02 June, 2010

People and environment II: Manta rays and subways

Though written together, this is a separate post because, in a way, it is the flip-side of the last one. Where the last one concerned socio-psychological mediation of human impacts on the environment, this post is more about nature's impact on humans. As i write, i've been wondering if there is a better term than "natural"; after all, humans, and their technological artifacts, are a result of natural processes. Something else, something much more difficult to describe, separates the anthropogenic from that which precedes it. And then there is the agrarian, where human and natural merge in an indecipherable dance.

In Yolağzı, the hills are covered with olive groves; the floodplain stretches fertile to the river where every day men are fishing by the dam. Oğuzhan and i find a turrle; he tells me how the storks which nest in the village are accorded special significance as pilgrims, overflying the holy cities of Islam on their migration. He misses the chorus of frogs, a sound absent in Ankara.

During four months in this capital nestled into a steppe valley, the experience of nature has been a dual one. Either i feel its absence keenly, or i do not feel it at all. Before the visit to Yolağzı, i ached for the familiar sound of an amphibian choir. From campus, i see the naked peaks of hills encircling Ankara. But aside from the narrow swath of blooming trees around campus, and sightings of Carduelis carduelis and Garrulus glandarius, i became largely accustomed to the built environment, rich in anthropogenic stimuli, crowding out an absence of nature.

I think for many Anatolians, recent migration to urban areas coupled with the daily demands of life in a developing economy overshadow the need for a connection to nature. Nonetheless, concern for the environment surfaces in unlikely ways, and the positive psychological effects of naturalistic stimuli are introduced in unlikely places.

In a few of the metro stations - this picture is from Bahçelievler - giant TV screens run a continuous loop of reklam (advertisements). A few moments before this shot, i looked up to see a manta ray, almost life-sized, flapping its way across the screen. At the bottom of the screen, a sentence in Turkish gave some information about the animal. Innovative: provide stressed commuters with a broad swath of natural aqua between every few ads, and educate them about biodiversity in the process. Seconds later, before i could grab my camera, the gently flapping ray was (ironically) replaced by dairy processor Sutaşkı's herd of flying cows and the words tren geliyoooor: "the train is coming", with a bovine twist.

Two days later, on my way to the bus stop i noticed for the first time something i'd walked by at least a dozen times - an artificial waterfall. Facing it, underneath several small maples, men relax on a  benches with their backs to a busy intersection. In fact, from the right vantage point, one can be immersed in the cool shade and rush of falling water and hardly realize that this is the side of a train overpass in bustling Sihhiye.

Today in Kızılay i was accosted by Greenpeace volunteers. I'd have asked them endless questions about the experience of being an environmentalist in modern Turkiye - but my Turkçe's still not up to that.