In my collection drawer lie the remnants of a childhood summer in Switzerland – hand-carved painted cows with tiny brass bells hanging from their necks. In my uncle’s chalet in the mountains, we lived a simple life.
I believe in a simple life. My first experience as a little girl was waking up to the sound of hundreds of clanging cowbells. Running outside I encountered the farm family from across the meadow surrounded by a huge herd of cows. The smiling farmer called to me, “Chumm, Chumm.” I joined the procession, wending my way on mountain paths and through deep pines in unison with a tradition that has been repeated through the centuries – leading the cows high into the Alps to feed on “sweet grass” throughout the summer.
That day was the symbol of a simple life – so rich in health, happiness and beauty. I climbed through meadows of wild flowers and breathed the air of snow-capped mountains. My host chattered with me in a tongue I had not yet learned, yet I understood – warmth, kindness, sharing, and belonging – the heart of simple humanity.
I lived a robust existence that summer, running free-range with the chickens, sailing ships of twigs down ice cold mountain streams, and chewing pine sap on forays through the forests. It was a simple life without T.V., cell phones, shopping malls, or packaged foods. I learned to yodel for music and listened to Alpenhorns calling from distant peaks for entertainment. My gym was the mountains I climbed. I ate crusty bread and drank milk thick with cream.
Late in the summer I was invited to the hay making. I gathered sweet-smelling grass with a long wooden rake and my hand-hewn pitchfork shook each blade in the fresh mountain air. Struggling to maintain my footing on the sheer slopes, I lifted huge piles on to frames, drying the food that would sustain the cows through the long, cold winter.
The grass gave sustenance to the cows, and the cows gave life to the farmer – butter, milk, cheese – eaten with a bowl of barley soup and thick, chewy bread.
The farmer gave sustenance and life to me. There was no dissension with my politics or religion, no notice of the difference in my language or land of origin. My gender did not exist when handed the heavy rake, and discrepancies in wealth melted away. There was no discrimination against my ignorance, no disdain for my young age and weakness. I was never mocked or ridiculed, ostracized or judged. I was connected to the farmer in a sing-song dialect that I readily absorbed, nurtured on the “sweet grass” of generosity, caring, acceptance, and love – the food of simply living. It was a summer rich with joy and meaning.
As my children run through the meadow with my free-range chickens, I savor the smell of fresh-cut grass, home baked bread, and the tinkling of cowbells at the farm across the way.
Yes, I believe in a simple life.
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