Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Job 39 - the rewards of life in Val Pellice

Knowest thou the time when the wild goats of the rock bring forth? Or canst thou mark when the hinds do calve? Job 39.1

Observing life in a Piedmont valley, Val Pellice, on the southern slopes of the Cottian Alps highlights to me how far I am alienated from God’s Creation and some of its finest gifts.

The Cottian Alps separate the valley of the Po River, which rises on Monte Monviso, a rocky pyramid, visible from just outside Turin, and the eastern margins of France. You cannot drive east beyond the last village in Val Pellice, but those with a bold, free spirit - and a horse - can ride across the peaks to France. Alpine walkers can make it in a day to habitation along ancient paths.

I have spent some days with Val Pellice farmers who are almost complete self- sufficient and whose life is sustainable. Their way of life strongly resembles that of the self-reliant Amish, How enviable such a state is for urban dwellers, unskilled in growing our food.  However, I ask myself whether could we match the sheer toil?

Farming under the boiling Italian sun is never-ending. The men must cut all their meadow grass to feed their animals, turning it into huge round bales. They milk, herd animals, grow their own organic food in kitchen gardens, go to market to sell produce, mend roads, log in preparation for winter. Each house already has huge, neat stores of drying logs ready for the coming months of snow. Farming start at dawn and continues until sundown. The common urban idea of a three week summer holiday is simply not on a small farmers’ agenda as they cannot leave their precious flocks. Berrying, jam making, bread making, cheese-making and catering for many workers, fully consumes the equally hard-working women.

I have limited perceptions of nature. I see steep slopes of sweet chestnut trees, beginning to bear their spiked fruit and diverse butterflies dancing in the sun. The locals know and see much more. These peaks are home to the lone wolf, fox, vulture, wild boar and the perennial Alpine marmot. Domesticated goats must graze on good Alpine grass, higher up to give high quality milk. The herders skilfully lead them up kilometres of steep paths to hidden stone houses above the ridges.Often they must return the same way in one exhausting day to a welcome supper of thick minestrone, home made bread and their own delicious cheeses. This is not denatured food: it tastes of hard work, love and skill.

The productiveness of the earth does not come easily even with the help of this fierce Italian sun. It requires a level of knowledge, costly to gain, and physical toil that few city dwellers would be able to muster. 

For those who pay this price, the reward is freedom from the growing urban fear of rising food prices - and meals fit for heaven. The other reward is knowing some of the answers to the humbling questions posed by God, in Job 39.


  1. Lovely. Makes me wish I was there.

    Love from AG

    1. It was another life, true life, but such hard work for the farmers! Maybe one day you will visit it! We adore this valley which is so close to nature but also full of spirituality as it has been for centuries. Incredible, really.