In my part time role as a volunteer for the Maryland Park Service, I donned my ranger uniform yesterday and headed to Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area, a federally designated wildland just up the street from my home in Baltimore County, Maryland, where I also serve as vice president of the nonprofit Friends group for the habitat and where I volunteer every other weekend as a docent at the area's visitor center. My mission on this eerily beautiful Saturday night with a full moon peeking through a misty haze? To conduct a two-hour pumpkin-carving program open to children and adults. I spent all day preparing the Visitor Center auditorium for the event, which I have conducted every October for several years now. I covered tables with festive orange tablecloths, set out plastic bowls to capture pumpkin guts, spread hundreds of paper carving patterns on a table for participants to choose from, and filled another table with marking pens, candles, scotch tape, scrapers, knives, tiny saws and other carving implements.
|Setting the stage|
There was a good turnout for my program. Families with children attended, as well as several groups of adults. To my surprise, a couple of people showed up with expensive-looking recording equipment and asked if they could photograph my event. Laura Cordoso, of the United States Marines, and Jason Huddleston, of the U.S. Air Force, explained that they are currently enrolled as students in a photojournalism class at Defense Information school on nearby Fort Meade Army Base. They had been given an assignment to find a pumpkin-carving event to photograph, and were seeking permission to document my program while it was underway and then videotape interviews with a few participants afterward. I readily agreed, delighted to garner publicity for our park programs. Laura, 22, who works in marketing for the Marines, and Jason, 32, who works as a news photographer, are both career military. They said they are taking what they described as "upgrade training" to become full-fledged military photojournalists. They promised to send me a CD of their finished segment, which is due to be turned in to their instructor next Friday.
As my group of eager carvers studiously transferred patterns from paper (or their imaginations) to orange flesh, hollowed out their pumpkins, and then set knife to gourd to fashion frightening Halloween images, I regaled my audience with an Irish myth explaining how the jack-o-lantern originally came into being. It seems a frugal Irishman named Stingy Jack played a trick on the devil one day and then, having tricked Satan a second time, promptly died. God didn’t want to let such a nefarious character as Stingy Jack into Heaven, and the devil, a bit peeved at having been made a fool twice, didn’t want Stingy Jack to join him in Hades, either. So the devil condemned Stingy Jack’s soul to walk the earth forever, with only a burning coal to light his way.
|Stingy Jack's rutabaga|
Jack hollowed out a rutabaga to hold the flickering ember and poked holes in the sides to emit the fire's shine. But the sight of the glowing orb frightened Irish peasants as he passed by their cottages in the dead of night. The peasants, referring to old Stingy as "Jack of the Lantern", put their own candles in hollowed-out potatoes, setting them in windows to scare off Stingy Jack and other evil spirits. The story goes that when Irish settlers emigrated to North America, they discovered pumpkins growing in our soil, which were far easier to carve than turnips, and so the American custom of carving jack-o-lanterns was born.
When everyone was finished carving, we lit candles inside the jack-o-lanterns and turned off the auditorium lights. Everyone oohed and aahed at the goulish grins and imaginative designs. A grand time was had by all.