We survived. Actually, we had a tremendously fantastic time. It even rained on us. YEAH, GESHAM! (Hebrew for rain).
I picked up my friend, Ruth, from her office and we raced out of Tel Aviv and headed north to escape the wilds of civilization. We headed up to the Carmel mountains, a row of “hills” that rise out of the Mediterranean at Haifa and form a small spine that eventually drops down to just above sea level south of Zikron Ya’acov, the town and community built by the famous Rothchild wine maker. Made of limestone, these mountains are filled with caves and fascinating twists and turns of water cut canyons (wadi) left behind when the waters left these lands hundreds and hundreds of years ago. One of my favorite caves are the Nahal Me’arot Caves about 3 km south of Ein Hod along Highway 4. These caves also host archeological digs began by a woman-led team in the late 1920s. Dorothy Garrod of England, with the support of a British feminist group, led an all female team of diggers and scientists, and their work revealed one of the most incredible finds of its time. It seems that these caves have hosted almost 200,000 years of civilization. It was here that the first ever discovery of both Homo Sapiens and Neanderthal skeletons from about the same time period, proving that the two species lived about the same time rather than evolving and leaving them behind. Inside the largest cave the visitor can watch a film depicting what researchers believe was the lifestyle of the ancient people. Unfortunately for Ruth, who had never heard of these caves, the park was closed, so we headed further north and east into the mountains seeking a campsite.
We ended up above Haifa overlooking the northern basin and industrial area of the city towards Akko to the north. The lights sparkled in the night, and the almost full moon that rose through the trees gave us plenty of light during the night. The campground/picnic area was on a hill “mountain”covered by hundreds of planted trees. I’m still uncomfortable being in an Israeli forest. All the trees covering every centimeter of the entire country have been planted within the past sixty – ninety years, lined up in rows. I have a hard time with trees growing in a straight line. Growing up in the mountain forests of the Pacific Northwest of the United States, a forest is alive with anarchy, things going in every direction and every level of the forest crammed with life. Here, the underbrush is completely removed, leaves and needles swept up, barren dirt beneath the pine and fir trees, match sticks in the dry summer. Too clean. Too neat. And yet filthy with the trash Israelis leave behind them everywhere they go. The next morning I spent twenty minutes picking up the toilet paper remains, cans, bottles, cigarette stubs, plastic plates, forks, spoons, and general crap left behind by past visitors. I believe in leaving a site cleaner than I found it.
We choose a spot down the hill and behind some trees away from the Russian family and their over-built campfire. The children ran wild with their dogs through the campground, and voices were loud and obnoxious in the debated discussions of the adults reclining on their plastic lawn chairs around the fire. When dark fell, they started singing songs off key in Hebrew and Russian, laughing and giggling at great volume, until about nine and then they packed up their picnic remains, leaving a shopping cart and other detritus behind them, including the smoking fire, to return to their home after a day in the park. The campground grew silent with only us to make noise, and we finally heard a few birds and insect sounds over the distant traffic and car alarms in the nearby city of Haifa, population over one million.
We set up the tent quickly. My mother brought it over from the US in her suitcase two years earlier. I ordered it specially to handle the new desert and jungle HOT conditions we were now encountering. With the Thermarest mattresses, self-inflating sleeping pads, sleeping in our tent is actually more comfortable than our own bed at home. Brent and I love it. So I didn’t worry about comfort for Ruth’s first camping trip.
I had made both our dinner for Friday night and lunch for Saturday in advance, ready for reheating. This was more due to the fact that Brent is our camping chef and I’m the helpful cutter and chopper. I’m new to cooking and not ready for the bold techniques that Brent has so wonderfully mastered over a small camp stove. Leaving him behind meant I had to do things a little easier and gentler – at least for me. So I had made chicken tagine, a wonderfully fragrant Middle Eastern chicken recipe, for our first meal and taco meat for a Mexican lunch on Saturday. “A trip around the world,” Ruth told her daughter via cell phone the next day.
While dinner was warning, I taught her to play backgammon. It is strange to think that someone like her, having lived her entire 62 years in Israel, a land of millions of backgammon players, especially the men who fill the crowded sheshpesh parlors in the Arab areas (and other old areas of towns in Israel and the rest of the Middle East) tossing dice in the blue-brown smoky rooms, the sounds of clicking of dice and pieces and the low murmurs of conversation seeping out the open windows onto the street outside – Ruth had never learned how to play backgammon. So I taught her and she caught on immediately, beating me on the first three games. Yes, I sort of let her win for a few games, but then she turned cut throat competitive, yelling “I love this game” when things were going her way, and “I hate this game” when things looked dim, but winning anyway. It was actually fun to play with someone who took the game seriously and competitively for a change. Brent gets bored quickly, so I spend more time challenging the computer for hours on end. My father taught me to play when I was a little child, so I have a few years of experience and she tested it well. We had a great time with it.
I showed her how to wash her face with only a little water and no sink, and how to brush her teeth, all requiring some changes from life in your personal bathroom. She spit into the bushes before I could tell her not to, but I did catch her before the second spit to inform her that the chemicals in toothpaste are toxic to wildlife and that it can kill plants, so we spit into the garbage, taking it with us when we go. Peeing in the outdoors is something I’ve never had a problem with, but I worried about her. She had given this long consideration over the two years of discussion about camping, and she embraced it with the class and style I adore her for. I’ve never had such an incredible friend, one so willing to take a chance in life, in the smallest of ways (not the biggest, though sometimes the smallest steps are the biggest), and she told herself that “If Lorelle can do it, I can do it.” And she did.
I did worry about her sleeping in the tent. It is hard enough for anyone to sleep in a foreign bed, but outside under the trees, moon and stars, among the animals of the night (including humans), it can be a very scary thing. She didn’t know how to do the sleeping bag, but I slowed her and she slid in and snuggled down, and promptly slid down the sleeping pad. We’d chosen a spot as flat as we could find, but on my side I was sliding down to my feet and she was sliding off sideways. During the night she took the spare blanket and rolled it up under the sleeping pad, evening the surface, something I would never have thought of. She’s going to be a great camper.
At four in the morning, water drops hitting my face awoke me, and worried about her getting wet (Brent and I probably would have slept through the five minutes of drizzle without a worry, knowing it would be short), I jumped out in a T-shirt and nothing else and covered the tent with the rain fly. I told her it would probably stop by the time I got back in, and sure enough, as soon as my head hit the pillow and I turned to listen to the lovely patter of rain on the tent roof, there was silence. Oh, well. It took me a while to get back to sleep, but she fell off immediately.
The next morning we did a small breakfast and then headed out to the Jordan Valley. I took her along a rough dirt road rarely traveled by most Israelis, that rises over and fallows the Jordan River, the wild parts of the river where the rafters get a ten minute thrill of riding the “rapids” of the famous river. Brent and I had heard songs sung in church most of our lives about the mighty Jordan and crossing it. Turns out that I grew up next to creeks not much bigger than the Jordan. According to experts, even in Jesus’s time it wasn’t much bigger than it is today, except during the occasional flash floods during the winter. Not very mighty, but when you live in a place where green is rare and water even rarer, the sight of the white water below, snaking through the limestone cliffs is quite dramatic. I choose a spot out on a cliff overlooking the river for our lunch and we debated over how hard it would be to get a table and other silliness as we set down the foam sleeping pads on the gravel surface, covered it with a towel, and ate Mexican tacos for lunch. It was great fun and she will tell stories about it for years to come.
She called me today to tell me what a wonderful time she had. She said that she is happier than she can ever remember. It is such a freedom, she told me, to be able to do that. She wants to go again “any time you say.” That’s nice. We did have a great time, laughing, telling stories of our lives, and such. I loved watching her go way out of her comfort zone while trying to be cool and contain her nerves and giggles. I so enjoy camping, be it in a tent, trailer, or hotel, that I will do it every chance I get. I feel more alive when I’m camping than at any other time, so I understand her excitement, even though it is old hat for me.
Brent stayed home, played his guitar and messed on the computer all weekend, and loved every minute away from me. Honestly, we are so rarely apart, and we truly love being together all the time, and hate it when we’re apart – but once in a while, it’s a nice change. I called on the cell phone to tell him I was a block away and he came running down to help me carry things up, then put me in the shower and scrubbed me down, all dusty and smelly, glad to have me home.
Tel Aviv, Israel