Sometimes, very seldom, I feel something like homesickness, even though it’s not for a home or family, but rather for a tradition and or perhaps rituals I remember so vividly. Right about now, at the beginning of summer, I was always called back home to our farm in Austria. I got an extra week of vacation, like so many of us farm-children who had to help.
Friday in the morning when the other kids attended morning mass in boarding school, I was on way to the train station. I felt excitement and oh so grown up. I had been called home because I was needed to guide our cows up to the alpine pastures high up in the alps. There they would spend the summer with a herder, who would stay with them until fall.
Finally, spring was over, the grass in the mountains had been growing and the fields were overflowing with wildflowers, herbs, and different grass variations you can’t find down in the villages.
Every one was eagerly looking forward to the alpine pastures, and I was looking forward to a nice hike and few extra days off.
Everything had been prepared after the long winter break. The alpine huts were ready to be reopened for the herder, who would give out fresh milk and cheese to the hikers who stopped by. The presence of the cows brings the Alps back to life, the cow bells can be heard far and wide in the mountains.
Hundred thousands of cows, sheeps and even pigs and horses are sent to their summer vacation every year, and even though I have no proof, I always felt that the animals loved it.
The grass up there is luscious and green, while down in the villages it quickly dries out with the summer heat. Hay is produced at home, while the cows high up ‘mow’ the fields, that no tractor or mower could ever reach.
There are no fences, other then a big gate that warns the hikers of free-ranging herds. The hikers and climbers have to find their way through the herds, most cows don’t care enough to even look up.
Cattle, that spends the summer months in the mountains has a longer life expectancy and is more productive. The animals come back much stronger, in addition, the farmers don’t have to feed them during the summer time and get some relief as well.
If you ever have the chance to hike or climb the mountains in Austria, Italy or Switzerland, listen to the sound of the heavy cow bells. Look out for the hut and try some of the cheese. I promise you, you will not regret it.