Saturday, October 31, 2009

On Scarecrows



One year and two weeks ago, I had an encounter with a trailer full of pumpkins. (Okay, that sounds deceptively interesting. The truth is that I was stuck driving behind a bunch of pumpkins). This inspired a blog post, in which I tried to suss out the reasons behind the seasonal popularity of the pumpkin. I came to the conclusion that the pumpkin's amenability to anthropomorphication is what gives it prominence every fall.

As I noted in the above post, there is little else in nature that can be made into a human head. Yet, I came to the realization today that the pumpkin is not the only traditional element of the fall harvest season that simulates human animation. For today, my small Wisconsin town proudly hosted its first "Scarecrow Fest." Just down the sidewalk from a "bouncy house," about a half dozen scarecrows rested on the steps of city hall. Upon seeing these entities, I had two thoughts. First, I remembered from my reading of The Golden Bough
that in centuries past, effigies were commonly used in harvest rituals.

My other thought was more personal, as I reflected on the loss of my own scarecrow. For a period of about ten years, wherever I drove, I had a permanent backseat passenger. I got so used to having a scarecrow in my backseat that I would have to be constantly reminded of how unusual it was. And after a couple of years (and the scarecrow always mute and undemanding during that time), he began to blend into the background to such a degree that I would constantly forget about his mere presence until someone else would see him for the first time.

Even then, though, the scarecrow was so far from my thoughts that I would often misunderstand questions about him. When someone once asked me about my "dummy," I had no idea what they were talking about. And when I was once pulled over at night for driving with one working headlight, I was originally befuddled by the officer's statement about my "interesting passenger," as he shone a light into my backseat.

Obviously, the scarecrow served no utilitarian purpose. When asked about my motivations for having a scarecrow in my backseat, I usually answered with something along the lines of "I couldn't really think of a reason not to have a scarecrow in my backseat." Alas, the scarecrow degenerated over the years, and when it came time for me to get a new car (or a new old car as the case may be), I realized he was too infirm to make the move. I considered making a new scarecrow, but given that my family will be expanding in a few months, it doesn't seem practical to award space in my vehicle to an inanimate object, even a humanoid one. But it was not without regret that I made this determination, and I do not rule out the possibility that one day I will once again have a riding partner made out of dead grass.

But the question that I contemplated after seeing effigies not unlike the one I used to have-- was it simply a personal eccentricity that drove me to possess a scarecrow, or was I tapping into a deeper cultural archetype? And to answer my question, I believe all one has to do is drive around and look at every other porch this time of year. If scarecrows could be produced and distributed as efficiently as pumpkins are, I think that we would see them everywhere, every fall.

And this makes me wonder if a "scarecrow farm" would be a viable commercial pursuit. I can just see it now--families wonder around and pick out their favorite scarecrow, or perhaps there can be a "build your own" option. Of course, it could be combined with the pumpkin farm/haunted house motif. And then after the season, local municipalities can arrange a "scarecrow pick-up," in the same vein as a Christmas tree pick-up. Unless, that is, people choose to keep their scarecrows year round as a traveling companion.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

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12:16 AM  
Anonymous Tim said...

I wish I could have been there to see the encounter with the officer.

11:22 PM  

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