We are coming upon mad cow season, when stricken bovines, sometimes masked, set upon terrified wilderness hikers of the human variety, most commonly in the Ouachita Mountains of western Arkansas. The resulting mad-cow disease doesn't affect humans as gruesomely as rabies does — the symptoms more closely resemble those of Alzheimer's disease — but it is incurable and ultimately fatal.
The tragic part is, it's fairly easy to escape from mad cows, as even healthy-minded cows have a hard time maneuvering in the thick brush, the tight pinches and rocky defiles of the Ouachitas, and mad ones an even harder time. The mad ones mainly just lurch — more pitiable than threatening. If you keep your wits about you, you can get away from a deranged cow almost every time.
If nothing else, climbing a sturdy tree will almost always foil them. They will work themselves into exhaustion trying to climb up there with you. A mad cow trying to climb a tree might be a funny sight if you're not the one up the tree. An oddity here is that the mad cow, despite its fury, despite its lurchy determination, despite the ludicrousness of a hoofed quadruped trying to shinny a post oak, never ceases during its assault to swish away flies with its tail.
The mad cow might knock the tree over if the tree's dead and brittle and no longer firmly rooted, but it'll not be able to climb it if it remains upright. If it succeeds in knocking your tree down, you can scramble to another one before it can cut you off. That's presuming you aren't immobilized by injury from the fall. If you are pinned down and hurt, you might indeed be in hazard — in which case it'll do you no good to play possum. That might fool a mad bear but not a mad cow.
Your last best hope in that situation might be a red-caped hiking companion who'll divert the beast's attention — mad cows have notoriously short attention spans, and even cows that aren't mad can't focus for long — or that a stranger on an ATV will appear unexpectedly and clatter past, with the cow staggering off in futile pursuit.
I'd venture, though, that the odds of a serendipitous ATV appearance in that situation are not very good in your favor. Just pray that your destiny's cow is not a longhorn. That it has no old rodeo scores to settle before it reincarnates whole again in Bombay.
We're also incidentally entering mad-crow season, and mad-crow disease is almost nothing like mad-cow disease even though there's only one letter's difference. A mad crow is nothing like one of the Angry Birds, either. That's a different kind of mad. It's even hard to tell a mad crow from one that's unafflicted. They are about equally raucous, and diseased or not will dive menacingly at you if they surmise that you are unarmed.
They recognize shotguns, deer rifles, and .22 rifles, and have a different contemptuous caw for each weapon, but they are most afraid of a paintball gun. It's not the mortal danger to them that the other guns are, but they apparently fear being glopped with brightly colored and hard to remove paint even more than they fear death. The very idea of it offends their dignity unbearably. You'd have to be a crow to fully experience this peculiar phobia. No other birds have it, as far as I know. Jays might, to some small extent. Mad-crow disease does seem to exacerbate it.
You outdoorsy types might also note that camp-meeting season has commenced, and hikers should beware of being waylaid by mad charismatics out practicing their woodland witnessing skills between brush-arbor tonguing and rolling sessions. These people are normally reserved, even withdrawn, certainly not maniacal in the wild-eyed sense that you see in the cartoon logo of the Mad Butcher, but the boonie revival services are said to liberate them into a kind of bacchanalian frenzy that can become a threat to the woodland passerby. It's something like confronting those mad cows.
There's a dark Dionysian element here that those temporarily enthused quickly repress and won't discuss afterward, but one of the immediate consequences impossible of evasion, is that the charismatic conception rate peaks in the heart of camp-meeting season. And then the birth rate around the ides of March. There's no good practical advice for trail pilgrims who find themselves beset by mad charismatics. You should circle your wagons if you have any. Phone 911. The conventional Ned Beatty/"Deliverance" wisdom of submission and acquiescence, until the frenzy runs its course and the concupiscent gang moves on, is not really a good idea, especially if venomous reptiles and poison ivy are known to be about.
And there's this: I don't give credence to reports of a new malady, perhaps triggered by climate change or other environmental factors (fracking?), that is causing havoc amongst parochial populations of some of our tiniest insects. It's generally called mad-gnat disorder. It might be more accurately called mad dog-peter gnat disorder but investigators thought that name might be more laughed at than cause for concern.
Anyhow, something is up with the local dog-peter gnats, but I don't see any cause for panic just yet.
Bob Lancaster, one of the Arkansas Times longest and most valued contributors, retired from writing his column last week. We’ll miss his his contributions mightily. Look out, in the weeks to come, for a look back at some of his greatest hits. In the meantime, here's a good place to start.