Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Kos, the bird, and Saint Phanourios


Kos is shaped like a bird, leaning down into the sea. Perhaps it's looking for food or for another of its own kind. It may be gazing at its own reflection but I think it's looking beyond that, right down into the depths of the sea, mesmerized by what it sees.

Northern coast

Near Kefalos, barley field in high wind

The brown eye in the centre of its head, in profile, is Mount Theologis. But I discover as I cycle along the road that this mountain is a series of pine covered peaks and the road to Agios Ioannis winds its way through them. Sometimes you look out over the northern sea sometimes the southern one, as the road climbs ever higher, in a series of switchbacks.

The bird's neck is narrow, it looks to be only about two or three kilometers wide and at one point you look out over the bay and you can see across the neck to the sea on the other side. 

South coast (right) and north coast (on the horizon)

Then the road slips round another peak and it’s the northern shore you see. Some visual illusion makes this sea look as if it climbs halfway up the sky, its horizon is higher than you are.  

At the edge of the narrow road the ground drops precipitously and at some points I have to look away, look straight ahead to avoid even looking at the sea because that is to be aware of the cavernous gulf that lies between me and it. The wind is fierce and makes a howling noise as if it doesn't like me being there, it moans and pushes me across the narrow road whose surface has partially crumbled away turning it into a track littered with small stones. I clutch the handlebars grimly because I know how dangerous stones on the road can be.

The end of the track is the headland and the bird's head, the end of the island where the two seas meet. It feels like the end of the world, stony, desolate, deserted. Something about this place makes me uneasy.

Now, back home and safe on my balcony, I think I recognise the feeling. Then, I did not, for that is part of its strangeness. You don't recognise it or yourself. It’s a feeling of creeping alienation and I've felt it before. This is Pan's world and it's not the friendly nature that we live with, that we've planted, tended, shaped and watered, encouraged to grow and delighted in its green flourishing.

I pedal fast back along the windy ledge of road and once I reach the switchbacks it takes no time at all to swoop down them and when I reach the pine wood and the little shaded water tap in a clearing by the side of the road with a row of colourful beehives just above it, it feels welcoming and protective. I am so glad to be back in the outskirts of Kefalos. 

The other road from Kefalos leads to this little church, in a landscape of spiny bushes, shrubs and wild thyme. It's as if no one has ever visited it since the ending of the last story and the door was closed. Something stirs a faint memory - of this other life, this other story. And  at the same time it's as if someone has just left, there are slim brown beeswax candles burning and a feeling of presence. Time vanishes like a burst bubble.

What you thought lost in the past, you rediscover here. This feeling is as different from the one in Pan’s domain, as it could be. This is welcoming, rediscovery, expansion of awareness and memory. The feeling of being blessed.

I wrote the above while I was sitting outside this church, underneath the little tree whose branches you can see in the photograph. There was a small white chair provided. 

And though there were many icon paintings in this little church, I only took a photograph of this one, as it caught my attention. 

I knew nothing about the saint and it’s only now, back home, that I look him up. It turns out that Agios Phanourios is ‘The Revealer’. An icon of him was first discovered in Rhodos (or Cyprus) in a pristine condition in 14th or 15th century AD.

Orthodoxwiki says:
'Saint Phanourios has become famous for assisting the faithful in revealing lost or hidden spiritual matters of the heart, objects, directing or revealing actions that should be taken, restoring health and similar situations.'

Another image of him:

Photo credit:

I went to Kos specifically to visit the Asklepion (which I’ll write about later). But it was beside this little deserted church at the southernmost tip of the island (or near the top of the bird’s head ) that I felt this sense of peace, presence and blessing.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Sea Crossing, Corncrake Country

Today really felt like the first of May when I woke up this morning. It felt new, it felt spring, it felt as if the boats of the past, those millstone memories, to mix metaphors a little, had been reduced to ashes. The night before, I had even imagined burning things from the past, that I really did not need to hold onto any more, things with painful associations. And only this morning, remembered that last night was Beltane, the night of fire and burning. In olden days when people had hearth fires which they kept going all the time, they let the fire go out on Beltane Eve, and lit a new one in the morning, May Day.

I said to a friend today that I would not, not ever, go camping in Scotland again. But I’m glad I went, I said, for going away anywhere always changes something in you, and this time, I am totally appreciating my home now that I am back here, to have a house for shelter, to have a warm bed to sleep in, to work in the garden weeding and grass cutting, and to see the little seedlings I had planted, sprouting above the earth. All this is joyous, after the cold of camping, so cold I hardly slept. But I did enjoy the bus journeys, past gorgeous lochs surrounded by mountains, and the ferry from Oban to the Isle of Colonsay.

We camped at the end of a small loch, beside a grove of willow trees, beloved of bees, off a track which was muddy in places and in others pitted with water-filled holes. By the side of the track was marshy ground and I spent a lot of time trying not to sink into the marsh mud-and-water mix. Sometimes I found paths around the boggy areas, sometimes they just had to be negotiated. Further on up the track, there is a tiny stone circle.

Downhill from there, I heard a sound which could almost have been a frog sound, and almost a cricket sound. C reckoned it was a grasshopper warbler. Further on still, a blackbird, visible on a fence post, and quite unperturbed by us walking past, made a sound like laughter, on a descending scale. Then reverted to its usual, melodious call. As it got dark there was still birdsong and the occasional flights of geese. Apart from that, silence so thick you begin to imagine you can hear the trees breathing. 

The next day we followed a path by a loch, 

then through a wooded area that skirts the big house and grounds, and on to the Kiloran Bay, a wide sweep of sand brushed smooth by the sea and winds, no shadow of a footprint. Until I clamber over the rocks and walk across the sand to the sea. Wet sand close to the sea, still with a film of water over it, reflecting rocks and clouds. Tiny little wavelets. 

The bees hum around the hazel trees next to the tents. The catkins are coming out, all pollen dusty. The bees hum and move from one catkin clump to the next. After Kiloran Bay I walked back to the village where the ferry docks, where there is a Post Office, a petrol pump

a general store and most wondrous, the Pantry, selling coffee and a beehive cluster of dark cakes. I feel much better after that. Because of lack of sleep and resulting exhaustion, the walking has been arduous.

On the way to the bay we heard a corncrake, singing its saw song, its grinding notes sounding almost mechanical, like an electric saw or an engine trying to start.

After the delicious foamy cappuccino and cake, refreshed and invigorated, I stagger slowly up the hill back to the camp.

The humming of the bees sounds like approaching summer, like the tug boats pulling the huge ferry of the summer, into land. The sky’s still cloud covered but the sun wrestles with the thin places, gnaws at the edges, and shimmers them with light.

Whatever ghosts are here are mavericks, dramatists at heart, only wanting just a little admiration just some recognition of their bravery and history and dealing just as we do, with the vagaries of nature, the swampy ground, the insects and the rain. We are blessed with no rain, just the constant oozing of the peat lands, in places running over the track till you long for gravel so you can lift your eyes up scan rocks and hills and sky and keep a lookout for the sea. The clouds have broken into cotton clumps which the sun has prised apart. Rents of blue show through the seams and lightens up the bee trees, their pollen filling station.

When C gets back he gathers dried heather stems and makes a small fire. The smell of woodsmoke plumes around us in the changing wind. Night creeps closer and the birds are singing still.