Thursday, July 31, 2008


Hanging the washing yesterday at 11.30 am I noticed the planes circling overhead. It wasn't the fighter jets as usual but small propeller planes that look like they were left over after the WWII. I expect the propellers to be wooden looking at their flimsy structure. They belong to the Turkish Aviation Foundation and spend the summer in Canakkale, waiting to be called up if a forest fire starts. They fly over occasionally but this time all four of them are circling behind the house. Must be a drill I thought and shout to the kids to take a look.

Then I see the helicopter. It is Ukranian rented by the Forest Fire Brigade, we see it on the ground at the Forest Fire Post as we pass on the bus into town. Must be a drill. But even as I repeat this the helicopter drops beneath the treeline beyond the Jandarma camp. It fills its bucket from the Dardanelles. It rises again from behind the trees, flys above the house and up towards the ridge behind us. A few minutes later it returns and repeats the procedure. This is no drill.

Looking behind the house the smoke billows slowly, blown by the strong wind. We walk up to the corner of the complex but see very little through the trees and olive groves. The smoke is rising from below the ridge that the wind turbines are on. From then on it grows continuously. A few of the neighbours arrive, curious about the aerial activity and worried by the smoke. One prays, pacing and muttering under her breath.

By lunchtime, the ridge is barely visible beneath the smoke cloud. Fire brigades and bulldozers pass on the main road from Canakkale, Lapseki, Eceabat and Mahmudiye.

By 2.00pm, the ridge is hidden in smoke as the fire moves south through the valley. The number of helicopters is increasing from the original two to four and eventually six. Our electricity is cut off sometime after this.

By 3.30pm the main Izmir road is closed. A seaplane owned by Istanbul Buyuksehir Belediyesi has joined the other planes, drenching the valley below the ridge in seawater, circling, filling up and repeating.

On the way home from work my husband is stopped twice by roadblocks. He is allowed to continue given the warning that he should evacuate his house. Shocked by the fire on the ridge behind he is surprised at how little we can see from the house. Around 6pm all the planes and helicopters focus behind the house, towards Cinarli. The seaplane and helicopters all refill in front of the Jandarma camp and fly straight over the house. If the wind changes there is a chance the fire could come towards us. The noise is intense from the low flying planes and the double-rotar helicopters. All the neighbours gather, looking for news, exchanging ideas of where was burning, how the fire started and whether they would control it or not. Some of them I know, mostly to see. Without fail they all know which house I live in and that I am Irish. Neighbours who quarrel gossip together, bound by fear.

By 7pm the fire moves south of Guzelyali, towards Karanlik Limani beyond the Scout camp. The ridge is visible through the smoke, lined with matchstick trees. There are rumours that the restaurants on the road below Intepe, including our favourite gozlemeci, have burned.

By 9pm the area south of Guzelyali, Karanlik Limani, is burning. The Izmir road is reopened in a controlled manner and our electricity is restored. The planes and helicopters aren't flying in the dark and it is eerily quiet after the noise of the day. Having been bumped from the news headlines by the Constitutional Court decision we go to bed with no idea of whether the fire is under control or not.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Turkey is No 1!

Turkey is on average the highest producer of fig, quince, pomegranate, hazelnut, apricot and cherry in the world according to the Vegetable-Fruit report (Sebze-Meyve Raporu) released by the Agriculterers Association of Turkey (Türkiye Ziraatcilar Derneği) at the weekend. Turkey is second highest producer of cucumber and watermelon and third highest producer of tomatos, aubergine and green peppers. The country produced 14.4 million tonnes of fruit in 2007 though apple, apricot, pear, sour (morello) cherry and cherry production was down from 2006. Other fruits produced include plum, peach, orange, mandarin orange, olive, melon, kiwi, banana, grape and lemon. Nuts include pistacio nut, walnut and peanut. Vegetable production was 25.6 million tonnes with increasing yields of onions and carrots. Red pepper, potato, beans, peas, spinach, lettuce, cabbage, chickpea and sesame are also produced in Turkey.

So how come when I visit my local (albeit British-owned) supermarket, the garlic comes from China?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Conserving Evolution

A lot of people don't seem to realise that evolution involves extinction just as much as it does the development of new species. The niches that species evolve to fill were not empty before they came along. Rather the newcomers out-competed the existing species and took over. In the process they affect the whole ecosystem from the creatures they eat to the ones who eat them and so on up the line.

So I find it very difficult to feel sorry for the Adelie penguins or the soft-bodied benthic invertebrates mentioned in this article about the Antarctic Peninsula in American Scientist. The sea ice is retreating and in doing so favours Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins over the Adelie. The influx of predators such as the King Crab as the waters warm threatens the soft-bodied invertebrates. The invertebrates are soft-bodied because they evolved in an area where shell-cracking predators could not and so lost their shells. The population of Adelie penguins is falling while the invertebrates are under pressure.

Whatever the reasons for the retreating ice sheet (that's another days post!) the natural progression is that as the ecosystem changes the dominant species must adapt or move over. Here we have an example of a changing ecosystem and it's effect on the fauna. These changes cannot be described as being for the worst or for the best. They simply are.

Some will shout immediately for to make it a conservation area, to help the Adelie and protect the invertebrates. But that is preventing or skewing the natural progression of evolution. Because the ecosystem is unique, it's special; the hand of man should not set foot. But whether we like it or not humankind has already affected these creatures, Antarctica may seem remote but whaling in Japan or the North Sea still affects it. And has been affecting it for centuries.

Perhaps we should leave well enough alone and allow evolution to proceed. At least then the creatures that evolve may be able to cope with humankind and their effect on the environment.

Friday, July 4, 2008

On Planning

Stephen King's 'On Writing' is a wonderful little book. Starting with
his earliest memories, King explains how he writes before describing
the horrific car accident that he survived while writing the book. The
description of the accident is classic King, underplayed and all the
more terrifying for it. I started to tell Himself about it but was
pulled up ''Another book about writing! Why don't you just write your
own?" It's exactly what every writer needs to hear and guaranteed to
piss one off too. It could have turned nasty except that he was just
repeating what King was saying "Read a lot; write a lot".

King advocates writing while the story is fresh, extracting it as
carefully as a fossil from the ground with as little plotting as
possible. It's an attractive idea. Excavate the fossil and then flesh
it out on the later drafts instead of blasting it out with a
sledgehammer plot. It seems a more sensible way than planning every
single step only to find that the actual writing is slowed to a crawl
by constant reference to notes and research. My novel is in the
planning stage and doesn't show much progress. (I'm finding it
difficult to shut the door while I write, so much for our open plan
living room.) The problem is that the story keeps changing; the fossil
has life and metamorphoses every day. If I'd excavated sooner then
perhaps it wouldn't be the monster it's become.

At the moment it's called 'Ground Down'; the story of one woman's run
in with a rogue belt sander which kills her friends and family. As she
faces the renegade machine, she finds perspective on her pettiness and
immaturity. Has the King influence gone too far?