A landscape of life and death

Roski Slap

After a visit to Roski Slap, another series of waterfalls in the Krka NP, we drove back towards the coast. The road meandered through a slightly hilly, brown and gloomy landscape. Destroyed homes, abandoned unfinished houses and buildings still in use that had evidently seen better days were scattered along both sides of the road. Bullet holes in several of them – especially those on street corners – serve as silent reminders of dark days of the past. A defeated tank is used as a memorial of the Croatian war of independence, that was fought here about thirty years ago. I’m old enough to remember the war being in the news a lot at the time. I’m also young enough that my parents protected my young eyes from seeing too much of it.

A tank, serving as a war memorial near Drnis, Croatia.

Although almost three decades have passed, it seems like has mostly stood still here. There’s not much to draw people in either, except the stories and imaginations of those terrible times. Between Krka NP and the coast, there seems to be little else. Tourism is largely undeveloped. Economically, it doesn’t seem to thrive here either. Perhaps that’s just my mind wandering back to the past and seeing all the doom.

The weather didn’t help much either. A nasty drizzle followed us all the way, but the air was surprisingly mild. As a positive, in this often dry and unforgiving landscape, rain is a welcome gift. In a few weeks, the valleys and hills will color green, pushing out the gloomy brown tones. Spring changes everything.

Besides, the god-awful weather brought out some beauty in this landscape as well!

About halfway to the coast, I spot something sitting in the middle of my lane. It’s far away, and at first I don’t recognize it. Could be a snake. It doesn’t move as I get closer. Is it dead? Was it even an animal? But then I recognize the bright yellow spots amongst the black skin color. A fire salamander! It’s too late to safely stop before it, so I hope it stays where it is, right in the middle, and I hit the breaks. I park the car on the roadside in a safe spot, and run back, to help this little guy off the road. Fire salamanders have a wide distribution across large parts of Europe. However, many populations are in steep decline, mostly due to diseases and loss of habitat. In the Netherlands, there are none left, as the remaining individuals have been saved for a breeding program to help save them from the disease that wiped out most of this small population. These wonderful, harmless and stunning little creatures are also often victim of traffic, as they like the warmth of the tarmac, especially when it rains, or at night. I couldn’t let this one sit on the road and turn into a road pizza.

As I walked back, the salamander was walking through one of the tracks in the tarmac, created by the weight of trucks and other heavy vehicles. I picked it up just in time before a tour bus passed, and saved it from a certain death. I showed my family this beautiful creature, and placed it a safe distance from the road on the side it was heading towards, where it hopefully will find a mate and thrive for a few years more. Let them bring more beauty to this landscape!

Salamandra salamandra

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

4 thoughts on “A landscape of life and death

  1. I have a Croatian friend who was 12 when she arrived with her family in Australia due to the war. Her father had been building a beautiful house which they had to leave, unfinished. He still owns it but over the years anything of value, such as the copper guttering, has been stolen, and none of the family will ever go back there to live.

    I see more squashed salamanders than I do live ones here in the Touraine Loire Valley. Tragic really. Some days I’ve been out for a morning walk and there has been 3-4 squashed ones on the road in certain spots. I’ve never seen more than one at a time live.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I can imagine (the houses part, not the horror of war). That’s exactly how these houses look: completely stripped and left there to sit untouched forever. It explains why so many things look like they’ve been forgotten. Today we saw several huge abandoned ‘Soviet style’ buildings that must have in better times been restaurants and hotels. Never demolished. Never renewed. Just left there in prime locations (seaside), with new buildings in neighboring plots. It’s a bizarre thing, really. I always imagine how it must have been when these places were in their prime.

      Fire salamanders are very common in much of France, I think. I have looked for them, but never found them there. It’s often a matter of ideal circumstances of moisture and temperature, and hours of looking. Often it’s just dumb luck… I found a couple of them once in April in a well in Catalunya. Another death trap, as I doubt they could climb out. It’s a shame how many end up killed by entirely unnatural causes. Humans have been a huge factor in spreading diseases across the globe too, unfortunately.

      Liked by 1 person

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