The hills are alive with the sound of…cows?

Growing up in Newport Beach I didn’t have much opportunity to spend a lot of quality time with cows. So, on the way back down from a four hour hike (alone) in the Alps (apparently there are three mountain ranges in Austria–rocky, grassy, and granite. I was hiking in the grassy range, hoping to get to the top of a peak that would allow me to see all three. Unfortunately my trainers were not sufficient for the snow-covered final ascent to the top, but I still had a good hike up and took lots of pictures) when I encountered three cows (at least one was a he–does that make him a bull instead of a cow? Once again, I was never in 4h…) on the path in front of me I was not sure what to do.

One of the three cows (the bull–by the way, they all have horns, males and females) was closer to me, the other two were behind him, further down the path. He looked at me. I looked at him. He did not seem friendly. Maybe he thought the same of me. I took a step toward him. He did not move. I yelled. He cocked his head, but still did not give up any ground. My mind raced. What do I know about cows? Nothing. Are they nice, mean, violent, territorial, easily frightened…? Nothing. Cowboys ride horses. But is that for safety or transportation?

I picked up a stick and waved it at the cow/bull. In response he pawed the ground with his right hoof (or is that just the name of the foot of a horse? Perhaps my next trip should be to a farm!) The connection was made. Male cow equals bull. Bull equals bull fight. Bull fight equals a slow miserable death by goring. No thanks. I backed off and waited. The three cows did not move. This would have been fine, except that I had to get to dinner, and was already risking missing it entirely. Fasting wasn’t in my plans for the evening.

To my left, uphill, was a rather steep bank with a mess of trees and brush. I decided I would have to go up and around and return to the path downhill from the cows. So, still in my trainers, I climbed my way up the side of the bank by grabbing on to saplings and wedging my feet into the mud hillside. It was slow going. Mr. Bull started roaring (even I know that cows don’t roar, but this was definitely more fierce than a simple moo) with his head pointed in my direction. Was this directed at me? Was it threatening? Or was he simply saying to the other two, “look at this crazy girl, so scared of us that she is scaling the hillside!” I kept moving. How fast can a cow climb a hillside? My guess is, fairly quickly. As far as I know, though, cows cannot climb trees. Unfortunately, neither can I.

I═creeped along the hillside, at one point using the branches of a fallen tree as support while I crossed a mini waterfall/canyon. Finally, downhill from the three cows I realized that I was still about 15 feet up the═(steep) hillside, with not much for support along the descent. Mr Bull started making noise again and seemed headed in my direction. I needed to act quickly. Unfortunately there was no one there to witness what happened next. All I can tell you is that in one motion I was down the hill, on the path, with mud covering my backside, right leg, and right arm, a few small puncture wounds in the middle finger of my right hand, scratches on my left shin, and an ache in my left knee from hitting something on the descent. No matter. At least I was free from the three menacing cows. I hobbled the rest of the way down the mountain to dinner, only a few minutes late, but covered in mud. Fortunately, we did not eat beef.

The moral of the story? I am not sure there is one.═ Better to slide down a mud hill than be gored by a mad cow?

For those who are wondering what the heck I am doing in Austria (other than outwitting bad-tempered bovines) let me give you a bit more information.

After finishing the photography course I left Paris for Taize, a monastery/retreat center in the Burgundy area of France (pictures from both are posted) and spent a weekend in communal living with 3000 of my closest European friends where German was the most dominant language but English was the only common language. It happened to be a holiday weekend in both Germany and France because of Ascension. Ascension celebrates Jesus’ returning to heaven after appearing to his disciples having been risen from the dead on Easter. I found it interesting that France, which seems to consider itself such a secular country, has a holiday for Ascension, while the US, often claimed to be such a Christian country, does not. The bottom line was that due to the holiday weekend train fares from Paris to Taize were a lot harder (and more expensive) to come by!)

After four days of communal living I was glad to fly to London for a few days of respite with my friend Meg. I know Meg through my seminary roommate, Erica, and have been on the two Ecuador trips with her. She is living and working in London for the time being. While in London I also had the chance to meet up with my friend Henk, who I met in Thailand last year, who runs a cafe (www.cafeforever.org) in a Bangladeshi immigrant area of London.

From London I flew to Salzburg (the low fare airlines in Europe are fantastic!) to meet up with seminary friend Kim, who is in Austria for her brother’s wedding. We spent a week hiking in the Alps (amazing pictures and crazy stories, including hiking up alongside a waterfall in the snow and lunch in a hillside hut with an Austrian man named Walter, both of which I will post when I get back to my own computer) from Zell Am See to Innsbruck. Apparently Austria is having what they call a Sheep’s Winter. Depending on who you ask this happens either every 20 or 30 years. Either way it means that much of our hiking (still in the trainers) was either in the snow or the rain. I have added a pair of gloves, a beanie (sorry Melissa) and a blue plastic rain poncho to my traveling attire. From Innsbruck Kim headed to Vienna for her brother’s wedding and I made my way to Mittersill to stay at Schloss (castle) Mittersill, a Christian retreat center within an old (15-16th century, I believe) castle on the side of a hill. Thanks to Julianne for recommending it to me while I was staying with them in Belfast! From here I will return to Salzburg for a few days and then back to London.

Tchuss (the German version of Malawi’s tionana, otherwise known as see you later),

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