Life in a Dol house
2016 - Week 33
The natural year in Dol
This week, I am going to do something a little different.
Last week we had our annual Puhijada festival in the village and with the publication of the Tartajun magazine last weekend, one of my articles was made available. I am repeating it here for everyone to read and enjoy.
The party on Saturday night went well. The barbecue was cleared of food by 2am and the bar ran dry just after 2.30am, but the party, music, singing and dancing continued until dawn was breaking in the east at 4am. A good time was had by all!
This is my story, published in the magazine.
Translating the name Dol from the Croatian language to English, is not straightforward.
Its cultural meaning is "a hollow" and in hollows between the hills is where the houses lie. Approaching the two villages from Stari Grad plain, the white limestone Church of St. Michael the Archangel shimmers in the bright sun, the deep red tile roof is in stark contrast to the forested slopes behind and it is like a beacon drawing people towards the villages.
As you look at the Church high upon the promontory, Dol Sv. Maria is on the right, to the west and Dol Sv. Ana is to the left, to the east. Between the groves of olive trees and serried ranks of vines, following the winding lanes as they climb gently up hill from the flat plain, few homes are visible.
It is not until you are actually in the villages that you see the old Croatian stone houses some still with their ancient stone flag roofs, others with red tiles, set against the green backdrop of the evergreen Maquis forest, and a few modern villas surrounded by trees.
Nestling into the sides of the valleys, Dol is warmer in winter than the ancient plain below and even Stari Grad, although the Old Town is lapped by the warm Adriatic sea. Cold air flows down hill and on many winter and spring mornings, there will be a layer of cold, damp, foggy air on the plain below, while Dol sits in relatively warmer air above, often bathed in early morning sunshine.
This temperature inversion can be quite noticeable, with a distinct and visible atmospheric boundary between the cool fog and warmer air above.
The Mediterranean climate is characterised by cool wet winters and hot dry summers, but in this age of climate change, nothing is certain any more. The weather patterns over the past two years have been completely different. The 2015/2016 winter has been dry, with half the rainfall of the previous year. April 2016 has seen record temperatures world wide, whilst in Dol people were talking about summer having arrived early.
Seen from above and looking north, Dol appears to be sitting in a natural amphitheatre in the shape of a letter "W".
With St. Michael's Church on the centre point dividing the two halves of the village.
The surrounding tree covered slopes create micro climates, known as thermal belts which allow Date Palms and Cycads to be grown as ornamental trees. Many sub tropical plants enjoy these isothermal zones.
At different times of the year, there will be many different trees and shrubs in blossom.
At the very start of spring, in late January, the Almond trees shimmer with their pink and white flowers and they are the first trees to bloom when other deciduous trees are completely bare. Many gardens along the roads have Mimosa bushes, Acacia dealbata, which are covered in delicate mustard yellow blooms that seem to light up the shrubs. In some gardens and small orchards there are plum trees which will also be covered in flowers.
By the sides of the roads and in the olive groves, swathes of small pink Cranebills, Geranium tuberosumn are in flower, a perennial carpet on the floor. Throughout March the number of flowers visible along the paths in the villages steadily grows as the strength of the sun increases and the daily temperature climbs.
April is a time to enjoy the profusion of wild flowers on the footpaths and green lanes.
Large numbers of different flowers can be seen, including several varieties of orchid. Wild flowers and grasses are in a race to develop, flower and set seed before the heat of summer and lack of rain stops all growth. At the same time the grapes vines also come into flower.
By May the olive trees will be in flower.
Bearing tiny white half round shank button flowers, the different varieties of olive tree come into flower at slightly different times, making some trees look as though they have a covering of cotton wool buds. A walker on the lanes around the village will often be surrounded by small clouds of multi coloured butterflies, seeking nectar from wayside flowers.
In June the Linden or Lime trees burst into blossom.
You will often hear the tree before you see it, such is the cacophony of sound from the thousands of bees and other insects which are feeding on the nectar and pollinating the flowers at the same time. The diminutive flowers would be almost invisible were your attention not drawn to them by the insect noise.
By the first days of July the heat of summer has arrived and many plants have gone into their summer period of dormancy.
The true Mediterranean climate is characterised by being a winter cool and wet and a summer hot and dry. Although the island of Hvar is close enough to the continental land mass of the Balkans to be affected when a cold Bura wind blows from the north, it seldom lasts for more than a day.
In the higher northern latitudes, native plants go dormant and regenerate over the winter. Mediterranean climate plants avoid the heat of Summer by the same mechanism, bursting into new growth when the late autumn rains arrive.
The long hot summer days dry the grasses turning the sides of the roads and paths brown.
The spring flowers have gone to seed, with just a few hardy wild carrot plants, Daucus carota, still in flower alongside their magnificent seed umbel.
All the indigenous plants become dormant in the summer, while the non natives struggle and show signs of extreme stress caused by the lack of rain. Just a few of the most persistent wild flowers with the longest tap roots still remain green. In the forest glades the air is thick with the fragrance of pine resin, released from the trees by the summer heat, whilst the air is filled with the sound of chirping cicadas.
Not much is in flower in August, but a few plants which are adapted to the conditions, with grey, leathery leaves and few stomata can be seen along all the paths.
Wild figs are ripening and ready for picking and plump, sweet blackberries can be gathered from briers alongside the tracks.
Everything (and everyone) is looking forward to the arrival of the cooler autumn weather and life giving rains.
Some of our most noticeable summer visitors, the European Bee Eaters, magnificent Golden oriole and Skopje Owl have departed along with the Cuckoo, starting their long and hazardous migration south to avoid the European winter.
The Swallows have raised their second broods and are still wheeling around the village skies, but it will not be long before they too leave for Africa.
In September, the high pressure system which dominates the weather over the Balkans and eastern Mediterranean most summers, preventing Atlantic depressions from bringing rain, has started to weaken and the first autumn rains trigger the rapid growth and flowering of autumn bulbs along the sides of the paths and in open woodland.
Through into October there is a noticeable and accelerating change in the colour of the vine leaves in the fields around Dol.
At the same time, the bunches of grapes start to show, plump and shiny through the foliage as it turns to gold and bronze.
Along the forest rides, look for the Strawberry tree, Arbutus unedo, with its small, dark red fruits.
The few hardy wild flowers that have survived the summer, together with the shrubs which line the paths are showing their seeds and fruit.
The tall yellow flowers of the Jerusalem artichoke, Helianthus tuberosus, are in evidence by the side of several paths and roads.
The Pomegranate trees, Punica granatum, are covered in the round, ruddy brown fruit, begging to be picked.
Most of the summer visitors, both avian and human have departed, leaving just the locals.
As autumn progresses the harvest of the grapes is in full swing and by November, a start has been made on the olive harvest.
The smell of wood smoke fills the air as people light their stoves to provide warmth on the rapidly cooling nights. Occasionally in hollows "Jack Frost" will touch the leaves of trees, turning them to burnished gold, lit by the low winter sun.
At the end of the month, citrus fruit are picked, oranges and mandarins, some grapefruit and the fabulous persimmon.
Lemons can be seen weighing down the branches of the trees in a good year. Along the paths and byways the grasses, sedges and lichens are still growing.
In December wheat is planted on the Feast of St. Lucy with a competition to see how tall it has grown by Christmas Day, when it will be placed in the centre of the luncheon table.
The sun is at its nadir, with some parts of the village seeing sunlight for just 5 hours, before it sinks by early afternoon behind the trees which blanket the southern hills, and in the week before Christmas there will be forays into those woods to gather the trees, lichens and grasses used to create the nativity scene, the centre piece of Christmas in each home. On Christmas Eve, a special log, the Badnjak is cut in the forest and brought home, to be lit in the evening.
As the new year dawns, it is not many days into January before there is a noticeable increase in daylight hours.
Those few deciduous trees which line the roads, shake and their dried leaves rustle in the wind. New buds begin to swell. The birds start their courtship rituals and as the lengthening days and warming soil reawakens all life, another year in Dol begins.