Jewel In The Crown

Brrrr! By Jove, it’s bloody cold in our corner of SW Turkey. The wind is whistling in from ‘Siberia’ and the clear skies mean there was quite a frost last night up our little valley; it is not a day to be out and about. Generally, our winters here are mild and gentle which manifests itself as a long and colourful springtime.

(This post was recovered from Archers of Okçular first published January 2013)

Anem1Flowers abound with one particular species front and centre at this time – Anemone coronaria the Crown Anemone. Walking around the area, especially if you are using the maps and guide notes in ‘Okçular Village – a Guide’ and ‘Backways and Trackways’, is a feast for the eyes with great swathes of multi-coloured anemones wherever you look.

Crown Anemones are native to the Mediterranean region and have had a special place in the various cultures for thousands of years. The Sumerians (3000BCE) named them for their god, Nea’man; the Greeks for Adonis, who died of wounds whilst hunting wild boar and was transformed into a flower stained red by his blood. In Hebrew its name is ‘Calanit’ or ‘Kalanit’, and there is even a link to my old mob, the Parachute Regiment. As the British Mandate for Palestine wound down in bloodshed and ignominy, the Paras serving there were nicknamed ‘Kalaniyot’ for their red berets.

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For me, the joy of this flower lies in its profusion and the staggering range of hues of varying intensity – from purple through to palest blue; from scarlet to palest pink to pure white.

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There is also an ‘albino’ where even the stamen and stigma are white; these are not very common around here, although there are enough that I could guarantee to show you some in Kocadere Valley. That said, I’ve never seen any elsewhere.

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a beautiful white anemone, compare it with the ‘albino’ below

So, ‘Why’, I hear you ask, ‘aren’t you well wrapped up and out there admiring these jewels?’ Because, dear reader, with a flowering period of over three months I can toast my toes by the fire, read a book or write a post and wait for this bitter north wind to blow itself out.

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Then I shall wander around, find a warm, sun-dappled spot, and soak up one of the most beautiful and colourful sights in all of nature – countless wild, un-fiddled with ‘Jewel in the Crown Anemones’ set against the backdrop of Okçular’s Kocadere Valley.

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Kocadere’s beautiful ‘albino’ Crown Anemone
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naturally occurring double anemone
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‘Kalaniyot’ – a naturally occurring ‘Red Devil’ 

Alan in Okçular

‘vive la différence’

With my wanderings hampered by wonky knees I’m left with the relative confines of my immediate area – but what an area and what wonders. This from a short walk a few days ago – may it give you as much pleasure as it gave me.

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this and the rest are mostly Anemone coronaria in the rain

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And next, because a surprise should always be offered when possible, is a first for Okçular.

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Anemone heidreichii (the very pale pink on the surface and the light pink on the outside are indicative of this species) believed to be endemic to Crete this is something of a find

Alan in Okçular

 

Mister Bird

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Little Owl checking out the goings-on in the spare bedroom

My fellow villagers are a funny old lot – farmers almost to a man (or woman) and mostly country born and bred. Even so, when I ask them what that is – indicating a dragonfly or cricket – ‘Böcek!’ (insect) they exclaim. And that? (a beetle) ‘Böcek!’

It’s the same with birds – what do you call that? (jay) ‘Kuş!’  (bird) And that? (robin) ‘Kuş!’ There are few exceptions and this continues to astound me, even after 20 years.

When I was a kid growing up in the countryside we bumpkins knew the names of every reptile, insect and bird species whose eggs we plundered for our collections (do be forgiving, nobody had heard of environmentalism back then; this was how it was!). Many of the creatures were known by their local name – it was years before I realised that a ‘Throssle’ was a Song Thrush. Here in Okçular there doesn’t seem to be the same interest, a böcek is a böcek and a kuş is a kuş – what else do you need to know?

Mind you, there is one particular exception, ‘Baykuş’ or Mister Bird. Mister Bird is an owl, which is a dignified and appropriate term of address for a most dignified and intelligent looking creature.

Owls are not let off the ‘böcek’ or ‘kuş’ hook entirely. There are Little Owls, Scops Owls, Tawny Owls and other owls – but they are, to a bird, all labelled with the same monika – ‘Baykuş’ – Mister Birds to a man (or woman).

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Tawny Owl

Turks are also a bit superstitious about owls, seeing them as bringers of bad luck – harbingers of doom and such. All of which causes our neighbours some consternation because for a number of years we’ve had a beautiful Tawny Owl living in one of our chimney pots. Not only consternation but incredulity that we are happy about it! In fact, we give off so many happy vibes that, a few winters ago a second Tawny moved into an adjacent condo – two down, two to go! We also get visits from Little Owls and Scops Owls.

Living where we do at the edge of the forest, without street lights (another source of neighbourly worry and consternation) and other distractions, we can sit outside or lie abed and listen to these beautiful creatures calling and answering each other. When the stars are out or the moon is high they add extra enchantment to an already spellbinding experience.

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Eurasian Eagle Owl

Soon after we moved here, J was driving home quite late one evening and had stopped the car just outside our gate. I went out to see what the problem was and was treated to the most fantastic sight – standing in the beam of the headlights was an enormous bird – an Eagle Owl! J’s nose was glued to the windscreen watching this magnificent creature from just a few metres away. The owl sat there for a while before gathering itself and lifting off silently and disappearing into the night like something returning to another dimension. This is the only Eagle Owl I’ve been fortunate enough to see here – the experience is burned into my memory banks.

I don’t have any photos of that night, so we must make do with these stock images.

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Eagle Owl threatening dire consequences for hacking it off!

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

Kings and Şahs; Pawns and Piyons

Over the years our Okçular Book Project raised lots of dosh that was mostly spent making our village primary school a better or more fun place for the children and staff. This is a story about one of those projects – the Okçular School ‘Antique’ Outdoor Chess Set.

The idea of an outdoor chess set came to us last year when the school chess club entered a local tournament and came away with a whole bunch of medals and citations (I suspect everyone gets something to encourage them). They were so pleased with themselves that a ‘show piece’ outdoor set for the school seemed a very good idea.

Anyway, try as I might to find a plastic garden set online I couldn’t get a better price than $20 a set . . . as long as I bought 200 sets! So, I asked a computer-savvy Turkish friend to help. ‘What do you want it for?’ ‘The school chess club’ said I. ‘Well, I have the very thing in my garden shed’ said he; ‘It’s old, wooden and a bit battered, but you can have it if you want.’ ‘Nuff said!’ said I, ‘I’ll bring it tomorrow’ said he; and he did.

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gluing the bits back together and making new bits

What he delivered could have better been described as a pile of logs!! The quality of the pieces was obvious, but their condition was grim. Many were broken into bits as a result of his kids getting bored and using them as clubs for fighting with; there were parts missing and splits all over the place. I smiled manfully and thanked him!

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What followed was three weeks of 8-10 hour days on a restoration project that, whilst unexpected, was actually rather enjoyable. With help from Will, a chum from the other end of the village, and a true master of the art of shaping bits of wood using slivers of broken glass, and J’s undoubted skills with a pot of paint and a brush, we ended up with a uniquely beautiful chess set for the kids. Osman, one of the fathers and a builder by trade made and tiled the playing area, and the whole was handed over to the children. Their faces were a treat and worth every cut and curse of effort to bring this little project to completion.

The Okçular Book Project was all about community and giving something back for all the kindness shown to J and me since we first moved here more than 20 years ago.

I’ll leave you with a few pictures;

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü