Friday, June 8, 2012

The Big "O"

Our tour bus was cutting through the Taurus Mountains of Turkey, located on the edge of the Anatolian Plateau where people have been living since Paleolithic times. The mountains were modest compared to the Alps or Rockies, with expansive valleys meeting us at every curve. At one point our guide, Selchuk, ordered the driver of our bus to pull to the side of the road. He said to us, “Do you want to see something really interesting?”

Of course I did. That’s why I’d traveled halfway around the world, to see what I couldn’t see at home. I followed Selchuk across the highway to a field. Like many of the Turks I’d encountered, Selchuk had a thing for flowers and shouted out varieties of plants and blossoms during every step of our journey. Mrs. C. and I had journeyed far to experience different cultures and explore ancient cities; we weren’t much interested in flowers.

“Come,” Selchuk said to me when I hesitated to get off the bus. “You will find this interesting.”

He hadn’t led me astray yet, but Mrs. C. wasn’t budging for a field of flowers and stayed on the bus with most of our tour mates. A handful of us climbed down from the bus and walked over to the field of dazzlingly white blossoms.

Selchuk explained. “These flowers are short-lived and weren’t here two weeks ago. In three or four days the petals will drop, exposing a pod the size of a small hen’s egg with a diameter between 5 and 7.5 centimeters. You are looking at a field of opium poppies.”

He was right; this was interesting, not something I’d ever expected to see. My college

roommate had grown a few marijuana plants but I’d never seen anything like this before.

“Opium? The same flower that’s converted into heroin?” I asked.

Selchuk nodded. The sun was hot and he shaded himself with his trademark orange umbrella as he walked through the field. I followed him. Bees were everywhere, often five or six to a blossom. It had recently rained and the ground was damp, sticky like the plants. He pointed out some of the larger bulbs. “These are harvested the same way they were thousands of years ago. A slice is cut into the pod with a knife and the sap oozes out. It soon crusts over and a farmer comes by and scrapes it off. This sap is the most potent part of the plant.”

“Is it legal to grow opium poppies in Turkey?”

“No. This field is owned by the government, which uses the poppies for medicine.”

I recalled that opium was once a common ingredient in items such as soft drinks, baby food and cough syrup. And wasn’t Samuel Taylor Coleridge hopped up on the stuff when he penned his famous Kubla Khan? I ran through a list of famous opium users that included, Marcus Aurelius, Benjamin Franklin, Charles Dickens and Florence Nightingale. It wasn’t long before I was tempted to run blindly through these poppies like Dorothy and Company in the Wizard of OZ. Would I get sleepy and fall asleep until Glinda waved her magic wand to rouse me? Was it my imagination that I was beginning to feel warm and fuzzy inside? With great effort I turned my head back to the bus and saw Mrs. C. staring at me curiously through the window of our bus.

Soon it was time to depart. I pulled out my camera and snapped a few pictures. In spite of the heady effect of the flowers, or perhaps because of it, something special caught my eye. Thousands of poppies, all white—except for one. Swaying in the breeze and luring me deeper and deeper with lying promises, one scarlet blossom roused me like a trumpet announcing royalty. I was momentarily Odysseus, snared by the Queen of the lotus-eaters. She was beckoning me forward and begging me not to go….


Tom Cochrun at Light Breezes recently awarded me The Illuminating Blogger Award. Tom is an exceptional writer and journalist, and I’m humbled by his attention. Thanks Tom. By the way, this award was created by C.J. at Food Stories. I’m supposed to give a random fact about me: A few days after moving to the Northwest in 1980, Mount St. Helens blew her top. Even though I’d never heard of Mount St. Helens before moving to Portland, Oregon, I took this eruption personally, a sign that I wasn’t welcome. I’m just now getting over it.

I’m supposed to pass this award along to a few others, and this is always difficult because there are so many good blogs out there. I’ve been gone recently as many of you know, but lately I’ve been enjoying these three:

#1 The Art of Being Conflicted: Cheryl has a great sense of humor and the ability to illuminate the human experience in a unique way.

#2 Where’s the Funny Here? Laughingmom sees life from the lighter side. She writes exceptional poetry that can inspire and amuse.

#3 messymimi’s meanderings: Not only is messymimi an inspired writer, but her blog is filled with fun dates and facts that will educate you and make you scratch your head.

Check them out.


  1. Now you've got bragging rights. Walked on opium must mean something :)

  2. This brought back vivid memories of a filmstrip we had to watch in 7th grade about how heroin and opium are made. I still wonder why they showed us how to make it...but those poppy fields will forever be in my memory banks.

    Congrats on the award!

  3. Absolutely riveting! I'm amazed you were allowed to walk among them! Can't imagine the feds allowing such a thing, can you?

  4. It doesn't seem like a fair trade. I showed you how to clean BBQ sauce stains out of Tupperware, and you showed me how to harvest opium poppies.

  5. Too bad you couldn't have snuck a few poppies out of there to get some free opium.

  6. First of all, thank you so much for the award. Very nice of you and thanks for the kind words.

    I find that fascinating about the poppy fields. I would have had a lot of questions for the guide. Guess it is a good thing I wasn't there as all of you would have been wanting me to shut up.

    I use to do drug tests on prospective employees during my tenure of working at the employment agency in Nebraska. A lot of positives come back for opiates. I know heroine is usually the culprit but I think morephine and methadone also trigger positives. There must be a lot of poppy fields somewhere to explain why there is such an abundance of these drugs or are they reproduced with synthetic opiates?

  7. I think I would have thought of Dorothy, too. The red one is the mystery. ;)

  8. Yep opium is a big deal in the middle east. Well it's a big deal in lots of places. I like the purple one the very best.

    Have a terrific day and weekend. :)

  9. cool pic and fascinating story- does the government REALLY only grow the opium for local use in medecine? Hmmmm and thanks for referring us to the other blogs- very fun to explore.

  10. The red poppy was clearly mugging for the camera. There's always one.

  11. LOL at ErikaRobin. This was way cool Mr. Chubby.


    Did you sneak any back home?


    (And would you send me some?)

    hee hee

  12. I love flowers and would have been enchanted by a field of white poppies. While in Provence a while back, I made a half hour road trip into a two hour jaunt because I insisted on stopping to photograph the fields and fields of red poppies along the way. Gorgeous.

  13. How interesting! So the government of Turkey is growing their own "medicine", huh? If that was happening here we would at least know what's wrong with everyone inside the Beltway. Haha! ;)


  14. When traveling I want to see everything in that foreign area. Makes no difference even if it is the same as at home, because I see it in a new light. Plants, songs, buildings and jokes...bring it on. Great photos of an intriguing subject.

  15. Yes, those are flowers i would have wanted to at least look at, also.

    As for the award, i'm overwhelmed and still on vacation, but i thank you now and will figure out what to do with such an accolade after we have hauled ourselves home.

  16. Interesting about the poppy field.

    And now I'm off to check out the blogs you mentioned!

  17. Cool post! Was there any problem with the bad guys going into the govt. field of opium poppies? Hard to imagine a whole field of these.

  18. Looking into a field of flowers, whatever they are always puts me in a calm and peaceful mood. This picture did just that!

  19. Bees? I'll bet those were some happy bees.
    " they'll sleep."
    And, apparently, snowfall cures any opium buzz.

  20. I love poppies! They seem to defy gravity--and in some countries, authority. I'm glad that you followed the tour guide and took those great pictures!

  21. Very smart of you to get off the bus. Great picture. Congrats on the award. I do enjoy your blog.

  22. The Turks have a long history of engaging in unconventional activities.

    Congratulations, Stephen, for your award - clearly well deserved.

  23. As always, your post is a visual feast. I was standing next to Selchuk and his orange umbrella.

  24. What an excellent find, that one red poppie. Superb photo and great story.
    Thanks also for the kind words.

  25. I like the one single red poppy.

  26. The red one was a poppy too??? Like everything in life, even the helpful products get used for the wrong reason and become outlawed. It's a shame that the most beautiful parts of life (the flowers) only last a few days.

    It always makes me wonder who the first person was who decided to split the pod and see what the oozy part would do... Kind of like wondering who the first person was who looked at a lobster and thought "I'll eat it".

  27. That was indeed interesting. I'll bet Mrs. C wishes she'd have joined you.

    Congrats on the award. You and that red poppy, are each outstanding in your respective fields.