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  • Writer's pictureBetty Girardeau

What Do You Know About Scarecrows?

We all know about the scarecrow in the "Wizard of Oz," and we have probably seen them many times in gardens, too. And, of course, the reason to have one makes perfect sense and doesn't need explaining either. But what do you REALLY know about scarecrows? It could surprise you. Some of it did me. We know from history that when people began to congregate in groups and form communities that adopted more of an agrarian rather than hunting style of living, that they would need to come up with something they could put in their fields to protect those all-important crops. Recorded history tells us that the Egyptians created the first non-humanoid ones, erecting wooden frames in their fields, which they covered with nets Then they hid in the fields, scared the quail into the nets and took them home to eat for dinner, thus creating a "win-win" for immediate and later gratification. Greek farmers in 2,500 B.C. carved wooden scarecrows to look like Priapus, the son of the god Dionysus and the goddess Aphrodite, who supposedly was ugly enough to scare birds away from the vineyards and ensure good harvests. And the Romans copied the Greek custom, sharing the worth of the scarecrow as they marched across Europe. Scarecrows were also common in Asia. Japanese farmers made scarecrows to protect their rice fields. They made scarecrows called kakashis, shaped like people. They dressed the kakashis in a raincoat and a round straw hat and often added bows and arrows to make them look more threatening. In Medieval Britain this idea was "humanized" by making young boys and girls run through the fields waving their arms, becoming "bird scarers." Even in the New World, some native tribes moved were known to move their huts into the corn fields to protect them from the ravages of marauding birds. And Zuni children had contests to see who could create the scariest scarecrow. Today scarecrows still serve a purpose, at least some of the gardeners in my community think so. They built this one to live in their field. I must admit it doesn't look like it scared too much away. But it is pretty cute. These days these creations have spawned all kinds of festivals, especially in Britain, where they abound. In fact, the largest gathering of scarecrows in one location is 3,812 and was achieved by National Forest Adventure Farm in Burton-upon-Trent, Staffordshire, UK, on 7 August 2014. Regardless of how good a job these creations do in keeping away birds from our crops, the world seems to place scarecrows pretty highly, maybe because they are just so much fun and give us a reason to celebrate the harvest.

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