October 17, 2020

2020 Halloween at the Descanso Gardens (watercolor, Inktense pencil and black ink on watercolor paper) Happy Birthday, Christie!

Last year the Descanso Gardens had an amazing series of evenings they called Carved. It was a one-mile night walk through the garden with the path marked by 1000 hand carved illuminated jack-o-lanterns to light your way. It sold out each of the 5 nights (October 23 through the 27th) it was planned. The night we were there it was kind of crowded and in my opinion there were a few too many strollers that needed headlights. But we all survived and had a great time. This first ever event looked to be a cool annual thing to do each fall, much like their Enchanted Forest of Light extravaganza (mid-November to the end of December) that had become a tradition for my friends and family. You’ve probably already guessed where this is going…Because of COVID, both events were cancelled for the 2020 season. However, according to info on the Descanso Gardens website, both holiday evening displays and activities will be back for their 2021 fall/winter season. OK.

I also read on the Descanso’s website that even though “Carved” had been cancelled they had some daytime Halloween displays to make it look “holiday pumpkin” festive. I checked it out last Sunday. It looks to be a thinly veiled attempt to fool kids into thinking a daytime walk in the park would be way better than going trick or treating on the evening/night of the 31st. But I think the over 4-year-olds are on to this trick. Deep down they know this is all just daytime smoke and mirrors and will not in any way replace wearing a favorite costume, ringing doorbells, getting candy and running around in the dark. As it has been some time since I went trick or treating with my son, I was delightfully surprised to see some really fun displays. From a distance the wooden boxes atop stakes you see here look like bird houses that had pounded into the ground by a deranged ornithologist. As you get closer you can start to see that each box has 1 or more jack-o-lantern face carved into 1 or more sides of the wooden panels. Actually, they look a bit like houses for vampire bats. (I could almost imagine tiny bats flying out of the jack-o-lantern mouths and eyes just as the sun goes down.) I thought them quite fun and knew I was going to sketch them for my 2020 tribute to Halloween this week. I also knew I wanted to sketch this scene because of the red urn you can also see here. If you’ve been following my blog you may remember seeing them in a couple summer posts (June 20, 2020 and July 11, 2020). It was nice to see how the lovely plantings around the large urns had grown up and surrounded each one. (There are 2 in this promenade planting.) Other creative and charming Halloween bits and bobs can also be found throughout the daylight garden as well. There is a pumpkin arch with strange and wonderful large pumpkin/twig insects in the camellia grove. There’s also a pumpkin house and children’s hay maze on the main lawn, with colorful pumpkin mandalas surrounding oak trees in the oak grove. And someone very carefully, and cleverly, constructed the loch ness monster covered with pumpkins and gourds in one of the large ponds at the front. As an adult I enjoyed all the charming displays on display. Even after visiting this great Halloween scene, I can still imagine little ones saying something like, “This is great. But I can’t wait to go trick or treating on Halloween.” Right?

My dad used to claim that he and his cousin Walter had invented trick or treating. I wasn’t much surprised when he told me that he and his older cuz were involved in “tricking” schemes as they often got into a fair amount of meanness on a pretty regular basis. He said that he and Walter would wait until it got dark and then very quietly sneak up to a neighbor’s house, rub bar soap into window screens they could reach, and then run away. OK, so that’s a pretty nasty trick. So where’s the treat he thinks they invented? My dad’s story continues. It seems one of his neighbors got wise to what they were doing, but could never catch them. He told the boys that if they convinced whoever was soaping his screens to cease and desist, he would treat them with some candy. And of course he would give my dad and Walter some candy as well in thanks for telling the other boys to stop soaping his window screens. That worked like a charm. It seems that other neighbors with soapy screens caught onto this and thus the candy extortion began in a long ago Long Beach neighborhood. Now, my dad’s story has absolutely nothing to do with such tricks being done the last day of October. It seems it happened with much more frequency than that. Nor would he or Walter have ever considered walking around their neighborhood wearing a costume. That was for babies, unless they could have had a real cutlass like Errol Flynn. But otherwise they were just too cool for costumes. Now, do I believe my dad (who later became an electrical engineer because the atomic bomb was way cool) and his cousin (who later became a Navy Seal at the end of WWII) were the originators of trick or treating? Who cares? It doesn’t really matter to me. It’s just a fun story I remember hearing him tell about his carefree days as a boy growing up. I still miss him so much. (RIP dad, 10/14/2012)

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