Technology, Labour and Environment

When machinery doesn’t exist, then you have to do the work yourself. Or do you? I’ve just come from a visit to the Upper Rhine…

The Source of the Rhine is Below These Ice Fields

….where herdsmen have guided travellers over the Saint Bernard Pass…

The Path to Rome

… since Roman times.

The So-Called Roman Bridge over the Mountain Freshet, the Rhine, in Hinterrhein

The bridge is only 400 years old, at most, but does lie on the old Roman crossing.

This is a high, sub-alpine country. Formerly it was treed with high-altitude pines. Now, only a few remain, the forests are pastures and the transition to the alpine is hard to mark.

Life is hard, winters are long, and there is only so much labour to go around. Transportation was difficult, and food came from what you could grow yourself. For that, forests were turned into houses, churches and barns, and the land was laid open to goats and cows. The grass had to be saved for the winter. Grass was cut by hand, carried on human backs, and stored in barns of stone and wood, the intersections of mountains, grass, cows, weather and human bodies.

In the winter, cows were brought up above the village and housed in a barn. When the hay was gone, they were moved to the next barn on the mountain, and so on.

It was a hard slog uphill, but the secret of this life was that the trip downhill was easy. The mountain helped. It stored your uphill energy, so to speak, and gave it back as you came down. In other words, to move your hay by hand would limit you terribly, but if the mountain and you could do it together you had a chance. So, that’s what you did. You threw it downhill and collected it where it stopped.

This Slumping is New

You can’t do this alone, but when you are the mountain, you can. It carried the hay for you from the highest slopes on the right, easy as can be. You rolled it down in a net, and it came down like an avalanche.

And then, from your house of stone and wood at the bottom of the slope, a mountain reshaped in an image of your own body, grouped in a herd just like your cows…

Each House is Village

It has a central passage, and private houses on each side. You meet, so to speak, in winter, in the village square, inside, sheltered from the snow.

These understandings will be ours again when the petroleum runs out. Now is the time to learn and to get ready to work once again with the Earth. We don’t have to do it in the old ways, but we have to do it.

We are not alone.

4 replies »

  1. Sepp Holtzer (Austria) theorized that the slumping in his part of the alps was due to solid spruce forests (relatively shallow root systems) and not enough hardwoods. Here there is no forest to speak of.


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