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Burning Man? No, it's the Burning Cow

Rising from the fields near Audubon is this wooden cow, a work of art by Dennis Lange, who originally intended to burn it on his 60th birthday. Photo by Brian Basham/DL Tribune

Driving by a picturesque farm just south of Audubon, 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 proven 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?'" laughed Lange.

But as more scrap wood from a deck and a torn-down old chicken house was assembled, the image came clearer.

"Then somebody said, 'What's that jackalope doing out there?'" said Lange, who confirmed the structure was definitely a cow.

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

But what the 10 foot high, 15 foot long creation really is, is 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 actually 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 son, Devin, helped out a bit.

"He's been at the University of Minnesota in the engineering program for a whole two weeks, and he comes home and says 'Are you sure it can withstand the wind shear?'"

It has.

And although 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 piñata or something," said Lange, who says he's had a good time building it.

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," said Lange. "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 belly of the cow as udders.

"You could tap it to get mother's milk," he said, talking about the endless ideas he now has for his beloved project.

Lange says New Year's would be better to burn the cow anyway, as the snow would make it look more dramatic.

But don't expect to see the flashy dancing and crazy outfits they have down in Nevada. "We're Minnesotans. We don't dance around things," said Lange. "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."

And unlike the Nevada celebration that's intended as a bit of a spiritual awakening, Lange's burning party will be a little less ... deep.

"It'll be a good excuse for another get-together," he said, smiling and admitting he can't even promise he'll be ready to burn it at New Year's either.

"Well, if it lasts a year, maybe I'll burn it while unveiling the next project," he said, eyes twinkling. "Maybe a Mandan earth lodge or something."