Over twenty Halloweens ago, I stood up for the first time with the help of a pumpkin (and mental encouragement from my Mickey Mouse onesie). Last weekend, I was determined that my first trip to a REAL IOWA pumpkin patch would be an equally monumental experience. So Sunday morning, still flush from last night’s victory and too many sausage balls, Rob, Jill, Billy and I trundled into B’s car and forty miles into the countryside in pursuit of Bloomsbury Farm. And after turning on an unmarked gravel road for the last five miles, we were pretty skeptical — until this:
PUMPKIN FIELD. We were instantly impressed. And we would return to this very field at the end of the visit to pick our own pumpkins. The best might have already been picked out and arranged into sublime rows of orange, but we were chasing rusticity, and we were going to pick our own.
The Farm had a $10 admission price tag, which galled us at first — what is this? amusement park countryside for greenhorns? — but it was certainly worth the cost. For starters, there was a playground right at the entrance and we immediately joined in the lassoing, tire-swinging, and horse riding.
We also raced through two haunted houses before finding the PETTING ZOO. A combination pumpkin patch, haunted house, and petting zoo? What luck! Llamas, goats, sheep, pigs, and chickens aplenty. Obviously anticipating our desires (“Can I touch it? How about feed it?”) the farmers had installed vending machines that, for 25 cents, dispensed a handful of broken-up hay chaff. In a potentially cruel, but altogether terrific other contraption, you could deposit this feed in a rickety trough and hoist it to a goat waiting on a platform about twenty feet up.
Also of note was the sign adorning the pen: “Hi! We’re glad you came! We are happy and tame! But, we are animals dude . . . And your fingers may look like food.” Despite this great sign and the animals themselves, we couldn’t stay long at the petting zoo. The boys had seen the corn husk cannon, which is exactly what it sounds like. A farmhand stuffs corn husks into a cannon, and BAM all over an empty field.
We all took turns until one o’clock rolled around, and with it, and the afternoon’s best activity. Pig races. Or, more accurately, piglet races: small like toddlers, and endlessly confused like toddlers. Throughout the pre-race talk they kept turning around in their pens, facing backwards, nosing each other, and getting stuck backwards once or twice. They were also named things like ” Paris HAMton” and “Jessica SWINEton,” and somehow overcame this serious handicap to charm all the spectators with their adorable oinks and — when it came down to it — hardcore racing enthusiasm.
Pinky got his act together in time, and managed to scrape out a win. They ran another group of pigs, and then our day at the racetrack was all over. But not our visit. What’s a visit to the pumpkin patch without a corn maze? We walked ina couple feet and were engulfed in pure Iowa. Stalks hovered several feet above our heads and continued for acres. There was a map, of course — but all cut up into pieces. Because part of the fun is solving the paper puzzle too. We trooped along for a bit, then smashed through some stalks to reach an elevated platform and calculate a speedy exit. Maybe it’s cheating, but looking at it from above . . .
. . . isn’t THAT much of a leg-up. We and our muddy shoes got out eventually, and promptly took a hay-ride around that same corn field. A very nice man named Larry hauled us and the hay riders around with his tractor, dating from 1938.
And we did have to ASK to be dropped off at the pumpkin field, but he let us off the tractor very cheerfully. And that is how we found our two future Jack o’Lanterns. As nature intended it.
With two from the field and two smaller ones from the bin for pie making, we went on home to civilization. Whereupon that first little pumpkin was promptly baked and scraped and boiled
and eaten ALL UP.