I got to thinking about the famous Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" with its iconic line: "Water, water everywhere nor a drop to drink." It's a story about a old sailor who kills an albatross on a difficult journey and is cursed to wander the earth and tell his story forever and again. At one point his ship is caught in the doldrums and the crew has no water, thus the iconic line.
Now, doesn't that make you think of pumpkins at Halloween? No? OK, its a stretch, but hear me out. After all, Halloween sails on a sea of pumpkins of which we eat almost none. Each year 1.3 billion pounds of jack-o'-lanterns reach the landfills around our country, creating an immense soggy mess. On top of that we toss out 40% of all the food we grow making the "pumpkin" a poster child for waste. To grow these gourds it takes up to 100 frost free days, copious amounts of water and a significant amount of land. Growing a crop just to let it decompose giving off greenhouse gases seems ludicrous in these times. Perhaps these resources should be devoted to other crops or trees and bamboo that help address climate change.
"The hell with you!", you say. Well, maybe you're right. Has the world changed so much that we must abandon our cherished traditions?
This one got its start centuries ago when the Celts began carving gourds and vegetables to ward off evil spirits at harvest time. Pumpkins made their way on the scene when Europeans landing in the "new world" discovered them to be the ideal fruit from which to make jack-o'-lanterns. Then along comes "Peanuts", the classic cartoon, and creates "The Great Pumpkin" further cementing the pumpkin into our holiday culture.
For years Judy and I held an annual pumpkin carving party at our home. Thirty or more people gathered, each bringing their own personal pumpkin to carve. All afternoon and into the evening we sliced away. It was a raucously good time for everyone, especially the kids. Then we would stage our creations outside in the chilly, early-Fall-air and light them up. Finally, while sipping spiced (or spiked) hot cider we would sing Halloween carols and admire our spectacular work. The younger ones could hardly contain themselves.
So, am I, the purveyor of the annual pumpkin slaughter, really suggesting that you abandon the carved pumpkin this Halloween? Yeah, we should probably be abandoning "Ol' Jack". Changing behavior for a greater good usually means leaving something behind. However, before you hit the delete button on this column let me make some suggestions that might move us to a compromise.
* Let's not carve as many as we did last year. Maybe have just one family jack-o'-lantern that everyone helps design and carve.
* Let's try painting one or more pumpkins and then eating them.
* Let's carve watermelons instead of pumpkins. We scoop out the contents of the watermelon and then carve the rind.
* Let's use smaller pumpkins this year.
* Let's buy a couple metal-crafted jack-o'-lanterns that can be lit up and displayed every year.
* Let's compost our pumpkins either on our own or through someone who does. There are groups and compost businesses that would take your jack-o'-lanterns when you are done.
Whatever you decide make it a learning experience for the kids. Teach them about the traditions and how not to waste. Ask them for their ideas. Perhaps they would like to paint a pumpkin instead. If we can't get the whole job done then maybe we can at least make a start. New traditions can be created.
Happy Halloween from me, the Pumpkin Grinch!