October 2005


Had yesterday been clear and sunny instead of drizzly and overcast here in Keene…had the trees been more brilliantly colored instead of muted and half denuded…had this year’s Pumpkin Festival crowds not been disheartened by high gas prices and rumors of rain, rain, rain in southern New Hampshire, the above scene would have been Picture Perfect with its glimpse of the giant gourd atop the Central Square pumpkin tower, our pristine Congregational church steeple in the background, and flags flying high and proud. Instead of being picture perfect, though, yesterday’s annual Pumpkin Festival was all but: dampened by day-long drizzle that turned full-blown downpour by nightfall, this year’s pumpkin count was significantly smaller than last year’s.

Not only did this year’s Pumpkin Festival tally of 22,157 lit jack-o-lanterns fail to top our own 2003 World Record of 28,952, yesterday’s attempt was bested by the Life Is Good festival, which featured 24,541 glowing gourds on Boston Common. But although Boston’s relative upstart festival won this year’s battle, they haven’t won the Gourd War. Considering that Keene streets were awash in water two weekends ago, it’s a wonder we had a festival at all…and the healthy crowds cruising Keene’s all-but-dry streets yesterday didn’t seem to mind World Records and numbers games. Instead, yesterday’s festival was all about community, a good time, and the simple act of strolling solid ground with family, friends, and neighbors. Unbroken World Records notwithstanding, that’s nothing to feel disappointed about!

Two weekends after the flood, Keene seems to have found the sense of humor that was temporarily submerged in soaked basements and damped amid evacuation orders. Not only did I spot a pumpkin with the carved slogan “Floods suck,” I was quick to note the humor of this year’s parade-leading drum major, who was dressed as every flood victim’s favorite super-hero: a plunger-waving plumber.

Here in Keene at least, being called a “Pumpkin Head” is a compliment, not an insult: it means you’re in excellent company.

Although rain dampened the after-dark conclusion of yesterday’s festival, during the daytime at least the crowds were healthy and enthusiastic, even under overcast skies and amid sporadic drizzle.

Families who arrived without jack-o-lanterns gathered to carve last minute creations alfresco.

Although by early morning, still-empty shelves suggested that this year’s pumpkin count wouldn’t match last year’s, by dusk the Main Street scaffolds were full of gourds–and the streets full of people–stretching from one end of downtown to the other.

Although Leslee, Gary, and I left the festival before it was completely dark and every gourd was lit, around 7 pm there seemed to be more pumpkins than available scaffolding, with a neat queue of jack-o-lanterns glowing at curbside.

Although we didn’t break our own World Record, and although Boston thinks they can challenge our reign as the Pumpkin King, I have to say that a day spent strolling pedestrian-filled streets with smiling, happy people is even better than a sunny day. While Boston bean-counters are crunching the pumpkin numbers, yesterday in Keene turned out to be all but picture perfect after all.

In case you’ve grown bored with Plain Jane jack-o-lanterns, check out these eye-popping pumpkins, spotted at today’s Pumpkin Festival.

Those last three were my and Gary’s contribution to the cause: Gary’s “Go Astros” pumpkin, my fanged and angry smiley face, and Reggie’s “Woof!” For more festival pictures, check out Gary’s photoblog.

Although it’s always a challenge to shoot night-time digipix, last night I couldn’t help but take a handful of blurry shots from Community Night, the night-before Sneak Preview to Keene’s annual Pumpkin Festival.

Downtown was hopping all day yesterday and into the night as locals brought jack-o-lanterns by the bag-, cart-, and wagon-full to log-in stations where they were counted and registered: an essential step toward official World Record status.

Last night on the ground near every log-in station was a neatly arranged pool of carved pumpkins patiently waiting to be placed on the Main Street shelves that had yet to be built.

In Central Square, shelves that had been assembled by midday were filled by nightfall with as-yet-unlit jack-o-lanterns.

Many of Community Night’s jack-o-lanterns are provided by area businesses who truck in pumpkins for their employees to carve on company time: one small step to improved employee morale and a positive image in the community. If you’re a big corporation like FedEx, of course you have to prove that fact by prominently displaying a HUGE carved pumpkin surrounded by smaller “kids.”

Attracting tourists by the thousand to Keene, the annual pumpkin festival is a boon to area businesses, including Center Stage, the organization responsible for the event and its attendant merchandise.

Occurring as it does right before Halloween, both the Pumpkin Festival itself and the Community Night which precedes it attract a rather odd after-dark crowd.

Truth be told, the Pumpkin Festival is a family event, and everyone loves a mother and baby…even if the mother is a witch and the baby is a deformed demon.

Ultimately, the sight that garners the most Ooohs and Ahhhs at both the Pumpkin Festival and Community Night is that of the lit pumpkin towers in Central and Depot Squares. As one passerby remarked upon seeing the Depot Square tower, “I’ve seen it before, but I’m always amazed.” (Click on the image for an enlarged version, including a glimpse of the huge “Keene” pumpkin that tops the tower.)

As impressive as Community Night is, though, it’s only a dress rehearsal for today’s Real Deal. For as pumpkins glowed from those Central and Depot Square towers, hundreds of jack-o-lanterns–the fruit of Keene State College’s annual Pumpkin Lobotomy–lurked in the darkness outside the Clairvaux Center, waiting to be loaded onto scaffolds and shelves this morning.

    For those of you craving “the rest of the story” about last night’s pumpkin proposal, this morning’s newspaper gave the happy details: the pumpkins spelling out that marriage proposal were carved by students in teacher Mark Martin’s fifth-grade class at the Franklin School. The object of Mr. Martin’s affection, Kathy Nelson, said “Yes.”

At least two ladies (who shall remain nameless to protect the soon-to-be-betrothed) are going to get a bright-glowing surprise when they check out the giant Central Square tower at tomorrow’s Pumpkin Festival. (Click on the image for an enlarged version.)

Say cheese

Although the annual Pumpkin Festival doesn’t officially start until tomorrow, downtown Keene was abuzz early this morning with the bustle of Pumpkin Prep.

When else but early morning on All Pumpkin’s Eve can you see sleepy-eyed children from Saint Joseph’s School proudly parading their carved pumpkins down Main Street?

Pumpkin parade

In Central Square, one lane is closed while workers construct one of four scaffold towers that by tomorrow night will be the source of Keene’s famed Gourd Glow.

Erecting the tower

Closer to the ground, workers assembled out spans of shelving to accommodate imminent pumpkin arrivals.

Erecting the scaffolds

And in the spirit of “Build it, and they will come,” these Central Square shelves are already starting to fill with early-bird jack-o-lanterns.

Pumpkin prep

In downtown’s Depot Square, local businesses have already set up their pumpkin calling cards, such as these elaborately carved pumpkins from Lee’s Mount Fuji Chinese restaurant.

Pumpkin publicity

And in the air above Depot Square, another pumpkin tower is well on its way to completion, filled with local-carved ‘kins that will light tonight’s Community Night: a chance for Keene residents to get a night-before sneak preview on tomorrow’s full-blown party.

Erecting the Railroad Square tower

As a flood of pumpkins begins to pool along Depot Square, I’m struck at how different today’s scene is from two weekend’s ago, when Jon Udell filmed part of his flood screencast from the parking structure in the background of this photo. Two weekends ago, a carload of college kids got their car swamped here on Railroad Street; this time tomorrow, Railroad Street will be closed to vehicular traffic as crowds of pedestrians inundate the place.

Pile of pumpkins

With the excitement level rising, it’s a good thing that the Pumpkin Festival’s official start isn’t far off. Here in Keene, the pumpkins are starting to get hungry.

Pumpkin predation

Farmstand pumpkins

Yesterday was another of our recently rare rain-free days here in southern New Hampshire. So instead of making hay while the sun shone, Gary and I decided to go pumpkin picking.

Keene’s annual Pumpkin Festival is this Saturday, so yesterday we were looking for not just one but three pumpkins to carve and bring to the festival: one for me, one for Gary, and one for Reggie. When you’re trying to smash a world record, it’s important that you think in terms of both number and quantity, selecting just the right pumpkin (or just the right three pumpkins) to add to the collective effort.

Pick your pumpkin

Given the selection in gourmet gourds these days, pumpkin picking is no easy task. During a tour of two separate farmstands, Gary and I found pumpkins in unusual colors…

Many colors & sizes

eye-catching patterns…

A plethora of pumpkins

and even surprising sizes.

Puny pumpkins

If your tastes run more toward the squash end of the spectrum, there are still gourds a-plenty to satisfy your vegetable cravings.

Gorgeous gourds

And if you think that these alluringly arranged pumpkins are free for the taking, think again. Although there are gourds galore on display, there are also Gourd Guardians to ward off admirers with sticky fingers.

Harvest guardian

The picture says it all. If there’s an intricate shadow wrought on patio brick, that means we had a bright and sunny day in southern New Hampshire yesterday. Finally.

Of course, it’s raining–again–as I write this on Tuesday morning. But yesterday afternoon was glorious, so there is some hope yet.

And in the “there is some hope yet” department, on Wednesday, November 2nd a coaching colleague and I are holding a free teleworkshop on overcoming writer’s blocks. Entitled Move That Boulder: Making Progress with Writing Projects Big & Small, this teleworkshop is perfectly suited to anyone trying to write (or thinking of writing) a dissertation, novel, short story, proposal, or other personally daunting writing project. The teleworkshop is free and open to anyone willing to call. If you’re interested in learning more, click here for more details, including registration information.

Even if you’re feeling hopelessly stuck on a weighty writing project, it’s never too late to make a positive change. A few days ago, I thought the sun wouldn’t shine again in New Hampshire until pigs flew. Although we’re wet again here in Keene, yesterday afternoon’s blue skies and shadows proved that you should never give up hope in miracles: according to one sign in Peterborough, at least, Air Pork is back in business.

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