Goodbye to summer

Coming down the mountain

The days are drawing in. When the Alpine herders get up in the morning to milk their cows they need one layer more than they did just a couple of weeks ago. Dewdrops hang from every blade of grass. The herders are now faced with an unavoidable truth: soon, it will be time to leave the mountain pastures and head back down to the valley. In a few days the "loveliest time of the year" will be over. Despite all the hard work it entails (even with increased mechanisation), they love their summers on the mountainside. 

While daily life up on the mountain continues largely as before for now, down in the valley things are getting noticeably busy. At the farmhouse, hardworking hands are binding flowers and twigs into artistic headdresses known as Meien. Dahlias, asters and chrysanthemums from the garden are particularly popular, but silver thistles, which still bloom up the mountain at this time, are also included. A few days later, these works of art will adorn the heads of the cows as they walk back down to the valley.

It is usually the women who create these beautiful headdresses, but the men do not sit idly by. They are kept busy polishing the heavy cowbells, and the lighter bells worn by heifers. Each farmer has his own method. A small amount of black shoe polish works well on the big bells, while generations of farmers have sworn by a cleaning product called Sigolin for the smaller bells. The polished bells are then lined up outside the Alpine hut, waiting for the downhill procession to start. After all, no one wants them to get dirty again and have all their hard work be in vain. The floral decorations are also added at the last minute, to avoid them being damaged should the cows get frisky.

When the day of the procession finally arrives, herders and animals alike are on edge. The cows sense that today is a day unlike any other. The time has come to bid farewell to the mountain pastures after four bucolic months. Although the procession is a festive occasion, the farmers can’t help but feel wistful for the mountain life. The event is an important and longstanding tradition in Swiss communities. Down in the valley, the villagers hear the bells getting closer. Locals and visitors line the path of the cows and the herders. The procession is led by the mature cows wearing beautiful flowery headdresses, with the heifers bringing up the rear. One day, they too will lead a gorgeous procession like this one down from the mountainside. 

Text: Beat Christen 
Images: Engelberg-Titlis Tourismus AG


Coming down the mountain in Engelberg on 28 September 2019
Alpine Dairies