(Photo: Mountain Meadow: On a small farm at about 1,300 meters,
the end of June.)
A characteristic ensemble of plants, composing the hay for which the Alps is famous.
This meadow is still cut by and large by hand, using scythes, once in the middle
of July, and againon good yearstowards the end of September.
Over the years, while haying here, I worked on making an inventory of all the
many different species seen here during the long afternoon lunch breaks. Although
I eventually was able to identify more than a 110 different varieties of herbs and
grasses, I can say that a better botanist than myself would discover many more.
Remarkably, this extraordinarily beautiful and delicate weave of plants will disappear
completely after but two or three years of applying artificial fertilizers. And, if the meadow
is abandoned, as is frequently the case on the South or Italian-speaking part of the mountains,
and no longer cut in a rhythmic fashion, it will quickly revert back to spruce and,
eventually, larch/stone pine forest.
To happen upon these small, usually relatively flat, open fields of flowers while
on a trek through the Alps is a joy beyond all compare. For me, they have come
to represent the living presence of the possibility of nature and agriculture, wilderness
and the art of farming, existing side by side in a state of harmony. I feel that they are for
this reason just as precious as the golden eagles which soar on a lazy summer's
day above them, or the glacier streams which flow near by. And that these meadows, as
well as the proud mountain farming tradition which brought them into being
and worked them for centuries, are equally deserving of our admiration
and protection. It can after all be said, that, not only the major rivers of Western
Europe have their source here, but also what is best and most beautiful in European