About Karen Reczuch

A children's book illustrator, lately come to the art of archaeological illustration, traveling and working in Turkey...and beyond.

Back to Zincirli

It may have been the extra four hours I added onto an already gruelling itinerary by moving west this past year, or it may have been merely the usual lack of sleep on an overnight flight, but my first hours in Turkey were strangely surreal. After nine years it still feels bizarre to have traveled so far only to find it all so wonderfully familiar. Once we reached “home” here at Zincirli and I’d had a solid night’s sleep and a full morning’s work, I felt a second assault on reality: had I actually ever left?

Returning to Zincirli reminds me of Christmases past – a confusion of memories tumbled one on another until separating one season from the other is near impossible. How many seasons have I worked with each of these people? Who was here the year we found the stele? Remember so and so? Who went to the sea with us that year? The familiar stories are re-told; we offer up our newer tales and settle into the familiar routine.

I joined the dig already two weeks in progress. The areas under excavation were already significantly changed from the past season and notable things found. We’re a sizeable team this year – nearly 50 – and in five days I have still to put names to all the fresh new faces. Some dear friends of past seasons are missing, but it is nonetheless like coming back into the embrace of family.

My table is strewn with drawing instruments and sketches and a few carefully placed artifacts awaiting the morning’s work session. The curtains flutter with cool night breezes, making the fan at my elbow finally redundant. The final call to prayer of the evening is echoing through the courtyard. Another week begins.

IMG_1289

 

Once around the circle…

Hello again. Welcome back. I know. It’s been a while.

I’m sitting on my balcony as darkness falls. A chill glass of white from a neighbourhood winery sits to hand. The distant clouds are frosted in pink, the nearer hills shading to bronze; following a week under the shroud of a smokey haze, it’s lovely to breathe clear air and see down the valley again. The crickets have begun their nightly chorus – the rhythmic song of late summer that lulled me to sleep my first nights here.

It was a year ago this weekend that I left behind my home in Ontario. I’ve come round the calendar, marking the changes and learning the rhythms of this new home. I’ve seen the summer orchards shade to bronze and copper, watched as winter crept down from the peaks and watched it retreat again, drank in the scent of orchards in blossom, marvelled as clusters of fruit appeared among the rows.  It was peach season when I arrived and it’s peach season again; each day’s offering bigger and juicier than the day before. Berries, apricots and cherries have had their day, now root vegetables and field tomatoes are crowding the stalls. Cabbages and pumpkins ripen in the fields, the trees are burdened with still-green apples.

Summer is far from over here in the Okanagan – but I’ll be heading off in the morning to spend the remaining weeks of the season in Turkey.  After a year of exploring and learning a new place, it’s time to return to a familiar one. The dig at Zincirli opened at the beginning of August and I’ve had word that lovely objects have emerged from the soil and are waiting to be drawn. I’m eager to reconnect with friends – it’s been nearly two years! – and I’m wondering how the sleepy little village of Fevzipaşa has fared meanwhile. I’m awash in thoughts of steaming tea in tulip glasses, tiny cups of morning espresso, late night conversations in a windy courtyard and early mornings awakening to a somewhat-less-than-melodious call to prayer. Adventure – of a sort – awaits.

cay

If you’ve been following this blog previously, you have an idea of what’s to come. If you’re new here – you may want to take a look at this early post to catch up on what I’m up to. Old friend or new – I hope you’ll come along!

An Anniversary Gallery

January 31, 2017: ten years since my husband Craig’s death. In a whirlwind of last minute planning, my daughter Kyra and I found ourselves observing the date in Bangkok, Thailand. I had packed one of Craig’s colourful shirts, hoping that my vague concept of marking the anniversary in some profound manner would somehow coalesce. We brainstormed, disputed, tried a plan that didn’t work…yet a solution emerged.

tidi_heart

An unexpected brightness, a wry humour, a gentle invitation to look more closely: in his person and in his art, in our lives and memories, Craig was and continues…to be.

Photo credit for central photo and gallery images 1,3 and 5: Kyra Parker ( click here for Kyra’s instagram and more of her gorgeous images!)

An anniversary

So…it’s January again. It’s not my favourite month. For so many years, January has meant loss. It started with the death of my husband Craig and then continued, year after year – nephew, uncle, parents-in-law, parents, brothers – gone one by one in the early months of the year.

Ten years – of loss, yes –  but as many to reflect on what remains and learn to treasure it. We endured the worst we could imagine and we lived. Life did go on – in rich and unexpected ways. Craig’s loss shaped and refined each of us and his presence in our lives is a current that continues to bear us.

1794517_10202252838014958_1053358484_n

So here it is one more time: Craig’s signature symbol of defiance. He took to wearing such colourful tie dyed t-shirts as his own sign of hope in the face of a terminal illness. I’ve posted this bright little square for a number of years now in his memory – and as an encouragement to others to share that defiance and hope. Kick at the darkness until it bleeds daylight. Find the crack where the light pours in.

I’m posting this a little early. Tomorrow morning I’ll be boarding a plane, winging half-way around the world to meet my daughter in Bangkok. We’ll observe the anniversary there – on January 31. Years ago, we reflected that Craig would have hated to be the cause of sadness year after year, so we began to look for ways to make the day a celebration. I don’t yet know how Kyra and I will mark the date, but there will be tie dye. And hope. Stay tuned.

Hitting the button…

Previously on this blog:

I’ve been back nearly three months and creating this record is taking far longer than I imagined. Meanwhile I’m trying to get a house ready for selling and down-sizing for a move, so my time has been occupied elsewhere. Heartiest of apologies for making you wait for the instalments! I’ll keep plugging away…

Well, I didn’t. I didn’t keep plugging away. Instead I vanished beneath the tide of downsizing and packing up and moving out and moving in and unpacking. Sorry. Here I am, nearly a year away from the events of that last post, dressing again for a morning hike. Framed in my bedroom window, the crest of the hills across the valley is dusted with last nights’ snow.

No, I’m not in the Himalayas.

I’m at home – my new home in the Okanagan valley in British Columbia, thousands of miles west of where I wrote that last post. Although the slopes that frame this valley are not mountains in any Himalayan sense, they are an inspiring new context for the simplest aspect of my existence. Walking to the post box, driving into town for groceries, dropping off a book at the library – I look up to a horizon crowded by beauty.

Previously, I’d only seen the Okanagan in sunshine – endless brilliant days of light glinting off water and orchard and vineyard. Since my arrival in August, there’s been an unusually high incidence of wet and misty days. Now that daylight savings time has ended, darkness descends far too early. Nonetheless, I am finding myself endlessly spellbound by the myriad colours of the mountains – emerald and gold and bronze shading in the fading light to navy and indigo. The rising angle of the sun splinters a silhouetted range into a succession of peaks and then blends them again into a single inky mass. Some days the clouds mosey down the valley like a rag tag herd of sheep; other days the mist flows over the peaks in ribbons, pooling in the hollows. I might wake with the world shrouded in a cotton mist; by noon the fog has sunk and I am marooned on an island of cloud. Rain or sun or cloud, it’s all new and novel and endlessly delightful. The friends who convinced me to move here gaze from their window and tell me that after seventeen years, it never gets tired. I’m warned by others that the winter will be grey and tiresome. I look at the hills this morning, made newly strange by their dusting of snow and can’t imagine that.

What brought me here? What wind uprooted and blew me across the country? I’m hard pressed to pinpoint exactly what or why, although there are tales to tell now that I’m settled in. When asked a similar question, a woman in my walking group shrugged and said it was just time to hit the ‘reset’ button.

“Yes,” I thought. “Exactly.”

ok_blog_241116

Day 9

 

Yak Kharka to Thorung Phedi and High Camp

I awoke refreshed with no altitude headache and a renewed appetite for the ‘French toast’ I’d ordered for breakfast. We headed out in bright sunshine for Thorung Phedi – and High Camp if we remained in good form.

The trail followed the contours of the steep valley, a gradual but steady climb. The slopes were gravelly and the path narrow; signs were posted cautioning of the danger of landslides. The landscape was a little bleak – not much vegetation, but enough to sustain the flocks of Himalayan blue sheep the guides pointed out to us. It was the busiest day on the route so far. We all looked like we were moving in slow motion – the altitude effect was pronounced. I remembered something I had read and tried to follow my breath as I walked, matching it to my pace. Whenever I felt winded, I stopped for as long as it took to normalize my breathing. This worked, but by the time we reached Phedi I’d nearly run out of steam. Neil, Ria and I brought up the rear, but three of the porters who were crossing the pass for their first time – Jaluna, Primila and Kalpana – kept pace with us.

The door to the  dining hall at Phedi opened onto a warm, noisy room filled with buzz. It was so like a ski resort that I was momentarily disoriented. We enjoyed a hearty lunch and recovery period. Patrick (characteristically) discovered a musical connection with the proprietor. Bhagawati pronounced us ready for the climb to High Camp for the night, assuring us that she’d be monitoring everyone carefully. There were some misgivings, but we knew that continuing would shave off considerable time and effort for crossing the Pass in the morning.

High Camp was almost visible from Phedi; we were only on route briefly when we caught a glimpse of the flags waving at the crest. Gazing up the 45° slope as we set out looked a little silly – a scattering of brightly coloured figures wandered (seemingly) aimlessly back and forth across the face of the hill. What one couldn’t see because of the incline was that the track switchbacked constantly, turning the steep climb into a gentler trail. I recalled reading a description of this section: it’s only 45 minutes – but you will remember every one of them!

I was the last to arrive as light flurries began to swirl and found the others huddled around a table in the dining hall. The only heat came from the press of bodies – and the room was filled. After hot drinks, we dispersed to our rooms to – supposedly – warm up. The snow was now falling in earnest and the toilets were across the courtyard from sleeping quarters. I suited up in my thermal layer for the night – determined not to be naked one single time more in this cold!!

I’d enjoyed some lovely conversations with Kathleen over those past days. This day we had touched on identity and our perceptions of self. I’d come to view myself as strong and independent, so being sick had taken a bite out of that. I was, as yet, the only one remaining in our party who had no symptoms of altitude sickness – and the only one not on Diamox – and that had become inordinately important to me. Fingers crossed for a restful night.

Midnight. Dinner was a little dismal – the antibiotics were making things taste strange so I had chosen something fairly bland and disappointing and choked it down. I needed the calories. I’m huddled now in my sleeping bag, cradling a tin cup of hot mint tea. The warmth is a pleasure, but I’ve drunk only enough to ease my pills down my throat. I’ve just returned from my third foray to the far-too-distant facilities (another side-effect of altitude is frequent urination) and I don’t want to make another!! Trudging through the newly fallen snow, I’m grateful that I splurged on the purchase of a new sleeping bag. Sandwiched between two Nepali quilts, it still retains a trace of warmth upon my return. The stars are peeping through here and there. Hoping for a clear morning!

Note: I’ve been back nearly three months and creating this record is taking far longer than I imagined. Meanwhile I’m trying to get a house ready for selling and down-sizing for a move, so my time has been occupied elsewhere. Heartiest of apologies for making you wait for the instalments! I’ll keep plugging away…

Day 8

Manang to Yak Kharka

Our second morning in Manang dawned bright and clear – a hopeful sign for the road ahead. We were only two days from crossing the Throrong La pass; snow would be a potentially serious setback now. No worries – the day was soon warm and the layers were peeled away.

At 3,519 metres, Manang sits at twice the elevation of the Lake Louise, Alberta, the highest settlement in Canada. While our bodies were definitely acclimatizing, altitude decidedly affects athletic performance. The feeling is something like perpetually slogging through deep water; this would only grow more pronounced. Our first day’s goal was to reach Yak Kharka – a half day’s hiking and a gain of more than 500 metres. Bhagawati would decide over the next day whether we were managing well enough to push on to High Camp the next day, or remain overnight at Throrong Phedi for a bit more adjustment. The second scenario would mean a more gruelling climb to the pass, but perhaps a safer alternative.

wp_2_5a

Looking back toward Manang

The trail swung away from the Marsyangdi River that had been our companion for so long, turning up the Jarsang Khola valley – so we still had a chattering, watery accompaniment below. Above, our journey was punctuated periodically by rumblings from the Gangapurna glacier as avalanches thundered down the distant slopes. We walked now in arid sub-alpine terrain, the slopes cloaked in autumn-coloured barberry shrubs, low spreading junipers and sparse alpine grasses. The climb was gentle but unrelenting and continually up.

We took our morning tea break on a roof top with an unobstructed view back toward Annapurna III and Gangapurna stretching across the mouth of the valley, splendid in the full sun. Time to catch our breath and soak in the light then back on the path, past a chorten stacked with exquisitely carved mani stones and on to our destination.

Until now, we’d seen relatively few other trekkers, considering we were traveling in peak season. Manang had been something of a gathering point, and we were definitely encountering more traffic. Fighting the altitude seemed to have levelled our own group’s disparate speeds and our porters, too, were slowing. On previous days we’d have ended up strung out over a fair distance; now we were traveling as more of a pack, resting together in little clumps and more frequently. I had more opportunity to chat with our ‘girls’ and learned that for several of them this was also their first time over the pass – and also the highest altitude that they had experienced. Bhagawati was not only monitoring our adjustment, but theirs as well – and the porters were carrying our baggage as an additional challenge.

wp_2_5f

Our intrepid porters

We reached the Himalayan View Hotel at Yak Kharka in time for lunch. The tea house offered an ambitious menu, and although Nepali pizza was credible, the moussaka was something of a stretch.

The recommended afternoon action was a short hike to a higher altitude, then back down for the night, but we staged a minor mutiny. Neil and I made personal health decisions to rest and nurse our virus. Ria very kindly offered me an Indonesian massage – a welcome addition to my recovery regimen, but sadly not as relaxing as we hoped because I coughed through the entire process. Then, blessedly, I slept – curled up in the afternoon sunshine streaming through my window. Nightfall brought us all together in the toasty warm dining hall. The porters gathered around a melodrama on the television; the rest of us huddled near the fireplace, variously occupied with journaling, reading, charging devices, treating water, drying socks and staying warm. Much of our conversation circled around our itinerary for the next days. None of us were having serious difficulty but there was an even distribution of early symptoms of AMS – mild headache, loss of appetite, nausea, sleeplessness – although it was hard to tell if these were also cold symptoms. No one was experiencing all of them, but nearly everyone had elected to take Diamox as a precaution. Ironically, while I was still recovering, I seemed mostly unaffected by altitude. Bhagawati was encouraging us to consider reaching for High Camp the next day and I think we were all anxious about gaining the extra altitude, which maybe accounted for our sleeplessness? In the end, we were in her hands; she would make the decision as our lead guide.

As pleasant as the day had been, nights were growing increasingly colder; the expanding thickness of the quilts at successive establishments testified to this. We left the warmth of the dining hall early to burrow under those ample quilts and await the next day’s decisions. Tucked up in my room with the requisite thermos of mint tea, I huddled by the window, tenting my sleeping bag around the steamy warmth. The stars – and later the moon – were spectacular. So many! So bright!