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The Valley of Narcissi

 

There is a place in the vicinity of the town of Khust in the Land of Zakarpattya that the locals call Kiresh. Thousands or maybe millions of years ago Kiresh was the bottom of a huge lake. It must have been a beautiful place with many islands, dark, deep waters, reflecting slowly moving islands of clouds in the sky. Now it is a piece of grassland whose meadows are covered with fragrant herbs and wild flowers among which narcissi predominate.

 

Nataliya Yasynska extols the beauty and ponders the enigma of the narcissus.

 

AChristian sage said that flowers are what was left of the Garden of Eden on this earth. Kiresh seems to be a good illustration of this — it is indeed a place which those who have been lucky to visit call “a reminder of what the Garden of Eden must have looked like.” Kiresh does indeed seem to be a paradisal place, unique not only in Ukraine but in the whole of Europe. There are places where various species of narcissi grow — in the Balkans, the Alps and Rumania, but the Valley of Narcissi in Kiresh is truly unique. It is the biggest habitat of the narrow-leaved narcissus, covering an area of 70 hectares. Also, it is situated only at two hundred meters above the sea level, and that makes it the lowest known place where such narcissi grow. Mostly, this species of narcissus — out of 30,000 known species — grows very high in the mountains, but the ones in Kiresh decided, for some reason, they could make a much lower place their home. And they did. In fact, the Valley of Narcissi boasts many other rare species of wild flowers, some of which are in the book of endangered species.

Many tourists, both from Ukraine and from foreign countries — Canada, Australia, Germany, Austria, and the USA among them, come to Kiresh to have a look at the wonder flower and to breathe the salubrious air.

In the 1970s, the local authorities decided that the Valley of Narcissi should be used for agricultural purposes. When the botanists and environment-protection enthusiasts learned about this decision, they launched a save-the-narcissi campaign, and surprisingly enough, the higher authorities took steps to secure the Valley of Narcissi as a natural preserve. The government passed a decree which made the Valley a part of the Carpathian Natural Preserve, and thus put it under the protection of law. All the same, continuing encroachments considerably reduced the territory of the narcissi preserve from what it was fifty years ago to its present size (now it occupies an area of about 257 hectares, or 643 acres).

Though the conservationists got the upper hand and narcissi and other flowers in the Valley were no longer in danger of being turned into pasture or grain fields, there was no consensus among the botanists and flower specialists as to how to provide the best conditions for the narcissi — should the Valley be just left to its own devices with very little interference, or should the grasses be once in a while cut, and should “the weeds” (that is those plants that could suppress the flowers) be regularly removed? At first, the no-interference side prevailed and humans just watched and enjoyed the sight. It did not take long for willows and reeds and other “obnoxious” plants to invade the Valley and multiply. Birds and animals, many of which were very unwelcome, followed. Dry reeds and willows offered themselves for chance fires, one of which had devastating results.

In 1980, it was decided that the grasses in the Valley should be regularly mowed and the narcissi section weeded. Thus some of the problems were removed, but others remain. A road that was built to cut across the valley, plus the summer houses at the edges of the Valley reduced the amount of water in the Valley, and it affected the narcissi which began to retreat from some of the places where they used to be in abundance; these flowers also began to produce fewer seeds. Drier conditions and fewer seeds may threaten the narcissi survival and now plans are made to introduce an irrigation system.

Narcissi definitely tend to be associated with water. In China, one of the traditional names for the narcissus was “the fairy of the water.” Ovid, in his Metamorphoses tells a story of Narcissus whose name was given to a flower: Narcissus was the son of a nymph and of river-god. When the nymph asked a seer if her new-born son would live a long life, the seer replied, “If he never know himself.” The child grew up to be a ravishingly beautiful youth. He was courted by many girls, but he scorned all of them in his pride. Among these adoring lovers was the nymph Echo, who, alas, could only repeat what was said but could not say anything herself. Nemesis, a goddess of retribution for evil deeds or undeserved good fortune, heard the complaints against Narcissus and arranged that he should stop to drink at a spring in the mountains. Glancing into the water, Narcissus saw there his own reflection and instantly fell in love with it. He lay beside the pool, unable to tear himself away, until he died. His body was transformed into the flower that bears his name. The association of the flower narcissus and water is unmistakable in this tale as well.

At the same time, the narcissus and love have also established a close association. In the medieval times, narcissi were used in making love potions; on the other hand, its fragrance was believed to inspire love of beauty and bring peace of heart.

The narcissus has been sung by poets in many countries of the world; it has been cultivated and improved since ancient times; there are narcissus societies and there are narcissus feasts (in Austria, for example, and in Switzerland) held to celebrate this delicate flower. In Great Britain, the narcissus is almost as much revered as the tulip in Holland — it is a national symbol in Wales. Oriental wisdom says that the narcissus is “bread for the soul.” There must be something about the narcissus indeed for it to be so widely appreciated.

 

If you think that love for the narcissus is “a bit exaggerated,” come to Kiresh in spring — you will live through an experience that will stay in your memory for a long time. In the Valley of Narcissi you will find yourself in a place detached from the everyday reality of today’s world and from the flow of time — flowers will fascinate your eye, and the chirping of insects will sooth your ear; the serenity of the blue sky will be above you, and the tranquility of fragrant herbs will envelop you.

But be careful — if you stay there for more than a half hour, the accumulated scent of thousands upon thousands of narcissi can make you dizzy. It is better to come to the Valley at some intervals. However, do not be afraid to come under the spell of the narcissus — open yourself the enigma of love the flower represents.

The French writer and Nobel Prize laureate Francois Moriac wrote, “To love means to see a miracle invisible to others.” What if the narcissus will see this miracle in you?

 

Photos by Dmytro Boychuk

 

 

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