• My thanks to three anonymous referees for their helpful appraisals of an earlier draft of this work. For bookshelf prompts, digital prods and regional pointers: William Hasty, Joe Gerlach, Maggie Bolton, Aire Wishart, Helen Macdonald, Mark Cocker, David Featherstone, Paul Hodge and Drew Mulholland. This essay benefitted from the contributions of unusually diverse audiences at Helpston Parish Church, the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh and the Excursions Symposium, University of Glasgow.


A long-form essay, arranged in a sequence of eight segments, in which I travel the countryside in search of a missing person: the scarecrow. Different aspects of the centuries-old practice of scarecrow making and bird scaring are described. Traditionally constructed as a likeness of the human form and erected in newly sown fields as a visual method for warding off feeding birds, the existence of this striking farmland contraption is variously reported: as having all but vanished and yet of making unexpected reappearances; as materially functional and complexly meaningful; as a figure summoned up by cultural memory and personal recollection; and as a focus for mixed feelings of loss, nostalgia, estrangement, and community. A version of “geographical portraiture” accumulates, in which a single, scenic landmark stands as the essay's central fascination and simultaneously operates as a cipher for stories old and new, of agricultural society, country life, landscape politics, and rural values.