The first step in partying with pumpkins is to choose a pumpkin. The most fun is to roam a field of pumpkins and pull your choice off the vine, but a pumpkin from the supermarket will work too. The second step is to carve your pumpkin or paint it, so that it’s transformed into a jack-o-lantern!
Draw a face or a Halloween picture on the pumpkin with a black marker. Or you can draw your design on lightweight paper. Tape the paper against the pumpkin, design up. Transfer your design to the pumpkin by poking a toothpick into the pumpkin along the lines of your design. (When you remove the paper, the toothpick holes will show you where to cut.) You can cut a simple face in the pumpkin with a paring knife, but for more elaborate designs, you might buy a little “pumpkin saw” that can cut curves. Design templates and pumpkin carving tools are sold at craft stores.
Before carving or painting, cut a notched lid from the top of the pumpkin and remove all of the pumpkin seeds and stringy pulp from inside the pumpkin with your hands. Separate the seeds from the pulp, wash them, and set them on paper towels to dry. Then fry them in a little oil until they are crisp and golden brown. Add salt. Eat and eat.
When your pumpkin begins to sag and pucker and collapse, it’s time to put it on your compost pile. (Be careful of analogies. We’re not going there.) When I’ve done this, three things have happened. Birds and animals feed on the pumpkin. Any remaining pumpkin creates nutrient-rich compost. And some of the seeds winter over, so that pumpkin vines appear on the compost pile the next summer. Three good things.
But when tons of pumpkins end up in landfills, it’s a different story. As they decompose, the pumpkins release methane gas, which contributes to climate warming. And the pumpkins, which are 90% water, may contaminate groundwater. This is when the pumpkin party gets really interesting – when it’s time for a Pumpkin Smash!
In the Chicago area, 93 tons of pumpkins have been diverted from landfills and converted to compost when SCARCE (School &Community Assistance for Recycling and Composting Education) has held community pumpkin drops. Volunteers smash the pumpkins during a variety of games before the pumpkin slush is delivered to a compost site.
A pumpkin party can occur at any time in the life cycle of a jack-o-lantern – during the carving and creating, when the seeds are cooked and eaten, when the jack-o-lanterns are lit for Halloween, and when it’s time to smash the pumpkins to smithereens!
Shinrin yoku, or “forest bathing,” is a Japanese therapy for reducing stress and finding a sense of wellbeing. (See my October 3 blog, Forest bathing.) Forest bathing can be done in a group with a facilitator or alone with your own thoughts to guide you. We benefit most when we walk slowly and attentively with all of our senses engaged until a feeling of peace replaces the pressure of daily demands.
I live in a forest and walk daily on paths through the trees. Over the years, I’ve taught myself to be more observant of the tiny, incremental changes that mark the seasons. Spring is filled with promise; summer is extravagant; fall is surprising and otherworldly; and winter is quiet and bleak. (The seasons in Japan, where I spent my childhood, and the seasons in Pennsylvania are almost identical.)
Thinking of Japanese forest bathing and Japanese seasons makes me think of Japanese haiku, a short form of nature poetry. So … this blog is an invitation to find peace with images and poetry of fall.
Photo copyright for all photos: Toni Albert
Fall is a very flowery time. The gardens in our area are bright with marigolds, zinnias, dahlias, cone flowers, salvia, and chrysanthemums. My favorite fall wildflowers are tiny delicate asters (white, lavender, or deep purple) and goldenrod, which sometimes grows taller than I am and fills entire fields with gold-yellow feathers.
Knowing that winter promises a long frozen desert without any flowers at all, I always look for ways to save the flowers I love. Here are some ideas:
I love to press flowers and leaves. Lay your flowers – flat and facedown – between layers of newspaper or another type of unglazed paper. Place the layers in a flower press or under a heavy object (or a pile of heavy books) to keep them flat. Let the flowers dry for two weeks. You can preserve flowers for years with this method. After you remove the flowers for display, keep them out of direct sunlight so they don't fade. Spraying the flowers with hairspray or clear floral spray will strengthen them.
Use pressed flowers to decorate bookmarks, cards, or note paper, or make a collage to frame. Just apply a little white glue to the back of a pressed flower to place it permanently.
It’s great fun to pound flowers. Place a piece of fabric or rough watercolor paper on a board. Put flower heads, leaves, and grasses face down in an arrangement that you like. Cover the flowers with several layers of paper towels. Then use a hammer to pound the flowers flat. When you remove the paper towels, you’ll see surprising colors (not always the color of your flowers) and a wonderful design.
Note: Your designed fabric can’t be washed without ruining the design.
Push flowers into clay
It’s fun to add a natural design to any clay project simply by pushing flowers, leaves, and grasses into the soft clay and then removing them. This is a great way to enhance a clay bowl or cup or even just a slab of clay. You can paint the clay too after pressing a design into your project.
Today I’ve been forest bathing. Well, I’ve bathed in the goodness of trees all my life, but I’ve just recently learned about the practice of shinrin yoku, or “taking in the forest atmosphere.” Developed in Japan in the 1980s, shinrin yoku is catching on stateside. Many studies are confirming what we might already know intuitively – we feel less stressed, happier, and more peaceful in the presence of trees. I read on the shinrin yoku website:
“The idea is simple: If a person simply visits a natural area and walks in a relaxed way, there are calming, rejuvenating and restorative benefits to be achieved."
In Japan, forest bathing, or “forest therapy,” is often practiced for its health benefits, including lowering heart rate, blood pressure, and levels of the stress hormone cortisol; boosting the immune system; increasing energy; and improving sleep. All from spending time under the canopy of a living forest.
To me, forest bathing is a new way of describing the experience of appreciating the strength and beauty and color and texture of trees, enjoying shade and shadows, hearing birds and insects or wind and rain on leaves and limbs, breathing fresh oxygen provided by the trees, and feeling protected and at home in the world.
When Bob and I first bought our wooded land, we spent an entire summer clearing a road to our home site. The road winds its way around the trees that we couldn’t bear to cut. One night after we had built our road and our house, as we were falling asleep, Bob asked me, “How many of our trees do you know by heart?” I readily answered, “Well, the big white pine is one of my favorites. And the maple with yellow blossoms – and the dogwoods, of course.” He said, “I like the tulip poplar with the double trunk and the ash tree that was hit by lightning.” I said I loved the snag where the woodpeckers nested. He said he really liked the big oak and I said I liked the bark on the cedar. He liked the red bud in the spring – and I fell asleep.
When I remember that sleepy, dreamy conversation, it reminds me that when we really observe a tree, especially over a period of time, we get to know that tree like a friend. Maybe forest bathing is just spending time with good friends.
Toni Albert, M.Ed., is an award-winning author of more than 40 books. Her lifelong love for nature, children, and books inspired her to commit her publishing business, Trickle Creek Books, to “teaching kids to care for the Earth.”