I could dance with you until the cows come home. On second thought I’d rather dance with the cows until you come home. – Groucho Marx
As we sat at Cabo da Roca, the Westernmost tip of mainland Europe, we contemplated what was next for our family. Having left the USA with three small children more than four years ago, we gazed at the Atlantic with our teen and two pre-teen kids knowing we could no longer pick the direction and have them blindly follow.
“So, where to?” my husband casually asked. There was silence for a while as the waves crashed on the ancient cliffs. Finally, our oldest son said, “I want a white Christmas… And, I want a white Thanksgiving, and just for fun, how about a white Easter too?” More silence as the idea washed over us warmed by the Portuguese sun.
We looked at schools in icy Finland, and reverse seasons in the Southern Hemisphere. We researched daily life in Iceland and Estonia. We talked until we had enough momentum to pick an inspired direction as a family. As dual Italian/American citizens, Italy was the clear winner and we reached out to our friend Lino. We visited him in 2014 at the base of the Matterhorn in the stunning and historic Valle d’Aosta region of the Italian Alps. We explained to him we wanted to attempt a ski season with the kids and his response was, “come and we will talk.”
We landed in Milan and made the trek to Valtournenche just in time for the The Désarpa Festival. It is a local festival where many villages from Valle d’Aosta come together to welcome the cows back to the valley from the high mountains. It is a cow parade of sorts with the queens of the herds adorned with different colored bouquets depending on their unique gifts, such as “Queen of Milk” dripping in white blossoms.
As we followed Lino, whose family has been in these mountains for generations, we were overcome by new sensations. The sound of the local dialect of Patois, the folk dances and traditional skirts twirling in the autumnal sun, and the bucolic cowbells bouncing off the surrounding peaks left us in a dreamlike state.
Lino grabbed our arms and said, “now we walk.” We walked a few miles, side by side with the cows, down to their pastoral winter grazing spot where tents full of food and music awaited all who made the descent. As we sat eating creamy fontina cheese and warm Italian bread, our oldest son said, “The cows are home and so are we… At least for the winter.”
Watching the prized cows reminded us that just last fall we were living in SE Asia learning about Hinduism. The sacred cows are a symbol of God’s generosity to humankind in some religions. While the homecoming parade wasn’t for us, we felt that the timing was a gift.
So, we are living at 6,000 feet, in a village of 800, in a 400-square foot apartment, with a college-sized refrigerator, scurrying to gather winter gear. The mountain is our classroom and we could not be more excited. After all, as Dr. Seuss said, “Being crazy isn’t enough.”