NERINGA - On their brighter days, the word is that Witch Mountain witches were lascivious seductresses. If you had not withstood their wild affection, you might have been tickled to death, but if you had resisted their fondling spree, they might have affectionately whispered into your ear, asking what kind of wish you wanted to come true. They also say that if you sat on a bench there, you could recover from different diseases.
However, the magic times for the Witch Mountain creatures might be gone. Today they look rather repulsive, soggy and rotten, as a voracious, recently discovered bacterium speeds up the inevitable process of putrefaction.
Juodkrante, a small attractive town on the Curonian Spit, has been known for decades for its Witch Mountain. To be exact, it started at the end of the '70s, when prominent Lithuanian woodcarvers created more than 80 wooden creatures from different Lithuanian fairy tales.
For as long as nearly three decades, the amazing woodcarving works have been cheering numerous visitors, as the sculptures have been gradually succumbing to nature's mighty deteriorating effects - humidity, heat and cold.
Only in 1999, when the state of the mythical creatures could be described as quite miserable, every effort for their salvation was made.
Since then, the witches' godfathers and a new group of talented woodcarvers from all over Lithuania every year land on the mountain with gadgets, an intensive care unit 's chisels, hammers, scrubbers, saws, nails and drills. These utensils are necessary to rejuvenate, heal or just put new make-up on the creatures' wooden faces and bodies.
Narunas Lendraitis, head of Neringa Municipality Culture Department, has been known for years as the leading "doctor" of the unit.
For years he has been in charge of lobbying the necessary funds for the restoration of the Witch Mountain exposition. Also, he is the one who arranges the team of prominent "doctors" 'swoodcarvers - and then, having brought them all together, supervises the meticulous work of restoration.
"Alas, I have to admit that every year only a small part of the necessary funds is allocated to the famous site. With nearly one hundred wooden sculptures here, yearly funding allows us to completely restore only a few woodcarvings every year. For example, this year for the purpose we have received only 1,000 litas (289 euros) from Neringa Municipality and 5,000 litas from the Lithuanian Cultural Support Fund. Being under-funded, we were still able to do a lot. This year we have completely restored 7 sculptures, as 17 were given tin protectors, which will serve witches' and devils' heads as decorative umbrellas," Lendraitis told The Baltic Times.
However, more profound scientific intervention might be necessary to save the sculptures, as a dangerous bacterium-inducing wood decaying was discovered in some woodcarvings a few years ago.
"Upon a thorough checking, we discovered that some sculptures had been completely gnawed by it. We feared that the bacterium could spread onto other sculptures as well, thus damaging them irreparably. We stated that two sculptures were sheer rotten, so we decided to replace them with new ones. I even sought out a scientist's consultation on how to tackle the potent corroding bacterium. Advised, we applied a special ointment on every sculpture in order to avoid further decaying. I hope it will help to preserve the status quo of all the woodcarvings. I cherish a dream that we will be able to accumulate more funding for the preservation and restoration of the site next year," says Lendraitis.
Two woodcarvers have been strenuously working on the mountain for over two weeks in September.
"I have to admit that the state of most sculptures was quite deplorable. Not only were many of them affected by the deteriorating effect of the bacteria, but also, obviously, many witches and devils suffered what I call a human assault 's the decorative copper ornaments were ripped off by precious metal looters, there remained many scratches and graffiti," folk art specialist and woodcarver Jonas Vaicekauskas said.
There is an ongoing ardent deliberation whether it is worth restoring the aging, bacteria affected woodcarvings, or should they be replaced with new ones. Vaicekauskas is a vivid supporter of the latter.
"You cannot fight against nature. Eventually it will prevail, no matter what remedies for sculptures' preservation you will use. To me it [restoration] seems like a waste of money and time. I am convinced that it would be much better to break all of them down and carve out new ones," the woodcarver said. No decision has been passed on the issue.
He is disappointed by some officials' reluctance to cut out some dense bushes on the Mountain.
"The removal of some of them would allow a better air flow on to the sculptures, thus letting them dry out faster. The current situation with the density of the vegetation creates airless conditions, upon which the decaying process is stimulated. However, to get permission to cut off even a worthless shrub here is impossible, since Juodkrante is a part of Neringa National Park, where very strict nature preservation laws are applied," Vaicekauskas said.
However, despite the different approach regarding the fate of the sculptures and the insufficient funding, he feels content with the job that has been done 's nearly twenty sculptures were restored and tin caps for protection against moisture were placed on the heads of the rest. In addition, alongside the extensive efforts to preserve the sculptures, damp-proof ointment was rubbed into the witches' and devils' bodies.
For the convenience of numerous visitors, comfortable decorative benches were built on the mountain as well.
Regina Kondraskova, Head of Neringa Tourism Information Center, could not tell how many tourists have visited Witch Mountain this year.
"Quite a lot, since the site remains on the path of the most popular tourist route."