“Oh,” shouts Eleni, one and a half years old, raising her head. She shows us how the wolf does it. The difference between her and other children growing up (typically) in Attica is that this is knowledge she gained not from children’s books and TV cartoons, but from her own life thus far. In her own fairy tale there is no bad wolf or Little Red Hood: the wolf is a fascinating friend, a neighbor on the mountain, with equal rights in fact. Eleni lives in Parnitha. She along with her parents, Yannis Heli and Maria Lazarou, are the only permanent residents of the mountainous area.
Privileged by the way, since the national forest is prohibited from being inhabited and there are only settlements at its feet. They have this right because they manage the two mountain refuges that operate in Parnitha, Bafi and Flaburi, at an altitude of 1,161 m and 1,158 m respectively. If they weren’t managed, they’d probably be living on another mountain – their lifestyle choice caused their commitment to refuges, not the other way around. The couple settled here in 2018. Previously, Maria lived in Ilion and worked as a personal trainer. Giannis grew up in Aegaleo and was a soccer player. He completely by chance found himself in Parnitha, in Bafi, which was then run by his cousin and now his partner, Stefanos Sidiropoulos. They took a walk to the cave of Panos and that was all; by 2009, the “worm of nature” had already taken over, he says. It was a call he couldn’t ignore. With Stefanos, he joined the management of the refuge and outdoor activity company Trekking Hellas, “running” the Parnitha branch. Maria, on the other hand, went up the mountain in a more conscious way: participating in a company seminar on outdoor activities, driven by an inner need to take her work outside of her, far from the city, away from the offices. There they met and from then on they began to set up their life in the mountains. Now they are teaching her daughter how to live in nature. They wake up in mysterious mists, walk through the forest, collect fruits and… rubbish left by weekend visitors, drink handfuls of water from the springs, see deer and fox around them, watch the enchanting sunset and the entire Basin illuminated at night. , like a magic carpet under your feet.
“Look where I live”
It smells like a mountain, it smells like a town. The fireplace is still burning in April, the temperatures up here are much lower than in the rest of Attica. Parnitha is a large mountain, with a total area of 400 square kilometers. and the highest peak, Karavola, at 1,413 m. It is also the closest national park to a European capital. Winter has enough snow and life here could be compared to life in any province in Greece. Others avoid it, choose it. “We see nature and the seasons changing. Unfortunately here we experience climate change even more intensely. This year it didn’t rain at all and there was little snow. We mainly experience extreme weather events. Everything you have to throw away in a month, for example, you it shoots in two days and that doesn’t help at all,” Yannis describes, adding: “I call it Ponemeni Parnitha. Not just for fires. You see more diseased trees now than ever before. The fact that we’re close to Athens probably also has an effect. In summer, with 42 degrees in the Basin, we reach 30, which is a lot for the mountains.” However, the ecosystem has recovered from the fires: “The return of the wolves in recent years has given us great joy . I saw one every morning. He walked around the shelter in the afternoons, because he has many tricks. ‘
“In recent months, he has moved away. The researchers estimate that there are more than 15-20 people. Then we joke that we will tell the little girl “the wolf is going to get you,” he concludes with a laugh.
Although neither grew up in the wild, the decision to raise their daughter here was not a second thought, it was spontaneous for them. “When Maria got pregnant, I began to think differently. However, there was no other scenario, we decided immediately. We remodeled the house, which until then was a storage room.” And now it is an ergonomic house of 50 m2, which “fits” in the frugal life of the couple.
Both her relatives and the visitors to the shelter are surprised by her choice. “When I gave birth, they told me: ‘Are you crazy? With the baby on the mountain?’ And yet, life here is ideal. In fact, I did not feel a moment of pain, everything was easy and painless. With the little one we went for a walk through the recreational area of Mola since she was 10 days old. For the first two years I went up and down every day to go to work in Athens. I wasn’t having a good time, my mind was constantly here. Now it has become a habit, but you appreciate it every day. You stop for two minutes and think: “Look where I live.” If you learn in nature, there is no going back, you cannot go back to living conventionally in Athens. Even when we are stressed or arguing as a couple, we go outside and calm down. And the little one comes out and stops crying”, says María.
What if something happens?
Eleni lives like any other child in mountainous Greece. Even when school starts, they will pick her up and drop her off. Menidi is 25 minutes away by car and the little one is already used to turns and distance. “Even with snow, at most we will be blocked for 5-6 days. If something happens, we put it in the bag and go with the snowshoes to the casino cable car and go down.
»Most people are concerned about what we will do if a health problem arises. We have an equipped pharmacy and we know first aid for babies and children. As the pediatrician says, there is no difference from being stuck in traffic in Athens,” explains Maria.
Also, it’s not about isolation (or lack of socialization). On weekends the two shelters accommodate 2,000 people. “In general we have a lot to do here and the day in nature goes by very quickly. It is a full, quality daily life. It is not boring, as many think. Some days we go down to the city on business. If we are forced to stay down, we suffer. We can’t sleep because of the shock. Think about it, the girl gets scared when she hears a motorcycle, while when she hears the wolf, she’s calm,” Maria tells us, while Yannis describes the stress and tension he feels for no reason every time he’s in Athens: “I don’t want to wake up anywhere else. I want to drink my coffee here, looking at the trees, listening to the birds.”
Of course, what is convenient in his case is that his work is also located in the mountains. And in fact, work is also their hobby, while they have the opportunity to spend all day with their daughter. As guardians and connoisseurs of the mountain, they also collaborate in the work of firefighters, in locating missing persons, while at the same time fulfilling their main duty as managers of mountain refuges: providing warmth, food and shelter to hikers. .
Ride in minus 7 degrees
As we talk, Eleni touches her shoes. He wants out. He waits next to her backpack, lest they leave without it. On our walk through the woods I notice his footsteps. She wanders among the stones, tests the ground before stepping on it, leans over the branches: “Train naturally, instinctively. Children in the freedom of nature develop much faster. Is there a better school than this one that surrounds us? I don’t care if he reads fairy tales, I prefer him to go out and touch the trees, get wet in the water, look at the flowers, slide in the snow”, says Yannis.
With Eleni, they have already gone hiking to Olympus, not to the peaks of course, and to Helmos for skiing. “Everyone told us not to go. We checked the conditions and went. The boy lives at an altitude of 1,100 m, he has adapted. They tell us that we do it for us. Still, if we’re okay, so is she. But the little one was happy about it, singing and rejoicing in her carrier the whole way. It is very important that we have absolute sympathy for Giannis. One creates an ideal condition for the other”, says Maria, and Yiannis adds: “I am sure that all this works within her. Yes, she was four months old in minus 7 degrees, for me this is the best for her.”
a typical day
“The baby wakes up early, at seven. She immediately pulls back a curtain to see outside, like I do,” says Giannis. Then they go up to the shelter, light the fireplace, make breakfast. Eleni takes a rag and cleans up, imitating the shelter workers. Giannis makes repairs to the shelters and chops wood, while when they “run” activities with Trekking, they share the responsibilities. Maria goes more to the city for personal training, while twice a week the little one goes to the pool. On weekdays, they definitely go for a walk in the afternoons. “The girl is always by my side,” says Yannis. “When we clear the snow, she helps with her shovel. She brings twigs to light the fireplace. People are afraid to see her, but she knows how to be careful and we trust her. This is how you should do it with children. Take them outside, let them crawl, awaken her senses. They will also receive mobile phones, but the important thing is to be in contact with nature. Since I started putting the little one on social networks, I see that the children on the mountain are increasing and I am happy, even if they tell me that I am exposing my personal life. The mountain belongs to everyone, but it needs respect. You have to learn the rules, let the experts guide you. And you also have to put the children in order. If you annoy them, they’ll hate it. People need to understand that you are not in danger from the mud or the wolf. The bad wolves are in town. We as a species have strayed from our nature.”