The Story of a Superstition
How cattail showed its strengths and weaknesses
Some townspeople who come to the old, mysterious Kenozero for the summer can be hard to figure out. This case took place in the village of Zekhnova. Antonina Ivanovna had done her laundry and was going to hang it up behind the bathhouse when she decided to peek through the fence to see what the neighbors were up to. Approaching the porch was Marina, a guest from Moscow. In her hands she carried a huge bunch of cattails, their short stumpy spadices sticking out in all directions.

"Marina, my dear girl," Antonina Ivanovna cried out. "Where are you taking them cattails? You don't want them in the house, do you?"

"The bulrush, you mean?" Marina did not understand what the woman meant. Not surprisingly. People often take cattail for bulrush, even though these are two different species. Marina replied she wanted to add beauty to her room. She liked the way her hostess had done it, but, as an interior designer, she felt it wasn't right for her. The lush, beautiful thicket of cattails she discovered on the shore was just asking into a floral composition.

...Antonina Ivanovna realized the guest was in danger:

"Don't take it in, Marina. The superstition has it that cattail brings bad luck if kept at home. It is not to be taken away from where it grows in wetlands."

Marina replied superstitious beliefs didn't work for her because she didn't believe in them. What does cattail have to do with malicious thinking?

Since then, every time Marina saw her neighbor she would challenge her by offering more information about cattail. A vacationer, she had plenty of time to search for it on the Internet, the latter made available to Kenozero shortly before her arrival.

On Monday, Marina reported that the Kenozero Lake was inhabited by two sub-species of cattail, one with narrow leaves and the other with wide.

"Which one isn't allowed in the vase?" she asked jestingly.

On Tuesday, she delivered a whole lecture to the women in the store about how cattail was a preferred food among the Romans and the Greeks.

"Did you know that cattail could be baked, dried, stewed and fried? They even added it to porridge and thin jelly," Marina was eager to enlighten them.

The women winked at each other and laughed:

"Right. Mishka got himself a bunch of these sticks just yesterday. There's a tiny leaf at their core that tastes like cucumber, they say. Kids stuff themselves with them and get laid down with stomach ache for half the evening…"

An interior designer and experienced manager, Marina had the perseverance the people of Zekhnova appreciated only later. Determined to fight superstitious beliefs, she browses Wikipedia to furnish herself with a list of diseases curable by cattail and links to videos about cattail being used as a material of baskets, ingredient of concoctions for gastritis and much more.

There were more facts worthy of sharing. It turned out that cattail had roots vigorous enough to keep lake shores from eroding, that cattail groves were spawning areas for fish and nesting areas for birds, and that insects… Well, who cares about insects? Insects, too, are appreciative of the cattail groves.

"I can't think of any people other than ours that would blame their bad luck on a plant, an ordinary aquatic plant occurring everywhere in Europe," said Marina.

…The story ended after seven days. One fine evening, Antonina Ivanovna, having weeded her garden, peeked through the fence again to see her neighbor carrying a plastic bag to the waste pit. Sticking out of it was a dark pillar of cattail, its pink-and-white fluff flying above the grass.

"Did it ruin your floral composition, Marina?" it was Antonina Ivanovna's turn to be sarcastic.

Marina was annoyed. She kept silent.

Fair enough. Something must have happened that convinced her that cattail shouldn't be kept inside.

"Antonina Ivanovna, I need a good whipping?" she said pathetically.