Friday, November 5, 2010

Woe is Jack of the Lantern

No, that's not a pee stain...just a humorous coincidence 

So, almost a week after Halloween, here in Swamp City, Texas, jack o'lanterns are ready for disposal.  You get about two weeks between "cut day" and "total fungal liquidation." 

So in the interest of not repeating the gooey mess of last year, I'm being proactive and throwing them out today.

Jack o'lanterns have a lot to teach us about impermanence.  They're almost like a Western version of the Tibetan sand mandalas or the Hindu butter sculptures.  They are one of the more noticeable of the temporary holiday decorations left in our plasticize everything commercialized holiday culture.

The Christmas tree used to be another example.  We go out and chop one down (or buy one at a lot) and bring it into our homes to decorate.  It stays for about a month before we undress it and toss it to the curb.  Nowadays, many of us have shunned the "real thing" in favor of an artificial tree for various reasons.

But a Christmas tree is different than a jack o'lantern.  The transformative process of the tree is decorative.  With the jack o'lantern it's visceral.  We cut into the juicy squash releasing that familiar aroma that traces back to childhood.  We pull its guts out and toss them aside with a satisfying gloppy sound, juices squishing between our fingers.  We draw a design, intricate or simple, on it's face and hack into its flesh like a sculptor into marble. 

We make it. 

A Christmas tree is a Christmas tree before you decorate it just as much as it is when it's decorated,  but a jack o'lantern is just a pumpkin before it's carved so it creates a certain attachment.

Some people go all out, carving away just the opaque orange creating a cut glass effect.  Others are more traditional and stab all the way through.  Either way effort is expended on a work of art, a work of art whose life is limited.

Keeping this in mind presents us with a dilemma: work as hard as we can to make it perfect, or hack and slash to get it over with since it's practically trash already?  Each is an extreme to avoid, but both must be kept in mind.

There's nothing wrong in taking pride in your work, in fact you should take pride in everything you do.  If you're going to do something, you might as well do it to the best of your ability.  But don't crave perfection, it is just a pumpkin after all.  It's not going to be placed on a pedestal in some museum for generations to venerate and critique as the height of the Pumpkin Carving Movement.  Hell, people in some places shoot the damn things out of home built artillery pieces.

What else can we learn from this humble Halloween tradition?  Well, after the things said and done, I still have the seeds and guts as well as pictures.  The memory of this year's pumpkins lives on in a delicious salty snack roasted in the oven.  Last year's guts were pickled and have been sitting in the fridge waiting for me to enjoy them. 

Though the jack o'lanterns are long gone they still exist in different ways just like everything else we've seen pass and everything that will pass in the future.  Enjoy them while they last, existing in the moment.


  1. This time of year we make sure to take the pick up into town every Wednesday morning. That is trash day in the city. We make stops on our way to our job to pick up the discarded pumpkins that are in the trash pile near the sidewalks. What was once an impermanent work of art and symbolism becomes food for our animals (hogs) . They absolutely love to eat them. What is amazing is they plant new pumpkin plants with their excrement. So next year we have an abundant supply on the farm for food and jack-o-lanterns to pass out to our friends.
    Last year we got a pumpkin in town that was 4 1/2 feet in circumference. Our eldest female hog tried for hours to bite into it as she rolled the extremely heavy pumpkin around the yard. Then her child, a really smart hog rolled it over just right and began to take very small bites out of it and feasted on it for hours.
    What is one mans trash is another pigs treasure. :)

  2. Silly me.......i meant diameter not
    circumference. :)

  3. thanks for sharing. sometimes it does sadden me that the pumpkins aren't used for food. I never thought of them as food until a few years ago when I roasted one.