Pumpkin Carving At Soldiers Delight

The Soldiers Delight visitor center auditorium awaits carvers
SDCI board vice president Lynell Tobler started early on October 28 to prepare the visitor center auditorium for that evening's pumpkin carving program. With large bowls ready to receive pumpkin innards and small bowls waiting to hold the disgorged seeds she hoped to take home to roast, Lynell set about making the room ready for an evening of imaginative fun. Assisted by longtime volunteer Jesse Turner, Lynell dressed long tables in orange plastic sheeting, set out hundreds of paper patterns, and filled wicker baskets with all manner of sharp implements, marking pens and other accoutrements of carving.

Shrunken apple heads add a spooky touch to the bake sale table
Lynell's preparation for SDCI's autumn fundraiser had actually begun weeks before, when she coaxed her young cousins at a family reunion into sculpting a variety of hideous faces from bright green granny smith apples. Following a good soak in salted water with lemon juice to prevent the peeled apples from turning brown prematurely, exaggerated facial features were cleaved into the spheres. Apple mouths were adorned with grains of white rice for teeth. Cloves were employed as eyes poked into hollowed out sockets. The apples then went into Lynell's oven, where they stayed for more than a week, drying out slowly at low temperature for a few hours each day.  By the end of the second week, the carved faces had shriveled and turned wrinkly, their features contorted into frightful grins. Lynell inserted a wooden skewer into the bottom of each apple and then arranged the whole lot in a cauldron of vaporized water covered with Spanish moss.

SDCI Board president Laura Van Scoyoc awaits hungry customers
SDCI enjoyed two pleasant new additions to our annual pumpkin carving event this year. For one, SDCI board president Laura Van Scoyoc and board treasurer Hazel McWeeney spent all day baking a panoply of treats to sell during the program, along with steaming mugs of spiced cider. There were spiced pumpkin cookies, pumpkin-pecan cheesecake bars and chewy fudge brownies. As the cider warmed in a huge urn, scents of apple, clove and cinnamon spiced the air.  

Patapsco Valley State Park Seasonal Naturalist Courtney Birkmeyer holds a rehabilitated American crow from Soldiers Delight's aviary
Also, since our event coincided with Patapsco Valley State Park's "haunted history hikes", which departed from the visitor center every twenty minutes throughout the evening, hikers awaiting their departure time could wander through the visitor center and into the auditorium, where naturalists entertained with a variety of rehabilitated wild animals from the Scales & Tales aviary on our premises.

Towson University student intern Erin Rycyk shows off a corn snake, so named for the kernel-like markings on the snake's underbelly
A rehabilitated great horned owl looks over Patapsco Valley State Park staff members, from left, Erin Rycyk, Katie Crane, Sean Myers and Olivia Fedrizzi (photo credit Melissa Schehlein)
As carvers chiseled away at their pumpkins, a bright orange corn snake, so named for beautiful, kernel-like markings on its underbelly, held forth in a corner of the auditorium, in front of a screech owl and a great horned owl, who sat on a railing behind the snake's terrarium. The great horned owl must have felt pretty self-assured, because it chimed in with a haunting "hoot hoot hooooooot" every few seconds all evening long.  We'd never had a more appropriate soundtrack for our program, and it was live! Out in the visitor center lobby, an American crow showed off his broken wing while hikers and others queued up at the registration table and milled about.

This mummified raccoon lent a grotesque air to the festivities
Along with the live animals from Patapsco Valley State Park's Scales & Tales program, a mummified raccoon also made an appearance. Lynell found the perfectly preserved specimen in 2015, in the crawlspace of her 155-year-old farmhouse just down the street from Soldiers Delight. Without light or moisture to aid decomposition, the remains of the unfortunate omnivore did not decay but instead mummified, over the course of a century, into a ghoulish corpse, its leathery skin still pliable, whiskers, tongue, teeth and claws still intact. Lynell put the grisly creature, which she affectionately named El Chupacabra, on display at the front of the room for all to admire.
SDCI vice president Lynell Tobler described the origins of pumpkin carving as she demonstrated carving techniques (photo credit Melissa Schehlein)

Over the course of the program, pumpkins were slowly, meticulously transformed into striking Jack-O-Lanterns. As the evening waned, Lynell imparted a hypothetical musing of the origin of Jack-O-Lantern carving in the 1800s, although potatoes and turnips were the tubers whittled originally, for there were no pumpkins in Ireland back then, where the practice is said to have begun.

When all was said and done, SDCI netted a nice amount for our conservation efforts, many baked goods were sold, and several people went home with grinning specimens. A good time was had by all.

Some of the finished creations all aglow

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