Holy Forest, Literature meets nature at the Northern Pindos National Park. Hellas, Greece.
The Vovousa Festival in Northern Pindos can be seen as an original form of cultural protest, part of the ongoing struggle to protect nature. Plans for building a second dam on Aoos River, sponsored by big interests – as is usually the case with projects of such a scale – has united the local community and given impetus to a common cause. Residents in the broader area are protesting not just through memoranda addressed to the ministry or by invoking the opinions of the National Park Service, but also with mountain bike races, film screenings, seminars and lectures.
The title of my talk was “The Topos in Literature,” but when I arrived in Vovousa I had to thoroughly reassess its content. I felt aggrieved about not knowing a thing about the Northern Pindos National Park, continental Greece’s largest. Our hotelier, Antonis Stangoyiannis, who doubles as a park guide, told us that the Northern Pindos National Park includes two pre-existing national forests, 11 areas belonging to the NATURA 2000 network, as well as 11 wildlife reserves.
He didn’t need to tell us much; nature has its own way of making its point. Our trek in the “sacred woods” of Aghia Paraskevi (designating forests as sacred was our ancestors’ way of protecting them without the need for laws) was an education in and of itself, introducing us to the unspoiled Greek highlands and their age-old forests.
“ The record of our national literature is bereft of the aroma of the woods and the mud, the pine trees and shady beech forests.”
I thus chose to focus my talk on the censorship of rural mountain life from our national literature, which chose not to dwell in schoolbooks on mudflats, booted eagles and oak trees, opting instead to describe Greece almost exclusively as an island archipelago. Our two Nobel laureates, Giorgos Seferis and Odysseas Elytis, sang mostly about the sun over the Aegean Sea, about “The Light Tree” and “Young Nautilus.” And so, the record of our national literature – which, like any national record simplifies the topography and shapes our consciousness – is bereft of the aroma of the woods and the mud, the pine trees and shady beech forests.
The onus, though, does not rest entirely on our shoulders. As is usually the case, here too Greeks are seeing their country through the eyes of others: pilgrims, travelers, photographers, archaeologists and historians, who sought in Greece its island tradition and formed a romantic bond with it.
This resulted in a forced notion of “Greekness,” a postcard version of Southern European nostalgia, replete with fragrant jasmine and white-washed Cycladic houses. A sense of proportion is urgently needed and not just in literature but in real life as well: for example, European Union funding should not be directed solely to compensating farmers who lost their orange crop to a cold snap, but also to livestock farmers who live in habitats like Northern Pindos, who need to learn to coexist with the wildlife rather than viewing it as an enemy.
Romance is not to be found exclusively in the Cycladic islands’ sunset, but also in the last pair of endangered Egyptian vultures surviving in the Northern Pindos National Park.
Photos by George Detsis