The paths of autumn

Surrounded by wooded mountains, the highlands of Lake Abant promise a slice of time integrated with nature.

Lake Abant was my first love, my first discovery… A childlike joy would fill my heart as I ascended Bolu Dağı with its emerald green forests. My lungs would fill with its fresh-scented air mingled with the forest damp. You know what I mean. The way the nostrils of visitors to the Ottoman palaces would burn with the fragrance of flowers. Well, that’s how Bolu was for me. Its green stung my nostrils. In the early morning hours, I would quell my trembling with a glass of piping hot tea at the garage where the minibuses to the villages were waiting. Starting out just as it was beginning to get light, the minibus would eventually bring me to Abant. When I got out and approached the lake shore, this time it was my legs that were trembling with excitement. I was caught in the spell of a deep blue lake surrounded by wooded mountains - so overcome was I by the chirping of the birds and the sound of the phaetons plying the lake shore…

I caught my first trout that day in Lake Abant. A fish with sparkling silver scales and big black spots. It was here too that I saw my first white water lilies, dancing on the water’s surface in the breeze. I spent my first night away from home by a campfire here. In the morning I ate the fresh village bread with white cheese  and wild strawberry jam that I bought from the villagers.

I dived into Abant’s fresh waters, as clean as an aquarium, and observed its fish. There was no end to my Abant visits after that, and each time I discovered a - for me - new corner of this blue lake. But this time I wanted to explore the highlands by spending a few days in their forests of turning autumn leaves.

THE BLUE LAKE HIGHLANDS
I reached the shore of the blue lake in the first rays of morning. Beech trees scattered amongst the dark green firs, their leaves drifting slowly down, blown to left and right, made for a bittersweet moment. Abant was the color of autumn…

Samat is the best-known highland at Abant, a small and charming village with  a grocery store, wooden mosque and tiny houses, some made of timber, others of brick. Due to its proximity to the lake, many of the residents moonlight as phaeton drivers. And so there are some who even spend the winter up here. Quenching my thirst on the icy spring water, I follow sometimes the road, sometimes a shortcut, and after a twenty-minute walk come to Bulanık, one of the biggest highlands in the vicinity. There’s a feverish activity under way here. Waste from the trees that have been felled here for lumber has been distributed to the villagers who are busy hauling it away to their homes on tractors. A flock of sheep moves slowly past.

SLEEPING TO THE FALLING RAIN
Bulanık, Samat and Dereköy are three highlands attached to the villages of Mudurnu province. At the approach of winter the herds that graze in the highlands in summer make their way slowly down to the villages, and the highlands are abandoned for this cold, quiet season. Dereköy Highland is located directly below the television transmitter atop the highest hill in the area. As in all the neighboring highlands, raising sheep is the inhabitants’ most important source of livelihood.

I notice that the day is quite advanced and turn once again to the hill where I settle in at the summit to watch the sunset. Opposite me, huge masses of cloud, tinged red by the setting sun, roll down from Bolu Dağı to Mudurnu Plain like water over a burst dam. When night finally draws its dark curtain and the spectacle ends, I return to Bulanık the same way I came, flashlight in hand. There is no sign now of the morning’s activity and the highland is literally deserted. After pitching my tent in the garden of the village house where  I left by backpack earlier,  I abandon myself to a pleasant sense of exhaustion, all the while watching the stars that twinkle like lanterns in heaven. Barking dogs, the occasional hoot owl and the chirping of crickets combine to make the night unforgettable. Suddenly the low howl of a wolf rends the darkness, instantly silencing all the other sounds. The crackling of the campfire is only thing audible now in the night. When black rain clouds blot out the stars it’s time for me to withdraw into my tent and go to sleep. Soon I’m sound asleep to the falling rain.

FRAGRANT WHITE-CAPPED MUSHROOMS
In the morning I awaken to a wet and foggy day. My destinations today are the Sinekli and Sakarca highlands. I meet an old man picking mushrooms along the road and he describes a shortcut through the woods by-passing the lake. I ask him which mushrooms he’s picking. “Look,” he says, showing me an orange-tinted variety, “this is the ‘kanlıca’. It has a pleasant smell and you can find it under the beech trees at the water’s edge.” The mushrooms give off a mildly citrus scent. Judging by their color and smell they are excellent.

I advance down a path that follows the stream formed by the waters that flow down from Bulanık and Samat highlands. Even though I try not to miss even the slightest crackle among the trees, nothing is audible but a few branches snapping in the depths of the forest.

The Abant forests are a habitat for deer and I would so like to see one. The villagers told me this is where they hang out in the largest numbers. I didn’t see any. But I do spot the mushrooms that have sprung up among the rocks at the side of the road. Those with the white caps are consumed by the highlanders, and I immediately pick a few for my evening repast.

THE ABANT HIGHLANDS AWAIT WINTER
Sinekli Highland finally reveals itself at the end of a large clearing that  I reach after hiking steadily through the forest for 25 minutes. No one is left up in the highlands, and everything is tinged with autumn’s sad yellow hue. Leaving the deserted houses to their solitude, I advance through the forest. The path follows the river and I encounter kanlıca mushrooms all along its banks. A feast of mushrooms grilled over hot coals awaits me in the evening.

I go on walking until a stone fountain blocks my path. Again I quench my thirst with the refreshing spring water. Following the path another fifteen minutes, I arrive at Sakarca, the highland with the most beautiful view around, also accessible by vehicle from Düzce. Lake Abant and the Samat and Bulanık highlands are all visible from this highland wedged against the mountains.

Drifting through the trees at sunset, the pale rays of the sinking sun virtually set the mountains on fire.

A heavy fog mingled with the sun’s dusty rose rises from the earth. Their lives spent, the autumn leaves fall one by one to the ground. The Abant mountains and highlands take on their red and yellow autumn hues as the blue lake’s highlands slowly begin the countdown to the first snowfall.