The Scarecrow

Ken Poyner

I drive the back roads. No one places a scarecrow on a major highway. It is the small, backyard gardens that have all the scarecrows. Of course, small is relative. Most of these gardens lie in the nature of one hundred yards by fifty, and in some manual labor is supplanted regularly by machinery, even if it is only hand driven machinery rented for only the first week of the season. More than a stray meal is expected out of such land. These family gardens are warranted to make a few meals all by themselves, and supplement nearly every meal with something fresh, canned, or pickled.

Too many people tie pie tins to lines in the yard, expecting the wind to kick up enough clatter to keep the birds at bay. Some add spangles and whirligigs and strips of crosscut cloth. I guess it fools some birds. But it leaves only more for the dining birds that see through this ruse. 

And I’ve seen some remarkable scarecrows. Sure, some people put no effort into it. They put a bag on a stick, cross tie a twig that will not last beyond a couple of dedicated rains, run one of the children’s old school shirts through and through, and let the confabulation twist lonely in the wind. Some try to get away without the shirt, or the crossing stick, or paint a face on a board.

I’ve seen others, though, that you can almost strike up a conversation with. With painted round faces, and straw hats, and a polished pair of shoes. A shirt that looks like it came out of the wash just hours earlier, with the starch still stiff and singing in clothing folds. At times, scarecrows like these will be bent forward, man height, leaning as though a proper farmer to hoe out the vixen weed threatening his summer corn. At times, they will seem to be leering, daring the fowl.

I came across one dressed out as a woman in shorts. The bosom high and erect, the legs stolen from a mannequin, I began a manly reaction before I got close enough to notice the stuffing at the edges, her mouth forever resigned to its unchanging expression.

No matter. I shoot them all. I’ll park at the side of the road just ahead of where I want to be, slip down along the high grass by the fence or along the drainage ditch, edge up to where I can slink through the length of the garden. I’ll poke my shotgun through the hanging produce, take center aim, and quietly squeeze off an explosion that tears the monster into a hundred air burdening pieces. How I love that ball of ballistic ejecta, almost like a mushroom cloud, with bits and pieces of straw or padding or shreds of flannel shirt pelting down in the ordered growth, settling into the rows; and the lighter stuff drifting, drifting out over the rest of the now empty garden, across the border with the back yard proper, perhaps into the netting of the screened porch.

I don’t stay long. The family is usually out onto that porch or out of the backdoor within minutes. Places with gardens large enough to support a scarecrow spread their noises thinly, and peppering anything with a shotgun at close range will draw a small crowd of the nearly located. Not a few farmer’s wives, and farmers themselves, have found themselves hollering at my backside as I leap over rows and hightail it straight for the woods or the road, making an indirect route to first, get away, but then get back to the car unnoticed.

The first ten scarecrows were the worst. I had to learn how to find them, what areas most likely would have a good crop of seasoned scarecrows: the kind worth shooting. Then, I had to experiment with distance and gauge and choke and get the right stance for an effective shotgun blast. I learned to adjust for the apparent construction material of the scarecrow, the interference of growth nearby: what to do with wooden supports, what to do with scrap metal tubing; what to do when the garden was planted right up to the scarecrow’s arm pits, or instead grew around him with a respectable buffer of wickedly wild weed.

More than once at the beginning did I linger long enough to stare a garden owner flat in the face, to be seen fully before I turned to run. A couple gave chase, and I learned that they know the bends and twists of their land far better than I, so I had better for the future get a good head start on my exit. You can only learn these things in the field, and then you figure out how to keep yourself in a straight line between hitting the mark and successfully getting away.

It is more than seventy-five now. Different types, different races, different sexes.  One was about eight feet tall when I nailed him. Another was just a midget, a scarecrow I nearly missed and would have missed maybe another two weeks into the season. I don’t play favorites. There was one dressed in a business suit; most are covered in last year’s jeans and a shirt that came as an unfortunate holiday gift to someone in the garden’s tending family. Many look like they just finished chatting up bored wives at the trailer park, a cocky lean against easy pickings. Some seem happy where they are at, and others look like a change of venue would do them unceasing good. One looked perpetually surprised, like my coming had been foretold to him, and his face had long ago frozen in the act of astonishment. The weary looking ones bedazzle me.

Sometimes the birds lead me in. They will circle a good scarecrow. If something scares them off, they will linger at the edge of that fear, looking into the eye of what keeps them hungry. I look for the black congress just ten or twelve feet into sky, or gathered on an open bit of grassland beside the mathematically enciphered cultivation. There is a good scarecrow about when I see those gatherings. He may be buried deep in the undergrowth of the garden, or pushed up against one end, but he or she or they are there.

One day, I know the time I can finally be satisfied with all I have accomplished will come. One day, probably a dreary one with the hind teeth of the cold trying to hook about my underwear and the sky sucking in its face to pout of ready rain, I’ll be sneaking through a row of squash, using perhaps two stands of corn as cover, my prey scarecrow spotted, fixed just a few yards off, almost within range. I will crouch down and slowly edge the business end of my shotgun through the corn, ever so slowly beginning to shoulder the brash gun’s butt. There will be just a crackle, and the last of the day’s listing light will hit the barrel from just the right angle and, whump, that scarecrow will come off his stand and hit the ground running. Boy, he will show he has heard of me! He will be off like the sound of murdering crows, feet barely touching the ground and stray pieces of him not properly stuffed into him leaking out between the buttons of his shirt. There will be little more than elbows and a shuddering rear-end, the trademark of escape.

I know I will simply stand there in awe, thinking finally this is the one that got away. Finally, one got away. He, she got away.

I live for that day. I can taste it like straw lovingly drawn across my predator’s tongue; smell it like the sexual smoke of gunfire mixing with the atomized remains of lesser scarecrows. That wonderful day I can feel even now, working its will in my testicles, waiting to leave its singing wet spot on my tense trousers. I am letting sacred air out through the holly wreath round of my ripped-bark lips even now: O how lovely in freedom are the birds!

Author Portrait

Ken Poyner lives in the lower right-hand corner of Virginia, with his power-lifter wife and a number of house animals.  His 2013 e-book, “Constant Animals,” unruly fictions, is available at all the usual e-book sites; buy it, and feel good about saving jobs in the brewing industry. Recent work is out in CoriumAnalog Science Fiction, Spittoon, Poet Lore, Mobius and many other places. He webs at www.kpoyner.com, where you can find links to purchase his book, more work, and stunning pictures of his wife lifting.

View the website of Ken Poyner