But the air’s so appetizin’, and the landscape through the haze
of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly Autumn days
is a pictur’ that no painter has the colorin’ to mock —
when the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.
— James Whitcomb Riley
On weekends in October, Craven Farm opens their pumpkin patches to the public. The farm, which seems to be otherwise in the business of growing corn, lies in the flat, fertile valley along the Snohomish River, an hour’s drive out of town to the northeast. We went there last year with another family who have a daughter Mara’s age, some old friends of ours, and it was rather a magical day out for all of us, so we went again this year.
The farm brings in a line of Honeybucket™ portable outhouses, hitches up a haywagon to the tractor, puts some farm animals in the barn, and rigs up their mounted pumpkin slingshot or “slinger”. They have a large pumpkin patch, which has large orange pumpkins in it. There is a smaller pumpkin patch, where the pumpkins are smaller. Wheelbarrows are lined up for you to take into the pumpkin patches. Children generally ride in the wheelbarrows on the way in, and pumpkins usually ride out and the children walk.
There are also many kinds of squash for sale in bins, including butternut, blue hubbard, golden hubbard, turban, delicata, acorn and many others. Pumpkins used in the slinger are small white gourds about the shape and color of baseballs. For three dollars you can test your skill at aiming the slinger, basically a slingshot made of very elastic tubing — what we used to call a “funnelator” — so that the pumpkins land in several large wooden boxes about 15 and 25 yards out in the meadow. The field behind the boxes resembled the white-dotted scape of a golf driving range.
Saturday was a beautiful day, sunny with a rich blue sky dotted with cumulus clouds that eventually burned away, and warmer than forecast, a continuation of the bizarre stretch of sunny warm weather we’ve had since April. The pumpkin huntin’ was good that day. Mara and her buddy Gwyneth spent half of the time in the patches examining potential jack-o-lanterns and half arguing over who got to hold the nightcrawler they found. We took the hayride, a relaxing fifteen-minute tour through a very tall cornfield in which little pumpkiny scenes had been set up — a pumpkin north pole with a pumpkin Santa, a farmer pumpkin named Old McPumpkin, etc. We ate chili dogs and sandwiches of pulled pork, and we visited the animal shed where kittens, goats, hens, rabbits, ducks, and a couple of very large turkeys were viewable and in some cases available for petting.
The pumpkins are on our doorstep now, awaiting carving. We also nabbed some corn picked on the farm that very morning — three ears for a dollar — which we ate with hamburgers for dinner tonight, all grilled on the barby even though the temperatures plummeted overnight and it is now quite chilly. While Angela was preparing the burger patties, I pulled up two chairs, a tall one and one of Mara’s short ones, around our green compost bucket and said, “Okay Mara, corn shuckin’ time!” and showed her how to peel corn.
“This is what people used to sit around doing in kitchens a long time ago, Mara,” I said, sounding like the dad who thinks making your own newspaper kite is fun when a kid has her heart set on the plastic day-glo Disney kite in the store window. (Even my reference to a “store window” proves me to be aged as Methuselah, since store windows are the last place merchants hawk their wares these days and anyway no one stands around staring wistfully into store windows anymore.)
But Mara took to the job with vigor. She’s in a phase right now where she wants to do everything, an expansive and industrial period. While she pulled down the satisfyingly peelable layers of the husk, she idly mimicked my words and tone: “It’s corn shuckin’ time!”