland. On the way we crossed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, all 4.3 miles of it, passed a sign with lobsters pulling a Conestoga wagon (Coastal western) and another sign in front of a small dairy which said “Support Local Cows.” Sure will. We arrived at the hotel, checked in, then walked the beach in 40 to 50 mph winds. A powerful storm had skirted the area. The wrap-around gales picked up beach sand and we were sand blasted for an hour and a half. Supper was at Waterman’s Seafood Company. We listened to folk pound cooked crabs at their tables while we dined on quiet fish tacos and seafood which only required forks. The Boardwalk was almost deserted except for a few of us hardy souls brave enough to face the elements.

Next morning, I spotted a Monarch butterfly fluttering around the Mugo pines in front of the hotel facing the beach. The Kite Shop on the Boardwalk had a small scarecrow on a pole, head spinning rapidly in the wind. I figured if the head could stay on in these fierce ocean breezes, it could survive Oklahoma winds. The Halloween Maze was being set up on the beach with what seemed miles of narrow wooden slat fences that surrounded plenty of hanging witches, pirates and ghosts.

Time to leave. We drove past several solar farms, persimmon trees loaded with ripe fruit and suddenly came to a standstill. Accident on the Bay Bridge. Four-mile backup. Slowly crawled over the bridge, but further down the road was another crash. Two of the three lanes were closed. Past the congestion we were before being passed by a truck with the decal “God is my Pilot”. The vehicle crossed in front of us and veered over two lanes to exit off the left. Lots of brake lights lit up, but nothing happened. Almost out of the woods, but, yet one more accident. This time a large RV and semi had collided. The trailer was on its side and the RV damaged. Fire trucks, ambulances, and people milled around. Glass covered the road.

Finally made it to the house. The return trip took over five hours, which gave me much time to absorb the scenery. White blooming shrubs were everywhere, something noteworthy for this time of the year. They are Groundsel trees (Baccharis halimifolia). In the daisy/sunflower family, this shrub is native to Nova Scotia and eastern to southern coastlines of US, even including extreme eastern Oklahoma. Of the 400 different species, 21 grow in North America.

Groundsel tree blooms in fall, is shade tolerant, dioecious (separate male and female plants), and has alternate soft sharp lobed, lance-shaped silverish leaves that turn reddish in autumn. The short tree produces conspicuous snowy white floral heads visible from long distances. These are plants that like water, thus they can be found growing in ditches, marshes, and coastlines since they are also amazingly salt tolerant, the reason coast dwellers also call them Sea Myrtles.

Monarchs are attracted to Groundsel trees, although they might need to freshen their vocabulary. The common name Groundsel was changed, as of February 2018, to Eastern Baccharis. The origin of Baccharis is fuzzy, like the flowers. It could be Greek Bakkaris for fragrant root, or Bacchus, the Roman God of wine and fertility. iNaturalist has lovely close-up shots of this interesting plant. If you are driving over the San Bois Mountains of eastern OK, the short shrub-trees will now be in bloom.

Carve your pumpkins, ready the candy dish by the front door and prepare for the goblins to descend in a few days. If you pace yourself, you might have a few kernels of candy corn left for Halloween!

Becky Emerson Carlberg, graduate of Oklahoma State (Plant Pathology) is a teacher, artist, writer as well as certified Oklahoma Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at Becscience@att.net.