Wednesday, November 29, 2017


If you travel on a certain road through the Central River Valley, you may come across a cornfield lying in the shadow of a traprock ridge shaped like a sleeping man. The field itself is unremarkable at first- and indeed, many thousands have passed it by without a second glance. But those who pause to look around may spot the tiny huts formed of clay tablets tucked into the ravine beside the field or nestled under the shading sumacs and pin oaks. They may also notice a shimmering in the air like a heat mirage or some of those transparent floaters that sometimes dance before one’s vision.  For those who wonder about these curiosities, here is the story.

As I’ve mentioned before, many scarecrows acquire a simple hobby to keep them occupied during their long daily watch. Some study birds. Others gaze at the stars. Many develop a fondness for counting. Gowpen is one such scarecrow. His favorite things to count are the ears of corn and the leaves on the weeds that grow between the rows. Though he is not unusual in his interest in lower mathematics, what makes Gowpen notable is the constantly changing methods he has devised for counting.

He begins his census at the earliest sprouting of the ears, counting on the twigs of the branches that form his arms just as a human would count on their fingers. Since the numbers quickly get too high for him to easily remember, he long ago took to recording them in a “ledger” made out of slabs of dried clay taken from the ditch surrounding the cornfield (when asked about the gradual enlargement of the ditch, the farmer  who owns the field chalks it all up to erosion and vows to fill it in “in a couple days” once he takes care of some more pressing matters).

 Unlike the branch-arms of many scarecrows, Gowpen’s are still alive. They continue to grow throughout the year and occasionally sprout new twigs. And, of course, the wear and tear of the year break a few twigs off. As a result, Gowpen rarely begins or ends a season with the same number of twig-fingers. Though one would think this might interfere with Gowpen’s counting, he has devised a unique system that actually utilizes his annually changing phalanges.

In years when he has ten twig fingers, he counts using the ten numbers that humans are familiar with: 0, 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9. But in a year where he has, say, only 8 fingers, he can only count eight numbers, or 0,1,2,3,4,5,6,7. When he reaches eight, he returns to the first number, 1, and adds a 0, recording  it as 10 on his clay ledger. 9 becomes 11, 10 becomes 12, 18 becomes 20, and so on.

In a year when he has but 5 twigs, he will count with only five symbols: 0,1,2,3,4, then 10 for five, 11 for six and so on. It all makes perfect sense to him, though any traveler who stops to ask about it usually departs more confused than before.

Gowpen may go through hundreds of clay tablets in a growing season as he fills them with numbers and then discards them in a midden at the edge of the field. This heap is not the end for the slabs, though.  A tribe of Pukwudgee- the little, unseen people of the forest- incorporated these slabs into their buildings years ago. Once fired in their kilns hidden deep inside a nearby glacial kettle, the tablets make strong walls and waterproof ceilings that can stand strong against the fickle elements.

And what of the strange shimmers in the air? Just as the patterns and colors on a flower attract bees, all these clay ledgers with all their numbers attract their own unique form of “pollinators” in the form of math spirits. Beings made of and embodying the underlying formulae that shape the world of mortal senses. Living “code”, to use a term employed by the designers of the Difference Engines that have sprung up recently in the biggest cities. Normally the math spirits have no actual form. They are detectable, rather, as a localized change in the foundational code. A tiny pocket where physical properties alter for a split second as these living equations insert themselves into the longer formula that creates our reality. Usually, these changes are almost invisible, but on rare occasions, they can lead to bizarre extremes of transformation. Travelers have reported tiny suns flickering into existence for the blink of an eye, flashing in colors outside the known spectrum. Others have seen the space before them fold into geometric shapes and tumble through a sea of lightning.  Many have left the field knowing they saw “something”, but unable to articulate precisely what they glimpsed, other than that it was “wrong”.

The pukwudgees, being entities from Beyond the Door themselves, have adapted to and even welcome the math spirits into their communities. The living equations are treated as honored ancestors and invited to sit amongst the coals of the hearth fire or perch among the rafters.  Whether the spirits are even aware of the honors being paid them is unknown.

Gowpen himself seems entirely oblivious to the little people using his discarded ledgers and to the math spirits flitting all about the cornfield.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Real Life Scarecrows

Just a quick post today.

With scarecrows on my mind a lot lately, I knew I just had to build some real-life ones for Halloween this year. My son enthusiastically seconded the idea and made sure I followed through by reminding me pretty much every day.

My son posing with Bauer. And also a random witch's arm prop from Spirit Halloween

Our first scarecrow, Bauer, was made out of old clothes from the Good Will store fitted over a wooden cross-frame, which you can partially see behind his legs. The arms are dead spruce branches from my backyard and the skull is a plastic prop tied on with rough hemp rope.

Bauer after losing his hat on a particularly windy day.  Decorative mummified cat for scale.
In this second picture you can see the base I used to keep the scarecrow from falling over. Initially I tried to simply drive the bottom of the cross-frame into the ground, but the soil is all hard-packed clay. So I had to stand him up with a wooden base instead.

The second scarecrow.
For our second scarecrow, Cervus, I wanted an even more cobbled-together look. His body is made entirely of dead tree branches held together with zip-ties (the rope wasn't secure enough and kept falling off). The covering is a sheet of black scrap fabric from an old art project. While I would have loved to have used a real deer skull for the head, I couldn't find one on such short notice. So instead I used a plastic replica.

Cervus and Bauer greeting the Track Club (off-screen right) from the local high school.

Cervus' body held together with zip-ties. Not the most stable structure. He fell over pretty much every day. 

Now that I've figured out the basics of scarecrow-making I plan to add more next year. Maybe a whole "Night Parade" of them marching across the yard. Stay tuned.  

Thursday, October 12, 2017


Final drawing

In cities all over the world you’ll often find at least one back alley that has walls completely plastered with blobs of hardened chewing gum. These “gum walls” seem to spring up spontaneously like a multi-hued fungus as more and more people add their expended mastications to the spreading horde. These curious works of collective urban artwork are sometimes highlighted with extra leavings, such as coins or seeds stuck into the sticky gum. It is from these little donations that tonight’s scarecrow, Chicle, arose.

Chicle’s (pronounced “Chee-klay”, not “Chick-el”) genesis came from two pumpkin seeds impressed into the sticky dots of a gum wall deep within the labyrinth of the city’s alleyways. It’s not clear exactly what made the seeds sprout and grow. Perhaps there was enough grime and dirt built up on the wall to provide rudimentary soil. Perhaps it was the Autumnal Powers themselves- those strange forces that breathe life into all scarecrows- nourishing and invigorating the seeds on strange dusts brought in by the chill fall winds.

The original doodle, made for my son on a particularly slow day at work.

Whatever the cause may have been, the pumpkin seeds began to grow and  sink their roots wherever they could find purchase in the cracked mortar of the brick wall or in the moist, grimy spaces beneath the gum dots. Eventually they reached the stagnant, grease-slicked puddles and miniature dunes of blown dust at the base of the wall. The plants were small and wizened, but clung tenaciously to life. Soon the city vermin- rats, roaches, fruit flies, pseudoscorpions and others- brought other nourishments to the gourds in the form of food scraps, decaying leaves, grease scrapped from discarded food boxes, and even their own droppings. Like many things about Chicle’s existence, the precise reason for this unexpected charity is not known, though it is thought to have been a primitive kind of worship. Perhaps the rats and roaches are more attuned to the presence of the Unseen world than humans realize.

 As the pumpkins grew, the vermin also took their own small rewards, nibbling away bits of flesh from the gourds for sustenance. When the pumpkin that would become Chicle’s head was ripe, the rats gnawed eye-holes into it and devoured the fibrous interior mush to create a hollow for the scarecrow’s spirit to reside.

When the time was right, the rats also brought together bits of trash to form the scarecrow’s body. Old, rusty pipes and scrap lumber became his arms while scraggly urban weeds became his fingers, and the pumpkins’ own dried vines twisted together to form legs. The Autumnal Powers even used the diluted essences within the gum of the wall to give Chicle a ruff of leaves and fruits from the Manilkara- the Central American tree from which the scarecrow’s namesake resin is drawn to create chewing gum.

Chicle now guards the gum wall, though from what exactly is, once again, not known. Patient observers have seen him cultivating more dwarf pumpkins from the seeds the rats extracted from his head. Is he raising an army to defend against some unknown foe? Chicle and his vermin companions do seem to display an odd fear and aversion to the crescent moon and will go into hiding behind the dumpsters and trash bags of the alleyway whenever the lunar orb is in that phase. Recently coins have begun appearing in the gum alley that have been bitten into sickle shapes by teeth much harder than an ordinary rodent's. Chicle displays a distinct fear of these tokens and will pace in agitation until the coin is removed by one of his companions.

If you're curious, you can read more about gum walls here.

Monday, September 18, 2017


Redone drawing

Original doodle
The autumnal forces that give scarecrows life infuse every piece of their body. So much so that even sloughed-off scraps-- bits of burlap, rotten straw, shriveled gourds, and more- possess their own living essence. These remnants often form miniature bodies for themselves from whatever further fragments they can gather, creating tiny creatures called winnowings.

Like their larger cousins, each winnowing is unique. Unlike scarecrows, however, these smaller creatures usually have no desire or compulsion to guard a field and will often wander off to find their own purpose. Winnowings often gather together in small groups for companionship. There are even rumors of entire cities of these beings hidden in the remote places of the world.

Here is just one example of these groups.  From left to right, the winnowings are:

Routinier- His body is formed from an old wooden skeleton toy with dry roots for feet and neck, an old gourd for head, and a thin fabric strip from an old scarf for arms. Routinier has a fondness for sneaking up to hide under open window  to listen to the tunes played on old gramophones and these new radio receivers that are becoming so popular. He often sways his scarf-arms to the music, practicing for the day when he can make his own music, once he figures out just what produces those sounds he loves so much.  

Inglenook-  A couple of napkins stuffed with old straw, Inglenook was once a teru teru bozu (a small rural Japanese charm to bring good weather). He hung from the rafters for a few months before being blown under the porch in a fierce storm. Carried deeper under the house by wind and curious rodents, he eventually settled into a snug corner just under the big pot-bellied stove in the kitchen, a spot that remained warm even in the coldest winters. The house was abandoned and torn down decades ago, and now Inglenook wanders with his companions to find a new home. Preferably with some place warm and snug to sleep.

Farceuse- Formed from a small pumpkin that was forgotten in the patch after the larger gourds were harvested. She possesses a strong gift for acting and imitating voices thanks to months of listening to the workers at the farm. Farceuse often puts on short comical plays for the enjoyment of her companions, and any other fellow travelers they might be spending the night with.

Melorrhea- Another runt pumpkin with the added mobility of twig arms and legs and a few scraps of cloth that she sewed into a dress. She is a lover of music like Routinier. But where he wishes to conduct, Melorrhea is far more interested in composition. One might even say to an excessive degree. Several of her pieces, if played in full, last over six hours. She writes her compositions on old scraps of cloth, bits of wood, slips of paper, anything she can find. Melorrhea does not save her compositions, preferring to leave them wherever the group stops for the night as a little “gift” for the fans she is sure she will one day have.  This is not a problem as Melorrhea possesses an eidetic memory and can write down the entirety of her song at will.

Sunday, September 3, 2017



Original sketch

Every big city has its rundown, abandoned areas. Places where the majority of the buildings lie vacant and hollow, home to only to squatters. If the land remains empty long enough nature will begin to retake it. Forgotten lawns will grow into savannah. Concrete will burst and crumble under the tenacious roots of tough, hardy trees like red cedars, honey locusts, sumac and trees-of-heaven. Wildlife will move in. First the ubiquitous coyotes and raccoons, then deer and sometimes even bears will return to reclaim the places that humanity temporarily thought to control.

Usually these “urban prairies” are caused by natural succession. But in the center of one of the biggest cities on the Northeast coast there is a small square of grassland in the middle of prime downtown real estate that no developer will dare touch. For the land is haunted.

Large vehicles left overnight on the site will be completely dismantled by morning. Even monstrous bulldozers and earth-movers do not survive the night intact. The haunted prairie is free of birds and other animals and any human who lingers too long within it begins to feel a sense of dread that slowly grows into an almost animalistic panic. A feeling that immediately disappears as soon as the afflicted steps onto the cracked sidewalk that rims the lot.

There is one mark of Man in this ominous field, though. In the center, almost totally hidden by the tall grass, stands a bucket-headed scarecrow.  Everyone naturally attributes the haunting to her, though no one has ever actually seen her move. Curiously, despite the constant exposure to the elements, her over-sized sweater, checkered pants and pork pie hat do not rot away. From time to time, it even seems that they are replaced with a new, but identical set.

There are a few people who do know the true story behind the strange happenings. It is, of course, the scarecrow’s doing, because that is how these urban legends work. They even know the name given to the scarecrow by her creator: Quockerwodger. The knowledgeable  know that she was created over a hundred years ago to guard a farmer’s field that was eventually swallowed up by the amoebic expansion of the city. Though her charge is long gone, Quockerwodger still protects the land from those she believes to be thieves both human and animal. Even the knowledgeable, though, do not know what became of the farmer who created her. Some do suspect that he is somehow responsible for her occasional gifts of fresh vestments. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Introduction and the first scarecrow: Haspenald

Last year my son was finally old enough (four, to be exact) to really started enjoying Halloween almost as much as I do. As part of our spooky autumn festivities, I took him to a bunch of farms and orchards. Among all the corn mazes, pumpkin patches and hay rides, by far his favorite things were the scarecrows.

Since then he’s pretty much been on a non-stop scarecrow kick. Sure it fades from time to time as his obsession turns towards mummies, skeletons or pirates (naturally). But scarecrows are always there in the background.

A few months ago I started doodling scarecrows for him during slow periods at my job. As I drew, I made up little stories for each scarecrow, building up a pretty detailed lore.  Eventually I decided to develop a book. Two books actually. One will be a picture book for my son at his current age (also for my daughter who is herself a voracious book lover even at only one and a half years). The other will be a sort of “field guide” in the vein of Brian Froud’s Goblin and Fairy books, made for when my kids both get a little older.

I thought I’d share some of my scarecrow drawings with you guys, along with the background stories I created for them. I’ll be posting the original doodles, usually made on notebook paper or the backs of my daily schedules, along with more refined redraws.

The original sketch

The redraw


As a consequence of their habit of standing in one place in the field all day, many scarecrows develop an almost obsessive interest in studying a particular thing in their local environment. Some will learn the calls of every bird, insect and animal that wanders through near.  Some will catalog the size, shape and color of every single  rock in their field down to the smallest pebble. Some will identify and name every single spider they can find. And so on.

Haspenald’s obsession is the night sky. As the sun goes down, one can always find him in the middle of his cornfield gazing up at the stars. He has memorized the placement and  movement of hundreds of them. He knows the seasons of meteor showers and can even recognize the difference between planets and stars. Though he has never read a book on astronomy- and indeed, cannot read at all- he has learned a great deal about the nature of stars and planets from the Traveler Crows that visit his field. More on them later.