In Search of the Great Pumpkin (Patch)


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I’m a Michigan boy who relocated to Colorado a few years ago. Don’t let Tim Allen fool you – the Great Lake State is a tough sell. The weather was my biggest gripe. Winters are long and dreary, when most hunker down with their Snuggies and Seasonal Affective Disorder lamps. Spring is usually a few days around the end of April when the glaciers finally recede on their way back to the Canadian ice shield. Then it’s straight into summer, a steam-bath rife with road construction and mosquitoes capable of carrying off small dogs.

But autumn is the pay-off – dry, sunny days and cool nights as the trees go all Norman Rockwell in improbable shades of yellow, red and orange. And while Colorado has some impressive fall colors as well, there’s one fall ritual that my adopted state just can’t get right – the pumpkin patch.

This time of year they sprout like mushrooms across the Midwest, mystical places with the power to separate us from our assets more deftly than Bernie Madoff, where even the most suburban among us are suddenly willing to pay good money to pick apples, a job we normally wouldn’t consider even for a CEO’s salary. Where rosy-cheeked farm hands in flannel shirts and overalls happily charge us 12 bucks for half a gallon of watered-down apple juice and a sack of stale doughnuts. And we pass over the money without even thinking about it, for it’s money we have and cider we lack. For an additional fee, you can take a bumpy ride around the orchard while having your ass molested by a bale of hay, or risk losing a finger trying to feed one of the devil-eyed goats. The yellow-jackets attempting to bathe in any unattended beverage come free of charge.

Around here it appears a lot of folks just buy their pumpkins at the nearest grocery store and that’s the end of it. But in Michigan it’s all about the “harvest” experience. Some operations are low-key, with things like pig races or maybe an old tractor to play on, while others have more of a carnival atmosphere, where the gourd-selection process is not for sissies.

Simply scoring a parking space can be a challenge at the more popular patches. No lines, no rows, just a field full of jumbled cars and an 11-year old in a day-glow vest motioning you out to the back forty. Screw that. The savvy move is to fall in behind the woman in the LL Bean Barn Jacket who’s pushing a stroller and herding three crying kids back from the petting zoo while trying to scrape llama turds off her shoe – she looks like she’s had enough. This is the point at which you also need to send someone to brave the throngs and fight their way up to the cashier in order to purchase the group’s color-coded wrist bands. After a brief stop at the row of fermenting porta-potties for a game of “how long can you hold your breath,” it’s into the fray.

Various wagon rides pull in and out of a crowded staging area with the precision of flights at La Guardia. Two are rotating passengers out to the apple orchards, two others to the pumpkin field, while the “Cinderella Express” – giant pumpkin-shaped coaches pulled by horses suffering from over-active bowels – travels to parts unknown. If you’re looking for more action, there’s always the corn maze, a.k.a. Thunderdome. It’s where parents banish their kids in the hope they’ll burn off that doughnut sugar buzz before the drive home.

The pony rides are perhaps the tamest attraction, the animals appearing listless as they plod around in circles. Not surprising, considering their lot in life, or maybe it’s just that they’ve been rendered deaf by the roar of the nearby generator supplying power to the fan for the inflatable castle. It’s actually one of those trampolines-in-disguise meant to finish off what was started at the corn maze. Careful as you pass so as not to walk under the plumes of regurgitated caramel apple and cotton candy.

And then there’s the elephant. Yes, at least one legendary pumpkin patch in West Michigan had an elephant on the premises. How a pachyderm ties in with the season is beyond me but to the proprietors’ credit, at least they didn’t paint it orange. For ten bucks a head, anyone who hasn’t seen the footage of circus animals gone berserk is welcome to climb aboard.

So c’mon, Colorado, time to step up your game. As you can see, I’m used to a little “pizzazz” with my pumpkin.


11 thoughts on “In Search of the Great Pumpkin (Patch)

  1. Thank you for reminding me why I maintain a virgin uterus and a circle of child-free friends. Now, if I could just get them to stop calling themselves their dog’s “Mommy.” I’m way too visual for that shit.

    To avoid this unsavory kaleidoscope of holiday PTSD triggers in the future, grow your owned damned pumpkin. Really, get a big-ass bucket/barrel/tub/thing with holes on the bottom and dump in bagged compost you bought at Home Depot on a Saturday (which will make for another fantastic post about imagined mass shootings). Tamp it down, shove a few pumpkin seeds in there, and put it in the sun. Soak the shit out of it once a week and wait for magical Trump heads to appear. Remove all but two and let the twins race to the finish a week before Beggar’s Night. Enjoy the dismembering (a Trump visual works here) and roast the seeds of your prey with cooking spray and sea salt. Goes great with scotch.

    Or go back and get molested by hay bales again, either way.

    • My molestation days are long over (okay, that didn’t come out right). And my gardening skills rival Jeffrey Dahmer’s social skills (I would direct you to ‘How does your garden grow’ or ‘The return of Agent Orange’), so I’ll just stick with the plug-in plastic jack-o-lantern I elbowed some old woman out of the way for down at K-mart’s going out of business sale. Happy Halloween!

  2. Ah, I am so glad to be home!!! *begins singing Back Home Again, In Indiaaaaaannnnna!* 😀 I will enjoy it much as I can. Nice thing about Colorado for me was that I wasn’t allergic to anything there. Woke up every morning able to breathe! My eyes never itched once! Pretty amazing 🙂

  3. Please tell me the 11 year old in the day-glo vest was not valet parking. I guess because I was only familiar with Detroit & Ann Arbor, I never experienced the bucolic pleasures you are describing, Kurt. If you want pizzazz, see if there are any punkin chuckin tournaments in Colorado. Fun article!

  4. Interesting that your image is from a “Things to do in San Diego” blog 🙂 ! We San Diegans have very little in the way of autumn colors or pumpkin patches. I guess I don’t miss it because I never had it. But, we do have a lovely coastline that is beautiful this time of year and – bonus – very few tourists.

    • Yes, I’ll cop to snatching the pic from San Diego…it was the best thing I could find to convey the “over-the-top” feel of a pumpkin patch on steroids. I haven’t been there since my brother served in the navy during the Pliocene Age…beautiful, yes, as I recall.

  5. I love your way with language. I live in California, but apparently on the site of a former pumpkin patch. Thirty to forty years ago this land was either an orchard or a pumpkin patch, but it has all been developed for housing since then. And we do have fall colors. I didn’t expect them, but then when we moved here I became fascinated last fall by the juxtaposition of palm trees and regular leafy trees that were changing colors. A difference from New England, for sure!

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