Our Full Monte Life…

Jesus is destroying our woodland.

Or more accurately, celebration of his birth is …

How do Serbian Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas?

Some of you may know that followers of Serbian Orthodox Christianity observe a raft of fascinating traditions and customs throughout the Christmas period.  If such things interest you can find out more here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serbian_Christmas_traditions

Sadly, it is one of these traditions, observed on Badnji Dan (the equivalent of Christmas Eve day), that is leading to the destruction of our small woodland area at Camp Full Monte.  The Wiki link above has the details but in summary: The oldest able male of the household, sometimes with other male members, goes off into the countryside to find and cut one or more Banjak logs. Traditionally these are oak logs. It’s really just another variation of the Yule log which I believe can be traced back to pagan origins.

It’s no surprise then that, over the last few years, our beautiful oak woodland has become a magnet for the local god fearing population at Christmas time. Every year we lose at least 10-15 oak trees, many of which are at least 20 years old. All are felled for the sake of little more than a meter of trunk. The rest is just left lying on the ground for me to clear away.

Are we partly to blame?

The irony is that, because we care for our surroundings and “manage” this area of land, we’ve made it easier for people to destroy it.

This “management” entails up to two weeks work per year clearing invasive undergrowth. Primarily so the trees are free from competition for water and light but also to allow an ever increasing diversity of smaller flowering plants to flourish. Flowers that are essential to nectar feeding insects. Again, more irony, many of those insects originate from the hives of local beekeepers.

Clearing land in this way is also important to reduce the risk of wild fires and to improve access for firefighters. A need underlined by the spate of devastating wild fires we had in our vicinity last summer.

“You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone” – Joni Mitchell

It’s heart breaking to see the after effects of this activity and upsetting to think that it’s being done in the name of Jesus Christ. If only he could “have a word”.

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What’s a tree hugger to do?

The quandary is, what, if anything, to do about it? I’d welcome any thoughts or comments you might have. Here are a few of my own.

A fence?

The area covers almost 4000sq meters and we’d have to foot the bill for around 400m of high fencing and gates. Contrary to popular local belief, we simply don’t have the cash. In any case, it would be almost impossible to erect in places and look unsightly.

A sign begging people not to cut down our trees?

Yeah right! In my experience of local attitudes this is only likely to encourage greater devastation. It’s sad but I’m beginning to think that as “foreigners” we are seen as fair game. There are oak trees on other plots in our vicinity and even some on roadside verges but year on year these remain unscathed.

Spread across a wider area, the number of trees cut might be more sustainable and less noticeable but no – our trees seem to be the only casualties. Share the tree hate people – please! How to get that message across is the challenge.

Talk to the neighbours?

Again, we’ve tried this in connection with the occasional theft of items from our property but to no avail. Everyone is super sympathetic and quickly place the blame on others from outside our neighbourhood who are passing through. Trust me, if you’ve never been to Camp Full Monte, people don’t “pass through” this area. We’re pretty much on the only road to nowhere in the vicinity. It seems the favourite culprits (for a wide range of transgressions) are Albanians trying to cross the border into Croatia illegally. Unlikely in this case and besides, in the 11 years we’ve been there I’ve never seen a single Albanian “passing through”.

An all-night vigil?

To observe the custom properly, the men have to rise early on Christmas Eve Day and, axe in hand, go off in search of their Banjak log. Every year I vow to get up equally early and simply sit in wait but self-preservation kicks in. I’d rather not put myself in a position of confrontation with neighbours and locals who, at face value, are otherwise very welcoming and friendly. Especially as the wiki article mentions that the firing of guns and deployment of small grenades is often an integral part of the Banjak felling routine. I’m not sure I ready to square up to groups of men carrying axes, guns and grenades. They’re beautiful trees but even I have my limits.

Intentional vandalism?

This is currently my preferred option and I would welcome input from anyone who is sympathetic to my cause but who also understands the custom. What makes a particular tree more attractive to the log hunters? Is there a way I could make the trees less attractive for such a purpose without significantly damaging the tree?

I’m sure easy access is the single biggest factor. I had thought that it was solely because it was so easy to get at our trees. Especially as the stereotype view of most people from Montenegro is that they ….. use energy efficiently?

Seriously, every nationality has its stereotype, apparently people from Montenegro are lazy! – who knew?

No – it may be more complex than simple laziness. According to the wiki article, an unimpeded east facing fall for the felled tree is key to the ceremonial chopping. So maybe I should just stop clearing  the land around the trees, live with the fire risk, starve the bees and hope that the trees are able to continue to survive and compete with far less beneficial flora & fauna.

Nah!!! I have another idea. Again your input would be welcome.

Would this work?

I’m thinking that in the few days before Badnji Dan I could buy some aerosol cans of paint and paint a thin vertical stripe down the trunks of the trees I particularly want to save. It would have to be a suitably unpalatable colour. I was thinking day-glow pink. Unlikely to appeal to most macho, god fearing, homophobic males. What do you think? Would this work? Is there an alternative colour that is intrinsically abhorrent to Orthodox Christians?

I need to research how much damage such action would do to the trees but my suspicion is very little. I also think the paint would fade in colour quite quickly once the danger period was over. Better yet I could combine this action with the vigil approach. I could offer rakija & priganice ( doughnut type fare commonly prepared at Christmas) with a cheery smile to anyone “passing” whilst uttering the words “Hristos se Rodi!” (Christ is born) and hope that I get the customary “Vaistinu se rodi”  (truly he is born) in reply … and not a volley of shots from a Kalashnikov.

Probably best to stop short of giving out leaflets promoting local LBGT support groups (are there any?) but anyone (irrespective of gender preference) with my tree hugging sensibilities would be welcome to join me at Camp Full Monte next Christmas.  Please do get in touch.

4 Comments

  1. Amy

    I suggest buying a lot of roasary beads and hanging them on trees, with a sign that says this tree has been blessed for a long fruitful life. Signed by the local orthodox priest of course. Amen

  2. Phil

    No problem Steve, I’m happy to help.
    The manufacturer is Soppec. They make various spray markers.
    Fluo lasts for 6-12 months, so won’t be ideal.
    Track marker by the same company would be better at 3 months.
    P.S. I’m still trying to track down a cheap, water driven pump. I’ll keep looking….

  3. Steve (Post author)

    Top tips Phil. I’ll see if I can source Fluo Marker here in Montenegro if not then I’ll get Den to get it whilst she’s in the UK. I was thinking just 1 line because I didn’t want a woodland full of pink stripes – lol. I guess it depends how long the marker will take to fade. Any idea? No worries if not, I could try it on one inconspicuous tree now and see how it weathers over the coming months. Thanks again. Edit – Just found their website and seen some of their more temporary sprays. I definitely think this is the answer – Big Thanks.

  4. Phil Brotherton

    Hi Steve. Fluo Marker spray paint would do the job. It’s environmentally friendly & safe to the tree. It comes in various colours including bright pink!
    Instead of just one vertical line, three per tree would prevent them from hiding it when they burn the log.
    If this doesn’t work, set up a lot of large triangles around the trees with scaffold/wooden poles. Apparently it’s bad luck to walk under them.
    If that fails too, then find some Albanians & invite them to squat on your land over Christmas!

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