Our tour bus was cutting through the Taurus Mountains of Turkey, located on the edge of the Anatolian Plateau where people have been living since Paleolithic times. The mountains were modest compared to the Alps or Rockies, with expansive valleys meeting us at every curve. At one point our guide, Selchuk, ordered the driver of our bus to pull to the side of the road. He said to us, “Do you want to see something really interesting?”
Of course I did. That’s why I’d traveled halfway around the world, to see what I couldn’t see at home. I followed Selchuk across the highway to a field. Like many of the Turks I’d encountered, Selchuk had a thing for flowers and shouted out varieties of plants and blossoms during every step of our journey. Mrs. C. and I had journeyed far to experience different cultures and explore ancient cities; we weren’t much interested in flowers.
“Come,” Selchuk said to me when I hesitated to get off the bus. “You will find this interesting.”
He hadn’t led me astray yet, but Mrs. C. wasn’t budging for a field of flowers and stayed on the bus with most of our tour mates. A handful of us climbed down from the bus and walked over to the field of dazzlingly white blossoms.
Selchuk explained. “These flowers are short-lived and weren’t here two weeks ago. In three or four days the petals will drop, exposing a pod the size of a small hen’s egg with a diameter between 5 and 7.5 centimeters. You are looking at a field of opium poppies.”
He was right; this was interesting, not something I’d ever expected to see. My college roommate had grown a few marijuana plants but I’d never seen anything like this before.
“Opium? The same flower that’s converted into heroin?” I asked.
Selchuk nodded. The sun was hot and he shaded himself with his trademark orange umbrella as he walked through the field. I followed him. Bees were everywhere, often five or six to a blossom. It had recently rained and the ground was damp, sticky like the plants. He pointed out some of the larger bulbs. “These are harvested the same way they were thousands of years ago. A slice is cut into the pod with a knife and the sap oozes out. It soon crusts over and a farmer comes by and scrapes it off. This sap is the most potent part of the plant.”
“Is it legal to grow opium poppies in Turkey?”
“No. This field is owned by the government, which uses the poppies for medicine.”
I recalled that opium was once a common ingredient in items such as soft drinks, baby food and cough syrup. And wasn’t Samuel Taylor Coleridge hopped up on the stuff when he penned his famous Kubla Khan? I ran through a list of famous opium users that included, Marcus Aurelius, Benjamin Franklin, Charles Dickens and Florence Nightingale. It wasn’t long before I was tempted to run blindly through these poppies like Dorothy and Company in the Wizard of OZ. Would I get sleepy and fall asleep until Glinda waved her magic wand to rouse me? Was it my imagination that I was beginning to feel warm and fuzzy inside? With great effort I turned my head back to the bus and saw Mrs. C. staring at me curiously through the window of our bus.
Soon it was time to depart. I pulled out my camera and snapped a few pictures. In spite of the heady effect of the flowers, or perhaps because of it, something special caught my eye. Thousands of poppies, all white—except for one. Swaying in the breeze and luring me deeper and deeper with lying promises, one purple blossom roused me like a trumpet announcing royalty. I was momentarily Odysseus, snared by the Queen of the lotus-eaters. She was beckoning me forward and begging me not to go….
Tom Cochrun at Light Breezes recently awarded me The Illuminating Blogger Award. Tom is an exceptional writer and journalist, and I’m humbled by his attention. Thanks Tom. By the way, this award was created by C.J. at Food Stories. I’m supposed to give a random fact about me: A few days after moving to the Northwest in 1980, Mount St. Helens blew her top. Even though I’d never heard of Mount St. Helens before moving to Portland, Oregon, I took this eruption personally, a sign that I wasn’t welcome. I’m just now getting over it.
I’m supposed to pass this award along to a few others, and this is always difficult because there are so many good blogs out there. I’ve been gone recently as many of you know, but lately I’ve been enjoying these three:
#1 The Art of Being Conflicted: Cheryl has a great sense of humor and the ability to illuminate the human experience in a unique way.
#2 Where’s the Funny Here? Laughingmom sees life from the lighter side. She writes exceptional poetry that can inspire and amuse.
#3 messymimi’s meanderings:Not only is messymimi an inspired writer, but her blog isfilled with fun dates and facts that will educate you and make you scratch your head.
Check them out.