Submitted by Susanne Bacon.
The other day when driving through the Town of Steilacoom, we passed a scarecrow. I forget where I saw it. I forget what it looked like. But a scarecrow in Steilacoom means that the Garden Club is hosting its annual scarecrow event again. And this means that these critters are popping up all over town. It also means that it’s definitely fall.
Scarecrows. When I was a kid, I was totally impressed by scarecrows in fields. They were common. Usually, they consisted of a wooden cross dressed with human clothes and stuffed with straw, a head of whatever material, and a hat. They were not very decorative – nothing like Steilacoom’s fancy scarecrows. But then, they were meant to deter birds from attacking freshly sewn fields, not to be imaginative creations to compete in a beauty contest. And as we were leisurely walking our suburban areas back in the day, I kept looking for fields that had a scarecrow guarding the future crops.
One of my first children’s books was “Thomas Vogelschreck”, pronounce Toh-muss Foh-ghal-shrek, i. e. literally Thomas Birdscare by German author Otfried Preussler. It tells about the lifespan (if you can call it life) of a scarecrow, what its challenges are, and what thoughts it might have (if it had any). It experiences natural phenomena such as fog and the sun casting shadows, it encounters vagabonds and cheeky birds. The end is thought provoking as well – I won’t tell you. Let’s say, you can get the book in English on Amazon – don’t get deterred by the stand-in “cover”; there is probably a real nice one.
Anyhow, it only occurred to me later that I started missing scarecrows as they were replaced by CDs hanging in gardens and in trees, their irregular motion reflecting the light in irregular time patterns and, thus, being probably more effective than a still-life that living creatures get used to. Thankfully, nobody anywhere I ever came used noise to keep birds away; but I’m told that there are automatic noise guns that do the job with propane gas. It would certainly scare ME away! Still, ever since my first childhood years, I have never seen any single scarecrow anymore, other than for decorative purposes. And those tend to come in all sizes these days.
Ah, scarecrows – who wouldn’t also think of Judy Garland’s mind-craving friend in “The Wizard of Oz”?! This character focuses on whether somebody who thinks they have no brain might yet be wiser and have more wit and common sense than anybody. And it also enters a discussion about the importance of mind over emotions, of brain over heart. This leaves a lot of room for interpretation, of course, and turns the children’s book into literature that is, again, thought provoking for grown-ups. Enjoy Dorothy’s first encounter with her beautiful friend and watch this:
From the oldest book about a scarecrow, a Japanese one from the year 712, to Nathaniel Hawthorne, from Gene Hackman’s performance alongside Al Pacino in “The Scarecrow” (1973) to the Batman movies, from Pink Floyd to John Cougar Mellencamp and Melissa Etheridge, to festivals in England, Canada, here in the U.S., and in the Philippines, scarecrows seem to have an incredible cultural impact. It almost seems to me as if we were trying to see something in our own creation that is so obviously not present. We’d like to visualize them as humanoids, though we know they are anything but this. And as if reliving Pygmalion’s yearning that his statue Galatea would come alive as he falls in love with it, we spin stories about these works of art over and over again.