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Jack-o-lanterns give pumpkinicity a push

Bill McDonald/On His Own

Life can be about choices and regrets. As I drove out to Sauvie Island last week to interview a hired pumpkin carver at a produce farm, I wondered why I had passed up the 50th birthday party for Coco, one of the chimpanzees at the zoo.

After all, I was the columnist who had accused zoo officials of lavishing too much attention on Packy. Plus, there were free cupcakes involved. Yet here I was, disregarding a half-century of chimp service, and for what? A chance to interview Tim Pate as he carved pumpkins?

A quick walk through the animal barn at the Pumpkin Patch did little to assuage my disappointment. As I approached the tent where Pate carved away, my only hope was that I could maintain an air of professionalism.

• • •

Tribune: I want you to know I gave up a birthday party for a 50-year-old chimpanzee to be here today.

Pate: Wow. I wish the monkey happy birthday. He's 2 1/2 years older than me.

Trib: I suppose I should come right out and ask you: Do you believe in the Great Pumpkin?

Pate: I actually carved one of his relatives last week.

Trib: How many pumpkins have you carved this year?

Pate: Around 35, from 728 pounds on down. That's the biggest one I ever carved.

• • •

The 728-pound behemoth was on display nearby. Depicted on it was a scene of an alien lost in the Pumpkin Patch's cornfield maze.

• • •

Trib: Do you really consider carving pumpkins to be an art form?

Pate: Yes, it's a fun medium. It's so creative. It's an open palette, and then it goes away. There's a time limit to this art.

Trib: That's odd. I don't remember Picasso going through a pumpkin-carving period.

Pate: He would have had fun.

Trib: So you're saying if Van Gogh had been carving a pumpkin, he wouldn't have cut his ear off?

Pate: I think you're feeding me that line. I really do.

Trib: This isn't your first interview, is it?

Pate: No.

• • •

At this point we were interrupted by Xavier Norman, an 8-year-old from Vancouver, Wash., who approached Pate's exhibit and said, 'That carving is cool.' What followed was an endearing scene in which Pate taught the youngster how it's done. Pate said he first learned to carve things from his great-grandfather, who gave him the best advice: If you're in a hurry, you're doing it wrong. Xavier listened intently.

Seeing the value of this interaction, my tone began to soften.

Trib: What other crafts are you into?

Pate: Glass blowing. I've been carving wood and stone a long time. I carve crystal and stone. I enjoy being an artist.

Trib: What's your greatest accomplishment so far?

Pate: I was commissioned to carve the lifetime achievement award for David Brower. He was the executive director of the Sierra Club for 27 years. He's the one credited with saving the Grand Canyon from being dammed.

• • •

I was in full retreat.

• • •

Trib: Sorry about bringing up the chimp's birthday party.

Pate: Well, you can still wish him happy birthday for me.

Trib: What lies ahead for pumpkin carving?

Pate: We'll continue to expand the avenues and horizons of pumpkinicity.

• • •

Then Pate got a sparkle in his eye and pronounced: 'The future is bright and orange.'

Bill McDonald is a Portland writer and musician.