World monument for small scale farmers in Switzerland

I can see the sun! After 12 grey days I am sun-starved. December/January in the lower mainland of Switzerland is often dreary. That’s when it’s good to take a day off and head for the mountains, usually only an hour or more away and soak in the brilliant sun radiating off glistening snow peaks.

Sunday we were in the mountains visiting my Aunt and Uncle in Schiers. Schiers is on the road to Davos where the big wigs of the world meet to discuss global issues (Davos Summit). We didn’t get as much sun as I hoped, but it was a memorable day none the less.

Salginatobel Bridge spans the chasm and connects Schuders to the world. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Salginatobel Bridge spans the chasm and connects Schuders to the world. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

My relatives took us to see the Salginatobel Bridge, built in l929/30 by Swiss civil engineer Robert Maillart. A reinforced concrete arch bridge, it was declared a world monument by the American Society of Civil Engineers due to its design techniques which were advanced for its time. The bridge cost 135,000 Swiss Francs to build and 1.3 million US dollars to repair in l998…the Franc and US$ are almost par now. Read more on this fascinating bridge on Wikipedia.

Spanning a deep chasm, the bridge connects the tiny village of Schuders with the rest of the world. Before the bridge was there, Schuders’ 55 residents were often totally cut off during the winter months. Schuders consists mostly of small scale mountain farmers, some of which open their homes as bed and breakfast to tourists who want to hike and relax in the quiet wild splendor of the Praettigau mountains.

The narrow road to the bridge winds through mountain farm country. For farmers from the Canadian Prairie, it is hard to imagine how anyone can make a living clinging to those hillsides. No Swiss farmer could do it either without heavy subsidies from the government. Many of the barns we saw only hold about ten cows. But what would Switzerland be to tourists without well tended green pastures and the sound of cowbells tinkling in the clear air?

While still farming in Switzerland ourselves, Robert trained agricultural apprentices. One apprentice came from Pusserain, which we passed on the way to the bridge. We found the tiny farm, alone in a stretch between the woods and crags outside the village.

Farm buildings cling to the mountainside. Each set of buildings is a different farm, pasture and hay land so steep machinery can't always be utilized. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Farm buildings cling to the mountainside. Each set of buildings is a different farm, pasture and hay land so steep machinery can't always be utilized. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

No wonder the poor fellow, just 16 at the time, had a hard time adjusting to life in the flatlands (as we call it). I remember Robert teaching him how to shower, and it just went on from there. I guess you could compare it to taking a boy from a cabin in the Rocky Mountains somewhere far from civilization and putting him on a modern farm in Stony Plain, just outside the city of Edmonton. Culture shock doesn’t just happen from Africa to Canada!

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