Incredible Okçular!

A Black Year for Black Lake

I consider myself incredibly fortunate to live where I do; Okçular is a delightful place and the locals really took J and me to their hearts. Our home is built on a gentle rise that is surrounded by mixed forest and overlooking a seasonal wetland known locally as Black Lake that is filled with a wonderful array of creatures. Black Lake also lives in the cultural folklore of our village with tales that go back to the time of the War of Independence.

This time of the year the view from my bedroom window is fascinating; there are storks, Little Grebe, Grey Heron, Great and Little Egrets, Hooded Crows, Short-toed Eagles, Buzzards and . . and . . and . . I’ve recorded and photographed 26 different dragonflies/damselflies around here, some very rare; (I’ve also been asked to capture a particular variety, pickle it in some sort of stuff and post it off to Japan for genetic analysis – Jeez! I believe in preserving the environment but not that way!). And then there are the frogs; there are millions of them, every one bent on croaking its way into the heart of any other froggit that cares to listen. They are at it (the croaking) 24 hours a day; we’ve had visitors staying here who have seriously considered moving to a hotel a long way away in order to get a nights sleep. J and I are used to it, in fact we love it and sleep like babes dreaming of being kissed by one of the bug-eyed beauties. Well, I do, not sure if it’s the croaking or the rakı!

The sad thing is that all this is about to change; Black Lake is to be drained, soon it will be no more. Some of our farming neighbours need to have access to their land for more than the 6 months that are presently available. Back in the days when the crop was cotton the season was plenty long enough. Then Turkish cotton farming was killed off by US government subsidised cotton; it’s OK for them to subsidise their farmers but not Turks! Cotton was followed by maize and sesame but these require dryer condition so much of Black Lake remained unproductive. Now the crops that yield an income grow on trees – pomegranate is the thing and that means ‘our’ Black Lake will finally wash away down the great drain-hole of progress. It’s a sad end to what was once a huge seasonal lake that covered many square miles around what is now Okçular village. During the 1960s the villagers dug by hand two great drainage canals that enabled them to farm the fertile land and build better lives. Draining the land also helped to eradicate malaria which was endemic until then. What we know today as Black Lake is but a shadow (although a very beautiful shadow) of what was once there.

I can’t find it in my heart to begrudge my delightful neighbours the income that they stand to generate from draining this rump-end lake, life is not easy as a subsistence farmer wherever they might be in the world. I’ll mourn the passing of Black Lake every morning as I gaze out of my bedroom window; over the next few years orchards will flourish and new species will occupy the spaces that will inevitably fall vacant as the present ‘clients’ move off to wetter corners. I hope that the Storks don’t desert the Ley Ley Restaurant once their froggy meal-ticket disappears, and that the many other species that make this small corner of Okçular such a wonderful place to live find some reason to hang around. The lake will be gone but I console myself with the knowledge that the view will still be spectacular – different, but spectacular. I’m really going to miss those frogs, though.

You can learn more about Okçular, its people, history, flora and fauna, walking and cycling as well as books about the village at www.okcular.net

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü