The lengthening shadows, the early darkness, the scent of cinnamon, it can all mean only one thing.
The year is turning into a pumpkin.
Embrace it. We brag about our seasons here in Buffalo, and now is the time to celebrate that. Find a big orange gourd, throw your arms around it, heft it up and haul it home. Sure, you can find pumpkins at any supermarket. But for best results, head to a pumpkin farm.
Such as the Great Pumpkin Farm, in Clarence Hollow.
Clarence Hollow! The name alone suggests restless spirits and crackling leaves. You think of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. And Ashford Hollow, home of the wild and weird Griffis Sculpture Park, an unforgettable stop on our 100+ Things odyssey. Clarence Hollow lives up to expectations. It is an autumn paradise.
Turn off Transit Road down Main Street, going east, and in just a few minutes, you're deep into it. Whimsical scarecrows decorate the lampposts along Main Street. Pumpkins border Clarence Town Park. Nurseries hawk golden chrysanthemums. Farmers' markets display apples, cabbages and all manner of pumpkins and other bright and brooding squash.
The Great Pumpkin Farm will be on your right.
On weekends, it draws crowds with its carnival rides, booths selling fried dough, blooming onions and kettle corn, hay rides and a giant machine that fires pumpkins into the air.
On weekdays, admission is free, and the Erie County Fair feel gives way to a sweeter ambiance.
The petting zoo is more mellow than on weekends, when the mobs of well-wishers can make the critters skittish. The rides are at rest. The pumpkin gun cools its jets, leaving you free to relax and take your time to choose the pumpkins your heart desires.
What will it be? There are classic orange jack-o-lantern pumpkins, tiny doll-sized pumpkins and sweet sugar pie pumpkins. Sage green pumpkins, white pumpkins, huge ungainly warty pumpkins. Big pumpkins are 45 cents a pound, little ones 55 cents a pound.
Janet Hubman of the City of Tonawanda was prowling the patch, wheelbarrow in tow, in search of just the right pumpkin for her Halloween decor.
"It has to hold up the leg of a big spider," she explained.
She was there with another adult, proving that grown-ups as well as kids have fun at this place. Adults on their own were also spotted at the petting zoo, tenderly feeding the animals. A petting zoo, let's face it, is fun for all ages. And this one was a dandy.
Where else can you pet a ridiculously groomed llama as the bells of a Clarence Hollow church play "O God, Our Help In Ages Past"? This is the kind of experience that puts life in perspective.
Erica Errico of Amherst was at the farm with her 3-year-old son, Ryan.
"He was concerned about the animals eating. He'd say, 'That goat hasn't eaten.' I must have spent over $2, feeding the animals," she said.
She said that at first, her son had tried to nix the expedition.
"He cried all the way here," she laughed. "And then he saw the playground and his world opened up."
The playground boasts cute pumpkin slides, and in the relaxed atmosphere, moms and aunts were tumbling out of the chutes along with the kids. A dad perched on the treads of one of the tractor tires that stand half-buried in the ground.
The place's homespun nature shows in a sign stashed by the ladies' room entrance. It read: "DO NOT ENTER. Closed for Cleaning by Gary If You Really Have To Go You Can Enter."
And speaking of country ways, the farm proudly displays the winners of the recent Pumpkin Weigh-Off. The Great Pumpkin Farm looms large in the pumpkin world. Two decades ago, its winner was the biggest in the nation. This year's champion specimen, grown by Andy Wolf, broke the New York State record. It weighs an obscene 1971.5 pounds.
The farm's general store has pumpkin everything, including costumes, hats and lip gloss. A little boy was leaving under protest.
"I want to see more pumpkin things," he cried.
"I'm sorry, we're going home."
"We have to go home?" he howled.
You had to laugh -- until you saw the candy shop. It was the best we've seen in our 100 Things Journey outside of Vidler's in East Aurora. When was the last time you saw candy necklaces? They're here.
So are fireballs, creme pumpkin candies, butterscotch discs, chocolate nonpareils with autumn sprinkles (my purchase) and remember those dandy candy dots? They're all here. So are blueberry candy corn, wax bottles, Mary Janes, fall gummies ..
"We have to go home?" you will howl.
Well, you can always come back. If you're a grown-up, you may want to return at night. The Great Pumpkin Farm turned 21 this year, so naturally it opened a bar. It's called the Witches Brew Bar & Cafe, and it has local beers from East Amherst's 12 Gates Brewing Company: Pumpkin, Apple Wheat, Coffee Porter. Bands play on weekends.
Beware: You might turn into a pumpkin yourself.
What a place for that to happen.