Posted by: Nazausgraben | May 20, 2012

‘TIL THE COWS COME HOME


Mid-May, when the earth is finally becoming dry and the time of the Löwenzahn (Dandelions) has past, turning fields from seas of yellow to beds of off-white balls of seed puffs ready to blow asunder in the strong winds that course through the verdant valley. The grasses and wildflowers have grown at a remarkable rate, creating swathes of pastels where not three weeks ago one would find end-of-Winter brown.

I know that the early Summer has come, for the field crickets faint song of soothing alert greets visitors wandering the sun-baked Via Claudia. In the warm evening by the pond known as Earschbach, a choir of frogs continue the serenade, but intended only for themselves.  Indeed, as the wanderer approaches, the harmonious cacophony diminuendos from a massed Handelian forte, first to a robust chamber ensemble, then a mezzopiano vocal quartet, a brave solo and then………only the footsteps of the ‘intruder’ can be heard.  As the wanderer continues by, the process then reverses, from brave solo to the full forces whose croaking utterances can be heard reverberating off of the mountainside, at the foot of which the Earschbach sits. Thus, wise listeners will remember to remain at a prudent distance from the Earschbach, lest the green wart-covered choir note their presence and fall silent.

So it was on one such fine day that Summer really did arrive…with the cows. For this was the time that the calves and young cows (before calve-bearing years themselves and thus still without utters) were gathered by Pinswang’s farmers and paraded as a flock to their Summer fields.

They could be heard from afar, metal bells about their necks sounding their approach. The farmers all wore their blue overalls, padded at the knees and elbows. Each carried a long thin switch that could be used to entice movement should any of the calves become recalcitrant during the journey. They came through the village, each small herd departing its respective barn to join the larger movement.

As they paraded on the thin asphalt path that divided the fields, they stayed pretty much in formation, as not doing so would have meant an encounter with the hastily erected electrified wire fence; a single strand of wire run on each side of the path running all the way from Pinswang’s main street to the gate marking the entrance to the Via Claudia..the ancient Roman Road.

The going was fairly slow. By the time the herd had reached the Via Claudia, the sun was already  low in the sky as ‘Abendrot’ (red evening…sundown) approached.

The calves are guided along the Via Claudia as they approach the dreaded climb up the ‘Kratzer’.

The calves were now guided onto the Via headed past the Earschbach pond (home of the aforementioned frog choir) and the medieval fortress built into the mountains towering over the Via. To reach their goal, a set of fields on the nearby borderlands between Austria and Germany, cows and farmers had to both climb the steep grass way up over the ‘Kratzer’, a grassy and wooded path over a hill that has been a thoroughfare for travelers since pre-Christian times.

The cows soon broke into groups…the younger, brisker made the climb up and over the Kratzer without difficulty. The second group was abit older and slower, yet determined to make their way up.  The third group was the slowest and most hesitant. They either stopped dead in their tracks or scampered off to the sides of the herd, hoping to make a daring escape into the forest. The farmers, however, had generations of experience with such folly, and employing shouts and light whacks of the switch on the animal’s padded rumps, quickly gathered the stragglers and escapees back into the fold and over the hill.

Still, there was one cow which would not budge. She was the Esel (Donkey) of the group…a white young thing who believed that if she just stood perfectly still long enough, perhaps she would disappear, or the farmers would mistake her for a four-legged boulder dislodged from the mountains above and let her be.  Once gone, she would make her own way down the hill and back to her cozy stall, where the farmer’s would be surprised and delighted to find her later.

But it was not to be, for a couple of the farmers began to yell and push her. UP UP UP!! A slight whack on the rump. UP UP GO GO!! Another whack on the rump. One farmer started pushing. The white Lady refused, not realizing that in doing so, she was delaying her own partaking of the nourishing delicacies that awaited her in the field just over the hill.

The white Lady moved, scampering like a football Quarterback…first to the left, then the right, hoping to elude her tormentors. The farmers followed suit, blocking her every attempt. This hillside choreography of move and counter-move went on for a few minutes. Finally, the white Lady surrendered to her captivity, and like a worn down but not defeated prisoner of war, marched with head high up the hill, as if it was really the direction she wished to go in the first place. The white Lady, the farmers and the rest of the herd soon disappeared over the crest and down the opposite side of the Kratzer, where they found fresh, green fields of tall grasses, wildflowers and fresh mountain water flowing from the nearby Lech River.

As the Lech Mountains blocked the sun and the evening cool descended, the tired worn farmers returned from their fields and cows, laughing, ready for a schnapps and beer at the Inn, and abit sobered by the knowledge that when they return to these same fields to retrieve the slightly older and fattened cows shortly before Winters sets in, they will have to do all of this once again…but in the opposite direction.

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