Now the migration -- and transformation -- begins.
From pumpkin patch to front porch, from bulbous gourd to flickering grimace to nouveau Fright Night design, this weekend, pumpkins pumpkins everywhere will officially enter their Halloween heyday.
It is time, announces veteran carver Alison Risso of Silver Spring, "to be one with your inner gourd."
It's a success, deems Severna Park's John Zierdt, "if children cry."
And the best, says Arlington's Shawn Teter, "is when kids come up and say, 'Wow! How'd you do that?' "
At Karen Morgan's house, in Anne Arundel's quaint Shady Side, on the Chesapeake Bay, 50 pumpkins -- "that's five-oh," she emphasizes -- sprawl in various stages of decoration across her Victorian wraparound porch. Seven sets of pumpkins lead to each of her entrances. Five hop up her front steps, and two jostle down the side steps. They line the driveway.
"Sometimes," she jokes, "we trip over them."
Some are painted -- the better to keep her four boys' fingers attached to their hands -- others are actually carved, and still others boast faces and designs made from translucent golf tees from a carving kit picked up at Michaels. When the candle inside is lighted, the golf tees glow.
"My 3-year-old likes to splatter paint," Morgan says. "My 5-year-old and 6-year-old do 'spooky' scenery, like big, tilted frowns. And my 13-year-old tries to figure out, 'How can we scare everyone really badly?' "
All this effort goes into the Morgans' annual Halloween party, for which 80 boys were expected at their home yesterday for three-legged races, tug of war, "Ghost, Ghost, Witch" -- a seasonal version of "Duck, Duck, Goose" -- and werewolf tag.
"We start decorating as soon as we put away our summer stuff," Morgan says. And instead of throwing birthday parties for each of her boys, she does the one big Halloween extravaganza each year, with all the boys inviting their friends.
"We've got two acres, and they'll be running around the yard," she says. "It is the quintessential run, scream, feel good and breathe some fresh air -- and go away with a very happy childhood memory. Because that's what Halloween's for."
Indeed, it is such a childhood ritual that Risso, who adores the creepy-crawly season for the "creativity it unleashes," uses pumpkins as her adult entree.
"It's my way of participating," the 29-year-old says from her office in Montgomery County. She sounds adult and grown-up -- she works in corporate communications for the Learning Channel -- but streaming through her voice is a yearning for carefree celebration.
"Kids get to do candy, but I can't do candy. And I can't do costumes anymore, because I'm an adult and have to come to work. But I do get to do pumpkins."
So she does elaborate designs -- leaves all around the gourd, a cutout of her Jack Russell terrier's face, the house numbers of her address -- and puts candles inside each of them.
"We light a lot of stuff on fire to let the kids know we're kid-friendly," she says about her house on the hill. Which is the best part: "You get to see what they've done for Halloween, and they get to see what you've done. Everybody gets to play."
Across the river in Arlington, Halloween-o-phile Shawn Teter has carved about 20 pumpkins annually for the last eight years. It was a passion born in his mother-in-law's kitchen, when she was "making her effort at carving a pumpkin." He pauses delicately. "It was a little pathetic." So in addition to thinking, That looks like fun, he also thought, I can do that -- better.
And he has. We're not talking easy triangles for the eyes and a couple of slashes for the mouth. We're talking haunted houses and cemetery scenes, elaborate borders of jack-o'-lanterns and pumpkin vines. He's done southwestern scenes with coyotes howling, surrounded not by cacti, but ghosts. And when his son, Casey, was born on Friday, Oct. 13, two years ago, he decorated a huge pumpkin with the words "IT'S A BOY."
"I love it because it's not the commercial side of Halloween," he says. "It's not something you can buy at the store. It doesn't light up or have batteries. It's something you make into a piece of artwork."
It's something that comes from the earth, he adds.
And from the heart.