5 MINUTES

IN THE LIFE OF A GEOLOGIST

By Natalka Czartoryska

The author describes her first encounter with an Anatolian, a meeting that was to change her life forever.

'We traveled across the dusty plains of Central Turkey, in the rising heat of the mid-morning. Our two companions were already dozing in the back of the Chrysler Safari, heavily loaded with gear. The washing I had been waving out of the window had already dried in the rush of super-heated air, so I stowed it carefully, to stop it getting blown out of the car. We had gotten up before sun-up and breakfasted while the dew dried off the sleeping bags. There had been barking once or twice and a vague shadow had skirted our camp in the night. Or had we imagined it? Now we were getting as much driving done as possible before it got uncomfortably hot. In mid-summer a car parked in the sun can literally fry you, so you cannot touch it. But if you keep driving, conditions remain comfortable. My head nodded. On expeditions one cat-naps whenever possible. The only one fully alert was the driver. Summertime in the Middle East is usually very dry and one has to plan to carry sufficient water for ones needs. Every time you spot a fountain or drinking trough with clean fresh water running endlessly out of it, it is wise to stop, tip the stale hot reserve out and replenish.

Now in the distance I saw a tree, the first one that day. Interest awakened, for trees need water. Sure enough, there was a big stone trough and the evergushing pipe sticking out of a small wall behind it. The 'cesme', or 'spring' was alive and well, not dried up like some in mid-summer. We stopped and blinking through the heat haze, I carried our plastic screw cap cans to the source of all life. There was a good-sized flock of fat -tailed sheep resting within the exact boundaries made by the shade of the great tree. Lucky sheep I thought, most have to stand, head down in the sun. Jam packed they lay very still, some with open mouths, panting slightly.

Water. Crystal clear, cold, sparkling. It tasted like champagne. There is an ingenious system of way-side troughs all over Turkey, spring water captured perhaps a long way off and piped underground, out of the reach of plough, animals and frost. I filled the cans, washed my feet, poured some on my head, oh bliss. Then - on impulse quickly dipped whole self, gasping, clothes and all. I knew that by the time I got back to the car my drip-dry dress would be merely pleasantly damp. Carefully I walked along the edge, avoiding deep soft pools of dust. Glanced at the sheep again. Not a flicker of movement now, as if carved out of stone. And no shepherd anywhere. Some devil tempted me to test: what would happen if I tried to touch one? Would it abandon the shade and bolt into the sun, or sleepy, let itself be patted, or scramble over to its fellows? Carefully skirting the flock I inched nearer, choosing the one to approach. Then I felt like a stab! A GAZE fixed on me, it was like a physical blow. Where…….? A few heads had come up, and there - oh my! That one was NOT a sheep. A big dog, right in the middle of the flock was slowly uncurling. Dusty dog and dusty sheep, I had not noticed it while all were asleep. His patchy tawny and white body had blended perfectly in the dappled shade, slightly darker muzzle made him look menacing now, as did his stance. He rose slowly and gingerly started stepping over the backs of his unconcerned charges, tail coming up, back ramrod straight.

A wave of admiration hit me. Here was functional beauty chiseled to perfection by countless generations of work. Those long well muscled legs looked 'built for speed', that big body would bowl you over on impact with the greatest of ease…That and more flashed through my mind, while curiously my feet, without consulting me had changed direction by reflex action. Like drawing your hand from something very hot! I was retreating as fast as my dignity would allow. Keep Calm. Do Not Run. Above all - seem unconcerned. By pretending my path was a winding one (to deliberately turn and stare would be taken as aggression) I got a glimpse of him. He sniffed the air where I had been, and looked. You could sense him THINKING. I could not help admiring the splendid beast. Foremost came relief that he had not considered it necessary to pursue me further. Safely back in the car I took a good look: he still stood there, at the edge of the flock, rooted like a statue. Then he slowly eased himself to the ground and rested his head on his paws, but still staring at me, unblinking.

There had been no drama, no charge, not a sound. Just a rush of adrenaline in my case. It dawned: that dog was in total control, making decisions, using his power sparingly, as the breed has done for 6000 years. 'Coban Kopegi' or in English ANATOLIAN SHEPHERD DOG. And I had been instantly, mysteriously cured of all desire to approach sheep in that land. I had met the GUARDIAN!'

Natalka Czartoryska was an astounding woman who devoted much of her life to Anatolian Shepherd Dogs. She visited Turkey eleven times in all, many of the visits were expeditions to bring back the best specimens of working Anatolians that she could find. These became the basis of the internationally renown 'Hisar' kennels in England from whence dogs went all over the World taking top honors in the show ring and as working dogs as well.