The creation of ephemeral art (also known as pumpkin carving)

The sun shone brightly across the shallow concrete slab that serves as our front porch. The brightness only imparted a mild warmth, just enough to make being outside pleasant in the sixty degree air. Wielding a serrated knife, I surveyed the project at hand. Two forty pound pumpkins had adorned our porch slab for the last month, given us by my uncle who had a bounteous harvest of giant pumpkins. During their sojourn on our porch they had been sat upon, poked, shifted, and photographed. This last being the most frequent occurance as both my daughters felt it was imperative to get a Halloween picture of our mostly-black cat posed nicely in front of (or on top of) the pumpkins. The cat was not thrilled by this project, being much more interested in sitting on the lap of the photographer. Persistence did finally win and the cat and the pumpkins were made to be in the same photograph.

Now it was time for the pumpkins to become something cooler. I ran my hand over the pocked surface, marred by dozens of children discovering that the skin could be pierced without very much effort. The pumpkins had taken up a sideways position, which is common for weighty melons as one side flattens while they grow. I determined a top and a bottom, then began to cut.

When I asked the kids who wanted to carve pumpkins, Kiki and Link declared their indifference. This left the two big pumpkins for the two kids to whom jack-o-lanterns are still very important. I pried the tops open so the kids could peer inside. Rot was beginning to show on the insides, which did not surprise me. One way or another these huge gourds were headed for the compost heap. Much more interesting to arrive there with a face. Lighter too. The kids scooped out pounds of seeds and strings. Complaining about the grossness of the project only briefly before embracing the melon mess. I helped with the scraping, but we did not try to make the insides completely clean, just clear enough for a candle to sit.

I picked up the spoons and carried them inside to trade for the kid-safe pumpkin carving tools, leaving the kids designing faces on paper. Once the designs were transferred, the kids began cutting. I seated myself on the stairs, ready to help when they got tired. They didn’t. Patch carefully cut out the pieces of a classic scary Jack-o-lantern face. He leaned in close, carefully sawing along the lines we’d drawn. Gleek’s design was more fanciful. She drew a cat contemplating peace (as represented by a thought bubble filled with a peace symbol.)
“Everyone is going to love your design.” Gleek said to Patch.
“Thanks.” Patch said, then leaned over to see her working on carving out an ear. “I think most people will like yours.”
Gleek nodded. “Mine is more complicated. Not everybody will get it.”
Both heads bent back to their work.

I closed my eyes and savored the feel of the day. Our family has had Halloweens hectic and calm, warm and snowy, with pumpkin carving and without. It was nice to be an observer of pumpkin carving rather than the motivating force. There is joy in ephemeral art. The kids can let their pumpkins be whatever they wish, because no matter how it looks today, next week it will be withered and flat. The process matters more than the result, so I sat and savored the process.

The pumpkin carvers wound down to a finish just as gray clouds drifted across the sun. It was not a storm, just a sneaky shift from beautiful afternoon into rainy evening. We timed our efforts perfectly. Tonight we will light candles and enjoy our pair of giant jack-o-lanterns.