I wonder if you, like me, feel guilty about flying to foreign parts for a holiday? I hate to think of the damage done to our environment and the ozone layer by aeroplanes. Friends of mine have taken the pledge not to fly any more, for this reason.
But I do love exploring different places, and this late summer I was drawn back to Crete, the second largest island in the Mediterranean. Not just for sun, sea and sandy beaches, you understand, but because I love the wild rugged landscape, the history, the people, their traditional ways of life, their generosity to strangers.
You can sit on a hillside looking out over olive groves towards a glimpse of sea, and hear nothing at all, except perhaps the distant tinkle of bells round the necks of foraging goats. Or spot a local Cretan gathering food from his patch of garden, fruit from the trees, or hay from the tiny fields.
On this trip we came across something extraordinary. Driving from Chania towards Omalos in the White Mountains, we saw a sign pointing to “ National Botanic Garden.” Intrigued, we followed the winding road higher and still higher, until we arrived at the entrance, and decided to visit. It was a hot sunny day, but there was a delightful cooling breeze. As we parked and entered, the first thing we saw was a huge gaunt olive tree, probably hundreds of years old, with its central trunk hollowed out, burnt away by fire. A powerful symbol, indeed. (see picture)
Burnt Olive Tree With Still living Green Shoots
We learned that the Botanical Park and Garden had been created after a disastrous forest fire which had devastated several acres of the hillsides in 2003. As the leaflet we were given says, the area was reborn from its ashes. The aim of the garden is to educate visitors about how important trees and plants are to our wellbeing. We were offered water, sunhats and stout walking sticks to help us round a 5km trail through the forest, which gave us shade and intense visual pleasure as we gazed at the wonderful and amazing variety of shapes and colours of trees and plants from habitats all around the world. I thought of the lines in Andrew Marvell’s poem The Garden: “Annihilating all that’s made, to a green thought, in a green shade”.
As we wandered around in wonder, it was very interesting to observe others too, carefully reading labels on the plants, which named each one, its country of origin, and its uses. Many were medicinal plants, herbs and trees, for example the Willow, from which we obtain aspirin. Such huge variety of leaf shapes, brightly coloured flowers, tree trunk markings and scents…
Our leaflet said : “Walking around the Botanical Park and Gardens of Crete offers spiritual tranquillity and visual pleasure, while getting acquainted with flora and their compositions”. For me personally, it was a reminder of the wonder of God’s creation, and renewed my faith as I silently offered up a prayer of thanks for His goodness to us. Here was an example of spiritual teaching, without any need to preach, because I felt God’s creative presence all around me. And here also was a good example of how to follow God’s instruction to care for his Creation, and to encourage others to do likewise.
Not only spiritual needs were met, but the walk ended in a beautiful restaurant overlooking the wonderful view of the forest and mountains, where all the delicious food came from the gardens, including a fruit drink made from the fruits of trees grown there. The whole experience was very special, and I believe the Botanical Park and Gardens are unique in Europe. So if you are ever in Crete, do visit. Sharing this experience helps ease my conscience about the air flight!
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” Genesis 2:15
Shapes of Trees and Leaves Tree Trunk Markings
Creation Care Team