The Story of the Swan: Kabak Valley

March/April 2002

The wind buffeted our temporary kitchen shelter all night long. It shook so violently, back and forth, I couldn’t imagine it lasting through the night. Not only was our tent making a lot of noise, but with the shelter, the wind rushing through the trees, the crashing waves below: Who could sleep? Where the tarp was coming loose I secured it. In the middle of the pitch dark night I found large rocks to hold down the flapping plastic sheet wrapped over its flimsy pine branch frame. I looked over towards Ozan’s tent. It was small to begin with but now it was shaking so violently that it must have been pulsing on top of his whole body. I asked him if he was ok (he couldn’t have been sleeping) and in his stoic manner he responded, “Well, it depends on what is ‘ok’…. if you are asking if I am alive, the answer is yes.” It was going to be a long night…

Despite the rough night and the continuing bad weather, somebody had to go to Fethiye to get supplies. If Kabak is ‘hard to get to ‘ today, in 2002 it was extremely remote. Sensing that Ece’s time in Kabak had come to an end and Ozan was due to leave the next day, I was obviously going to be the one hiking up the mountain and taking the minibus one and a half hours to town.

I knew Ece would leave soon because she had already tried to leave a few days prior. We had argued intensely about the usual subject: the money I had to build the camp was dwindling. Despite my weekly bus trips to Istanbul from Fethiye to teach English and keep us going it just wasn’t enough. (I would ride overnight for 12 hours, teach a few English lessons and hop on the bus back to Fethiye the same day). Impulsively, she had thrown her belongings into her backpack and had started up the mountain alone. She reached a point midway up the mountain and both physically and emotionally, collapsed. I know this because months later, after the fact, Asım, (originally my foe and later my avid supporter and daily motivator) told me he had been watching from his lofty perch while Ece and I argued and as she subsequently attempted to walk up the mountain with all her belongings. Asim saw more than the hawks… In any case, she returned to the land, probably feeling worse than ever.

We’d done a lot: we’d had the water cistern built, the hole dug and closed for the toilet and I had started on the bathroom. But there was still so much to do and not enough cash to cover it. It’s tough to believe in something so much but to see so many seemingly insurmountable obstacles stacked before you.

I believed and she was having a hard time doing so. Though, more than likely, perhaps I simply didn’t have the ability to share the dream. She sensed this and our arguments about money and the pressure from the authorities (more about this later) only served to mask the underlying issue. Reflections Camp had to be my baby. I would be the single parent and raise it until it was time to let it go.

As I climbed up the mountain trail that morning I could see our land and the small encampment we had made. Olive groves and pines surrounded the land. Across the Valley firs with their perfectly straight trunks crowded the south wall. The storm from the previous night seemed to have abated and my all night efforts had saved our ‘kitchen ‘. Eight hours later everything would change.

When you disembark from the minibus and begin the trek down into the Valley there is a point just beyond Asıms place, where the whole Valley opens up to you. From the beautiful turquoise expanse of the Mediterranean on the right, up the lofty crags and precipices of the south wall and all around the 900 meter rim back to where you are standing. It is absolutely stunning. You can also see Reflections Camp.

That early evening as I carried a heavy shopping load in my backpack, I was stunned to see that our kitchen had completely collapsed. Though much of the storm had abated the day had brought heavy winds once again and completely devastated our small encampment. To add to my sense of disappointment Ece announced she would leave the next morning with Ozan. She had had enough. The Jandarme, the governor’s office, the city, the forestry department, the neighbors. All had come and none had anything good to say. On top of all that there was me. Who could put up with all of that? Somebody had even called us pretending to be the Gendarmerie and told us to sell our land. Otherwise, they were going to come and confiscate it. It was an obvious hoax, but it was too much for Ece. So I would be alone to face the storms and the impossible task of building, what would become Reflections, by myself.

Ece left me some basic directions to cook Turkish food and then she was gone. That evening as the remaining vestiges of the storm blew the trees and my two tents I tried to cook some bulgar wheat in the vestibule of the tent. There was so much stuff inside that I had to sit with my back facing outside. It started to rain, as if to make an already miserable situation even more so. And so I sat, with the pitter pattering of the rain on my back and reflected upon my despair. The outlook didn’t seem good: I had no money, every authority was telling me that I couldn’t build anything, and I was alone. But the sun would come out tomorrow!

The next morning as the shining orb summited the walls of the Valley I walked down the rocky dirt trail and to the beach. The waves were massive and I sat in the sand and watched them crash and roar, the morning blue clear and intense. To be alone on such a beach is an ethereal experience. In spite of your mood. It is just you and resounding nature all around you.

Out at sea there was a shape mottled amidst the white foaming waves. It crested and dipped with each swell and slowly came closer to the shore. Eventually, I could make out that it was a large bird of some type as it began letting the waves carry it up the beach. With each surge of water it floated until the water retreated and then it would waddle on the sand. It aimed for the south corner of the beach and it was tired. It was a swan, gleaming under a March sky. It was unbelievable. From where had it come? It had been blown away from it’s home and had hunkered down on the swells of the Mediterranean until the currents and its own webbed feet brought it here to Kabak.

It sat on the sand near the base of the little cliff at the back of the beach. I moved further away and watched it until I got thirsty and hungary. My only fear was that the watchman Huseyin, the goat beater, who stayed at the as of yet developed camp near the beach would discover the exhausted beauty and go on the hunt. I returned to my land and made instant coffee and a sandwich and then returned to the beach. This time I sat above the sand where the forest trail finally descends to the beach and this way I could watch the swan without being seen.

All day long it rested. There was no sign of Huseyin, thankfully. Hours past and I was tired of sitting so I walked back to my camp and left the swan alone on its own. I had no idea what would become of it. I couldn’t tell if it was injured or just tired. Hopefully it would fare well.

The sun sets in the sea from September into late spring in Kabak. In the cooler months the Greek island of Rhodes is visible on the horizon. It’s a magical scene I watched countless times. That day though it was made even more special.

I sat on the top of the water cistern. ( Recently finished and which was becoming one major source of consternation in my life.) I opened a beer to watch the sun sink into the sea. Pastel colors reflected off the limestone faces that surrounded me. The pines, firs and olives that just a day before were hissing and bending in rhythm with the wind were still. The journey was long. There were storms and other unexpected forces to contend with. A large silhouette vigorously flapped its wings, rising from the sands below and literally flew off into the sunset. The swan would survive.

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