ARTICLE-PHOTO: AKGUN AKOVA
A Palette Of Autumn Colors
The Forest Of Kasnak Oaks
Splashed with the colors of the kasnak oak, a tree indigenous to Anatolia, the forest at Eğirdir in Isparta province has one of Turkey’s most beautiful hiking trails.
I’ve never forgotten one of the boyhood memories described by the 1998 Portuguese Nobel laureate José Saramago. Little Saramago’s grandfather had suffered a stroke and was going to be taken to Lisbon for treatment. The writer goes on as follows: “My grandfather went to the courtyard of the house, which was full of olive and fig trees, and, weeping, embraced the trees one by one. He was bidding them farewell because he knew he was not going to come back again. If witnessing such a scene does not leave an imprint on the rest of your life, then you lack all feeling.”
That passage from Saramago’s memoirs came to me as I was strolling through the kasnak oak forest in the village of Yukarıgökdere at Eğirdir in Isparta province. I was standing in the middle of a family of healthy young oaks and their fallen leaves, and the crocuses that sprouted in their midst. In the stillness of the forest I sat down opposite one of the monumental trees. The sound of squirrels was audible in the distance. Once again I became aware that I was a part of nature and that the forest was breathing. An acorn hurtled down from a branch and rolled to the tip of my foot. I picked it up and put it in my pocket, planning to deposit it in the ground again along a mountain path in another landscape.
But before I do that, let me introduce you to the kasnak oak, a species indigenous to Anatolia. This tree, whose scientific name is Quercus vulcania, grows in small groves and clusters at elevations of 1300-1800 meters. Preferring deep soil, even if lime-rich, it can reach 25-30 meters in height and 1.6 meters in diameter. Its valuable wood, a sought-after raw material in the veneer and parquet industry for its straight trunk and narrow rings, is used for parquet flooring and beer and wine barrels. Indeed it is known in the local parlance as the kasnak (‘hoop’ in Turkish) oak since it is used for barrel hoops. By its anatomical properties it belongs to the family of White oaks. Its seeds mature towards mid-October when the red, yellow, brown and green leaves of the trees in Eğirdir forest stand out against the deep blue autumn sky. Contributing to this palette of color, besides the kasnak oak, are several other species, ranging from Taurus fir, juniper and cedar of Lebanon to flowering ash, maple and downy oak, all of which grow here in this 1300-hectare expanse which was declared a Nature Conservation Area in 1997.
SIDE BY SIDE FOR CENTURIES
To reach the forest at Yukarıgökdere you must first go to Eğirdir and then turn off at the sign for Kovada National Park at the Eğirdir-Beyşehir highway exit. Nineteen kilometers later you will arrive at the village. In fall if you hit the road early, your car headlights will illuminate the yellowing poplars at the roadside in the morning mist. The sun no sooner rises than the reed beds and willows along the canal begin to whisper of their longing for a painter to come and record their beauty. A 3-km mountain road from the village will bring you to the kasnak oaks. Among these trees, which stand there solemnly like a fraternal order, there are a few that have been officially designated ‘monuments’. The most important of these is Turkey’s second largest in diameter, so tall that you have to lie on your back and look straight up in order to see the very top. Besides the village of Yukarıgökdere in Eğirdir, kasnak oaks also grow on Türkmen Dağı, a mountain in Kütahya province, in the Kızlar Sivrisi region, in the villages of Savaş, Çimendere and Tekke on Konya-Sultandağı, and in the Dereyaka and Bundura highlands of Afyon-Çay. The kasnak oak’s biggest enemy is mistletoe, which can suck out all its sap starting from the branches. Efforts are therefore under way to protect this endemic tree, whose closest relative is the Hungarian oak, not only against this parasite but against harmful insects as well.
AUTUMN’S GOLDEN WAND
If September doesn’t do it, then October will surely open the door to autumn. The forests of Anatolia await this season quietly. And the kasnak oak forest, whose hiking trails are Turkey’s most beautiful, is postcard pretty in autumn. Meanwhile the nearby forest at Lake Kovada, where autumn’s gold tinges the plane trees and the water, is the harbinger of yet another form of beauty. Those who wish to pitch tents here for camping need to obtain permission from the Provincial Department of Forestry and Environment, which can be reached by telephone at (0246) 228 53 00.
A flurry of activity commences every autumn in the village of Yukarıgökdere as villagers and workers board their tractors in the early morning light to go to the apple orchards, where they will lean ladders against the trees and pick the fruit. Packed in crates, the apples are loaded onto trucks and sent to wholesale markets all over the country. Simultaneously another frenzied round of activity is in progress in the kasnak oak forest, where the squirrels, far from the threat of hunters in this protected environment, are gathering acorns to store in their nests for the winter.
One autumn day when the squirrels and the humans were hard at work, I drove my car up to the forest. Stopping by a fence, I gazed down. A tiny pond lay like a green dot in front of the red tile roofs of the village houses, and in the distance a lake was just barely in view. I took one last look at the pine cones that clung to the cedars as if in defiance of gravity. A flock of goats was grazing in an amber field of harvested grain. The black tents of the shepherds stood empty. Suddenly a skein of wild geese in V-formation appeared overhead. A gentle breeze ruffled my hair. Remembering my mother, who told me, “Catch a falling leaf and your wish will come true”, I went to the kasnak oak woods. If you go there too one day, you will find yourself in an astonishing forest. The period from the end of October to the end of November offers the best views. And who knows, maybe the squirrels will retire to their winter sleep a little late this year!