Wednesday 18 October 2017

Chrysopigi – Source of Gold

There's gold in them thar hills! (or so the saying goes) and the name of the next village on our route means just that. I can't promise you gold but there are plenty of blues and whites, the colours of Greece; from the light fluffy clouds in a forget-me-not sky to the small white and common blue butterflies that dance along the roadside verges. The former preferring the smelly Henbane whilst the latter opt for the more delicate European Heliotrope. But let us delve down between these two rock pillars and see what we can find in the hidden depths.

In a month or two's time there will be torrents of water rushing through here but now there are treasures to be found in the sylvan gloom (if you'll just stop looking for gold nuggets under the rocks a moment). These magnificent berries ripening from green to gold (found some!) to brilliant red are the fruits of Black Bryony (Dioscorea communis). Definitely not on the menu though as they are highly poisonous. It is a climbing plant and always entwines itself clockwise, following the sun. It's eerily quiet and still isn't it, but I just caught a movement out of the corner of my eye.

There look, it's just landed beside you. Despite its name, the Common Winter Damselfly (Sympecma fusca), I think it's a lovely little insect. They are unusual in that they are the only dragon/damselflies that overwinter as adults, according to the literature at any rate. Here in Crete I've seen Red-veined Darters in January but maybe they don't read the right field guides. I think that we've exhausted the possibilities of this habitat for the moment so let's continue on to the village which nestles at the base of the Ornos Mountains. As Ornos means mountain this is a bit of a tautology, much like naming a river Avon. Funny old thing, language.

I see that the swallows are still flying above the cliffs, way up in the sky and there are a couple of distant ravens about but what do you make of these white crumbly rocks amid the limestone greys? You can scratch them with your thumbnail. A look at the geological map shows a black square representing gypsum just about where we are standing and this is it. This is the stuff that plaster casts are made from and if you were to scramble up there – not wise as it's very crumbly – you'd very likely fall and break a leg. With a decent pen-knife and a bottle of water you could set your own fracture. An interesting example of nature providing the problem and solution in the same place.

If you look at the Google map you can clearly see the gypsum deposit but look at the wider picture of Mt. Ornos, it seems to be made up of concentric rings. I only know of two ways in which rings like this are formed; volcanoes and meteors. As far as I am aware Crete has never had a volcano of its own but I have found a reference to a significant meteor strike1 around 333AD and I wonder if this is the result? I'm no geologist so I could be wide of the mark but if anyone can shed some light on this I'm really intrigued.

Calliptamus barbarus
We haven't looked at grasshoppers yet this series, despite the fact that they've been bounding around our feet every time we move, so lets remedy that by getting up close and personal to old Tithonus here. You don't know Tithonus? Well, a very long time ago he was a mortal in love with Eos, the goddess of the dawn. The feeling being mutual Eos asked Zeus to make him immortal which he did... and Tithonus got older and older and older. Not exactly what Eos had planned but as Zeus pointed out to her “You never actually asked for the eternal youth bit, did you?” Eos left with a “Humph!' whilst Zeus chuckled away to himself for several hundred years and Tithonus withered away until little was left of him but his voice. Eos cared for him all this time but felt so sorry for him that she changed him into the insect that we now know as a grasshopper and he's been chirruping away, welcoming the dawn, ever since.

OK, so not biologically accurate but a nice little story to finish up with after all that geology.

The Extra Bit

1 The reference to the meteor strike can be found in the following paper

Photographic Bit

Many of you have asked me what photographic equipment I use so here's a quick rundown on the cameras used for each picture. For details of aperture settings, shutter speeds etc. my pictures will be on Flickr within a few days and that has all the geeky stuff.

Picture 1 Nikon Coolpix S33
Insets Canon EOS 1300D
Picture 2 Nikon Coolpix S33
Insets Nikon Coolpix S33
Picture 3 Canon EOS 1300D
Picture 4 Nikon Coolpix S33
Insets 1. Map from Rackham, O. and Moody, J., The Making of the Cretan Landscape 2. Nikon Coolpix S33 3. Brunel SP-20 Light microscope 4. Google maps
Picture 5 Canon EOS 1300D
Extra Bit pictures

Pictures were edited with FastStone Image Viewer and combined with Microsoft Paint.


Recent Posts