‘Time out’ – for A Miracle….

I have the pleasure of meeting many visitors to the island, when they come to view the Art exhibition and it’s lovely to hear their comments; not only words of appreciation and encouragement for the artists but how they are enjoying their holiday in general and what makes Skiathos so special for them. Time and time again I hear the words (apart from the regular: natural beauty, wonderful climate, great beaches, friendly people etc) “It’s just so laid-back’ ” and ‘We’re having the most relaxing time ever!’

Well, I could hardly call the time I’ve spent here since February, either ‘laid-back or ‘relaxing’! But they remind me of why I love the life here…..and made me aware that somewhere along the line I’ve forgotten to ‘stop and smell the flowers’……
My painter, Nikos, also served me a reminder me the other day when he was painting the rear of the villa. He came running in, breathlessly excited about something and insisted I stop what I was doing, immediately, and follow him.

He lead me to the large Evia oak tree in the back garden and then stood perfectly still, just staring at it. So I did the same (with no clue as to what I was supposed to be looking at!). A tree is a tree after all and although this Evia oak is a spectacular specimen, I’d seen it many, many times before – studied it even, for a painting once. I knew it well!

After some time, becoming slightly irritated (I had work to do – and so, for that matter, had he!) I began to turn away.
“Wait!” he ordered “Just wait!”
‘OK’ I thought, ‘I’m obviously missing something. Lets see…..’
I began to make a mental note: Large gnarled trunk, greyish, textured, thick at the base, tapering at the top. Wide elegant branches reaching out in all directions, covered with roundish sage-green leaves that seem to shimmer silver in the sunlight; as the breeze ripples through, showing their paler undersides – like thousands of glittering silver dollars cascading through the air. Nope. A beautiful specimen, as Evia oaks go – but nothing unusual, as far as I could see….

I made to leave again, Nikos caught my arm.
“Just wait – you’ll see a miracle!” he insisted
I looked more closely in the direction he was pointing to and saw a larger than average, bright green new leaf in bud. Behind it, further back along the branch and onto the trunk, was a row of greyish ‘lumps’. Knobbly bits of bark or so I thought till suddenly I saw one of then move! I rubbed my eyes in disbelief – yes! it had definitely moved….and it moved again….and again…creeping ever so slowly, along the branch towards the new leaf bud.

When it reached it, tiny front legs appeared and clamped themselves around the base of the bud. Within seconds the ‘leaf’ now began to move too, growing larger and larger before my eyes. Suddenly, in one swift moment, it burst open, revealing….not a leaf at all but a beautiful pair of bright lime green unfurling wings!
“Oh! What on earth is it?” I squealed in both delight and horror.
” A tzitzicas!” Nikos whispered, trying to control his excitement, “Shsh! See! See!”
Suddenly its legs appeared, groping blindly to steady it’s grasp on the branch! As soon as it had began extricating itself from its brown crusty ‘shell’, the ‘lump’ which had assisted in it’s metamorphosis, began to sprout a new green ‘leaf’ of its own. That in turn, triggered another ‘knobbly lump’ to egde its way along the branch towards it. Within the space of a few minutes, a whole converyor belt of ‘Tzitzicas’ had helped eachother into the world, in this way. It was an awesome site. A miracle indeed!
At this point I ran in for my camera but when I returned, just a few seconds later, four swifts dived in and, in one fell swoop, gobbled up the whole lot of them! After all that effort and team work, It felt sad to see new life swept away before it had barely begun! Nature’s way, the law of survival, can be so harsh sometimes.
A ‘tzitzicas’ is of course, a ‘cidada’.
The noise it makes is deafening and though it may sound as though there are thousands of them there are probably only a few hundred perched in the trees surrounding the house at the moment.
I used to marvel at the sheer volume of sound a single one can produce! Knowing now, as I do, the unsurmountable odds it takes simply to reach maturity, I think, if I was a cidada, I would be doing my utmost to let the whole world proudly know of my achievement and make sure everyone was aware of my presence, too!

Nature may seem ‘cruel’ yet I firmly believe in a simple philosophy of Life: ‘What goes around, come around’. A few days later my electrician, Panagiotis, called me to the meter box, on the outside of the house, where he ‘d been working. He lifted off the (broken) glass front to show me what he’d uncovered; a swift’s nest, beautifully, laboriously constructed from moss, leaves and twigs (I used to spend many an hour entranced by the elegant ballet they perform in the sky every springtime when they arrive) Inside, were six perfect, tiny, swift’s eggs. Before I could stop him, he’d lifted out the nest and picked up one of the eggs between his fingers. I took it off him, replaced it with the others and moved the whole nest into a nearby tree, fully aware that it was fultile; the mother would probably never touch it now. Sure enough the nest remained abandoned until one day all the eggs just disappeared; eaten by a snake most probably, I was told (Yes, we have them too! But that’s a story for another day)

These are just two of the incidents that forced me me slow down this week and both are typically part of the life here on a Greek island. I’m reminded of Laurence Durrell’s writing in his book ‘My Family and Other Animals’, when as a boy in Corfu he would lie in the undergrowth of the olive groves or wait patiently, wedged between rocks in a cove, for hours at a time, mesmerised by the comings and goings of spiders, ants and suchlike. He lived in another world, one in which these ‘miracles’ occur all the time. It’s a world we all share – yet its one that’s all too easy to take for granted and to overlook, as we go about our busy, busy lives……How many ‘miracles’ will you witness today, before your head touches your pillow?