A few days before Hallowe'en, I was on my own in a hotel across the street from a pumpkin patch. Hallowe'en is a big deal in the United States. Every business I go into has fake spiderwebs all over the place, or skeletons, or witches. It spoils the professional look of some of the FBOs, but it seems to be expected. I'm not sure if Americans just celebrate every holiday to the max, or whether Hallowe'en is far enough removed from religion that everyone can celebrate it without having to worry about political correctness, or maybe just because it involves masses of candy. I'll have to be here for Easter and see if those celebrations are as exuberant.
Thanksgiving is still to come in the US (Canadian Thanksgiving was a couple of weeks ago, as Thanksgiving is essentially a harvest festival, and anything not harvested before mid-November is going to be lost to frost). The pumpkin farm sells all different sizes of gourds and squashes for eating and table decorations. There is also a pumpkin maze and hayrides and so on.
Five dollars cash got me the largest pumpkin I cared to carry across the street. I lugged it back to the hotel room, washed it off, and put it on the patio while I thought about what to carve. I Googled for pumpkin decorating ideas, but most involve stencils or demand elaborate tools. I've got a small utility knife, a plastic knife, a coffee cup and an ice bucket. And none of the ideas online was very scary. I wanted a really scary jack o' lantern.
Everyone in the rest of the world knows North Americans do this, right? To celebrate Hallowe'en, we take gourds, scoop out the seeds and some of the flesh and carve designs into the skin, through the flesh. Then we put candles inside so that the designs glow. If you scoop out enough flesh so that the walls of the gourd are translucent, the whole pumpkin glows too, but a lot of people are lazy and only remove the seeds and goop, leaving too much thickness of flesh for the light to shine through. You can also use the scooped out flesh to make pumpkin pies with, but pumpkins are cheap, so again, many people don't bother. I'm pretty sure that Hallowe'en jack o'lanterns were responsible for both the first time I was allowed to use a sharp knife, and the first time I was allowed to use fire. There's a strong thread of memory going back to childhood through jack o' lanterns, for me.
And then I got an idea for the scariest jack o' lantern I've ever made. Don't look at it too long, or you might get nightmares.