with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

A Walk in the Mud

Maureen has been talking on and on about walking somewhere away from the beach. We did a walk on Sunday along the Ha Yarkon River in Ha Yarkon Park, cruising up one side from Ben Yehuda Blvd to Namir, then across and back down the north side of the river, but she wants to see something outside of Tel Aviv, so she suggested we walk along the Alexander River north of Tel Aviv and see some soft-shelled turtles. I’m always game for an outdoor adventure, so I agreed.

As I climbed into the car a few minutes after six in the morning, the skies opened up and the long awaited rain storm that has been haunting us for two days, blasted down from the skies. I could barely see out the back window as I backed out our narrow driveway/parking lot. As I got to the huge bushes at the sidewalk, I just prayed that people were staying out of the rain and not on the sidewalk since I couldn’t see if anyone jogging or pushing baby carriages were barreling to or from the park, and edged out onto the street. It was a joy to have the windshield wipers whipping back and forth across the windshield, squealing with their sunburn rubber squeegees. Israelis and other Middle East countries go through a lot of windshield wipers annually. Not because of overuse but because of sun damage. One rental we had early on had its windshield wipers almost disintegrate when we first turned them on at the first dribble sign of rain. We bought a replacement set but turned the car back in before we thought about replacing them. It didn’t rain for the three months we had the car, so it wasn’t worth worrying about. We kind of forgot about them.

There was hardly a car or person on the street as I plowed through instantaneously formed lakes in the roads towards Maureen’s house. I honked and she came running through the torrent, smiling gloriously. “Isn’t this wonderful!” Just looking at her, I felt thrilled and alive, a feeling I haven’t had in a while. It didn’t last long, but it felt great to see someone so joyous over a few drops of wet. I love it.

The rain faded as we drove towards the highway. And she didn’t mean “a little north of Tel Aviv” – we drove way north of Tel Aviv, past the Mikhmoret interchange, and then yanked a hard right immediately off the highway onto a dirt road. It wasn’t until I was off the highway, the car churning in the muddy sand, that I realized we were actually in a nature park, the big blue and green bizarre bird and sign designating this a Keren Kayemet nature park. As we twisted through the dirt roads through the park, Maureen was amazed at how many improvements had been made. Picnic tables and parking areas had been set up in what once had been just a mishmash of picnic tables and garbage among the trees. We just wandered the many dirt roads, turning where we thought was “towards the river”, letting luck guide us more than any landmarks, since there weren’t any.

Giant puddles covered the dirt road, ponds of brown water, and I have to admit that I took advantage of them and released my teen-ager crashing through the temporary ponds and spraying water in all directions. I loved it. Maureen squealed and whistled, feeling youth coming back to her as well. What a pair, we are. Me, older than my 40 years in soul and spirit, and her, younger than I can even imagine in her 70s. Believe or not, we finally got a little tired of the puddles – oh, that’s crap – we didn’t get tired, we ran out of time, and finally had to make our way to the river so we could get some walking in, beefing up our hearts and all that. Ha!

We parked near the train bridge and walked under it towards where the turtles hang out, or so she told me. A commuter train roared overhead, shaking water drops on us as we dashed under, avoiding the thick mud and puddles. While we were in the area, I swear more than a dozen trains passed by going in both directions, towards Haifa to the north and Tel Aviv and points south. From under the bridge, the path opened up into a grapefruit orchard and an unusual dance hall/nightclub/rental hall (we couldn’t tell which but all apply). It had been recently refurbished and featured tons of glass and a tent-like covering over the huge enclosure. Strobe lights and a mirror ball decorated the high ceiling that looked like it could be open to the night air. Along the river, a grassy garden for picnicking or partying was poorly landscaped, but interesting all the same. A deck was built on the edge of the river, giving a decent view of the river and the great birds sitting in the tree branches and bushes along the river’s edge. I will have to bring Brent here to enjoy the birds!

We wandered up among the orchard rows to the road with the bridge across the river and home to the soft-shelled turtles. Of course, there were none. We looked everywhere and not a turtle to be seen in the muddy waters or steep river banks. The water level was clearly a bit high after the morning of rain, but not a turtle to be seen. Maureen explained that they were HUGE, but obviously they were somewhere else that morning. We crossed the bridge and started down the dirt road – excuse me, muddy road along the other side of the river, just to see what was there and look for more turtles.

We sludged through the muck and mud along the dirt road, and came to the end of the road when the water and muck under the train trestle was way too much for my open sandaled feet and her rubber muck muck boots. She wandered into the orchard and picked up a grapefruit off the ground and munched it as we slogged back through the muck.

Back at the bridge, a tour bus of seniors had shown up and they were crowded on the bridge, umbrellas mushrooming brilliant colors and designs as protection from the misty rain now falling, leaning over the railing looking for turtles. Of course, they saw what we saw earlier – nothing. As Maureen and I, splendid in our sweat clothes, rain coats, and muck splatters, stepped onto the bridge, the group turned as one, a great revolving mass of colorful rain slickers and bumpershoots, towards us. Intimidated only slightly, I leaned towards Maureen. “Think they noticed us?”

We took another synchronized step onto the bridge and the crowd pivoted again, this time turning their backs on us and moving off the bridge. I kept walking, moving forward of Maureen, and the slow moving crowd parted before me, like Moses and the Red Sea (hey, I don’t get to use that reference much and I should – after all I live in the country that owns that vision!). It was then I spotted what the bottleneck was. A huge puddle had formed on the end of the bridge with only a step wide dry area to the right along the edge. The little old ladies and men were crowded against each other to pass one at a time along the dry edge, taking care not to wet their tennis shoes or square heeled shoes (so common still in older women – why bother?). I just plowed through the puddle, stepping carefully as not to splash them (I’m only slightly rude, you know) and turned around to wait for Maureen, my toes bared for all to see.

Yes, as usual, I heard the gasps and saw the head shakings. I don’t know what is wrong with people, but I don’t like shoes and I wear sandals or thongs when possible, which for my lifestyle is constantly. Even in winter, which is what they call this 20 C plus degree weather here in Israel. No, for the thousandth time, my toes are not cold. It’s hardly cold enough to wear a sweater so why should my toes be cold? No one – trust me – no one ever got a cold from exposing their toes to the cold. A whole lot of other things get you sick, but exposed toes harm no one or nothing, unless you connect them with an immoveable object, then the laws of physics takes over and harm occurs. Same theory applies to cars and brick walls and telephone poles. An elderly man (who actually looked like he should be out playing golf somewhere sunny – but there is only one lousy golf course in all of Israel, and I think that went out of business a year ago…not sure – moved towards me applauding.

“Col-la-co-vode, col-la-co-vode!” he called to me. His “good for you/great job/right on” made me smile as I watched Maureen sniff at the others her age and younger as she plowed through with a vengeance, making waves with her long strides through the same puddle. One thing I can always trust about Maureen, she wastes not time nor money when she has the end in sight. We turned off the road and traipsed through the orchard along the river, leaving the stunned umbrella crowd behind as the mist fell on our bear heads.

Walking in muck, especially muck made out of a mix of clay, thick enriched soil (brought in for the trees and plantings to give the soil substance), and water, changes ones’ pace and style of walking. Within seconds, massive soles of mud had cemented itself to the bottoms of our shoes. I told Maureen that I was growing taller by the minute. It does little good to wipe it off, as it takes a ton of energy and searching for grass or gravel to scrape against, because a minute of walking later, it is gunked up again. So we did a weird sort of moon walk, high stepping through the muck with thickened shoes.

I spotted a hawk of some kind, probably a red-shouldered, but I couldn’t tell because it was darkened from the rain. There were tons of sparrows and swallow-like birds flitting about the bushes as we moved through them. We came to an opening in the orchard and some tall trees with the popular green parrots that escaped from the Tel Aviv aviary and have been making their home around the area for years. Against the monochromatic colors of Israel, these bright green screechers are a delight to see. We spotted six of them high atop the trees, honking and whistling at each other. Along the river, I spotted a lovely blue, white and dark bird, but I couldn’t tell if it was a jay or king fisher. I did see a king fisher hover and spike the water at high speed, coming up empty before flying off down the river. And a beautiful great blue heron posing in an empty field across the river. As we walked by, it flew up into the tree tops, its wing-span at least a meter across, maybe more. Magnificent. I have to bring Brent here.

We turned around and headed back to the car, just enjoying the stormy weather and the feel of rain on our faces. The drenching rain was still holding off and we loved the mist in the air. At the car, we scrapped and scooped off the muck as best we could, got in and headed back to Tel Aviv. What a lovely morning. Must do it again. And again!

Tel Aviv, Israel

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