Oh My! ….Who’s afraid of the strawman?
As you drive around Vermont this fall admiring how Mother Nature has turned our Green Mountains into a colorful collage of fiery reds, oranges, and yellows, you’ll also notice another seasonal favorite—scarecrows. Perched on porches, watching over gardens, and leisurely lounging on wagons decorated with pumpkins and cornstalks, these straw men and women are longstanding ambassadors of the season. Their quirky smiling faces, floppy hats, and patched overalls greet leaf peepers and locals alike as they travel the state enjoying the foliage.
However, scarecrows weren’t always so welcoming or even made of straw. In fact, they were originally used by farmers to protect their crops from predators and to capture birds for food. The earliest versions date back to the ancient Egyptians, where farmers placed wooden frames covered with nets in wheat fields. Once in place, the farmers would hide in the fields and scare the quail into the nets. Once captured the farmers and their families enjoyed a tasty quail feast! The Greeks took a different approach by carving wooden statues that resembled Priapus, a minor god of fertility, gardens, and livestock to protect the grapes in their vineyards from the birds. He was so ugly the birds wouldn’t dare come near the vineyards!
It wasn’t until the 1800s when German immigrants brought the “bootzamon” or bogeyman with them that the scarecrow we’re familiar with today first appeared in the United States. Traditionally made of straw and dressed in old clothes with a painted gourd for a head, the bootzamon were placed in fields and propped up with a pole to frighten the crows and other birds away.
Though times have changed, scarecrows continue to be a fixture in rural places like Vermont. Only instead of just guarding crops, they are also harvesting smiles and are a welcome sight, unless of course, you’re a crow.
The Orton Family,
Gardner, Cabot, Eliot, Lyman