Peanuts and Pumpkins

Three years ago, New York Magazine’s website Vulture ranked all forty-five Peanuts animated television specials from worst to best, including a paragraph on each one to justify its ranking. I wouldn’t have guessed Charlie Brown, Linus, and Lucy appeared in fifteen television specials let alone forty-five. But let’s be honest; only two Peanuts adventures have had any staying power: It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (#2 on Vulture’s list), and A Charlie Brown Christmas (#1).

Maybe I’ll weigh in on the Christmas special in a couple of months, but with Halloween on the horizon I need to speak to the runner-up. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown first aired on television in 1966, so those who were alive back then (me) have the chance to see it for the 56th time this year. But maybe not? The networks stopped showing Great Pumpkin two years ago.  Other than PBS in select locations, you’ll have to buy the DVD or subscribe to Apple TV+ to watch Charlie Brown get another rock in his trick-or-treat bag.

Writing about a Peanuts special dates me – there’s no question.  But it’s still worth the words.  The Peanuts gang was the comic strip of my youth.  I remember the anticipation of the Sunday morning newspaper and the “funnies” pages.  Charles M. Schulz and his Peanuts characters always got the first slot.  When the specials debuted in the mid-60s, it was a big deal.  It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown only showed up once a year, in mid-October.  We didn’t have DVRs (let alone streaming) back then, so watch it live or you’d miss it.  Peanuts specials were always the hot topic of conversation at grade school the next day.

After so many watches, Great Pumpkin becomes an interesting study.  You pick up on the little things, the ones which would implode under the weight of today’s social media scrutiny.  Right out of the credits, Linus & Lucy head to a patch to pick out a pumpkin.  On the way, Linus picks up an apple among the fallen leaves, takes a single bite, and tosses it into a trash can. (Unnecessary waste!).  In another scene, Lucy stabs a pumpkin with a giant knife as she begins carving (Children with weapons!).  Then Linus looks on in horror and says, “I didn’t realize you were going to kill it!” (Violence!)

Great Pumpkin touches on other themes to sink today’s children’s shows, including bullying, teasing, and casual use of words like “stupid” and “blockhead”.  Charlie Brown is the butt of several jokes, including Lucy pulling the football away just as he tries to kick, and the girls using the back of his head to draw a pumpkin carving design.  Yes, I laughed at these scenes when I was a kid, but only because I wasn’t that kid (and because it was the 1960s humor).

Here’s an oddity with Great Pumpkin.  You’d think a short animation would be a continuous story.  Not so.  Great Pumpkin jumps awkwardly between disconnected scenes, from carving pumpkins to trick-or-treating to a Halloween Party.  The middle minutes shift randomly to Snoopy acting out his costumed “World War I Flying Ace” in the middle of France.  It’s as if Great Pumpkin didn’t have enough Halloween material to fill a half-hour, or at least needed an excuse to include Snoopy in the story.

Finally, “the Great Pumpkin” itself is completely akin to Santa Claus, but for a different holiday.  Linus writes a letter to the Great Pumpkin to say he’s looking forward to the arrival on Halloween night and hoping for lots of presents.  The Great Pumpkin visits pumpkin patches the way Santa Claus visits houses.  There’s even a mention of “pumpkin carols”.  You’re left wondering why this figment of Linus’ imagination wasn’t a little more unique.

If you haven’t watched It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, I probably haven’t given you reasons to rush to your television.  It’s simple and disjointed, and the animation doesn’t win the show any awards (even in the 1960s).  But just like A Charlie Brown Christmas, the characters are endearing, and the story has a pretty good message.  I’ll probably find myself looking for it again next year.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

My Dandy-Lion Pine Tree

Angel Oak – Johns Island, South Carolina

Just outside Charleston, S.C., you’ll come across a mystical tree called the Angel Oak. It’s a massive growth with dozens of meandering branches, some almost 200 feet long, others big enough to stand on. The Angel Oak has survived for centuries despite hurricanes and ever-encroaching urban development. It’s named after the settlers of a nearby plantation but you’d swear it has more to do with a supernatural being. When you stand within the calm and quiet of the Angel Oak’s wing-like branches, you can feel the embrace of a higher power.  You might as well be in church.

I have a similar tree in my front pasture, here in Colorado.  It’s a singular, lonely, rather sad-looking pine, about seven feet tall, standing sentry beside a swale running through the property.  My pine has very few branches, and on those, very little growth.  I could accurately describe the profile of this tree as a Tootsie Pop, or perhaps one of those ball-and-stick trees you see on architectural renderings.  I prefer a more organic comparison instead.  My tree reminds me of a dandelion, only with a very sturdy stem.  I’m tempted to puff up and blow on his modest ball of pine needles, but he looks so feeble I’m afraid they’ll actually take flight.

My pine tree is as cryptic as the Angel Oak is mystical.  There’s so much I can’t explain about him.  He was standing out there fifteen years ago when we moved to this property.  For all I know he was out there fifteen hundred years ago.  Despite our high-desert drought, winter blizzards, gusty winds, and other fill-in-the-blank weather events, my pine tree stands resolutely and takes it all without bending.  Never seems to grow, wither, or even lose those few pine needles.  In fact, he seems to be waiting for something – or maybe someone.  It’s a day-in-day-out mystery.

A tree, a horse, and an endless forest beyond

Five hundred yards to the east of my lone pine, we have a dense forest of trees that goes on for miles.  These pines stand so close together it’s a wonder they get enough sunlight to grow.  These tall timbers strike me as an army, standing silently at attention, ready to march forward with the given command.  Perhaps my pine is their evergreen general, ready to declare “CHARGE!!!” against some unseen foe to the west.

I don’t have to turn the clock back fifteen hundred years to come up with a logical explanation for my solitary tree.  Maybe just two hundred years ago, when there would already be no pasture, no horses, and not much of anything in any direction.  Settlers here and there at best, or pioneers in search of the promised land.  Perhaps one of these travelers lost a child at too young of an age.  Perhaps a tree was planted in memory of that child.  An angel-like pine carrying on in the sometimes harshest of conditions.

If I had any measure of courage, I’d get up in the wee hours of the night – no guiding light except for the inky blanket of stars overhead – and slowly, silently approach my pine tree.  In those bewitching hours, with the howls of coyotes in the distance and the soft rustle of grass beneath my feet, I might witness a presence from beyond.  Perhaps a subtle glow surrounding his branches, suggesting an endless lifeforce within his roots.  Or even better, the nightgown-clad ghost of a little girl sitting against his trunk, bare knees pulled to her chest.

I know my little tree is no Angel Oak.  In a forest of Ponderosa and Douglas Fir, my pine would be first choice for a Charlie Brown Christmas.  Yet there he is, steadfast and strong, the king of the jungle pasture, the unchallenged ruler of his domain.  He must have the heart of a lion and a confident aura to match.  I hope someday he’ll reveal his purpose, but in the meantime one thing seems to be certain.  My dandy-lion pine will still be standing when I am not.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.