Re­flec­tion in the northen vil­lage of Aito

Lebanon Traveler - - CONTENTS -

Bio­di­ver­sity con­ser­va­tion­ist Elsa Sat­tout re­flects on the emo­tional con­nec­tion we can have to a place through the vil­lage of Aito

A day­long hike through heav­enly views can take you far away, through mem­o­ries of time and his­tory. A jour­ney through na­ture in­vites you to dwell on the his­tor­i­cal rich­ness of a coun­try and the re­li­gious icons im­printed on its land­scapes. In fact, we rarely re­al­ize the value in the hid­den beauty of places un­til we long for spa­ces re­mem­bered from child­hood and hold onto the mem­o­ries of trees whis­per­ing about their magic.

“To be hu­man is to live in a world that is filled with sig­nif­i­cant places,” and it is well known that “sig­nif­i­cant places pro­vide sta­bil­ity and se­cu­rity. They act as an­chors,” and a “sym­bolic life line,” and be­come “fields of care,” say Shampa Mazum­dar and San­joy Mazum­dar in “Reli­gion and place at­tach­ment: A study of sa­cred places” (Jour­nal of En­vi­ron­men­tal Psy­chol­ogy, 2004).

For many, the north Le­banon vil­lage Aito is one of th­ese “sig­nif­i­cant places,” that brings a deep at­tach­ment. Through­out his­tory, the whis­pers of trees echo­ing in the ears of solo hik­ers have seemed some­how en­graved in the mo­saic patches of the land­scapes that re­flects the past uses of land re­sources and so­cial dy­nam­ics in this vil­lage.

Ly­ing on four moun­tains lo­cated at 900 and 1,300m altitude, na­ture lovers and hik­ers will be en­chanted by the panoramic view from Aito which over­looks the hills of El Qarn, El Alama, Dnit, and Kanissa. Here it’s easy to re­flect on the con­nec­tion we have to na­ture and our at­tach­ment to places. Though the mean­ing of the vil­lage’s name in Syr­iac is “Sum­mer Re­sort,” the dense si­lent pine and oak forests are a big pull dur­ing all sea­sons. The sleepy vil­lage of no more than 200 houses is a site of pil­grim­age (St Rafqa) and has more than four an­cient churches dat­ing back to the early 18th Cen­tury. Even with the sounds of crack­ing rocks while over­com­ing frosty win­ters on the hills and pinecones open­ing in the

For many, the north Le­banon vil­lage Aito brings a deep at­tach­ment

warm days of early spring, si­lence is the loud­est lan­guage in Aito.

Dur­ing a si­lent walk, oak trees whis­per that cedar trees once thrived among them giv­ing a fa­mous rep­u­ta­tion to the com­mu­nity in an­cient times, as re­vealed by the hiero­glyphic in­scrip­tion that can be found in the Beirut Na­tional Mu­seum. It was dur­ing the 2nd Cen­tury BC that Pharaoh Pepi II re­quested “trees from the woods of the God Aito,” from one of the kings of By­b­los. The resin was ex­tracted and used by Egyp­tians for em­balm­ment.

We some­times won­der if it is nos­tal­gia or the or­der­li­ness we cre­ate in our minds

Dur­ing a si­lent walk, oak trees whis­per that cedar trees once thrived

among them

for familiar places that shapes our iden­tity and con­nects us to a place. Or is it the magic that trans­forms our hearts through si­lent walks and talks. I used to be­lieve that once we can en­joy na­ture’s beauty and leave it be­hind us for the next high­land trek, with­out hold­ing any of its traces, then we would be head­ing to­wards a bet­ter state of mind. In Aito vil­lage, a high­land trek takes you on a tour through pine forests, or travers­ing agri­cul­tural ter­races and or­chards, or on the road lead­ing to old con­vents dat­ing back to the early 18th Cen­tury that re­veal that the Phoeni­cian wor­shiped this space in time.

Is it be­cause Aito en­com­passes th­ese sig­nif­i­cant places that “are in­vested with deep emo­tional mean­ing, so much so that col­lec­tive sen­ti­ments strongly re­sist any at­tempt to al­ter the set­ting” (Firey in Mazum­dar and Mazum­dar, 1945/1961) that keeps vil­lagers, sum­mer dwellers and vis­i­tors at­tached to this place?

Dur­ing dusk in Aito, while you run to em­brace the sun be­fore it dips into the val­ley, you may for­get that the in­tense Milky Way will re­place a shiny blue sky. It’s the per­fect re­minder that we are just eter­nal trav­ellers in this tiny world.

Pho­tos cour­tesy of Elsa Sat­tout

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