A Platanus of history
There is a quote that says, “imagine if trees gave free WiFi; we’d all be planting like crazy. Too bad they only produce the oxygen we breathe”.
Trees are more important and vital for our lives than we believe or even give them credit for. They contribute to their environment by providing oxygen, improving air quality, climate amelioration, conserving water, preserving soil, and supporting wildlife. They produce the wood we use to light our fireplaces in the winter, make our furniture, even the paper we write on. Yet, we cut them down without second thoughts.
It is no wonder then, that when we come across a tree that is centuries old we treat it as a wonder of nature. We stand before it dumbfounded, gazing at this stupendous sight. And it makes you truly feel small and insignificant.
There is a place in North Evia, Greece, somewhere along that nature-blazing road that has you driving among trees, on your way towards the Kyreas River, in between the villages of Prokopi and Mantoudi. There is this place where a sign will direct you to the “Great Platanus”. A plane tree that residents will tell you has been there for centuries. It is “a tree of huge dimensions”, as the sign reads, a “monument of nature”. A Platanus Orientalis. It is 22-23 metres tall, with its trunk’s circumference reaching 18 metres, its trunk diameter at 5.5 metres, the surface of its stem at 900 square metres, and its shadow said to be once stretching over 2.5 acres. Its age is estimated at 500-600 years, although some say that it exceeds 2,300 years! It is said that this is the most ancient Platanus in the Balkans, perhaps even the whole of Europe.
Its tree trunks are larger than what can fit in your wide-open arms. It stands imposing before you and, even though lacking in foliage and somewhat deserted and with broken branches, the vastness of this tree is not diminished. Rather, it is a refreshing site in a world full of asbestos and tar. There is also a huge hollow in its trunk, big enough for 10 or more people standing. In it, you suddenly forget all the problems that trouble your head daily. You take a deep breath and simply be grateful for being alive. For being there. And for being able to witness this. Just think about all the changes this tree may have witnessed. It was there before you and will probably remain so even after you.
As with all over-aged creatures, there are myths and legends surrounding this tree. For example, it is said that if someone falls asleep in its hollow, they will fall ill or harm will come to them, as goblins will come out and cast a spell on them. In another legend, if you are found at midnight under the tree, you will hear voices, music, violins and clarinets, and see fairies and goblins appear dancing at the shores of the river. In yet another, it is said that at midnight two large rams come out of the platanus and start noisily fighting each other. This tree is often associated with fairies and goblins as it was believed that, being over-aged, it was also haunted.
No matter the stories, however, the reality remains that this, like so many others, is part of our natural heritage and should be protected and preserved. We devote so much of our time, energy and funds to things that matter less, yet we abandon those that benefit us more.
N.B. All photos are mine, taken in North Evia, Greece, on 28 October 2017.
Also part of Daily Prompt: Gratitude