The Cows

The Cows

Any of my roommates over the years can tell you a story or two about my sleeptalking.  One of my favorites is from one night in Pagan…

Jackie awakens with a sense of urgency, sensing danger, TAP TAP TAP TAP TAP TAP TAP TAPing Pete on the arm with fervor

Jackie: The cows!!!!!
Pete: What?? What are you… There are no co–
Jackie: We have cows!!!!!!!
Pete: There aren’t any cows here. We’re on a boat…

Jackie huffs, grumbles, turns over in an exaggerated manner, and goes back to sleep.

I heard this story the following morning, having no recollection of the conversation.

During this trip I’ve had some other good middle-of-the-night, dream-induced angry or worried awakenings, but mostly when we were out on the water and I was sleep deprived and having some very vivid half-dreams.  Usually I would wake up to a sudden noise.  Nothing wakes you up like a large wave crashing on your creaking hull or a gust of wind pushing you past the heeling point to which you’ve grown accustomed when, even in your sleep, you have an reminder on replay in your mind: that you are in the middle of the ocean and you have to be ready to act at any moment if something goes wrong.

But this time, we were anchored, safe Pagan in a  nearly still harbor, with just mild rocking waves, lulling us to sleep.  My dream was inspired not by our current state of readiness or lack of sleep, but by our daily attempts to evade the thousands of wild cows spread over the island of Pagan.

Locals warned us that pigs live in caves and we should not explore any holes or bunkers without first throwing rocks in to scare any hogs out.  (We heeded this warning but still managed to have one close call with a pig- that story is summarized in one of the captions in the “Jackie + Pete in Pagan” gallery).  Experienced Paganers also told us that the cows made the rules, and that if we ever came across a cow or a herd to make sure that it or they weren’t cornered (because then they might charge) and to get out of their way if they were moving because they would have no problem running you down.

Sandy, who has lived on the island for 11 years, told us about one time when he was riding down the road across the lava field on an ATV and met a herd of cows head on.  He hopped off the ATV and jumped into the spikey, intraversable lava flow.  The cows continued down the ‘one lane road’ and tossed the ATV out of their path into the lava flow.  Lesson?  Cows brake for no one.

Maybe my dream was prophetic because the next night we had our first close encounter with some cows.  Before that we had only seen them from a distance, a hill or two away.  We returned to the beach at night to go home to the boat and shone our weak little headlamp light in the direction of the beach.  Two glittering green circles shone back at us.  There is a noticeable distance between the green glitters, which means the bull is closer than wed really like it to be.  The black bull, camouflaged in the darkness, is blocking our path to the dinghy.  Apparently the cows always come to hang out on the beach under the full moon.  We end up borrowing a brighter flashlight from one of the Pagan guys and when we shine that, the bull is spooked and him and his twenty-something bovine companions stampede away from us, down to the far end of the beach.  We tiptoe our way across the black sand to the dinghy and zip back to Absolute.  The same thing occurred for several nights following.

Once we had been on the island a few weeks and Pete had already been bitten by a fairly large Pagan centipede and knew how much it hurt (not shock worthy, more like a hornet sting or slightly worse) we decided to camp out on the island a few nights.  The second night we slept outside,  I also got bit by a centipede (it crawled up my sheet that dangled off the cot onto the ground).  It was painful but not as bad as I thought it would be.  I didn’t wake up with nightmares of centipedes or cows.  Although I did wake again in the middle of the night a little concerned about sounds around me…

crunch crunch crunch crunch crunch

I lay perfectly still, trying to decipher where the sound was coming from and what kind of animal could be making it.

Crunch Crunch Crunch Crunch

We are sleeping under a tarp tent with a tarp wall at our feet.  The noise seems to be coming from the other side of the tarp.

“PETE” I whisper loudly.  “I think there’s something there…. ”

“Wha..”, he sounds exasperated because he’s used to responding to dreaming Jackie in the middle of the night.  Then he hears it…


He slowly gets the flashlight and shines it around the edge of the tarp.  About 15 feet away is a big black cow that looks up from her meal, shocked and panicked, and once she comes to her senses, books it.  The other fifty or so cows behind her follow suit and from the cot I hear a stampede grow in intensity for a second or two, then fade away over the next ten seconds as they evacuate to the far end of the airstrip.  And then the abandoned-island silence again.

This happens for the next several nights.  By the end of our stay on Pagan we are waking up in the night surrounded by cows.  I guess they got used to us.  I never got quite used to them.  When we ran into a small herd hiking.   Pete utilized the local tip: show them that your horns are bigger than theirs and they’ll run away from you.  Holding his arms up in the air he walked closer to these cows and convinced them to cede the trail to the annoyingly persistent humans who wanted to hike the southern ridge…

I on the other hand would just sing this song in hopes that the cows would realize that I’m on their side and am just fine to leave them doing their wild cow thing in the jungle…