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Watch for wild cows

Katie Boyle | Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Certain questions have fascinated humans for centuries: How does one reconcile an omnipotent, omniscient and benevolent God with the existence of evil? What is the “good life”? Does the lost city of Atlantis really exist? What is the origin of the creature commonly referred to as the “cow?”

Alright, maybe this last quandary was only fascinating to my high school cross country team as we traveled north across the bovine-rich state of Wisconsin. Trips to meets outside the Milwaukee city limits always included such picturesque scenes of farm … after farm … after farm.

After the boys had garnered all the insight they could into the female psyche via a borrowed “Cosmopolitan” magazine, entertainment invariably turned to making signs to put in the window of the van.

Through this rudimentary form of brilliant expression, we were able to communicate with the rest of our teammates, who were dispersed in the several vehicles surrounding us on the highway.

While the initial conversations were mainly limited to “Give us the Cosmo” and “Over my dead body,” our veritable smoke signals soon took a more philosophical shape.

“Hey – where do cows come from?” someone asked.

In high school, sincerity is never a good idea, as irony invariably achieves better results.

“Come on man, didn’t your mom ever explain that to you?”

Nevertheless, the inquirer persisted: “No, seriously. Like, have you ever seen a wild cow?”

The interchange quickly began to capture the attention of the rest of the van.

“Well, the Spaniards brought horses, right?” another voice chimed in. “So who brought the cows?”

The brain-bending escalated into a clamor. Of course, someone else muttered, “Who cares? I’m trying to sleep.”

Despite the din of these various opinions, a plan was soon formed and ready for execution.

Not two minutes later, we plastered our newest and most profound message in the van’s window:

“Watch for wild cows.”

Now perhaps you already know the origin of our bovine friends. Or maybe you just don’t care (you livestock-hating jerk).

But our collective lack of knowledge about such a simple question pertaining to our common environs was startling.

Of course, humanity will always ponder the rhetorically-unanswerable questions. But on our quest for some holy grail of truth, I wonder, how many smaller glimpses of knowledge slip past us each day?

I’ve never seen a wild cow, and I have never bothered to google the phrase. Looks like I just found another way to procrastinate before starting on my next paper.

I also grew up in the suburbs, where the only thing likely to be grazing the lawn is your neighbor’s new riding mower bought to assuage his midlife crisis. Apparently, he never got the memo telling him that he was supposed to buy a Harley.

Yet I still wondered about the origin of the cow and the mystique behind those demure bovine eyes.

In India, many Hindus view the cow as a sacred animal. And in Wisconsin, I don’t know if there exists a higher calling than the provision of cheese.

Questions such as these occur to me nearly every day, but the majority go unanswered, quashed by the demands of a thesis and the rigors of a (thankfully!) completed job search.

But while recognizing our Socratic ignorance, shouldn’t we at least try to increase our knowledge? Although I don’t know of anyone aiming to be the next Ken Jennings, it’s interesting to note how many of the little queries that puzzle us remain unexplored.

Maybe we like to have some mystery left in our lives – room to create the elaborate tales and fables of our childhood.

Maybe we’re just lazy.

Whatever the case may be, keep wondering.

From such conundrums came the Greek Myths, Aesop’s Fables and fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm. This unquenchable curiosity and need-to-know has been an inspiration for the arts for ages.

So, watch for wild cows, and when you read the next great American novel on the origin of the bovine, I hope you think of me.

In the meantime, I’ve moved on to another one of life’s great questions: Where is Waldo, anyway?

Katie Boyle is a senior English, political science and Spanish major. She can be reached at kboyle2@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.