Alkanna sartoriana is a pretty but fairly nondescript plant of dry places. I found it a few days ago above the beautiful, new amphitheatre at Platsa; took one record shot and, only when I checked Roger Marchant’s ‘Flowers of the Mani’, did I learn it was quite a rare endemic. So another and better photograph seemed a good idea, not least because the area was extremely flower rich.
On a first try in bright sunshine, I cannot find it; perhaps it is just the heat of midday and the blinding, difficult light. The next time it is heading towards evening and the light is soft and rich and the land quietening down. I have to pass a flock of sheep, the lead ewe has a bell that rings with a sonorous jangle in a field next to the track; they are grazing a pretty olive grove so I move closer. Only then do two large white dogs get up from nowhere and bark with intense ferocity but they come no closer than the top of the old stone wall. I retreat and at the same time find the plant! I stop, crouch with more than one eye on the barking dogs, and take some hurried shots. Not easy. So after the all the commotion I walk back past the field, and then turn to look at the sheep and again spot the dogs but at a safe distance, I stop to see what will happen and the dogs immediately run towards me barking loudly. I am off.
So I wait for dusk to photograph the open theatre at Platsa; unused five years from construction but set in a perfect location looking out over the distant, blue sea. It is a wonderful project and perhaps one day its potential may be realised. I clamber up to photograph the far side of the beautiful, old church that sits above the theatre and the two dogs appear from nowhere and bark and snarl. I back off very hurriedly and almost step off a steep ledge; damn, these dogs are good at their job!
I drive down the hill and stop at the first s-bend and get out to look over the valley to the olive groves and cypress trees and distant Nomitsi village. I want to walk a narrow path to a lookout over the valley but I am not sure where the dogs are and look up at the ridge expecting them to appear again. I listen hard for the bells but instead hear the loud repetitive shout of a shepherd calling to the flock from down in the valley; I suspect that the shepherd is calling the sheep home back to the village for the night. I wait, there is the odd tinkle of a bell but it goes quiet apart from distant dogs barking and the mew of a buzzard across the valley and, as the sun drops and the light fades, I think the flock and dogs have departed. Still, I remain wary and walk down a path and drop down to look across the valley from the top of a small cliff. I inch to the edge and look down to check the drop, there 20 feet below is a large, white dog lying down, relaxed and contented! So the flock has come from the olive grove, round the church and down the valley and come to shelter under the cliff for the night.
I walk across and take a photograph or two of the beautiful theatre as the sun drops and, as I return to the car, an old man, breathing hard with broken sunglasses and sweated brow walks up the hill with a feed bag folded under his arm, carrying a large plastic food container and stout stick; he looks tired and I offer him a lift but he gestures that it is not far and politely declines. And, yes of course, he is the shepherd. He was under the cliff calling the sheep to their nighttime retreat, had fed the dogs and was returning home. The dogs are not really there to guard against much in the day but to fend off other dogs, wild boars and golden jackals at night. I was just a bit of easy practice for them.