The Great Pumpkin Caper

In Magazine, November 2018 by Genevieve Joëlle VillamizarLeave a Comment

The first year we noticed, there were sixty-something.

And this year? Impossible to count. Our car surged onward. The kids were bursting with breathless anticipation, hyper-alert, panting, shouting. The thrill was contagious. Soon we’re all straining, scouring, scouting, scanning–  they sneak up and flash past you. Perched on the chossy red rock, fence posts, utility boxes. We all want to be the first to see them– round ones, flat ones, orange ones, white ones. Singles, doubles, three-ways…




Counting the pumpkins is an all-time, off-season favorite. Pick any gray Sunday. Get out of the house, blow off some steam, soak up a canyon. Each year, the number of kids tumbling about in the back of the car multiplies like the pumpkins. We pack loads of snacks. Make tons of stops and make our adventures. And like any good thing, it gets better every time.

They counted so many pumpkins this year, they lost track.

Over a hundred? 

Six hundred?

We “bigger kids” often measure and balance our lives around holidays. Here in the West, we converge and ritualize around landscape. The first snow on Mount Sopris is an annual guessing game celebrated in our Sopris Sun. “This year,” declares Editor Will Grandbois, “we’re keeping it simple and asking you to guess when the very first dusting will be — none of this “mantle” debate.” (Katie Dahl nailed it, by the way, at Sept fifth.)

There’s no debating here. Everyone wants a taste of the canyon’s famous spring water—

So good!

It’s like Indian times!

— or mantel over red rock to spy on the sheep—

Look at his horns!

He’s looking at us!

These wild urchins scramble the river banks, tearing through waves of prehistoric equisetum, electric green against the dormant, tawny brome and feather reed. The dogwoods are impossibly red, hinting at Christmas. Apricot waves of sleeping scrub oak still manage to scratch at our clothes and hair, and yet…there’s too much beauty, awe, winter fever to grouse over a dang thing. Not a single

I gotta pee! 


How much longer?

Nope, not even the dreaded one—

I gotta go number two….

Wonderfully so, there are no dawdling leaf-peepers. No cyclists, three-wide. Like the very few anglers we see, we are enchanted, drawn to the next alluring curve, the next beguiling bend: freedom. Expansion and immersion. Discovery.

I see another one!


The spring was low when we arrived, lower than I or Facebook friends have ever seen. What gives? Usually, the torrent near forces the water jug from your hands. The trickle we witness is alarming. How does hydrology work here? In our world of increasing uncertainty, a buncha pumpkins just does it for us.


Who the hell does all this work? I wanna thank this person. People? Is it a bunch of people? Is it a secret? Can I get in on it? Is it unspoken? Is it like The Bra Tree? Is it a game? An official guessing game? Is there a prize?

We devoured the afternoon, ravenous; me, a buddy and our pile of wild ones. Snacks. Snow. Wildlife. Skidding on ice. Sticks on ice. Rocks on ice. Cause, effect. Decadent destruction. Outside voices! These kids were careening towards a nap . . . or a meltdown.

Re-entry was surreal, the pint-sized barber shop signaling our return . . . to commerce. I had to know about the pumpkins. Bribing the feral beings of the back seat, we stopped at Heirlooms, Basalt’s “only place in town with ice cream.”

So what gives?

“It’s a mystery to me,” shop owner Brenda McCartney admits. “People have their speculations, but it’s remained anonymous. It’s one of the most fun things we have going!”