Scarecrow draws share of stares

SUNDAY SNAPSHOTS

Gardener: Young Bryant 0...

July 21, 1996|By Stephanie Shapiro

Scarecrow draws share of stares; Gardener: Young Bryant 0) Williams put up a realistic figure to keep the birds away; he's learning a lot about planting tactics.

Through the June monsoons and the withering humidity, the figure has stood tough, alarming birds and causing passers-by to do double takes. Now, if only the rats would heed her silent but steadfast plea to flee.

There is always something, even for a scarecrow. Especially an urban scarecrow who guards the flourishing plots of city gardeners in a green space wrested from junk and rot and rust at 23d and Hunter streets in lower Charles Village.

Wearing the bright red sweat shirt, jeans and tennis shoes of her creator, Bryant Williams, a 12-year-old tender of tomatoes and turnips, the scarecrow fertilizes the garden with humor and spirit.

She is also the guardian of squash, cukes, carrots, beans, eggplants, watermelons, broccoli, okra, and the occasional sunflower and rose bush.

"My grandma kept saying that everything kept eating up her plants," Bryant explains. "The birds were eating her seeds."

So he gathered some old clothes, stuffed them with plastic, added a female mannequin head and his grandma's cap, and voila! a scarecrow was born. And it doesn't just stop birds. Motorists often halt in the middle of the street or pull over to study the scarecrow, which looks uncannily human from a distance.

The scarecrow is fastened to a wooden post in the center of Bryant's plot, which cost $8 to rent for the season. Next year, he plans to lease a $16 plot, because, like every avid gardener, he finds the space available is never enough.

Why cultivate one tomato plant when you can have two? Why put in one row of beans when you can double your harvest? Some may think that one squash plant is all anybody needs, but Bryant is counting on more next summer.

Bryant lives across the street from the community garden, which sits on the site of four razed rowhouses, with his paternal grandmother, Willie Bea Alston. He's bound for seventh grade at Robert Poole Middle School in September and is a talented point guard for the Greenmount Recreation Center basketball league. His record is 22 points in a game.

Bryant's great-grandmother taught him to garden "down in the country" in North Carolina. Now, he's learning a lot about urban gardening. For example, he learned that rats love peas. Next year, Bryant won't grow peas. Rats also like lettuce, so that might be scratched.

Other gardeners, including Norman L. Haymire, a 50-year resident of Charles Village who bought the four rowhouse sites in order to maintain them as a garden, are intent on exterminating the rats. Haymire and other local activists petition the city frequently for garbage clearance and rodent eradication. They also administer their own poison.

But even as they hassle the rats, Bryant and his fellow gardeners have come together in a way they never would have without the their verdant plots. The children might never have seen a watermelon grow from seed to green blimp. And Bryant's scarecrow would never have stood sentry in a place once filled with junk and cars.

Peter Levy's new book might have been called "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Reagan-Bush Years But Were Afraid to Ask."

But that title would have been too flip for what is meant as a factual reference guide to the period when Ronald Reagan and George Bush were our presidents. Instead, Levy opted for something far more sober: "Encyclopedia of the Reagan-Bush Years."

Starting with "A" for "Abortion" and ending with "Y" for "Yuppie," Levy provides a ready compendium of information about the 12 years.

"Its fundamental use will be in libraries where students can come look at it when they have to do a paper on Iran-contra, for example, or Reaganomics," says Levy, who is a history professor at York College of Pennsylvania who lives in Towson.

In researching the book, Levy was struck by how often what captivated public attention at the time was of no lasting importance while issues that truly were momentous generated so little interest.

"The coverage of Nancy Reagan, from her wardrobe to her alleged inability to get along with Raisa Gorbachev, that was headline news at the time, but it had no impact whatsoever on the way we lived our lives," says Levy. "And it stole away from coverage of how well Reagan and Gorbachev were getting along, which mattered very much."

Similarly, Levy said, he marveled at how little attention the savings and loan crisis generated when, he believes, the country teetered on the edge of a financial catastrophe.

Levy, 40, considers himself a McGovern liberal but found himself viewing Ronald Reagan as more moderate, more pragmatic, than he had remembered. "Reagan was a lightning rod for liberals, but to be honest, some of those critiques went much too far," he says.

He found himself particularly impressed by some of Reagan's appointments, particularly his chief of staff, James Baker, and his secretary of state, George Shultz, who, Levy believes, "will go down in history as one of the best, far better than Henry Kissinger, who got much more attention."

What remains mystifying to Levy is how George Bush became such an unpopular figure.

"Here he wins the biggest military victory since World War II. There's a recession, but it's not nearly as bad as the one under Reagan. There are no scandals. And Bush doesn't even get 40 percent of the vote."

As comprehensive as Levy's encyclopedia is, one can't help wondering why it stopped at the letter "Y."

The answer is simple. "I just couldn't think of anything starting with "Z," he explains.

Pub Date: 7/21/96

Michael Ollove

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