I hope all of you on the East Coast are safe and sound following Sandy! I rode out the storm working from home and getting into the Halloween spirit by carving a pumpkin. That’s right, Halloween waits for no hurricane. I am sure you stocked up on candy, in addition to your pre-Sandy supplies. I certainly did. Sunday night while many people were buying water, bread and batteries, I was at Target buying a pumpkin, and yes, I did get some odd looks in the check-out line.
I was inspired to get into the holiday spirit by a recent visit to the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular at Providence’s Roger Williams Zoo, and it certainly earns its “spectacular” moniker. This year’s theme was “All the World’s a Stage,” with scenes and characters from iconic movies, plays and TV shows coming to life through 5,000 jack-o-lanterns. Some are carved in a traditional way, and others with intricate scenes on the surface of the pumpkins, and illuminated from within. My prose cannot do these gourds justice, you really have to see it to believe it.
I was lucky enough to get an expertly guided tour from the man behind the pumpkins, Travis Reckner. The seeds of the pumpkin spectacular (pun intended) were planted years ago when Travis was 15-years-old and he and his father organized a much smaller show to raise money for a local school. Their pumpkin displays gradually grew, year by year, from hundreds of pumpkins to thousands. The Roger Williams Zoo had been the home of the spectacular from 2001-2004, and it returned in 2009. With one more week left in the season, there have already been more than 90,000 visitors who have streamed through the zoo to get a peek at the creations that Travis and his team of 20 create and refresh on a weekly basis. They work around the clock, and their hard work is evident when you see the results.
Travis – a chef, and alum of Cambridge’s Rialto — uses special tools to create this pumpkin wonderland, including vacuums and instruments that are designed to cut linoleum. He unabashedly admits that pumpkins are his passion. He says he and his team even get a little depressed this time each year, during the waning days of the spectacular. Travis’ story is an inspiring one, in that he found his passion in a non-traditional area, pumpkins, and he has carved out (again, pun intended, I am on a roll) a job that allows him to do what he loves. Sometimes the thing that makes us happiest doesn’t come in a neat, easy package. But if we listen to our hearts, and don’t give up, we can find a way to follow our passions!
And, here is my jack-o-lanter, inspired by Travis, and made possible by some forced down-time courtesy of Hurricane Sandy. I was prepared in case the lights went out! Obviously, I need some serious practice if I want to be able to help Travis out next year.
Thanks to Travis Reckner for taking the time to share his passion with me. The Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular is not to be missed. After going toe to toe with Sandy, it will reopen on Halloween and will be open through Saturday, November 3th. Thank you as well to Whitney Dayton Brunet, it would have been depressing to carve alone.