23 June, 2010

Toward the high pastures

As i said, Artvin could be a dayhiker's paradise. After spending a day frustrated by the mess that ensued when my father sent his camera asa replacement (but didn't know he had to write "gift" on the packae, thus landing it in an Istanbul warehouse and  a buereaucratic mire), i needed a walk. Thus with only the barest of maps - it looked like the road i was on might just go over those towering peaks i saw - i set out.

From the university campus, the road turns to dirt, winding around the side of the hill. A few kilometers took me to Ahlat, the largest of the villages in that direction. Onward. Homes have corn patches; gardens lie on every piece of flat land and here and there stone terraces hold them as well. Some of the stone walls have longer stones inlaid perpendicularly, peg-like stairs to the next terrace level. Land too steep, if culutivated, is orchard or pasture.

The dirt road climbs up and up on its way to the high pastures. The closer i got to the peaks, the more inaccessible they seemed: wWithin striking distance - like looking at Baxter peak from Chimney Pond - but far, far steeper sides, and the road began to wind downward, an all-too meandering route to reach them with any speed. I was level with the lowest of the Yaylalar, high pastures, where people move their herds to graze for the summer months. Even at this altitude the panorama stretches awesome before me. Artvin is now only a speck below, and i can see over the mountains to other, snow-streaked peaks behind.

Besides the topographical, Artvin has much of the biological to offer. There are over two hundred species of butterflies found here, and that is no abstract statistic. I have never seen so many butterflies. Especially at the orchard edges, small birds are plentiful. Abundant seven-inch lizards dart from the road, scrambling over leaf litter or gravel to evade me.

On the walk i see people engaged in the traditional activities of village life. Two men call to me from high in a linden tree, where they are picking the flowers for linden tea. While small children hold the stock for him, an old man with a chainsaw cuts it into stove-wood (no one's wearing ear protection). Girls are driving their cows to higher pasture. A woman cleans out her pots in one of the many sluiceways; gravity fed pools and troughs are everywhere. Just outside Ahlat is a trout aquaculture operation, a grid of twelve circular concrete tanks fed by the whitewater stream.

On the return walk, a man is scything hay - though it is good drying weather now, it is not as easy to scythe when the grass itself is dry. A women sits beside the door, stripping peapods from the vine and shelling them, perhaps for seed. Nearby, in an orchard, two beekeepers in white suits are opening the hives; two clouds - of smoke and of bees - surround them.


Artvin has such sights aplenty. Though it is a small city, in the vastness of the mountains the night sky above is still dark. As i sat talking with my host on the balcony, a bright meteor shot earthward, the most vivid i have ever seen.