In olive oil-producing countries such as Greece, tourists can wander through olive groves all year, observing the summer growth of olives, their autumn harvest, the winter landscapes, the new spring branches, leaves, and blossoms, and the cycle’s annual repetition. We can see people and nature working together to make Greek liquid gold in its homeland.
Through the summer and as autumn begins, I watch the olives around me grow under the hot sun, then gaze at their silhouettes against the sunset. Drawn to the welcome shade of their trees, I revisit the same trees often, considering the sizes and shapes of different olive varieties and some olives’ faster growth than others. I breathe in the scent of wild sun-dried herbs nearby.
Autumn rains reveal shades of purple and lavender, black and maroon, as some olives are washed clean, dark, and shiny, while others retain a paler hue. After a storm, I admire tiny raindrops resting on purple olives, lightly glistening under the cloudy sky. I observe drops hanging from shiny wet green leaves and briefly clinging to a wine-red olive, the drop reflecting the soft light before it falls.
As the weather cools, I notice signs of the olive harvest around me. Especially in November, I see the pickup trucks of part-time olive farmers parked on the roadsides and in the olive groves, awaiting their cargo of olives. Giant green nets are spread beneath the olive trees, and people of all ages beat the branches with harvesting instruments that resemble rakes or pitchforks, until the olives fall onto the nets. Professional olive farmers hire teams of labourers to help them, but for many Greeks the annual harvest is traditionally a family affair, with the oil distributed among friends and family members.
I sometimes drive west of Chania on the national highway to the endless groves of silvery green leaves and olives in the rolling hills of the Kolymbari area, where I first fell in love with Greek olive landscapes. Heading inland off the highway into a prime example of Cretan olive country one fall day, I pass warehouse-like village olive mills with pickup trucks and burlap bags of olives. I find a couple harvesting green olives on a steep hillside as their young son plays nearby.
In the winter, after the harvest, I treasure the graceful lines of olive leaves rising against the brilliant blue or ornamental clouds of the infinite sky. I survey the landscape covered with olive trees that run down to the sea, fill a valley, and climb a hillside, often with spectacular cloud compositions of puffy white billows rising behind them. Even Crete has some miserable winter days of clouds, wind, and cold rain, but the olive trees welcome the rain.
In the mountains, and on rare occasions closer to sea level, they also welcome the snow. At lower elevations, the snow may lightly coat olive branches in white to complement their evergreen leaves and dark wet trunks, spreading patterns of white carpet next to the green of sorrel leaves protected by the trees’ canopies, then adding additional wet layers of white. On such days, I am mesmerised by the olive leaves and branches outlined in icy snow and then coated in ragged layers of gray white, with icicle drops forming at their tips.
After the autumn and winter rains (and sometimes snow) come to Crete, wildflowers begin to bloom in some olive groves, especially in the open spaces between younger trees. As neighbours gather wild greens to eat, I follow the emergence of new types of blossoms and photograph them beneath the olive trees. Crocuses and anemones appear by January, wood sorrel and orchids come for a colourful February, serapias, daisies, and field gladiolas bring in a brilliant March, and tassel hyacinths dress up April.
Here in the Chania area wildflowers bloom through the winter, beginning to fade in the heat of the sun by May.
As other flowers fade, I turn to the olive trees, where the delicate clusters of tiny yellow-white blossoms that started to appear in winter are flourishing by April. With my camera I attempt to capture their elusive beauty and the sense that these flowers create their own fairyland.
Olive flower pollen dusts my hat and hands. The olive fruit begins to form even before all the flowers have dried up in the warm sun and dropped from the tree. Then I begin watching the baby olives which start out the size of a grape seed and expand. I monitor their growth as the months pass.
One day in May, I head toward Kolymbari, then turn inland onto a small road, passing through quiet villages with thousands of olive trees between, around, and beyond them.
The olive branches full of tiny flowers wave wildly in the strong island wind as swallows suddenly swoop out from between the olive trees, darting over and above the road, the trees, and my car.
Clouds and rain create a dramatic darkened setting for village flower gardens that display astonishing bright reds, pinks, greens, and whites, while tall, dark, pointed evergreens contrast with the light yellow green of new spring leaves on deciduous trees and the silvery green of the dancing olive leaves.
It is always time to visit the olive groves of Greece.