Tag Archives: Halloween

The lesson of the Pumpkin Snowman

Happy Back to Standard Time Day!  It’s been a productive, decorative day on this side of the pond – installing curtain rods, acquiring Christmas accouterments and saying goodbye to the Halloween tchatchkes.  On the subject of the latter, I regret to announce that the otherwise brilliant and crisp morning delivered an unhappy surprise.  A few weeks ago my better half came up with the delightful idea of making a pumpkin snowman – three gourds stacked atop one another, clad with a scarf, belt and gloves.  We used thin bamboo sticks to anchor the pumpkins together and branches for arms with tiny leaf-stuffed mittens on the end, so he could wave hello to the trick-or-treating kids.  It turned out great and lots of compliments were to be had from visitors.  This morning, however, we discovered that a misanthropic type or types had decapitated him and smashed his head across the street.  We haven’t had the greatest of luck with our outside decorations; last Christmas a light-up doe was stolen from our front yard and never recovered.  But even though Halloween was over, even though we didn’t have to go out and purchase a replacement, this particular act of vandalism really set me off.  Unfortunately, smashing pumpkins isn’t just the name of a crummy 90’s emo band, it’s a deplorable Halloween “tradition.”  Certain folk seem to acquire an endorphin rush by destroying every pumpkin they can find, and our innocent, happy little guy was just the latest victim.

Warning:  Gruesome images follow.

Our pumpkin snowman in happier times, and this morning's crime scene.
Our pumpkin snowman in happier times, and this morning’s crime scene.

The sheer futility of the exercise is staggering.  Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter – their job done, the pumpkins would have all gone in the garbage on the next collection day.  But to take the time to trespass onto someone else’s property to destroy something cute for what – because it was there?  All smug in its cute pumpkin-ness?  Joy in destruction is a concept that continues to elude me.  It certainly speaks to the character, or lack thereof, of the pedestrian minds that spotted our pumpkin snowman and decided to strike.  Not that I’m bitter or anything.  Little @#$!ers.

In everything there are those who build and those who tear down.  A while back a Chinese tourist in Egypt decided that what a 5000-year-old hieroglyphic really needed was his name scratched onto it.  You may remember as well the story about the ancient Buddhas carved into hillsides in Afghanistan that were destroyed by the Taliban with rocket launchers.  I’m not in any way suggesting that a little headless pumpkin snowman compares even remotely to such significant acts of cultural vandalism, but it’s a minuscule part of this larger trend that sees a portion of humanity dedicated to destroying what the rest of it is creating.  You could even extrapolate this argument further and point to corporate entities that ravage landscapes in pursuit of profit, and strangle any attempt to legally prohibit them from doing it.  It doesn’t even have to be corporations – look at the photos of what’s left of the Amazon rainforest, a bleak, yellowed, poisoned wasteland, now that enterprising gold prospectors have decided to set up shop.  Far too many of us have chosen to be irredeemable Wreck-It Ralphs.

How do you swim against the tide?  We can all probably remember a time in our childhood when we spent what seemed like hours carefully crafting a fortress of sand only to have a sibling stomp through it out of sheer petulance.  There was little choice then but to begin the painstaking effort of rebuilding, grain by grain.  So too must it be in later life.  You can’t let yourself be intimidated out of creation by the fear that someone may come along and smash it to bits.  Someone very well may.  But the fact that we’re all still here, alive and continuing to thrive, leads me to believe that there are far more builders than wreckers in the world.  There is a philosophical choice to be made, whether to believe that people are basically good or basically evil.  I’ve always fallen into the former camp, despite my faith in such having been tested on numerous occasions.  Fundamentally, the kids who thought it would be hilarious to smash our pumpkin snowman – as much as (a very small) part of me would enjoy seeing them flogged – aren’t psychopathic miscreants or agents of chaos.  They weren’t out to cause me or my family any grievous harm.  They’re just kids driven by hormones making a bad call.  And I’m sure at some point in their lives someone has destroyed something they created, and they know how rotten it can feel.  So I’m choosing to forgive, and vowing to make our Christmas exterior display even better.  Gotta keep building that sandcastle, no matter how many times somebody kicks it down.

Unless our deer gets stolen again.  Then I’m out for blood.

Whither Christmas?

Gretchen Wilson’s country hit “Redneck Woman” has a line boasting about how she proudly keeps her Christmas lights on her front porch all year round.  You’d think that folks were taking her advice literally.  One cannot argue that it hasn’t been warm enough to find an opportunity to remove them; temperatures haven’t dropped below zero in weeks and just hit record highs a few days ago.  St. Patrick’s Day is tomorrow and yet a stroll through my neighbourhood reveals plenty of garlands, ribbons, wreaths and even electric deer standing proudly as if waiting for a winter that never really came.  I know it can be tough, un-decorating always is.  But at some point you have to let go.  At this rate the poor Easter Bunny is going to have to muscle out Frosty and Rudolph for veranda space – his nimble cousins have already made an appearance in my backyard.  Given the heat I think old Cottontail can take Frosty, but Rudolph has those strong back legs that could give him a real challenge coming down the stretch.

Admittedly, this Christmas was kind of anticlimactic, especially since, misleading Weather Network reports to the contrary, December 25th came and went with nary a hint of snow.  And there was a palpable lack of Christmas spirit among my family, friends and colleagues; everybody sort of went through the seasonal motions, but nobody sounded like they were really looking forward to any festivities.  The non-stop carols that kick in on the radio on December 1st sounded tedious by December 4th, and Justin Bieber’s tribute to mistletoe played unendingly didn’t help either.  (I did not hear “Fairytale of New York” or “Christmas Wrapping” once on any FM station, which is criminal.)  Our own decorations were a Griswoldian source of frustration, with two exterior pre-lit trees blowing over and smashing their bulbs at the slightest gust of wind despite my efforts to anchor them in place, a malfunctioning timer, strings of the infernal mini-lights on the big tree inside going dark in random patterns and a mysterious short blowing out the entire outside array.  And we won’t get in to the malfunction of our brand new oven in the middle of cooking Christmas dinner.

Despite the setbacks we put on the best show of holiday cheer we were able.  But there was something not quite right about the whole thing.  About December 28th it felt like we were still waiting for the real holidays to get going, although in truth, I was so fed up that I would have been happy at that point just to go back to work.  I suspect I’m not alone in that, and I wonder if perhaps that’s the reason there are so many decorations still adorning the nearby houses.  It’s like Linus waiting in the pumpkin patch for the Great Pumpkin to appear, not realizing he missed Halloween in the process.

My better half has observed that people seem generally unhappy lately.  There is a dourness about the world that is lingering like the worst hangover you’ve ever had.  Poverty is deepening, inequality is worsening and governments aren’t listening to their people, preferring to re-fight old and long-settled battles in lieu of facing the true challenges.  One half of the country hates the other half with a deep-seeded bile it is unwilling to tame.  It is not enough for us to win anymore, we have to see our foe sprawling in the dirt with his limbs broken and face smashed in, and the ground around him scorched and salted.  When did we become so vindictive?  Why this epidemic of hate-thy-neighbour?  Is it those solar flares?  Or is there an insidious cancer eating away at the human soul?

I don’t mean to sound pessimistic.  But as any alcoholic will tell you, admitting you have a problem is the first step to addressing it.  So many Christmas decorations still out baking away under 20-degree Celsius March heat suggests that there might be a longing out there that everyone doesn’t even realize they share – a hope for the spirit of positivity and unity that lights the world in its coldest months, and was suspiciously absent this past twenty-fifth of December.  There’s no reason why we can’t spend the remainder of 2012 working to bring it back.

Remembrance of simple pleasures

WordPress is a fascinating place.  On any given day you can glide through it like the waves off Kilauea and find tales to lift your spirit, make you laugh, or inspire you to punch through your screen.  Throughout history, the human experience has been in sharing our stories with one another, and what goes on here in the virtual world is a natural progression from and extension of those drawings on cave walls and epics of heroes told around a dying fire.  Cruising through, I find myself often amazed by the level of writing talent out there or dumbstruck by how fascinating other people’s lives are when compared to mine.

Yesterday was not a day to make anyone’s history books in terms of the events that unfolded in my particular corner of the globe.  The activities undertaken were perhaps best described as the mundane pursuits of the first world – cleaning, cooking, shopping, decorating.  Yet I can seldom recall days that have felt more fulfilling or invigorating, or have led me to fall asleep at their close so contented.  I’ve spent the morning wondering why – what was it about what I did on this particular day?

The spooky fruits of yesterday's labor.

Waking up to silence in the sunshine.  Attaching Christmas lights to the eavestrough before the cold weather sets in.  Carving pumpkins for tonight’s trick-or-treaters.  Vacuuming the bedrooms.  Letting the cat fall asleep on my lap.  Drinking a sumptuously rich hot chocolate made, surprisingly, only with pure cocoa, skim milk and artificial sweetener.  Gloved fingers in mittened hand with the love of my life, taking a post-dinner stroll in crisp night to view the Halloween stylings of our neighbors’ front porches.  A simple day, but one filled with smiles, good work, vigorous exercise and the company of the most special person in the world.  What more can one ask of a single day?

Writers are accustomed to dreaming big, as we shape accounts of things that were or conceive of things that never shall be.  Compared to the worlds we concoct with our minds and fingertips, reality often seems smaller, monochrome.  Yet the true treasures of life are not to be found on a remote mountaintop or in a galaxy far, far away.  They are the diamonds we call moments, especially when shared with those most dear to us.  Moments like yesterday.  They are visceral, to be savored and relished, and lived again when they’re needed, even unexpectedly – when summoned like Marcel Proust with his madeleine.  The challenge for a writer is to find the words to share them in a way that conveys even a fragment of the true experience.  Does the most unflinchingly accurate description of a diamond ever truly capture the sheen or the lustre of a viewing of the real thing?  More to the point, does it really need to?  Maybe this is one of those times to put down the pen, look away from one’s navel and stop trying to assign a philosophical meaning to something that doesn’t need to be over-analyzed to be appreciated solely for the magnificence of what it was.

Yesterday was a great day.  A peaceful, uncomplicated, rewarding day.  And perhaps in its own peaceful, uncomplicated way, that’s more than enough.