Monday, October 2, 2017

Time for Ol' Slim in the Garden

It's odd, I suppose, that I wait until autumn each year to set my scarecrow out, since it's purpose is ostensibly to protect the garden from birds and small animals that might eat the seeds or disturb the crop. During the growing season, I use a variety of modern techniques to keep the critters away from my plants, everything from organic sprays to ultrasonic repellers to traps, but when the days get short and the evenings get cool, I like to bring out Ol' Slim.

Scarecrows of Slim's sort have been keeping the crows away for centuries, and have had a spooky presence in literature for nearly as long. A Japanese book written in the 700's tells the story of an all-knowing scarecrow deity, Kuebiko. Closer to home, Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1852 story "Feathertop" is about a witch who casts a spell on a scarecrow, bringing him to life in order to woo the young daughter of a rival. And, of course, a scarecrow plays a major role in L. Frank Baum's tale The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, although that scarecrow is notably less menacing.

Down through the years, the scarecrow's primary job was to act as a wildlife deterrent, but it's not hard to see how they began moonlighting in horror fiction. The overall image of a dead man hanging on a pole in the middle of a field is as fertile ground for the imagination as the soil beneath it is for corn.

These days, commercial farmers still use scarecrows, of a sort, but they are now more typically hanging mylar curtains that move in the breeze and reflect sunlight or mechanical devices that issue a loud sound at irregular intervals. The mannequin-style scarecrow has largely been relegated to seasonal decoration or as a nostalgic throwback for small-scale farmers and gardeners. For me it has become one of the cherished rituals of autumn, along with Indian corn and pumpkins.

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