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BY

I

~OHN

don't rttall the words we exchanged. I was just eight years

HARLIN

at least, was the first sound of cowbells tinkling far below as

old at the time, and that was nearly thirty years ago. My

farmers led their herds back up to alpine pastures. Each year a

father was climbing a moontain across dle valley, maybe ten

cow woold get a bigger bell, which made a deeper clang, and the

miles distant. My mother, sister, and I were standing on oor

mixture of tones from this nomadic carillon was the sweetest.

front porch with a walkie-talkie in our hands, conversing with

sound I'd hear all year.

Dad. That was memorable enough, but it was the stann that

During the winter of the last year we lived in Switzerland,

comes dearest to my mind, a thunder and lightning stonn through

Dad spent six weeks on a mountain he'd intended to climb in

which Dad's voice crackled on the radio. Stonns were a regular

nine days, the weather was that bad - the worst year for stomlS

part of our lives those years we lived in a mountain village in

on record. The ropes they were using began to fray, and, final-

Switzerland. And what with Dad's life ruled by climbing, and

ly, one broke while Dad was on it. That was the first day of

climbing ruled by weather, the elements could shape our lives

spring, the day he died, but at the funeral service in Leys:in, the

like they did those of the farm~ who shared their town with us.

snow came falling thiCK. In the mountains, calendars are only

Farming in our Village, Leysin, consisted mainly of grazing

guidelines, that much was clear. I suppose this is true everywhere,

cows on the alpine pastures around and above the village. The

but climbers and Alpine villagers KIlOW it more than most.

slopes were much too steep and the growing season was much

With路all the snow the cows stayed in the valley later than

tOO tenuous at that altitude to do much else. Of course winter

usual. But spring did come - it always does - and the bells that

So they were led down to

year $)'Tf1bolized changes for me: the family had decided to move

the valley Ixlow sometime in the fall, there to graze and do

back to America, the mountains suddenly being less essential in

what cows do while the SIlOW piled high around our house. We

our lives. But the mountains have stayed with me ever since, and

snow kept the cows from pasture.

never much noticed when they vanished from the meadows.

Eoch year a Swiss c:ow is given a bigger b<tIl. The sound it makes on the way to an Alpine pasture i. the .weetest music: at the year.

with them comes an awareness of the weather and of its

Remove one compo路

changes through the

nent from a kaleido-

year. The flash of

scope and you often

lightning and the first

never miss it. But we

sound of cowbells:

did take notice when

these are the eanh in

the cows came back.

motjon.~

the following spring. By then we were~颅 ding in each budding bush and blooming bulb. But the surest sign of spring, to me

climbers farmers ELEMENTS

3

Climbers & Farmers  

In the early 1990s I edited Timberland's magazine called Elements. It featured short articles by some of the finest nature/outdoor/adventure...

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