Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Day Hike Two--Through the High Pastures of Conag, A Naturalist's Hike





Malan bakır le le çune waran le (Oh, we moved house, we went up to the high pastures)

                In the old days, before the mountains were mined and bloodied in guerilla battles, young men and women would go up in the summer with their herds to the waran, the local (and plural) Kurdish word for high pastures (yayla in Turkish). They’d camp there from May to September, grazing their animals, flirting with one another, and sleeping at nights under the grandeur of the Milky Way. They stayed in the tiny holik—or pasture cottages at night, but there were bonfires, songs, and, according to Dede, lots of flirting. In standard Kurdish, waran means also ‘homeland or hearth’, which may explain why there is so much nostalgia for them. In the  Xolxol region (once a province of Kiğı), each village had its own pasture land, and Delal had never seen hers, so we persuaded our neighbor, Mehmet Abi, who had spent his boyhood summers in the waran, to take us on a hike up through them. Which brings us to today’s entry, ladies and gentleman, on a 10 hour day walk from Conag to Xolxol through the old pasturelands, through nostalgia, ruin, renewal, and breathtaking scenery—all with a bit of history tossed in, both natural and human (of the oral kind).

                Now just briefly, there’s going to be a lot of information in here that my Southern father called ‘not important but nice to know’. Why? The Kiğı region where my wife’s village is located suffers from an information blackout. There are clearly lots of important things going down and interesting things growing here but no knowledge whatsoever about what the hell any of it is—the reason? Well as mentioned in my previous article, lots: indifference, remoteness, a 30 year guerilla war, poverty, a desire by nationalists to erase all traces of Kurds, Alevis and Armenians from the records (the paper documents themselves have all been erased or destroyed). The information blackout is archaeological (just what the hell is an Urartruan castle doing in Xolxol (Yayladere)? How is it connected to the one in Bağın that’s actually on archaeologists’ maps? What about the prehistoric drawings in the caves of Pargasor? Are the ones at Abvank part of a larger system?) Biological—no one knows the names of the wide diversity of animals and plants around here, or what you can do with them.

                Which brings me to another point—a few farseeing souls are trying to figure out a way to bring a sustainable economy to this area without destroying what makes it worth saving (a la the way the government’s dams and other projects have wreaked havoc in nearby areas) Or at least, create some sort of awareness of the value of this place before someone comes along and tries to build a mall. So some of the nice-to-know-stuff will include uses I’ve discovered for local plants. By the way, don’t take everything I say as the last word on these plants—I spent hours and hours and hours researching, checking out everything from Wikipedia to herbal medicine websites to botany books checked out from the library, but it’s easy to make mistakes because the sources are not organized and lots of these plants look alike. I only included the ones I am relatively certain of.


We woke up early in the morning to avoid being out on the bare rock face in the heat. Our first target was an old ruin on the ridges called Derdivan. It’s just barely visible from the fields of Conag looking north and slightly east where a ring of rocky peaks shadow the village.

We started our trek along the trail that follows a dike to the spring of Merga Axe—the Ağa’s Meadow. Conag is known for its water—springs are bubbling out of the rocks wherever you look. Apparently it has always been known for its water and for this spring in particular. Mehmet Abi tells us of the Turkish lord (Bey) of Temran Village , who so desired the water of Conag that he sent a servant every day to retrieve it—a ride of a hundred kilometers or so. The servant figured he’d cut his journey short and stop at a closer fountain along the way, but the Ağa tasted the difference, beat him to a pulp, and then sent him back for the true water. This cruel Turkish lord of Temran (Darman in Armenian) apparently was especially cruel to the Armenians of the village—and had been appointed years before the genocide by the Ottoman government to whip the local Armenians into line—the Russians Empire was looming to the East and the Ottomans were afraid the Armenians would embrace the cause of their Christian brothers. This an oral story picked up by Mehmet Abi on a trip through the region. I looked up the Lord of Temran but couldn’t find anything specific, though Darman clearly played an important role in the genocide. From that angle, there’s tons of information.

                There seem to have been many ties between the Conag region and Temran in the past (some of the villagers still have relatives there today) Delal’s uncle’s paternal grandmother was a hidden Armenian, born in Temran and moved to Kiğı before the genocide started. The Derdivan to where we were headed might have been some sort of shrine to which Armenian priests from Temran came to pray (this according to Cevat Eran’s book Bingölün Yayladeresi). But again, I could find nothing concrete.

                The path winds past the spring and through the ruins of the old village mill. It is lined with penny royal plants (pung in Kurdish), a species of mint with purple flowers. The Kurds of Conag still use penny royal in their cooking and apparently it has been used medicinally in the past to spur on a woman’s period. There are also large bushy trees called qultifang (black elderberry or Sambucusnigra) near the water—the branches and fruit are supposedly good for colds and the urinary tract—but the green parts are all poisonous and contain cyanides, as do the unripe berries. And of course you can make jelly from the berries. A study showed that it also was useful against Influenza B. Take a look.
The waterfall on the ya Bêbin

From the mill, we take a path that winds up around above the creek toward a small waterfall. The bath is called the Rêya Bêbin—the Watershed Road. Before we hit the waterfall, we turn up and right toward an outcropping of red and black rock that is shaped either like a ruined wall of a castle or a camel—depending on who you ask.

In the rocky, dry areas along the foothills of these mountains, we run into a pretty wildflower called the marsh mallow (our English word marshmallow comes from an extract the ancient Egyptians used to make a candy from this plant). The scientific name is Althaea officinalis or the deve gülü in Turkish and it apparently has a lot of medicinal properties. In fact its genus name Althaea means ‘to heal’ in Greek. The flowers and young leaves can be eaten in salads, the root can be used to treat sore throats, and a gargle rinse made from the plant can treat mouth ulcers (useful for me and my mom) The root extract is also sometimes used to flavor Middle-Eastern versions of helva.

The Marsh Mallow

Some of the birds here are quite striking in color. We see, at different points, bright yellow and black golden orioles (sarıasma in Turkish) and a luminous green bird called a blue-cheeked bee-eater. (Dede told us it was a şalul in Kurdish though that translates as hummingbird, and this is no hummingbird. In Turkish its mavi yanaklı arıkuşu) There are also lots of magpies (qelebast in Kurdish), and black and white crows (qirik), and a funny looking bird with a crest called ‘diksuleyman’ in Kurdish but a hoopoe in English. The hoopoe’s cry is very distinctive and you hear it all the time in these woods. One interesting thing about the hoopoe is that during nesting, the females coat their feathers and those of their chicks with a foul smelling liquid that keeps predators away—it supposedly smells like rotting meat. Another plus is that it eats a lot of insects that farmers consider pests. Most of these birds range over all of Eurasia for nesting in the summer and winter in Africa—so the ones we see now in Conag will be heading Africa-ward come September.

In case you are ever in the village and wonder about what birds are making what song, here is a video of the Golden Oriole and its song. And here is a video of the hoopoe and its song. And also of the blue cheeked bee-eater.

Me as we arrive at Camel Rock
We head up toward the camel rock, crisscrossing back and forth along an old goat trail.

The heat is bearing down on us already and the trail is lined with stinging nettles (ısırgan otu), milk thistle and other thorny plants. The milk thistle is everywhere—a pretty prickly plant with a globe of purple flowers on top that Delal says they used to hit like a baseball. Its name is kelenga kere in Kurdish—or Donkey’s Thistle, because donkeys love to eat it. According to different herbal medicine sites, the seeds have been used for centuries totreat liver problems, including hepatitis B and C.  It is also apparently a good hangover treatment because it cleanses alcohol toxins from the organs. All parts of the plant are edible. The roots can be eaten raw or boiled and buttered. The leaves can be trimmed of bristles and used like spinach while the seed head can be eaten like a globe artichoke (it’s apparently a relative).

At a bend in the trail, we pass the camel shaped rocks and then push up, cresting one ridge until we emerge in a meadow filled with ruined shepherd’s cottages (horik).
On the ruined walls of the horik of Warê Garîşan
This is Warê Garîşan—the High Pastures of the Garishan. These houses are small and made of rock, with one section for the animals and a small bed sized section for the herder. I stood on the rubble of one of the walls and looked down over the valley below, the vast expanse of hill and garden that rolled all the way to the ancient Peri River—the name of which comes, not from the Turkish word for fairy but from a much older Assyrian word. The wind whipped over the rocks and the air carried the scent of some sweet herb. What the stars must have been like here at night! The splatter of the Milky Way, and all the meteorites. What a life that must have been—to spend your summers in such a place, surrounded by such stunning scenery!

The hot sunny view of the horik of Warê Garîşan
The pasture is full of a plant called gunî in the local Kurdish (goni in Kurmanci). In the old days, the sheep, goats, and cattle would have kept this meadow free of gunî, but now the plants made a thorny blanket of pale blue-green leaves, white fuzz, and purple flowers. In English, the plant is called milkvetch (or goat’s thorn). It is a part of a genus of plants called Astragalus, of which there are dozens of species in this region. The scientific name of this particular local species—if my research is accurate—is astragalus gummifier, and it contains a high amount of flavonoids—a plant compound with anti-viral and anti-cancer properties. (It is also apparently in the Bible!) It is currently being used in research for its ability to enhance the immune system. The bees that make the local honey feed on pollen from these flowers—so Bingöl honey may give an extra boost to immunity. A friend from the village of Xıwek tells us that you can pull up the roots and extra a gooey substance that you chew as gum. This gum has been mass produced, particularly by Iran. It’s called ‘shiraz gum’ by the hoipolloi and ‘tragacanth’ by them ivory tower know-it-alls. It’s also apparently a good topical medicine for burns.
The Fields of Milkvetch as we hiked toward Derdivan

A close up

We zig zag up a gravelly ridge, slipping and sliding as we go, toward the peak called Derdivan. Derdivan, according to the author of the only resource book on the region (Cevat Eran’s Bingölün Yayladeresi), is a word that means ‘high viewing’ in Kurdish, but it also sounds very Armenian. ‘Der’ being monastery and ‘Vank’ being something like a chapel. Then, of course, there are the aforementioned rumors that Armenian priests from Temran came to this area to pray at places like the Derdivan, of which there are several, and according the Mehmet Abi, there used to be a small shrine (ziyaret) for burning candles here—implying some sort of church like ruin like the one in the village center. These days, the Derdivan has only two small circles of stones built by soldiers to serve as make-shift watchtowers. This region used to be full of guerillas and Turkish soldiers kept guard here. There is a tiny oasis of oaks next to the rocks and we rest in the shade and have a peach.
The stick we set in a cairn of rocks on top of Derdivan--That's Sulbus and Taru in the back ground

The blackberries on Korta Usxanan
The hike down from Derdivan zig zags back past another set of horik, these filled with swallows (hechecik in Kurdish, you can hear what we heard at this link) and wild black berry bushes (tureşk). The horik on the right are the Korta Usxanan (The Yusufhan Hollow) and the ones on the left the Korta  Seferan (the Sefer Hollow). The Sefers and the Yusufhans are the two Kurdish clans that settled Conag. ‘Kort’ is a word that means ‘hollow’ or ‘area of land lower than the surroundings’ and they are considered ‘hollows’, I guess, because they are lower than the peaks around them.

The Horik of Korta Usxanan

The swallows twitter, the black berries are ripening on the upper slopes and we sit on the stones and have a few (berries not swallows) for brunch. There are bear droppings everywhere, giant piles filled with berries and nuts, and we have been walking in the foot prints of a bear since we left the ridge. But of course, there are none in sight (we make too much noise)—the interesting thing is a lot of small plants grow out of the dung—a whole mulberry tree sprouted from a pile of bear dung down in Mehmet Abi’s garden.

So yeah, a bit about bears (hirç). I’m devoting some space to this because there are lots of bears here, and all during the hike, everyone keeps talking about them. Every night, we fall asleep to all the dogs in all the villages barking hysterically at what are most likely bears, because the next day, in all the fields around us, fences were broken down, honey combs raided, and mulberry tree branches snapped in bear raids. We hear stories of bear intelligence—bears circumventing or destroying electric fences and dismantling ingenuous bear traps.

My favorite story is this: the local bee keeper and honey maker, Cengiz Abi, noticed that his hives were being raided at nights but he didn’t see how or when because he was going up every night to monitor them. So one night, he decided to take a friend. Both men had a flash light but only Cengiz turned his on on the way up to the hives. He did his standard inspections and then, with flashlight glowing, went back to the village leaving the friend secretly hiding behind the hives. Of course, the bear loped down as soon as Cengiz left—apparently having waited till he saw the telltale flashlight descend the hill. The friend heard a rattling near the hives and turned on his light, and there, illuminated in all his ursine glory, was a big brown bear seated on his ass with a honey comb raised up in the air, mouth open, ready to take a chomp a la Winnie the Pooh.

The bear in Turkey is ursus arctos arctos, the Euroasian brown bear, a subspecies of the brown bears found all over the world—though darker in coloring than the other types. All the population studies I’ve read (link here) site lack of systematic studies in the region as an impediment to any accurate estimates of pretty much anything about them (information blackout, remember?) Despite the fruit salad like consistency of the many piles of bear poop we observed and stepped in, brown bears also eat deer, mountain goats, and occasionally live stock.  There are some wonderfully startling pictures here or at this bizarre hunting website. According to internet searches, unlike the black bear, adult brown bears cannot climb trees (though cubs can) due to the shape of their claws, corroborated by our Uncle Mehmet from the nearby village of Zenan who relates a story of climbing a tree to escape a bear. Also, adult males are aggressive and some bears will eat other bears’ cubs, so cubs often flee up trees when a strange male appears.

Now for those who think the bears are on 24 hour Eat-Some-People patrol. The brown bear is primarily noctornal and can be seen during the early evening and late morning hours. They are not ‘full hibernators’ which mean they can be woken easily, and prefer secluded spots for their dens like caves. And I thought this was interesting, from the ‘Bear Almanac’, ‘bears make 11 different sounds bears in 9 different contexts. Sounds expressing anger or aggravation include growls, roars, woofs, champs and smacks, while sounds expressing nervousness or pain include woofs, grunts, and bawls. Sows will bleat or hum when communicating with their cubs.’ (From Bear Anatomy and Physiology from Gary Brown's The Great Bear Almanac, Lyons & Burford, Publishers, 1993)

                Here is a safety guide with bears—wear bells, red ribbons and make lots of noise when you walk. Also, stay away from strong smelling things like colognes, perfumes, and strong smelling foods because their noses are quite sharp. If you see a bear and it doesn’t see you, move discreetly away. Most attacks are bluffs, so make noise, wave your arms to look big, and don’t run. More here.

The wild peony seeds at the Korta Uşxanan
Speaking of bears, another plant popping out of the ruins of the horik of the Yusufhan Hollow is the wild peony or gula hirçe (Bear’s rose) in Kurdish. In the spring it makes a bright purple blossom, but in the late summer it produces tall purple seedpods filled with hard bead-like beans. Delal’s aunt says they used to make necklaces and rosaries out of the seeds.  According to an herbal medicine site, the seeds used to be ground up and used to treat colds and sore throats, but the entire plant is poisonous so I’m not about to try it.

Our fingers coated with black berry juice, we keep traipsing diagonally down toward a small belt curving up toward Çiyaye Rût (Bald Mountain). Then up the far hill to a rocky outcropping overlooking the valley below—to the West is the volcanic Mt. Silbus, the rugged Mt. Taru, and all the peaks surrounding them. It’s a majestic view—the cloud shadows dapple the rocks, and toward the north is a patch of red rock and bursts of green dot the plains where springs burst out of the mountainside and sprout patches of weed, wild poplars (kawax) and willows (bi in Kurdish). And interesting thing about Taru is that the profile changes depending on where you are viewing it from. From the mezra (sub-village) of Xelan near Conag, the left side looks like the profile of a young African girl with her chin pressed up against a bearded man. The locals call her the ‘Arap kızı’, the Arabian Maiden. She’s visible from nowhere else.

The view of jik in the back and the castle (Kale) in the foreground

Taru (left) and Silbus (Surp Luis)

Besides Taru and Silbus, we can also see the precipitous Tûjik—its name means ‘sharp, rugged’ in Kurdish) and the Urartuan castle (Kale). Though the castle to the south in Bağın near Karakoçan is on many of the maps I found of the old Urartu Kingdom, I can’t find any trace of this castle. Karakoçan was called Palin in the ancient Urartu days. The Bağ of the current name meant ‘god’ in the Urartu language. In 1914, an explorer with the National Geographic Society did a tour of this area and said a tablet had been found at Bağın with ‘cuneiform’ on it explaining that this was the border of the Urartu Empire headquarted at Tuşpa (Van) during the time of King Menuas--(link)--who was the fifth King of Urartu and a great expanionist who built fortress in all the conquered territories. He reigned back in 800BC—could the fortress we saw on our walk be King Menuas’s work? Why isn’t it on maps? Did explorers not make it this far up the Peri River Valley? Are people wrong in calling this an Urartu castle? No one knows—and the treasure hunters destroy a little more of it every year. There were burials up on the top until quite recently that were destroyed by people hunting for Armenian gold.

According to our trusty Cevat Eran the castle was part of a fortress system overlooking an ancient highway connecting Dersim to the Urartu capital of Tuşpa (Van). If there were an attack here on the frontier, a fire would be lit on the peak and the guardians at Bağın would see it and light their own fire—in this way, in less than 20 minutes, a chain of castles lighting fire after fire would notify the capital of the attack.
The yarrow plants (yellow) in the Kilampox Ravine

From this ridge we start winding down the other side toward the Klampox ravine (spelled Kilampox in our Evan’s book). I have no idea what the name of this ravine means—in our Kurdish dictionary it says ‘Kilam’ means a musical story while ‘Pox’ means improper remark (halt in Turkish). Does this place mean the ravine of improper songs? As we descended into the ravine we passed through patches of yellow yarrow (civanperçemi in Turkish and gulhesil in Kurdish) You can apparently boil the flowers and leaves and make an ointment that is good for skin diseases, wounds, and to stop bleeding. It’s apparently a good animal feed, too, because it contains so many minerals, and it helps to prevent erosion. Some interesting facts—it’s scientific name achillea wilhelmsii comes from the legend that Achilles took it to Troy as a medicine to treat battle wounds. Here is a link which shows that it has been used to help reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

The Picnic Site at Nala Gewr
 The ravine is a closed-in hollow created by the Nala Gewr (Gray Creek) that spills out of the mountain side and is rumored to be one of the main sources of water and food for bears in the area. The creek is lined with lovely green willows and oaks that shade its banks. We climb down to this stream and cut a path to the water with a machete. The water is guarded by a swarm of yellow jackets but they seem indifferent to us as we dig a small pool in the creek. Mehmet Abi makes a fountain using a pet bottle he cuts in two and we fill our water bottles. The water is ice cold—so much so that it stings to leave our hands in for more than a few seconds. We build a hearth with some rocks under a shade of willows and here have our lunch. The girls are very much focused on making tea, but the icy water takes a long time to boil.

We linger here for a while among the tall grasses—no one has been here in ages. There’s no path, no sign of other fires, no litter. About four in the afternoon, we climb up the other side of the ravine through little patches of stunted oak covered with apple like protrusions called ‘oak apples’ or ‘gall nuts’ (mazî in Kurdish). Oak apples are the swelling of oak branches from the nest of gall wasps. These oaks are a species called Aleppo Oaks (Quercus infectoria) and their galls are used to make an ink called ‘iron gall ink’ or Aleppo ink which was used all over Europe for writing, and can still be bought. (Here’s a link with how to make it)

At the top of this ridge we have a view of the valley under the Castle. There is a dry stream flowing through it called the ‘Darabi’ or Willow Tree Stream for the willows on its borders. The ridge we’re standing on is covered with pale blue-green milkvetch (gunî) and another species of the same family that locals call gongil (at least according to Uncle Mehmet from Zenan; others call it fisgunî). Gongil is shaped like a globe and looks to me like a sea urchin. According to Uncle Mehmet, the roots are quite flat and so people used to use dig it up and turn it upside down to use it to line their ceilings—snakes would not crawl over the gongil and so you were kept safe from them. Pretty little stalks of white flowers grow out of the middle.  

Gongil--another Astragalus

So here is an example of that information blackout. Gongil is everywhere and an image search of the Turkish name (geven) turns up this very plant, but with no scientific info or a species name. An image search of the species names of all the Astragalus species in the region turn up no pictures of this plant. So what the hell is it? I think it’s the Astragalus Traganthus (based on this website) but they might just be guessing. A study I read out of Tehran University says Eastern Turkey sees a high level of variation in this plant and is a ‘center for speciation’ for the genus Astragalus (Funny thing, these researchers cite insufficient information as a problem in their studies). In other words, this region is the source of all sorts of new and crazy species of gunî—dozens of them, but and seem to have the same medicinal properties. Basically, you use dried slices (sliced diagonally and horizontally), shavings, shredded root, whole root, and liquid extracts. Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners often administer it as a tea or shredded in soup.
Another common plant is the Bladder Senna (Colutea arborescens). It produces these puffy membranous bean pods that are fun to pop--in fact one of the Turkish folknames for the plant is patlangaç--'popper', and, an added bonus, it's leaves boiled make a mild laxative! But apparently it's not much use medicinally otherwise. The seeds are poisonous so don't eat them. It is a good fighter of erosion, however, and prevents much of this land from washing away.

I've been corrected--this is Bladder Senna, Colutea arborescens
The rolling, rocky valley under the castle is full of thorny thistly plants and majestic views of the castle and Tûjik. The bed of the Dara Bî Creek is dry and we cross slipping on crumbly ridges of yellow sand. Some of the plants here are the narcissus (nergis) and anıx. Now anıx is always explained as ‘Kurdish thyme’, but the plant we found and harvested had pale yellow-white flowers and every thyme plant I found on line and in our botany books has blue flowers. It is actually a species of oregano native to this area called Origanum rotundifolium, or 'Round Leaved Oregano'. It has a thyme like flavor, though a bit more lemony in my opinion. My wife fries it a bit in oil and drizzles it over a creamy soup made with yogurt and it’s delicious. 


Another plant we find along a dry stream bed is called bugloss in English, though I have never heard of it in my life. It has pretty deep blue flowers with luminous white centers. It’s called güriz in Kurdish and sığır dili (Ox tongue) in Turkish—the scientific name is Anchusa officinalis—whatever you call it, you can eat the young leaves in salads and the flowers are apparently good for your urinary tract. 
The blue flowers are the güriz (bugloss)

It is too late to hike up to the castle, so we skirt around it, along a path called Reye Riviye—the fox’s road. And in deference to the name, a red fox lazes in the middle of the road as we round a bend past the first sign of civilization—the Mezela Şere, the largest cemetery of Xolxol with some very old graves marked with ram horns, a sign of the old Akkoyun Turkic empire that used to control these lands back in the 1400s.

One other common plant up in these parts is called kinkor by our local Kurds, though the common Turkish name is çarşıt. I could not find much about it anywhere at all except from locals, Uncle Mehmet, and Cevat Eran’s book. Kınkor is a spindly, brambly plant that grows in the rocky places here—its green and reddish. It’s all green when its young and if you cut it then, a burning white liquid resembing milk will ooze out. In the old days, they would harvest it in the fall, leave it to dry in bundles and then take it home for winter feed for the animals. In the fall, it turns yellow and can get yanked out of the ground by a good wind, just like a tumble weed.
Kinkor--under which the delicious Kifkark mushrooms grow in the spring--yum
Foxes here, like everywhere, are known for being wiley, but this guy in front of us seems quite tame. He is the same orange gray color as the rock with large pointy ears bigger than those of any other foxes I’ve seen. He doesn’t bother to get up until we are right on him, and even then, doesn’t dash away but trots off nonchalantly to a pile of rocks near the graveyard.

Heading toward the castle and Fox Road

As the number two most common animal I saw in this area let me stop and give a little info on the red fox. Our fox friend is vulpes vulpes anatolica—the Anatolian Red Fox. The red fox (whose coat can widely vary in color) originated here and expanded out all over the world (just like civilization). They apparently have remarkable hearing skills and can hear the flight of crows from over ½ km away (about a third a mile) and the squeaking of mice from 100 meters (300 ft.) Another cool thing is that though the use urine to mark territories they will also mark empty food caches with urine so as not to waste time searching there later. Like our fox, most people here say foxes are not particulary afraid of people and may form friendships with cats or dogs. Uncle Mehmet says that there was a fox in Zenan who got close enough to pet.

Also, since Urartuans controlled this area way back when, I think it’s interesting to note that Urartu burial chambers contain fox skeletons—the animals were part of death rituals in other words. This connection to religion is old since some of the carvings on the monuments at Göbeklitepe, the oldest temple-like site in the world, are of foxes.

We also keep seeing turtles everywhere—it is apparently testudograeca ibera—the Spur Thighed Tortoise—named for the spurs on their thighs, naturally. They range from the Central Balkans all the way to the Caucuses. They live in ‘scrapes’ and come out during the day to bask and graze. We heard them moving through the brush everywhere we went, assumed they were giant bears with land mines in their mouths, freaked out, and then only found, in the end, turtles. They eat dandelions, mallows, and vetches—all of which I have mentioned here. They like to bask in the sun and will prop themselves up on a rock and extend their necks and legs. The most interesting thing about them seems to be their mating habits—the male gets rather feisty, biting and ramming them as he tries to mount them and mounting other dude-turtles if ladies are not available. They also seem to be surprisingly, in a little danger of extinction.

Let me end with one final animal—my Chinese zodiac sign, the wild boar our in scientific circles the Sus scrofa libycus . We see signs of boar all along the paths—they have clearly been rooting in places. At twilight once we saw a heard of them in the fields. People hunt them here, though they don’t eat them, however back in the days that homo sapiens first started settling these lands, they not only ate them, but domesticated them. Evidence for the very first domesticated pigs comes out of sites like Çatalhöyük, one of the earliest human settlements sites in the world and not too far from this area. The story is here.

So that’s it—hopefully I turned on a few lights in the vast information blackout, but really, there is still so much we don’t know about this place. If nothing else, you can look at the pretty pictures.



Despina Tsafetopoulou said...

Dear jeff, I'm pretty sure that the so called astragalus membranaceus, is actually a bladdersenna (Colutea arborescens)...Take a look at the following link
Hope I helped :)

Jeff Gibbs said...

Could very well be Despina--I had a hard time finding an exact match when I was looking up these plants. Thanks a lot.