THE MAD COW LETTERBOX
Number of boxes: 1
Time estimate: 1 hour
Nearest City: Waukesha
Terrain: This is an easy hike on groomed trails with minimal bushwacking.
Season: The trails are reserved for cross-country skiers if snow covered.
Notes: Please bring a black marker or black ink pad for stamping.
Farmer Minooka was very worried. His prize Holstein milk cow was missing! Bessie hadn’t been seen since the morning milking. That had been over 10 hours ago. In a state of panic, Farmer Minooka called all his farmhands into the barn. There, below the (WINDOW NUMBER: ______) – pie-shape-panes of the hay-loft window, he told them exactly what had to be done.
“Now, listen up y’all. Bessie never runs away – she’s always with the herd! I can’t imagine my sweet Bessie alone out there on the green grass. We have to find her. If she eats too much, she’s sure to bloat! Imagine Bessie on her side, unable to digest her gourmet meal. Meal! Oh No! That’s why she’s gone. I forgot to give her hay during the milking. She’s probably pretty MAD at me.”
A chuckle went up from one farmhand that had only been with the farm for two short weeks. Everyone called him Bob, but his real name was Stuart. Bob just seemed to fit him better. Farmer Minooka bellowed, “What are you laughing at?” Bob was Texan, but he drawled with a definite northern Wisconsin dialect, “Mad Cow – you know, like bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Mad Cow disease – your cow is mad. She probably drank some bad water at a bubbler…” he trailed off into deep, teary guffaws.
“You’re fired!” roared Farmer Minooka. "Get on your horse and head outta here. The rest of you lot circle around. Ok. Tim, you check for Bessie on the back forty acres. Debbie and Jon, you take the draw down through the meadow. Dick and Ann, you check over by the fishin pond. Heidi and Russ, you head down to the west 10. John and Sara, try to find her up along the ridge. Rene and Ron, you search over in the greengrass. Leslie, you, Deb, and the Christmas Elves should check pasture twelve. I’ll stay here and console myself over a big glass of milk.”
And that was all he said. He simply walked away mumbling to himself about his lack of attention to detail, the fact that his wife was always telling him that he’d slip up some day and make a cow angry, the fact that he didn’t know the Christmas Elves’ real names, and the fact that all lucky leprechauns liked whisky served hot in a tall glass with cloved-lemon.
“I wonder if Bessie’s made it all the way to Cudahy,” Dick said to the group.
“Ha,” Heidi chortled, “Cuuuuuuud-ahy.”
They all laughed, wished each other luck, and headed out on their assignments. It was sure to be a long day. The farm was 543 acres and some of them might have to walk 3 or 4 miles. Mrs. Minooka handed out trail mix and Gatorade to each farm hand as they left the barn. She was such a nice lady. All of them thought about Bessie. Just what kind of journey had she been on that day?
(Blast back in time)
Bessie was having a rough day. In fact, she felt quite mooooo-dy. The farmer had forgotten to feed her. “Moooooooooooooo!” she called out. She listened for the footsteps that would signal the arrival of her hayfork full of alfalfa. “Moooooooooooo – I’m starving!” she tried again. Silence. She was locked up in a stall and no one heard her cries for food. She escaped by working her horn into the side of a worn out post in her stall. By shaking her head from side to side, the horn acted like a saw! She was out in no time – a little dizzy, but with not a scratch on her body. She moseyed on down the ramp of the barn, swished the flies off her back with her tail, and turned onto a paved road heading toward the setting sun. She munched on grass along the way, and stopped at a red sign. She remembered the farmer teaching his son about these signs during a milking a few years back. The farmer had said that you should come to a complete halt and look both ways before proceeding. The son was a weird character. The farmer had named him Bazooka.
Bazooka Minooka. He was a shocking seven feet and one inch tall, a star basketball player, and had run off with his girlfriend Daisy Mae as soon as they both turned 18. He and Daisy Mae had bought a house in Wauwatosa and were living quite happily. She was a creative writer with a good job at the Wisconsin Lutheran College. He was working just outside Wauwatosa at Miller Park. Yes, Bessie remembered that conversation about the red signs. So, before crossing the road, she looked both ways. On the other side of the road, she paused at an identical sign. There were geese on the pond just ahead. “I wonder what’s for dinner.”
Bluegrass was Bessie's favorite. There was just something quite soulful about it. It had a crisp flavor and could revive anyone spiritually. Yes, bluegrass it would be. And she knew how to find it. She looked off at ( 25*A ) degrees. Grazing occasionally, she wandered over to a wide trail entrance marked by a small pole. The pole had red, green, and blue stripes on it. Yes, this would take her to the bluegrass. She walked down the trail until she found a trail intersection. Here, the trail forked into two. One part led into the forest and the other part crossed a human road and continued in the opposite direction. This looks like a good place for a nap. She curled her legs up under her, and sat directly down in the middle of the road. While sleeping, she chewed her cud, swished away the flies, and enjoyed the sun.
A loud, obnoxious noise abruptly woke her. There, just a few feet away, was a gas-guzzling sport utility vehicle driven by some human that couldn’t be seen behind the tinted windows. “Hooooooonk! Hoooooonk!” blasted from the front of the vehicle. Bessie took her time. “I’ll show you some gas,” she thought as she stood first on her back legs and then gently pushed herself up with her front legs. Gradually, as she was in no hurry on such a beautiful day, she turned around, and paced off down the trail into the forest. A post that was identical to the first one she'd seen marked the right way.
There wasn’t much grass on this trail. Just woodchips and a few Acorns. And, it looked like horses had been here. Bessie hated horses – they spooked her. The birds entertained Bessie as she made her way to another intersection. She saw many bird species, including Ardea Alba and Falco Columbarius. At the intersection, she looked up at a large blue object towering in the sky. She tried to read the symbols, but alas, they were written in a human language called English and not something pictorial that she understood. She had always wanted to learn the human language. She had learned the alphabet. Now she just had to learn the words! She recorded the first two symbols that she could see as the numbers that correspond to the position in the English alphabet: ( FIRST SYMBOL: _______), and ( SECOND SYMBOL: ______) before wandering off toward the bluegrass. She knew the path to take. It was well marked.
Bessie thought about numbers. They made much more sense to her. Lost in thought, she almost walked across one of those human roads without looking both ways first. Carefully, she made her way across and continued down the trail to another intersection. Here, the smell of sweet grass filled the air. She sniffed deeply, swished her tail, and looked at the number 6 printed on top of a small post. How odd, she thought. Six is a magic number. She looked carefully at the intersection until she understood the path she must take – the redgrass is THAT way and the bluegrass is THIS way. One of her best cow-leagues had once told her that Dragons lurked near the redgrass. THIS way it is. Just a few cow steps down the trail another post had the number 5 printed on it. Bessie didn’t know anything about the number 5. Now six – that was magic!
Just after the post, the trail burst out onto the most wonderful field of sweet grass she had ever seen. The Kettle Moraines loomed on the horizon. Leaping Lizards live over that way, she thought. It was a magical, watery town where they lived. THEY understood the magic in the number 6, she was sure. She grazed awhile, napped, and realized that she felt kind of funny after the grass snack. She was mellow, like after a good Martini. With a wobble in her walk, she continued down the trail toward the bluegrass. It might have been the light or just the after effects of her snack, but she was sure she saw Elves running into the forest just ahead of her. At an intersection, she paused at a small post with the number 20 on it. Now she was confused. Six is magic, five means nothing to her, and 20 does not follow the sequence! But, she stumbled off to the left down the trail anyway.
Soon, the trail felt right to Bessie. The bluegrass must be near. A Wisconsin Hiker patted Bessie’s head as she walked by. The hiker was talking to her friend, Deb Rocks. Apparently, these humans didn’t think it was odd to see a cow on the trail. Bessie moooooved along more slowly until the trail practically ran into a tree. “Be still my beating heart!”, Bessie thought. “What a neat marking on that tree. It’s almost like someone stamped it there.”
Bessie continued to follow the trail as it passed left of the marked tree. After a time, she scratched her back on the trunks of two mammoth trees that had grown close together and right out of the side of the trail. Looking over her left shoulder, Bessie noticed another post. She tried to decipher the number on this one. She did her best, even backtracking a bit to get a sense of the pattern. She recorded this number into her memory as (MYSTERY POST: _________). “I should study COW-CULUS”, she thought as she continued along the trail to another intersection.
At the intersection, the greengrass could be seen to the right and the bluegrass over on the left. She started toward the bluegrass but then she caught a scent in the air. She sniffed deeply, her head held high, cud chewing on the right side. “I know this place! I’m close to where I was born!” She turned right, and headed toward the greengrass. “I wonder if it’s still there… “
(BLAST BACK TO THE FUTURE)
It was cheers and cigars in the barn that night. All of the farm hands were gathered around Bessie’s stall to listen to Ron and Rene tell the story of how they tracked down the mad cow.
“Okay,” began Rene, “you know that large tree right beside the greengrass? The one that’s missing most of it’s bark?”
Everyone nodded yes. Except for Jon, he was busy making a martini. Shaken, not stirred. Heidi was drinking a glass of wine, and talking to someone named Karen on the phone. But, she was keeping an ear on the story Rene and Ron were telling.
“Well,” Ron added, “we noticed something odd on a bearing of (46 * MAGIC NUMBER). If you walk about ( (FIRST SYMBOL + SECOND SYMBOL) + (MAGIC NUMBER * 2 ) ) paces down the greengrass there’s a small cow trail at ( (MAGIC NUMBER * 23) – (WINDOW NUMBER) ) degrees. So we followed it."
“So Rene,” said John as he carved a neat pattern into a wood block (not the Jon with the martini – this guy belonged to Sara), “how far did you have to go before you found her?”
“About ( (MYSTERY POST * 4) – WINDOW NUMBER ) paces,” Rene answered. “There was a big rock along the side of the trail. I could see a strange tree just off to my right and ahead a bit. It looked like it had been split right down the middle. Bessie was resting right there.”
“Hey,” Tim suddenly said. “I’m hungry. Let’s go to Ponderosa!”
And so they did. Bessie watched them go, safe again in her stall. She was content -- this time she had a nice hayfork of alfalfa to eat.