Monday, June 19, 2017

Old Souls

Each day we walk past hundreds of olive trees; we drive past thousands.

A kind of solace emanates from the old groves.

As we walk through a pine forest below Mytilini castle, I feel immersed in its beauty, but it lacks the same peaceful feeling as the old olive trees.

While driving the familiar winding road to our little house, I have an epiphany, "I know why I feel peace amongst the olive groves. The trees are old souls!"

Trees grow, inhale, exhale, bear fruit. Can they be anything but alive? Does not every living thing have a soul?

Olive trees can live to be 2000 years old. I guess that many of the trees on Lesvos are at least a hundred years old. Back in the 19th century the olive trees were affected by a pest the islanders couldn't combat. They had become so dependent on the trees as a way of life and industry,  a concerted effort was made to replant, replenish and multiply what previously existed. Hillsides were terraced and empty ground filled with olive trees.

We read there are 11 million olive trees on Lesvos, but when we ask the cafe shop owner and his wife  about harvesting olives from the 11 million trees, he swiftly corrects us, "Twelve million trees."

"How do you do it?" Tony asks. He has been quite curious because there are only 90,000 island inhabitants.

"Everyone on Lesvos harvests the olives! We work together until the job is done."

The wife of the cafe owner tells us how she builds her arm muscles during the harvest. Everyone works, everyone benefits, even us. A waiter sets down a plate of black shriveled olives, "From our orchard," he says with pride.

When our friend rents an apartment, the owner presents her with a bottle of olive oil from her own vineyard.

I fully appreciate the olive oil industry when we sit at a neighborhood seaside restaurant and pour the most scrumptious tasting olive oil on our bread. My olive oil tastebuds come alive. It's in a cruet, and I suspect it too, is harvested by the owner of this taverna. I need to return and ask if I can buy more. I even suspect I could knock on anyone's door in Mystenga village and ask to have my bottle filled with oil.

The biblical story of the ten virgins hinges on the importance of oil. Though I have no idea what kind of oil was required for the lamps, its age old importance is clear. It's important to the culture, to cooking, to the coming together of everyone on the island.

There was another time when the island residents were overpowered by number and the need for life-saving work. When the first refugees came, the population of 90,000 was overwhelmed by thousands landing on their shores. Help came almost immediately, but the brunt of the responsibility fell on the people of Lesvos. So much that they were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016--the whole island. Like the olive harvest in the fall, they came together, and like the five virgins in Jesus' parable, they were prepared and ready to meet the bridegroom who this time came in the guise of refugees.

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