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URBAN LEGENDS, FACTS, AND THOUGHTS ABOUT FARM COUNTRY
by Phantomimic All rights reserved © RAGG
I have been fortunate that my wife comes from a farming family and that many of her relatives are still in the farm business. As a result of this over the years I have been able to do some rather interesting things that as someone from the city I would have otherwise not done. I have gone ice fishing in sub-zero weather, drinking homemade liquor to keep warm. I have gone fishing in the summer while floating downriver in a canoe drinking beer. I have been to state fairs and seen up close huge prize winning specimens of hogs and cattle as well as square dancing tractors, and I have played cow pie bingo. I was invited to go hunting but could not bring myself to heed the 3 AM wake up call. However, I did participate in the butchering of a deer and in the making of the so called "Bambi burgers". I've ridden in combines, gotten lost in cornfields with 6 foot tall plants, and hung out at small town bars, shooting pool or playing euchre, and rooting for the local football team. I have seen demolition derbies, monster trucks, and yard butts, and I have sailed on the mighty Mississippi River in a paddleboat. But visiting the countryside is a unique experience for me not only because I can relax from my hectic city life and do wonderful fun stuff but also because I get to talk to farmers and their families and discover the depth of my ignorance about life in the country. Part of this ignorance has to do with the basic facts about some of the food we eat. For example I like pickles but not cucumbers and I always thought they were from two different plants (they are not), I also thought mayonnaise was a milk product (it's basically olive oil and eggs) and I believed that 1% milk was milk which had only 1% of the fat that regular milk has (regular milk is 4% fat, therefore 1% milk has 25% of the fat of regular milk). These misconceptions and others are not uncommon. Over the course of little more than a century, the United States
has gone from being a country where about 40% of the population was directly involved in farming or ranching to only 2% today. Of course most people know certain basic things such as that milk comes from cows, eggs from chickens, and bacon from pigs, but if you go into further detail many will start shooting blanks. However, most farmers are kind folk who will politely avoid rolling their eyes or laughing at you when it is obvious that you don't know something and they will patiently explain the intricacies of planting crops, milking cows or raising pigs. However the how and why of foodstuffs is just one aspect of our ignorance of the ways of the countryside. Over the years this ignorance has given rise to a blend of fact and fiction generating a series of stories about life in the country. In this article we will examine 3 such stories in a tour that will take us from the humorous to the thoughtful, if you have read this far you are welcomed to come along.
Most farmers will just smile and shake their heads or laugh if you ask them about cow tipping, only to reluctantly add later that they know someone who claims they know someone who once did it. Ironically, cow tipping seems to have originated in the countryside when naive city folks were asked by mischievous farmers to try to achieve something that is impossible. In that aspect cow tipping is no different from "hunting for snipes", in other words, a wild goose chase. But what is cow tipping? The quintessential cow tipping deed normally starts when a group of inebriated young men decide to head for the countryside at night and locate a field with cows. As cows supposedly sleep standing up, the men proceed to sneak up on the unsuspecting bovine and then rush it from one side pushing the animal and making it fall or tip on its side. The urban/country lore is awash with cow tipping stories which have now permeated the internet and other media. For example there is a (fake) cow tipping scene in the movie "Heathers" and You-Tube features several videos that deal with alleged cow tipping or near cow tipping events. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, all this is bunk. As any farmer will tell you cows do not sleep standing up and they are animals that have a keen sense of sight and smell. If you try to approach a cow it will simply move away from you. Another issue is that cows are pretty massive animals. Some physics calculations indicate that if a cow were to stand still you would require the force of two people to tip it and if the cow were to react quickly to your pushing as it most certainly would, you would need five people to tip
the cow over. Cow tipping could even be dangerous if a cow decided to fight back or if the would-be cow tippers in their drunken daze mistook a bull for a cow. But the most important question is: Why tip a cow? I guess that hearing the "thud" that a large bovine body would make against the ground must be something viscerally appealing to the alcohol addled mind. Or maybe the whole concept is just so funny that it seems a worthwhile pursuit instilling some young people with a sense of purpose otherwise lacking in their lives. Whatever the reason, cow tipping is a myth. As of this date not a single cow tipping event has ever been convincingly documented.
Peeing on Electric Fences
Now we come to a sensitive topic and not just for the obvious reasons. Most people know that if you touch an electric fence you will get a shock. So the question arises, will you also get a shock...err..."there" if you pee on said fence? A few city folk and some from the country find the answer to this question by accident while relieving themselves next to a fence which they did not know was electrified. Of course these are just accidents, what we are interested in is in those brave souls who actually do this on purpose. Peeing on electric fences is attempted mostly by young men or boys. I say young men or boys and not young women or girls, either because males have a greater ease, due to their "physiological architecture", to direct a stream of urine in whichever way they want, or because they are more adventurous and daring, or just because young women or girls at this age are already not stupid. Be it as it may the answer to the question is "Yes". If you pee on an electric fence, as long as the fluid stream is unbroken, you will get shocked. Not only are there several YouTube videos documenting this fact, but the issue was also examined in episode 14 of the TV series "Myth busters" and was found to be true. Interestingly most of the men you talk to who live on or have visited farm country will deny ever peeing on electric fences. For many it is a topic that makes them uncomfortable. But this is the wrong way to go about it. What you have to do is round up a group of them at a bar, buy them several rounds of beer, get them talking about their adventures while they were kids, and
then bring up the issue. Immediately someone will confess to having done it, or rat on one of their buddies, or remember someone who did it. So why is it that as kids some of us risk a shock to that most vulnerable part of our being? What draws us to that electrified wire out in the field? Is it because we can? Is it a rite of passage, a stepping stone of sorts to manhood (or what would be left of it after the deed)? Why do we risk our lives as men climbing mountains, or boating rapids, or flying to the moon, and our germlines as kids peeing on electric fences? The answer I guess is the same one given over the centuries by adventurers, explorers, and pathfinders, "because it's there".
Hearing the Corn Grow
The last story is not as well known as the others and many would label it a "farming legend". The idea is that under the right conditions corn can grow very fast, up to 4 or more inches per day, and when it does so it makes a particular sound. Thus you can "hear" the corn grow. I have asked a few farmers who have raised corn all their lives about this and none of them have ever heard any distinctive sound coming from their cornfields. Many people claim that the alleged sound of corn growing is nothing more than the rustling of leaves or ears against one another as a result of small gusts of wind that make the corn stalks sway. However I did get to meet one particular farmer who heard his corn grow, in fact, he was one of my wife's relatives. Let me tell you a bit of his story and in the process inject some philosophy into the narrative. I will start with a small digression. Let me ask you some questions. How much of the process that leads us to being happy has to do with being content? How many of us that could be content are indeed content? How many of us that could be truly happy are indeed happy? And most importantly, do we want to be content and happy? I ask these questions because in our hectic societies dissatisfaction seems to be considered the engine of social and personal progress. No sooner do we attain a goal than we are looking for the next challenge. Failure generates frustration and frustration motivates us to try harder. People with no ambitions and a desire to make them come true are looked upon as complacent. The mantra is "be all you can be", push yourself to the limit and use your talents to improve
yourself; anything less is mediocrity. All this is fine motivational talk, but, will we achieve true happiness this way? The reason I ask these questions is that this particular farmer I knew was a truly happy person. He was the most content man I have ever met and he led a long and joyful life. He plowed the land, harvested his crops, loved his wife and together they raised their children. And that was really all he wanted out of life except for one particular thrill that he would look forward to. When the right season of the year came along he would come in from working on the farm, have dinner with his family, and then sit on the porch with his children, and hear the corn grow. When he first told me about this I frowned and asked him what he meant by this. He explained to me that when corn plants grow at an accelerated rate, the central growing region at the tip of the cornstalk (the growing point) gets too big for the ring of slower growing plant material around it. As a result of this pressure buildup the ring around the growing point eventually breaks making a faint popping sound. He told me that this did not happen in every cornfield, the conditions including the air temperature, the makeup of the soil, and humidity have to be just right, but he was blessed in that his farm was located in such a place where this happened often enough. So there you have it. Can you hear the corn grow? I can't tell you with hard evidence that this is the case because I have only met one person out of about a dozen who reported hearing it. But perhaps the veracity of this story is not as important as its meaning.
As I write this I am boxed in my city house with locks on the doors surrounded by crystal, asphalt and cement. But when I imagine this farmer relative sitting in his porch with his family in the still quiet of the night listening to the chorus of tens of thousands of plants reaching up to the sky, I can't help but to think I am missing something. Now don't get me wrong, my life has not been bad, I have had many happy moments. But over the years all the worries and anxiety of my frenzied city life have taken a toll on my sanity and my health. It seems there are always projects to be done, deadlines to be met, bills to be paid and more and more money needing to be earned just to keep up. Perhaps I need a change, maybe a less demanding job in the country and a house close to some cornfields.
That way I too will get a chance to hear the corn grow.
The picture of a Corn Field in Ohio is an Image for public use under creative commons license by Graylight at http://www.flickr.com/photos/graylight/240543285/ Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
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