IN CENTRAL WISCONSIN, my wife and I happened upon the “World’s Largest Talking Cow” on Highway 10 in Neillsville. That this was the world’s largest, it seemed reasonable she must have something worthwhile to say. After all, in the United States size always counts for something, though her name, Chatty Belle, did not hold great promise.
As a seeker of wisdom, I wondered if perhaps there was some insight to be learned from this potential bovine master. A cow, at least to me, is an incarnation of nurturing and gentleness, and represents peaceful co-existence with nature and mankind. She seemed a perfect source for pure natural wisdom. Perhaps there was some nugget of encouragement or inspiration awaiting us, something about the meaning of life, or at least the meaning of dairy.
We deemed the 25-cent price to engage the cow as reasonable, then scoured pockets, car compartments and a purse bottom to eventually find a quarter. The cow’s first words were to assure us of her size — 16 feet tall at the shoulder. From there she launched into an infomercial for the hexagonal pavilion standing nearby — erected for the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, then disassembled and moved to its now-permanent location, where one can purchase cheese and souvenirs, also the home of radio station WCCN.
This giant fabricated cow was nothing if not friendly and informative, but her abject commercializing was a disappointment. Initially I accused her of selling out. Then again, I was obviously expecting too much.
We returned to the car and headed west, back to the Twin Cities. It was a perfect Sunday in early May. The snow left by the late spring blizzard had now melted, and we finally enjoyed seasonal temperatures. Just outside the city we stopped at the Listeman Arboretum. We followed a trail to the Black River, which filled its banks and rushed noisily and purposefully along. After a long gray winter, we reveled this day in a sun-lit sky, flowering ground cover and outcroppings of moss-covered rock. The excursion ended with us sitting for a spell in a patch of green grass, listening to a singing cardinal and, once again, feeling the warm, snowless earth beneath.
Relaxed and refreshed, we embarked for home. While nature can be harsh, this day it cradled and nurtured us… just a reminder that it is not commercial or fabricated things — as amazing and useful as they are — but the natural world that nourishes the human soul.