Here in D.C., autumn arrived in an instant, like somebody flicked a switch. Just a couple days ago it was in the mid-70’s and the trees were mostly green; now everybody’s wearing their jackets and the leaves are dying gloriously, like they always do. Perfect time of year to pay a visit to the Pumpkin Patch.
If you live in the area, the best place to go is “Cox Farms”:http://www.coxfarms.com/index.htm. They have a whole fall festival thing going in a big field, with slides and free cider and lots of animals and the obligatory hay ride — but what a hay ride. The whole place has a certain vibe, if you cock your head and look at it the right way, as if maybe the people who built it did so right after Jerry Garcia died and there was no longer any point in following the Grateful Dead around the country.
“Dude, we can grow pumpkins.”
“Yeah, and like, raise goats. And stuff.”
So they hooked up with one of their relatives who had all this land out in Virginia, and somewhere along the way responsible people got involved and shaped the place into a sort of autumnal wonderland for kids and for the childish at heart. The Deadheads were given the task of designing the course for the hay ride — I’m pretty sure that one of them was the guy behind the wheel of the tractor, pulling along two big carts full of people. I don’t have enough hay ride experience to know what the norm is, but this one aimed to have something to see at every turn, whether it was a huge tiger statue poking its head out from behind a tree or crudely-drawn pictures of Disney characters in flagrant violation of copyright. Much of it was thoroughly macabre:
* A UFO, and two purple-skinned aliens who leap out of it as you go past. They dance around and fall over things to make the kids laugh.
* An old pink school bus that has weeds growing up over the wheel wells. Pictures of the Rugrats are in each of the windows. I’m not sure if this is intentional, but it looks just like the bus has run into a tree.
* The Cat in the Hat.
* Full size statues of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. The bears all look like real bears, not cartoony ones. Goldilocks is standing off to one side, looking up at the sky, and holding her arms aloft in supplication. It’s clear that the bears mean to eat her. Well, clear to me.
* At an otherwise nondescript part of the course, a guy in a red cape and hood leaps out and starts beating on another guy with a stick. The two actors — local teens, no doubt — have great fun with their roles, trying to make the fight look brutally real, all the way down to the death twitches of the second guy as Big Red dives back into the underbrush.
* Care Bears, though I think they’re arranged to look like the “Grateful Dead Dancing Bears”:http://posters.seindal.dk/p391094_The_Grateful_Dead_Dancing_Bears.html.
* The Haunted Barn: big and empty, with ample room for the tractor and carts to pull in for the horror show. The place is dark and full of Halloween decorations, plus, for some reason, several bookshelves full of books. I guess the idea is to make the place seem like the study in some old manor house, but it comes off more like the Used Bookstore from Hell. Instead of the expected costumed ghouls leaping out, a dance tune starts playing, very chipper with maybe a dash of salsa. Then the tractor moves on.
This afternoon, when I was there, it was a cool crisp day with a cobalt sky and steady wind that never stopped blowing across the field. On the horizon, massive clouds lumbered above and the earth lay all red and yellow and brown below. Nothing else in the Pumpkin Patch was as exquisitely surreal as the hay ride, but it’s still well worth the drive out. It helped that I was there with a posse of other Common Groundsfolk, none of whom were above a bit of frolicking. My Singular Frolicksome Moment was only witnessed by one other person, so I feel the need to set it down clearly for posterity: At a dead run, I hopped onto a knee-high hay bale, jumped off it, then kept on running down a slight hill. Halfway down I realized that I did not have actual control of my legs any more and that I was going to fall. Rather than collapse haphazardly, I consciously pitched myself forward, tucked in one shoulder, and did a perfect stuntman dive-and-roll, coming up to my feet and then to a stop in the same fluid motion. The wind blew the dust I had kicked up into a billow behind me.
It felt great at the time, but now, hours later, my knees are paying for it. No spring chicken, me. If I were older this might be the proper occasion to ruminate about the autumn of one’s life, but that’s still a good ways off. If it ever starts feeling like it’s edging closer, I know now that the Pumpkin Patch is a worthy anodyne.