Counting cows is a game I remember playing as a child. There's really not much to it, but it can occupy children who are old enough to count for the balance of a long car ride.
The idea is to see which player can count the most cows seen on that player's side of the car before a pond, lake, stream or other body of water "washes away" the player's count.
There are several equalizers that affect the success of the players. Cows are most often seen in large groups. A person traveling past a farm at 60 miles per hour can only count so many individuals in each bovine clump before the car is well into the next farm or two.
Another tricky fact is that cows must have water to drink. Most successful farmers realize this and put the cows to graze near a pond or creek. Believe me, I fill my birdbath every other day and know it's just not practical to haul water to large numbers of very big animals on a regular basis.
In addition, Minnesota does have many bodies of water available to thirsty Bessies and Flossies. A great many more than 10,000 lakes with many connected by streams and rivers wipe that cow count to zero in a hurry.
Perhaps everyone played this traveling game as a child. Or maybe there is some other innate need to count the animals we see. I've pondered this because I've noticed that nearly everyone I know counts deer.
"I saw 11 last night between Longville and Pine River," someone might declare. And in typical I-can-top-that reply, someone else may answer, "There were 23 between Crosslake and Emily the night before."
Of course the time of day and chosen route might help tip the scales in favor of one counter or another. It's expected to see deer after dark on a long, quiet country road. So daylight sightings on a busier highway might still get by reporting fewer deer: "I saw six on 371 in broad daylight!"
The time of the year also matters. I only saw a few all during hunting season. (And that's more than a few of the hunters I know!)
And now that the grayish-black snow is beginning to melt and the muddy brown ground is beginning to peek through, other wildlife is making an appearance. Phil reported seeing a skunk a week or so ago at the end of his driveway. Jerry confirmed seeing skunk footprints along with a distinct belly-drag impression in the snow. I smelled a few in February, but haven't seen any yet.
I did see what must have been a muskrat stumbling along the road's shoulder near a marsh. It had the telltale tail -- skinny and furless -- and was about the right size. I'd never seen one moving on land before, though, and the clumsy gait made it clear why they spend most of their time in the water.
As the weather warms and spring finally officially arrived, more and more animals will be coming out of the woods and dens and burrows, and we'll have more and more to count. In my Sunday travels from Longville to Grand Rapids and back -- and reported with Partridge in a Pear Tree style -- I counted 10 leaping whitetails ... two scurrying raccoons, and an eagle flying high in the sky.
(Diane McCormack is a correspondent for The Brainerd Dispatch and a freelance writer living in north central Minnesota. Send comments or feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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