Garden Gnome In autumnWe have critical issues facing us as a people, facing all of us as a culture and a society, not to mention facing the planet. But nobody seems to be talking about a cataclysmic societal shift that has rocked the USA and other countries over the past 10-15 years, and has forever changed the way we live. I’m talking about the bottom dropping out of the perception of lawn gnomes. For all intents and purposes, the genre has become a parody of itself. It’s over. The New York Times – believe them at your own risk – says sales in the United States are down some 70% over the past decade. The Daily Mail, a British rag, says sales in the one nation that has historically loved its garden gnomes are down some 40% during the same time frame. Gnome ownership (here at Taylor Mason Headquarters we call it “Gnomership”) is swiftly dwindling, down from 5 million gardeners to half that. In short, we have a crisis. (Short, of course, being the operative word.) “It’s really nothing more than snootiness.” That quote, coming from a 3-foot Appalachian gnome named Heinzelwiginchen (“Call me Zelwig!”), is the mantra of many lawn-and-garden gnomes found in the backyards of rural and suburban homes throughout Connecticut, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, West Virginia and parts of Kentucky. “Garden gnomes once ruled the yard, but now we mostly get stolen and/or sold into slavery at garage sales.” We spoke to the diminutive gnome in the backyard he works behind a two-story Victorian in Forget-Me-Not, Kentucky. He had a loud voice, seemingly unworried that neighbors or collectors might hear. “Have you watched the gardening channel on cable? Have you seen Home & Garden Magazine – both the hard copy and the online version? All the TV shows, all the internet gardening sites, everything in the media regarding plants and flowers and gardens have been using gnomes for years!” I could only nod. “We’ve been humiliated, insulted and cartoon’d for years. And now we’re being wiped off the face of the earth.” He had worked himself up into a tizzy and we were getting ready to leave when he said something so controversial, so contentious, so disreputable that we stopped in our tracks and spun our heads to look at him. “This is gnomicide!” Zelwig ticked off the attributes and benefits that come with gnomership: who protects humans from giant squirrels? The gnome. Who keeps the owls in line? The gnome. Who stops the chipmunk from taking over the world? Duh. As if we didn’t know. Heinzelwiginchen is a member of the International Order of Gnomes, known to most of us as “Gnomes-Right-Under-Most-People’s-Yards,” or G.R.U.M.P.Y. for short, and the group took part in the G-20 talks in Pittsburgh last week with other world leaders (the “G,” obviously, stands for “Gnomes”). As you are no doubt aware, the Travelocity Gnome is a celebrity and probably the most-recognizable gnome in history. Our insider had some thoughts on that as well. “He’s doing what he can,” said Zelig, feeding a large gray squirrel and drinking some sort of elixir that seemed to embolden while at the same time soften the acerbic little elf, “and if people come to see gnomes as friendly travelers and want to take us on trips to Hawaii? Hey! I’m all for it!” At this point he tripped – fell might be a more apt description – but managed not to spill whatever was in the giant stein that he grasped in his tiny little hand. He would probably still be ranting, but a golden retriever flounced into the yard, saw Zelwig and loudly woofed. “Oh no!” cried the little sprite, “Go away! Go away! The last time I saw that dog it thought I was a fire hydrant!”