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Paula Quam, Forum Communications, Published September 28 2012

Inspired by Burning Man, Audubon farmer Dennis Lange just can’t set his huge cow ablaze

AUDUBON, Minn. - Driving by a picturesque farm just south of here, it’s easy to miss the brilliantly colored leaves, the entertaining farm animals and the gigantic red barn.

That’s because a large wooden structure slowly being erected by the road has proved to be a bit of a mystery for those who do not know the intentions of homeowner and local veterinarian Dennis Lange.

“They’d drive by and say, ‘Is that some kind of sheep barn? Or what is that? A corn crib? A deer stand?’ ” Lange laughed.

But as more scrap wood from a deck and an old chicken house was assembled, the image clarified.

“Then somebody said, ‘What’s that jackalope doing out there?’ ” Lange said.

Actually, it’s a cow.

“So now, being Minnesotans, they’re all like, ‘Boy, that’s quite an art project you have there,’ ” Lange said in his thickest Minnesota accent. “And who knows what that means – it could mean, ‘Boy, is that dumb.’ ”

But the 10-foot-high, 15-foot-long creation is really a wry spin-off of an annual festival held in Nevada called Burning Man. The event draws thousands of people into the Black Rock Desert every year, where attendees essentially build whatever structure comes to mind. The centerpiece is a large, wooden man that’s built throughout the festival, then burned at the end.

The event is meant to harness human creativity and strengthen basic principles, as attendees dance around the burning man.

“It’s kind of a Woodstock for art nerds,” said Lange, who has wanted to go to the festival for a long time, but obligations at home haven’t allowed it. He says he’s tried to get his family interested in building something with him, but hasn’t had much luck.

“This year is my 60th birthday though, so they had to go along with it,” said Lange, who says he grew up around cows and figured that’d be as good as anything to build.

His wife, Abigail, and daughter, Kaitlin, were a bit unsure at first. Lange says they’ve since signed on. “Well, I think they thought it was going to be smaller – something more along the lines of a pinata or something,” Lange said.

And although the idea was to burn the cow on Lange’s 60th birthday last weekend, he might have “accidentally” forgotten to get a burning permit.

“I have to admit, I’m kind of attached to it,” he said. “So I pardoned it like those Thanksgiving turkeys that go to the White House.”

Disappointed partygoers, expecting to see the curious cow go up in flames, were told they’d have to wait, possibly until New Year’s.

“Because now I’m seeing a big, orange light in the belly for Halloween, Christmas lights … maybe some little solar panels for his eyes…” said Lange, laughing at how he might even put a beer keg right in the cow’s belly as udders.

“You could tap it to get mother’s milk,” he said.

Lange says New Year’s would be better to burn the cow anyway, as the snow would make it look more dramatic – though he’s not yet sure if he’ll go through with the New Year’s idea.

But don’t expect to see the flashy dancing and crazy outfits they have in Nevada. “We’re Minnesotans. We don’t dance around things,” Lange said. “We might stand around and watch it like this,” he said, putting his hand up to his chin. “And I expect I’ll be wearing a parka and snow boots myself.”


Paula Quam writes for Detroit Lakes Newspapers


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