May 11, 2009

Someone here in Switzerland asked us, “How does it feel to be home?” Where is home? We still pay our taxes in Canada, our younger son and my family lives there, and that’s the only place we own a house. We spend more than half the year there. Our older son and wife, and Robert’s family lives here in Switzerland, as we did for many years before moving to Canada in 1991.

Through the wild flower meadow we see the village of Schleitheim with a patchwork of fields surrounding it. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Through the wild flower meadow we see the village of Schleitheim with a patchwork of fields surrounding it. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

I saw a group of African women in Chitenge dress (traditional African dresses) on a street in Zurich and felt a wave of homesickness.  The day before a group of African men walked before us and life felt a little more normal for a moment. I realize that Zambia has become home of sorts too. We are getting good at making home wherever we are, I think. At the same time there’s a feeling of being somewhat rootless.

* * * *

Erich Walter spreads the grass to dry better - hay fields are usually pretty steep. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Erich Walter spreads the grass to dry better - hay fields are usually pretty steep. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Robert and I hike along the hills of Schleitheim to take advantage of the beautiful spring day. From our vantage point at the top of the Staufenberg, the village of Schleitheim below us – population approximately 2000 –  nestles along the creek between the hills. A patchwork of grain fields, in all stages and colours spreads out around it.

Schleitheim is grain farming country. We walk along barley fields that are heading out already; beside knee high deep green wheat fields.  The heady scent of canola in bloom fills the air. Barley, wheat, canola and peas are winter crops in Switzerland. Canola is seeded late August, barley and wheat in November. The harvest will begin with barley in late June, wheat and canola in July.

Patches of brown are the corn fields, seeded a few weeks ago and just emerging. We find Grandpa Herman Fischer with a hoe in the sugar beet field, going after the stubborn weeds that evaded the spraying. When we farmed here 17 years ago, we still had to thin the sugar beets by hand, walking through each row with the hoe. Now beets are seeded at the right distance.

The average field size is between three and six acres. Some are less than one acre, others up to 25. I eye one handkerchief sized field; calculate how long it would take me to cut it with the John Deere 9600…

Grandpa Herman Fischer takes the hoe to stubborn weeds that have evaded the spraying on the sugar beet field. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Grandpa Herman Fischer takes the hoe to stubborn weeds that have evaded the spraying on the sugar beet field. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Below us Erich Walter is one of the first to cut hay. His wife is raking down the grass by the steep spots along the path, by hand. Erich will pick it up with the machine as he drives by. In many hay fields the wild sage blooms profusely in dark blue, white daisies and some yellow flowers accenting it. These fields are not fertilized, and there are special subsidies paid for not cutting the fields until after the flowers have bloomed.

Not just bees and butterflies benefit from the wild flower meadows, but everyone out for a walk as we are. The Swiss do a lot of hiking – we meet quite a few even on this ordinary Monday afternoon.

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