A Memorable Place The sound of music -- and Swiss cows...


October 27, 2002|By Special to the Sun

A Memorable Place

The sound of music -- and Swiss cows

By Dolores E. Pike


A Swiss cowbell hangs beside the front door of my home on the Eastern Shore. When rung, the bell makes a metal thunking sound -- not the same sound that I heard in the Alps, but still it tells me I've been to Switzerland and have met the cows.

September is when the cows are brought down from their summer grazing in the high Alps. A distant carillon of bells signals their approach. Each cow wears a bell around its neck.

The song of the bells begins high in the mountains as the music resounds against the ancient rocks. It lingers over the red rooftops of the chalets nestled in the valley. The sound grows as the procession winds down the broad path, approaching the outskirts of the village.

The cows lumber along the main street of Meiringen, which is a village in the Bernese Oberland, the heartland of Switzerland. Look at a map of Switzerland and you will see Meiringen at the very center. I am vacationing in this village, renting a small apartment just outside the main part of town.

I line up with other visitors and townsfolk along the sidewalk of the Bahnhof-strasse, the main street. It is a weekday and the loud gonging drowns out all other sounds. Business is suspended as the shopkeepers stand in their doorways and watch.

The groundskeepers pause in grooming the already immaculate lawn and flowers of the Hotel du Sauvage, neighbor of the Sherlock Holmes Museum. Even hikers stop to look as they proceed toward the Panorama Weg, a walking trail that winds above the town.

Have I seen these cows before? Probably not, but I have seen ones just like them. Once, as I hiked a trail and rounded a bend, there were two stragglers ambling down the wide path ahead of me. One was impatient, urging the other along with insistent mooing. The two had become separated and were returning to the herd.

Or maybe I saw the bell-wearing cows the day I hiked the steep trail to Grosse Sheidegg, a high plateau. I rested at a table outside the mountain-top restaurant. With the sun warm on my face, I looked down on cows content to munch the summer away.

It has taken little time for the cows to travel the length of the village and beyond. Their bells, so reminiscent of the essence of Switzerland, become more faint until they are merely a background reminder, and the sounds of modern-day Meiringen resume. Soon, the cows will reach their destination, the winter grazing meadows, where they will remain until the snows force them to feed in the barns.

Now where was it that I saw that cow bell for sale?

Dolores E. Pike lives in Berlin.

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