There is melancholy with every step

Now the cattle herds return from the alp to the valley

The days have become noticeably shorter. When the mountain farmer gets up in the morning to milk his cows, it is a layer colder than a few weeks ago. The fresh dew hangs like pearls on the blades of grass. Though thoughts of the end of the alpine season are there, one does not want to admit them yet. And yet it is time to think about the upcoming departure from the alpine pastures. In a few days, the time that the alpine farmers like to call the most beautiful season will be over. And this despite the fact that the work on an alp is not to be underestimated, despite the onset of mechanisation.

While everything on the alp is more or less still proceeding in an orderly fashion, a certain hectic pace has become noticeable in the farmer's family home down in the valley. Diligent hands, mostly women's, are tying the last flowers and fir branches still in bloom in the garden into elaborate arrangements, the so-called "meias". Dahlias, autumn asters and chrysanthemums are particularly popular. But also the silver thistles still present on the alp are integrated into the arrangements. A few days later, the cows will carry true works of art down into the valley as headdresses.

While the woman is busy with the filigree handiwork of flower arranging, the man is not idle. After all, the heavy bells and the bells of the young cattle should also shine. And every farmer has his own little home remedy. With a little black shoe polish on a rag, the big bells get a passable colour again, and for the bells, quite a few swear by a remedy called "Sigolin" that has been used for generations. The bells are lined up in front of the alpine hut. They are only put on the animals shortly before they set off. After all, all the cleaning work of the past few days should not have been in vain. The flower decorations are also put up at short notice. After all, we don't want them to be destroyed in the event of an unwanted scuffle between the animals.

And then it is here - the day of the departure. The nervousness of the alpine herdsman and his helpers seems to seize the animals as well. They realise that today is a special day. The departure is also the farewell to the alp. This is where they have spent the past four months or so. Every step towards the valley is associated with melancholy. From far away in the village they hear the bells of the approaching cattle ducks. Guests and locals alike stand fascinated by the roadside. The descent is always an impressive and eventful encounter with a tradition that is still actively lived. In front, the flower-wreathed leading cows. The young cattle bring up the rear. At some point they too will be able to make their way home from the alp at the head of the procession.


Text: Beat Christen
Pictures: Engelberg-Titlis Tourismus