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The July issue of the National Geographic magazine has an incredible article about the haymaking practiced in the small villages of the Transylvanian region of Romania. Entitled “Hay. Beautiful.” (written by Adam Nicolson and photographed by Rena Effendi) it tells of the rich ecological relationship that the inhabitants of this area have nurtured and sustained since the Middle Ages, a relationship that is strenuous, but also as the author states, “makes human life viable here.” Part of what drew me into the pages, apart from the stunning photography, was the people it highlighted—a people who have for centuries depended upon the upland meadows that surround their communities. A word that is used in my congregation for many of them who came from rural villages and small towns in central Europe is landsleute, or “people of the land.” Many of the people of Transylvania are landsleute. Even more resonant to me and in my present setting is that they include Romanian-speaking, Hungarian-speaking, and German-speaking villages. The story that is told in National Geographic is similar to ones I’ve heard told in other settings: over coffee, hospital visits, and holiday celebrations within my church family.
“There is a powerful chain of connections at work here. In the summer the grass of the pastures feeds the one or two family cows. But in the six-month stretch from mid-November to mid-May, they must remain inside, where the hay provides their only sustenance. Only hay makes keeping cows a possibility, and only milk from cows makes human life viable here. People in Transylvania live on the nutrient transfer from meadow to plate. That is why, in these valleys, hay is the measure of all things.”