Friday, April 11, 2014

The rest of the story....

First of all, I have to say how good it feels to be home for a few weeks! The travels were all lovely, but still -- there's no place like home, even if that home is a ramshackle mill house whose better days are far in the past.

So -- to the story. The day had begun with a constant downpour as I drove from Greenville to Charlotte in the morning darkness, trying to see the very pale white lane stripes so I'd know where to go. The downpour continued on and off the rest of the morning, and that's probably a good thing because I think rain is part of what made this story have a happy (or at least, happier) ending. Traffic was moving more slowly.

We left Charlotte driving north on Interstate 77. Just before the exit to Troutman, NC (about 35 miles) I noticed the car ahead of me in the right lane (only two lanes) suddenly slow, then pull to the shoulder and stop. There was no traffic ahead of this car, so not understanding why it had pulled over, I slowed, then the traffic in the left lane stopped. Again, no traffic on the pavement within sight ahead, in either lane, so I also slowed. Then -- we saw this huge longhorn cow down on the pavement, mostly in the left lane but straddling both. She (it?) was struggling to stand up and was just inches in front of the bumper of a huge semi-rig. It was a horrible sight to see, not knowing what had happened, assuming the semi had hit the cow (and what was she doing on a fenced off interstate in the first place?).

I was driving two bhikkunis (Buddhist nuns) to a monastery in WV. They immediately began chanting something in Pali for the benefit of the animal. Then, one of them said, "I'm getting out", and both got out to go and protect the cow from further injury by autos. My heart fell into my gut as I watched them do this, but there would be no way to stop them. Buddhists protect all animal life, even longhorn cows on the interstate.

I pulled up behind the first car that had stopped. The cow eventually got to her feet and stood dazed at first. The nuns spoke briefly to the woman in the first car, hollered at me to call 911, then went back to the cow, which fortunately was of a kind and gentle nature and not intent upon harming them. The cow started ambling down the fast lane, with the two nuns following as its protectors. I don't care what your religious views are, nobody is going to run down a pair of orange-robed Buddhist monastics. They are very visible, if nothing else!

I didn't call 911 because I saw that the first woman was already doing so. I got out of the car to double check with her. She told me that the cow fell out of the back of a big truck as it was driving down the freeway. The back door of the truck was open, and the poor creature simply fell out. She was not hit by the truck, or anything else (one of the nuns later told me that the truck was about 12" from the cow). Since I didn't witness it, I can only assume that the truck carrying the cows was at the tail end of a group of cars that had a long clear space behind them. Remember, I couldn't see any vehicles ahead and we had a good long view. This gave the alert trucker time to stop, and the woman ahead of me slowed the other lane. Again, traffic was moving at less than normal freeway speeds because of the rain.

So, I stood with this woman and we watched the bhikkhunis get further and further away from us, leading the now lengthy parade of vehicles behind them. The cow wandered from one side of the road to the other. My heart was still in my gut somewhere, hoping that whatever protection those two women had would stay strong. Eventually, the cow wandered off onto the grassy shoulder on the right, and we moved our cars up the shoulder to that point. Hence the photo above. A few other people randomly stopped to help. I saw a man far ahead get out of a truck at one point, and there seems to be a man in the above photo. The men eventually went on their way, but two other women stopped (one shown above in green jacket) and stayed until it was over, helping.

So -- after the episode on the grass, traffic was again moving but very slowly and cautiously, and the cow decided to head to the grassy median between the north and southbound lanes of the freeway. There was fencing on both sides, but it had gaps and there was the fear that it would escape through onto the southbound lanes through a gap and that would have been the end of the cow as well as possibly some cars and humans.

Between the four women they more or less cornered the cow near a fence on our side. About that time the troopers arrived, smiling. I moved my car up to a gap in the traffic so they could get up the shoulder closer to the action.

So here they are. Troopers had rope in hand, cautiously took a moment to decide how best to get it over those deadly horns and around the animal's neck. Notice one bhikkhuni spreading her arms, using her robes to help keep the cow where she was.

Cow is safely secured and the other end of the rope being tied to the fence by the trooper. So glad this was a calm-natured cow!  She (it?) didn't appear to be hurt, other than some skinned spots on her bony haunches where she hit the pavement. Happy story until this point -- but I'm sure that she was being transported to a slaughterhouse and eventually arrived at that fate.

With the cow secured, the troopers stopped traffic so all four women could safely cross the interstate back to their vehicles. One of the bhikkhunis told the story to a supporter in Charlotte, who called the troopers office and found that a private truck had come and loaded the cow safely.

As the driver, and feeling very responsible for these two women, I breathed a sigh of relief and fervently hoped that this was the only highway incident we'd encounter for the rest of the trip. Fortunately, it was. But it was a tense 15-20 minutes!

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