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THE BLACK PINES OF BEYAGAC
2002 / MARCH

The minibus carried us up a steep winding dirt track in the drizzling rain. The dry soil was thirstily drinking up the water. Several eagles took wing from rocky crags ahead of us, and soared gracefully towards the forest of black pines that gave them refuge.This forest is renowned for its ancient trees of astonishing age, some over 1300 years old, and an average age of 750 years. The forest is in the district of Beyaðaç in southwest Turkey, just within the province of Denizli where it borders the province of Muðla. It lies at an altitude of 1300-2000 metres on the northern slopes of Mount Çiçekbaba, which is part of the Sandýras Mountains that form the westernmost extension of the Toros range. In 1995 the entire mountain and its forest of monumental trees became a nature reserve covering an area of 1309 hectares.We noticed newly planted areas of young trees as we drove along, and as the altitude increased we began to see the odd black pine. These lonely trees which have witnessed such a large part of Anatolia's history evoked a strange sense of melancholy. Our first stop was Karagöl, a lake at 1330 metres.

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THE BLACK PINES OF BEYAGAC
2002 / MARCH

The lake is fed by melting snow and a small spring rising from its bed in winter, and in June dries up entirely. On its banks are old black pines, dignified and magnificent. Some had signs of fresh green foliage, some were dried and withering, and stumps remained to tell of others that had died and been felled. Young saplings growing amongst them were ready to take their place.As we stood there, the curtain of mist suddenly drew aside, revealing Çiçekbaba Daðý, the guardian angel of these ancient trees. This 2295 metre high mountain exerted a strange attraction, and it seemed as if the mountain had lovingly nurtured the black pines over long generations. We set out again. Now the huge black pines were all around us. The road became even steeper, and as we climbed towards the tree line, the forest thinned and then the last trees were left behind. Now the fragrance of the forest was replaced by a fresh mountain breeze. Before long we came to Kartal Gölü or Eagle Lake at 1903 metres. Before the road was made eagles had nested here, but they took offence at the intrusion and retreated

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THE BLACK PINES OF BEYAGAC
2002 / MARCH
into the forest, leaving only the name of the lake as a reminder of their presence. The mist fell and lifted sporadically, and when it next parted we saw a solitary black pine at 2000 metres.This lake is the venue for a traditional ceremony in memory of Çiçek Baba, the dervish saint after whom the mountain is named. According to legend a shepherd once left a full jug of water on the mountainside and returned the next day to find it empty. Curious to know who had drunk the water, he and some villagers left another jug and waited to see what would happen. From their hiding places they saw the pale ghost of a figure they thought to be Çiçek Baba drinking the water. Çiçek Baba was known to be buried somewhere on the mountain in an unmarked grave, so the villagers built a tomb in the hope that his spirit would thereby be laid to rest. Ever since, the last Thursday of every August has been celebrated as Saint's Day. If there has been a good crop this is attributed to the kindly offices of Çiçek Baba, and the local people come to the lake and stay the night here. The following day they
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THE BLACK PINES OF BEYAGAC
2002 / MARCH

make the one hours walk to the tomb of Çiçek Baba,where they make sacrifices and offerings. Only the black pines can say whether the ghost was really that of Çiçek Baba. The mist had become increasingly thick, and we could now see barely a metre in front of us. We slowly made our way downhill towards Topuklu Yayla, the high pasture where we planned to camp for the night. The trees became thicker as we descended, and we noticed plaques on some of their trunks. I went closer to one and read that this particular tree was 1210 years of age; in other words it had been a young shoot like those around Lake Karagöl in 798 BC. Since then it had seen scores of dynasties and principalities rise and fall in Anatolia while it grew peacefully in the arms of Mount Çiçekbaba. A light wind blew, and the tree branches rustled as they rocked rhythmically. At the pasture we pitched our tents, and slept to the mysterious sounds of the wild mountain and whispering of the black pines.

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THE BLACK PINES OF BEYAGAC
2002 / MARCH

It was humbling to think that many of the trees surrounding us had been young centuries before the birth of the Ottoman Empire, and were still alive a century after it had fallen into oblivion. Human affairs and aspirations seemed to fade into insignificance beside these mighty trees.

* Yildirim Güngör is a freelance writer

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