Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Schiltalp and the Oblivious Cows

The Swiss have made it so easy for hikers and skiers.  You follow one of the incredibly well marked trails up into the hills.

You have the most gorgeous scenery you might imagine.  You run into lots of other hikers who speak all kinds of languages--and yes there are lots of Americans and Brits whom you understand easily!  And then, just when your stomach starts to rumble, and you are ready for a comfort stop, just around the next corner way up in the hills is a farmhouse-restaurant.  We hiked one day to a farm called Rotstockhutte, way up into a valley, for a salami sandwich and some apfelkuchen (apple-almond-egg tart, just out of the oven).

But my very favorite farmhouse-restaurant is on a trail called the Northface Trail (so named because one sees the north face of Eiger, Monsch, and Jungfrau, right up close and in your face).  This little restaurant is at a farm called Schiltalp.  It sits in a valley under the peak Schilthorn.  Each time we pass there we've stopped for milchkaffee, which is coffee with warm milk.
The farmhouse-restaurant at Schiltalp.  Note the cow bells
that decorate the front of the house.
Milchkaffee at Schiltalp is distinguished by the high fat content of the milk.
Schiltalp's milchkaffee, accompanied by checkered tablecloth
and wildflower bouquet

So much so that it is yellow milk, not white, and a skin of milkfat rides on top of the milk in the creamer.  Yesterday I spoke with one of the kids who lives there and helps out in the restaurant.  She was about 9 or 10 and eager to try out her English (which was far better than my German!!).  She told me that the milk came from their own cows and was taken the day before.  They have 71 cows there, who are now in their summer pasture higher up the mountain.  There are poor roads there, of course, and milk trucks cannot come up the valley.  So they take their milk and make alpenkase (cheese), alpbutter, and save a little of the milk for everyday needs.  They make cheese right there on the farm.
Barry making short work of the milchkaffee

Switzerland has the best dairy products I've encountered anywhere, made even better sometimes when mixed with chocolate...
The regret of leaving Schiltalp is compensated for by the view.

So, as one hikes, one passes lots of herds of cows roaming all over the hills.  Each one has a bell around its neck and you can understand why, given the frequency of mist and cloud over the hills.

They are found by their sound, if they get lost.  I had a too-close encounter with a lovely but curious cow one day.  She pinned me up against a gate so that I couldn't cross into the next pasture.  Then she started to lick me all over and it was pretty gross.  Thank God her horns weren't too long.  Another group of hikers came by and shooed her away, so that we could get through the gate, which I appreciated very much.
Barry trying to distract the cow who was licking me

As I hiked past a lot of the cows I was struck by their behavior.  They seemed so focused on the eating process or on chewing their cuds.  They seemed oblivious to their surroundings (except for the one who was too curious about the hikers).

Here were these grazing animals, in one of the most awesome landscapes of the world, keeping their heads down and working on the grass.  They didn't seem to notice the next level of reality looming above them.  (Now it's not their fault; as far as we can tell they aren't made to perceive larger reality...not that we know of anyway.)  But I saw their behavior as a metaphor for how we all can go through our lives, looking for the most immediate gratifications, and oblivious to larger levels of reality all around...and I will stop here because it's not time to write a sermon...but really it's kind of provocative, isn't it?
Entering the valley in which we are staying we encountered
this cow parade for the benefit of the tourists, in the
little town of Wilderswil.  It was a nice way to be welcomed.  I've seen some
Easter bonnets that are almost as nice as what these cows are wearing!

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