We often hear about urban legends. These are stories of either a humorous or horrific nature that circulate in urban environments and which are claimed to be true. Many such stories have been debunked by science. But I have often wondered why we don’t hear about “country legends”. I guess this is because the term is normally used to refer to remarkable singers of country music. However, there are stories coming from America’s countryside that many people are not familiar with. Perhaps this is because 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. Nowadays many people in cities have never visited a farm or a ranch. Of course, most people know a few generalities about farms and farmers, but most are woefully ignorant of the how and whys of farm life and its lore. In this post we are going to check out some stories coming from the countryside and examine their plausibility.
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. Cow tipping seems to have originated in the countryside when naïve city folks were asked by mischievous farmers to try to achieve something that is impossible. But what is cow tipping?
The quintessential cow tipping deed allegedly 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 country lore is awash with cow tipping stories which have now permeated the internet and other media.
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 even 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 at least 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. 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. The question is: if you pee on an electric fence, will you get a shock...err..."there"? 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, but there are some brave souls who actually do this on purpose out of curiosity, on a dare, to prove something, or just because they can.
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 can pee standing up, or because they are more adventurous and daring, or just because young women or girls at this age are smarter and don’t do such things. Be it as it may, the answer to the question is "Yes". Urine conducts electricity. If you pee on an electric fence, as long as the fluid stream is unbroken, you will get shocked. Several YouTube videos document this fact, and the issue was also examined in episode 14 of the TV series "Myth busters" and was found to be true.
Hearing the Corn Grow
Hearing the corn grow is something that many would label a "farming legend". The idea is that under the right conditions corn can grow very fast, 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 most of them have never 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 of corn 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. He said that one of the things he loved the most is sitting with his family on the porch of their house overlooking his cornfields after dinner and hearing the corn grow.
As it turns out, scientists have documented that when corn plants are in their phase of rapid growth, they make a crackling noise caused by fiber fractures as a result of the sudden release of internal stresses caused by turgor pressure within the growing stems. The sound is faint and somewhat akin to the sound of static.
Folks in the country sometimes prank people from the city or in general newcomers to their groups by getting them to hunt or search for imaginary creatures. One of them is the snipe. Although snipes are a type of shorebird that people do hunt, unsuspecting victims are told they are something else and given a set of complex instructions to track and hunt them down to the hilarity of everyone that is in on the joke. Another such creature is the famed jackalope, which is a rabbit with antelope horns. Mounted specimens of alleged jackalopes are a well-known taxidermist folly. But there is a condition in rabbits involving a virus that makes the animal develop keratinous tumors on the skin which look like horn structures, and this may be behind some reputable descriptions of horned rabbits in the wild.
Do you know of any stories from the countryside? Please leave a comment and let me know.
Photo of a mounted jackalope head by rocor is from flickr and is used here under an Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license. Photo of electric fence by Kevin Phillips from Public Domain Pictures is in the public domain.