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Crimean flowers admired and sung
Everybody loves flowers. Correction: almost everybody. This love may be expressed in different ways. Some give flowers a cursory glance when they see them in the nosegays that old ladies sell in the underground passages of Kyiv; others feast their eyes on flower beds as they take leisurely walks in the parks; still others grow flowers in the gardens of their dachas or on their balconies; there are also some characters in Kyiv who go to the Crimea when the spring comes to look at the flowers that grow in the Crimean mountains. I’m one of those characters. I go there not only to indulge my egoistic pleasure of looking at the flowers — I go there because those flowers need me. How else would they know that they are so beautiful if not for the loving and passionate looks I give them?
Andriy VLASENKO declares his love for flowers in general, and for the Crimean vernal ones in particular.
It was sleeting in Kyiv when I boarded the train that would take my friends and me to Symferopol, the Crimean capital. The gray clouds hung low overhead, everything looked nasty, and the cold wind urged me to get on board the train in a hurry.
When we arrived in the Crimea, I discovered that the almond-trees were already in full blossom. As I opened the window of the carriage, I was greeted with the vernal scents, sweet and poignant like first love.
My joy was increasing in proportion to the amount of green grass I saw on the ground from the window. It was so marvellously green that I felt sweet in my mouth. I borrowed this phrase from a novel by the Russian writer Yury Olesha who, by the way, was a great connoisseur of the fleeting, ephemeral beauty of women and of flowers. Their ability to bloom in the first warm rays of the sun has always impressed me greatly. By contrast, oaks and men take much longer to react to the warmth of the sun after the hibernal colds. But there is no place for oaks or men in my story — I want to talk only about flowers.
For flower spotting I prefer short trips into the country from the place where I choose to stay, be it Bakhchysarai, Yalta, Alushta or Sudak. Long hikes when you carry a heavy burden of a loaded backpack are not conducive to the enjoyment of flowers — with so many pounds on your shoulders you would hardly enjoy bending every so often to have a closer look at the tiny wild flowers dotting the ground at your feet.
There are some other things that I like on my trips to the Crimea in the spring — I find prices for accommodation either at hotels or private homes, and prices for taxi rides easily affordable. Taxi cab drivers are not yet taxidermists they turn into in the summer season, skinning their passengers alive with their sky-high fares.
The first flowers start appearing in January, still before the official advent of spring. In the east of the Crimean peninsula you will find cyclamens Kuznetsov which are close relatives of the Mediterranean species (for example, C. persicum, widely cultivated as a houseplant, having decorative leaves and showy, variously coloured flowers with reflexed petals). Cyclamens Kuznetsov are smaller than their Alpine or Mediterranean relatives but, as far as I am concerned, they look more refined and gentle. I found these flowers on the slopes of Mount Kubalach, a rocky and wild place that towers like a gigantic dinosaur over the highway Symferopol-Feodosiya. In fact, it is the only place, as far as I know, where these flowers grow. You feel so happy when you, after an exhausting search, find these pinky flowers forming random patters in the new grass.
An hour-long bus trip followed by an hour-long walk will take you to the Angar Pass, a world quite different from Mount Kubalach.
Snowdrops of Mount Chatyr Dag deserve a poem to be written about them. Protected by the primordial beech forest, high up on the slope where no casual tourists ever tread, they grow amazingly tall and in wonderful abundance. There are so many of them they seem to be filling the air with gentle jingling. Then you realize that you do hear some tinkling sounds which — and you can easily discover that — are produced by hundreds of brooks running down the slope, probably all the way to the sea.
The Crimean blue-eyed mercuries, snowdrops’ best friends, also grow to gigantic sizes. They choose the alpine meadows where they start to appear as soon as the snow cover on the ground begins to recede. When I see these flowers winning the battle with the snow, the sight takes my breath away, and I can’t help thinking that I only imagine the extraordinary beauty of it, but then comes happy realization that it is not a figment of imagination but all the palpable reality itself.
Besides, there are so many wonders around that keep my excitement at the point of boiling over. Crocuses and pasqueflowers hiding in the yester-year yellow and wilted grasses when discovered seem to tell you, “You’ve come to a fairy-tale land, enjoy yourself.” The blooms of pasqueflowers seem to be the best beds for elfinfolk, they are the softest and most comfortable resting places for fairy-tale creatures. The fragrances these flowers exude have the power of a mild narcotic and you feel you want to lie down on the grass and allow yourself to be transported to the land of sweet dreams. Once, after absorbing all this unearthly beauty, I asked my friends who were with me not to bother me in any way so that I could retain the impressions of my flower trip at least for the time it would take to get to our base where, I knew, I could find special means of fixing these impressions firmly in my memory.
The cowslip is another flower that will give you a lot of pure joy in the Crimean spring. These flowers can be found in various parts of the Crimea, not at a particular “exclusive” place. But I find that cowslips that grow near the waterfall Uchan-Su in the vicinity of Yalta are the most amazing. They come in all the colours of the rainbow there. I have not seen anything like it even at the best botanical gardens. The dots of white, light green, yellow, pink, purple and violet on the ground among the boles of tall pines turn the place into a riot of colour. If you continue your search of those wonderful creatures we call flowers, you are sure to find in the same forest wild peonies which are of a size similar to those of cultivated varieties. But these forest peonies come only in two colours — pink and white, with the white ones being a rarity. The wooded slopes of Mount Ai-Petri are also graced by them.
But the acutifoliate peonies like to be growing at places open to the sun. They often keep company with golden adonises which I think were rightly named after Aphrodite’s handsome boyfriend. Violets in the Crimea are particularly sweet-smelling, and together with adonises and peonies they give us a wonderful display of colours — what a glorious living painting they make!
If we travel east again we shall find in the vicinity of Sudak and Koktebel, in the lands that once were roamed by all kinds of nomads and other people, the tulip Shrenk (it’s the name it is locally known by). This tiny flower has been entered in the Ukrainian Book of Endangered Species and when I found several of them growing at a secluded place not far from the rocky shore where reddish and white herons like to stop on their way further inland, I was overjoyed.
In contrast to the very rare tulip Shrenk, the wild iris is almost ubiquitous in the eastern Crimea. Unfortunately, they also seem to make much fewer appearances than they did fifteen years ago. The Crimean wild iris has a short stem, much shorter than the cultivated varieties, but the bloom itself is of a decent size. They display a range of colours from violet to yellow. These flowers remind me of the Ukrainian national colours (blue and yellow) and even in their shape I see something of the trident, the emblem of Ukrainian statehood. Probably this upsurge of nationalistic feelings comes to me in the Crimea because this part of Ukraine has been thoroughly Russianized.
Another flowers that will gladden your flower-loving heart are the wild orchids which in Ukrainian are called zozulyntsi, or “cuckoo bird flowers.” You will have hard time finding them in other parts of Ukraine but in the eastern Crimea, in the vicinity of Sudak, you still have a chance of seeing wild irises which are also entered in the Book of Endangered Species of Ukraine. What a surprise and joy it is to see a sprinkle of them on a meadow!
Asphodels, the flowers of Hades, can also be seen in the Crimea. I did not check though whether they resemble those asphodels Odysseus must have seen on his visit to Hades. Homer says that the quick-witted king of Ithaca took a trip to the Underworld in the land of Cimmerains that is very likely in the Crimea. I had no Circe to advise me what I should do to safely enter and then be allowed to return, and I did not relish a meeting with the watchdog of Hades, Cerberus. But the asphodels I saw in the Crimea did look as though they had been transported from the fields of Hades. But I also saw another kind of the wild iris, golden and bright. These flowers looked like feathers from the tail of the fairy-tale fiery Firebird.
One of the members of our flower-spotting company, a phytotherapist (that is, a doctor who uses plants with medicinal properties to treat diseases), liked the asphodels so much that he picked one which had been plucked by someone else and left dying on the ground to take it back to Kyiv. The flower was put into a transparent plastic bottle for protection against damage during transportation. Strangers who saw it — the flower in its plastic coffin that is — sitting on a little table in our compartment, could not help inquiring what it was. At first, we explained that it was a flower, the one that grew in Hades. We saw that our story was given no credence. We decided to change our story to something more exotic. But when we said that it was a feather from the tail of a firebird, we saw a smirk of healthy skepticism on the faces of the enquirers. Then we decided the best answer would be an enigmatic silence. The wondrous flower did not say anything either.
And staring at it, I recollected the words of a fairy-tale writer who wrote that once in a while you should perform miracles both for yourselves and for others — provided you accept a flexible and broad definition of what a miracle is. My miracle winked at me from inside the plastic bottle.
Photos by Oleksiy ONISHCHUK