Yukarıbey village works to collect all pinecones

Yukarıbey village works to collect all pinecones

Wilco van Herpen ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Yukarıbey village works to collect all pinecones

People in Yukarıbey village climb to trees to collect the pinecones. Once the man is at the top of the tree he uses his stick to hit the cones so they fall down.

It was a rainy day in March when I went to Yukarıbey, a village 15 kilometers away from Bergama. Yukarıbey is a small village surrounded by a pine tree forest. It is a typical Turkish village; not too many old houses remain, but it still it has a nice atmosphere. Men sitting in the café watching traffic pass by, and whenever there is a person they know they either greet him or they make some remarks to him.

There are two periods in the year that are very important for the people of this peaceful little village: March and June. March is the month when all the men in the village go into the forest to collect their precious pinecones. Not far away from the village I see a group of men gathered near some pine trees. In their hands they have a very large wooden stick with a little wooden hook at the end.

Everywhere around I see plastic baskets; some of them are filled with pinecones, some of them are still empty. When I arrive, the men have just finished their break and one of them has started already climbing in one of the trees. They welcomed me warmly and one by one they started climbing in the trees. Three older men stayed down, the younger ones were high up in the trees. They are so well trained that before I realize it they are all high up in the trees.

Finding the pinecones on trees

One of the men is about to come down and get into another tree, so I pay extra attention to what he is doing. The man hooks the stick in a branch about three meters above the ground. Then he starts climbing using nothing more then this stick and his hands. I check whether he has special shoes, but the shoes he wears are obviously his normal daily shoes. No helmet, no special body gear that can be attached to the tree, everybody climbs these enormous high trees without special protection. Every year at least five people fall out of the trees and get hurt, seriously hurt. According to the men I am talking to, one of their friends even died a couple of years ago while climbing the trees. But all of them make jokes about this difficult and dangerous work. I assume it is because they know that with one small mistake there is a high price to pay, and to laugh is their way to deal with the danger.

Once the man is at the top of the tree he uses his stick to hit the cones so they fall down. Every time a cone falls down I hear a heavy booming sound when it hits the ground. Imagine such a cone falling on your head, I think. That would cause (if you are lucky) a severe headache, but I think you would have to go to the hospital and find a good doctor because some of the cones weigh as much as one kilogram. One after the other the cones fall down, and soon the man’s tree is completely without cones. I wait for him to slowly slide down to the ground again, but then I see he is not considering that at all. Instead, he then hooks his stick into a branch of the tree next to the one he is in. Slowly, he moves further and then makes the step over to the other tree where he immediately continues his job.
Another man tells me that this is the most dangerous part of our job. Generally people do not fall out of the tree while climbing in or descending the tree. Instead, accidents happen when jumping from one tree to another, particularly after rain.

Before I heard all these horrible stories I was thinking about climbing a tree myself, but I quickly decided not to take such a risk. The weather was not good at all, it was raining and so the branches could be very slippery. While picking up the cones that were on the ground I looked up to see the men removing all the cones from the tree. It has never sprung to my mind while buying the little bags with pine tree pits that people had risked their lives for me.

A tractor arrived to collect all the pinecones and after it had done so it went back to the village. The men’s work was finished, so they went back to the village too. It was on my way back that I saw the tractor that had just picked up the cones. All the cones were on the ground in front of a house covered with leaves. This is the best way to store them until summertime, when the cones will be emptied of their little seeds. I had to go back to Yukarıbey village in June to see how and what people do with the pits of the pine tree.

So, next week I will tell you all about how we finally get the pine tree pits in our houses.

Wilco van Herpen, travel,