When the beautiful spring season warms up in the valleys and is on the verge of merging into the fullness of summer, the mountains shed their white winter attire and begin to deck themselves out in varying shades of green.
This is the time when the herds of black and white cattle leave their winter quarters to spend the summer grazing the rich alpine pasture lands.
It is, indeed, a moving sight to see the noble cows winding their way ponderously, in long columns, up the steep paths leading to the mountains. Each cow has a great bell round her neck which clangs vigorously at every step. They are led by the queen cow wearing her crown of flowers and their "armailli" or cowherds, who are justly proud of their fine herds.
In the olden days, from all accounts, life was far more prosperous and fulfilling in the mountains. The land was incredibly rich and its products bountiful. Cattle could graze ever so high up with no fear of devastating avalanches or landslides. Toxic plants were unknown and the livestock prospered magnificently. It is said that the cows gave such an abundance of rich milk that they had to be milked three times a day. Little boats were used to skim the cream off the milk lake.
It was the legendary golden age when the mountains were protected by benevolent giants who were so gigantic that when they sat astride the mountain tops, their legs dangled over the slopes in two enormous heaps and one of their shoes could bridge a river valley. In cold weather, their breath hung over the valley in a thick fog.
As the story goes, however, such abundance did not go unnoticed. It attracted herdsmen from distant lowlands who didn't respect mountain lore. They were greedy, jealous and often cruel or mean. The giants deplored their evil ways and finally left the area to the devices of mankind. Deprived of their restraining influence, rocks and stones loosened to scatter over the pasture lands and unheard of diseases beset the animals. Life in the mountains became increasingly difficult. The days of plenty were over, only memory remains.
Thematic route :
A Country of Legends
Clément Fontaine, from "L'Age d'Or Au Pays de Gruyère", Editions Fribourgeoises 1933