Sankar Sastri admits that his first few months of retirement were a shock.
After 28 years as a professor of metallurgy and then acting dean at the New York City College of Technology in Brooklyn, Sastri had moved to a 42-acre property outside Bangor and begun what he called the Lakshmi Cow Sanctuary.
He had spent his life in busy, crowded cities, not just in but also in his native India. This place was quiet and isolated down an unmarked dirt road in a very rural area.
But here's your first hint about the type of man who would retire early, chuck everything and devote his life to protecting cows in the middle of nowhere.
''After four months or so,'' he told me, ''I began to find this place more crowded than Brooklyn.''
Where once he saw empty fields and forests, he began seeing countless plants and trees. He lifted rocks and found hundreds, even thousands of insects. There were birds and animals everywhere.
And, of course, there were cows, three of them to start, now 11, along with seven cats and three roosters.
''So many of these living souls, acting in the way they were designed by God,'' he said with a face full of wonder. ''In the city, I always was afraid of what was going to happen next. Here, everybody was doing exactly what nature intended them to do.''
If that statement suggests an unusual sense of spirituality Ã‚… well, good. If you understand that, you're well on your way to understanding Sastri and the life he has carved out for himself.
I learned about the cow sanctuary in the course of reporting on Danny the Steer, whom an animal lover rescued from the slaughterhouse. She ended up taking Danny to Lakshmi, an adventure I wrote about on my themorningcall.com blog.
But as entranced as I was by Danny's story, I also was intrigued by the idea of this cow sanctuary in our midst. So photographer Kevin Mingora and I arranged to visit the 69-year-old Sastri one afternoon this summer to show and tell you what's going on there in Upper Mount Bethel Township. Mingora has returned several times since.
Unfortunately, we picked a miserable day for that first visit, and it was pouring when we pulled up to the sanctuary. Sastri emerged from his house, coatless, and his shirt -- and my reporters' notebook -- quickly became soaked.
''Danny!'' he yelled as we started walking into the pasture where about eight cows were grazing. ''Danny, come here!''
I learned that Sastri does a lot of this, yelling for the cows by name -- and that the cows tend to respond, although Danny and Rama, the little Brahman bull who was avoiding the rain by staying in the barn, ignored his calls.
As we trudged through the wet grass in Danny's direction, Sastri began telling me about the other cows we were seeing. Radha was badly injured by a backhoe at a livestock auction. Nandi, whose mother was pregnant when she was saved from slaughter, was born at the sanctuary.
Sastri was particularly captivated by the story of Vedanta, the second calf born at the sanctuary. Vedanta's mother, Bharathi, was saved from slaughter and donated to the sanctuary by Swami Dayananda Saraswati of Saylorsburg.
Sastri said that Saraswati, a renowned writer, teacher and founder of the All Indian Movement for Seva, a fundraising organization for rural areas of India, has focused much of his life's work on reminding people to see themselves as a complete human being instead of focusing on appearance or money. The important question, he has taught, is: Who Am I?
So Sastri was delighted to find that Vedanta was born with what very much resembles a question mark, complete with dot, on his forehead. The professor beamed as he repeated the story.
Danny was too busy wolfing grass down to want to visit with me, so we headed back toward Sastri's house. His full-time volunteer at the sanctuary, microbiologist-turned-cowtender Edye Huang, joined us and gave me apples to feed a couple of the cows. Inside, we shook out umbrellas and raincoats and sat around a wooden table.
''Another volunteer brought me here,'' Huang said. ''I started volunteering on my own, and I got hooked.''
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