A new layer of snow has enveloped the Alps, but only after three solid weeks of sunshine, raising temperatures up to 22°C here in Saint Jean de Sixt and melting a lot of snow. These are perfect examples of how quickly the landscape in the mountains can change. Less than two weeks ago, I watched kids sledging down a snowy field which is now sprouting spring grass. The rope tow and skiing area in St Jean de Sixt further up the hill, which had been packed with holiday makers and ski instructors, is now deserted (pictured, with Le Grand Bornand in the background), with a “no entry” sign chained across the passage to the ticket office and piste. Even the fresh snow hasn’t stuck and the piste is a grassy field.
Like everyone else, I took advantage of the warm days. I hung out my washing for the day to dry in the fresh air and warm sun. For all the great things you hear about living in the mountains, there are some downsides. Laundry smelling like cow poo is just one of those. That ‘fresh mountain air’ that so many of my visitors rave about is a different kind of fresh in early spring and late autumn. The farmers spray the fields with the best fertiliser around — their cows’…erm…’output’. The Aravis smells like cow poo for days.
Cows affect another aspect of mountain life — driving. If the influx of tractor traffic and low-season roadworks doesn’t slow you down on every journey, the cows are sure to. Cows don’t care if you’ve just washed your car: they’re happy to brush their poo-smeared hinds against your car — their horns threatening to work like a giant can opener on your roof. All you can do is wait for them to swish off the road and hope that a motorbike doesn’t speed past when the road is clear and splat some of that fresh cow poo all over your car.
During my first few years, I stayed indoors and closed all the windows when the farmers sprayed their fields. The smell was overpowering. Now, I don’t really notice that my washing smells more like rose fertiliser than roses. It’s possible to get used to this smell, apparently. Cows on the road are now my own rural version of traffic lights, and if my car gets a poo splatter, it simply looks like every other car here. If you think you’re ready for life in the mountains, I recommend a peg for your nose and an old banger of a car when you first arrive!