In the month before Passover, I walked the hills of the Galilee. The entire month of March they are filled with wildflowers, including red poppies called kalaniyot in Hebrew, as well as cyclamen, rakafot.
Once Pesach arrives, so do Israelis in droves on holiday, plus the beginning of tourist season, and – much to my dismay – the end of rain until November and the beginning of tortuously hot, hazy days in the seemingly never-ending summer that starts in April and ends at the end of October. Most of the streams and riverbeds dry out and lose their mojo.
Just outside the town of Yokneam, where my husband works in the hi-tech park (denizen of many Israeli start-ups and now big-name players who are at the forefront of internationally acclaimed innovation – – this is just one of dozens of similar hi-tech parks popping up all over the country), is a beautiful nature spot called Nahal HaShofet. It’s more stroll than hike, with its carefully graded boardwalks that descend along a stream-bed and cave amid the heavy vegetation. I figured I’d spend a quick couple of hours there before returning to the relentless Spring Cleaning that was part of my Pesach preparations.
I thought I’d beat the Pesach rush. Little did I know that the week before Pesach, when Israeli Jewish school children start their Spring vacation, all youth groups around Israel use this time to walk the Land on organized overnight backpack and trekking trips. Throughout the Galilee, especially in Keren Kayemet/JNF forests where camping is permitted and generally free, backpackers’ tents spread like colorful umbrella tops dotted the landscape against the lush green woodlands of pistachio, olive groves, cypress, carob, Aleppo pine trees and thorny grasses.
The night before it had rained, and as I approached my destination I stopped at a gully that was covered by rainwater runoff that was at least 6″ – 8″ deep. I normally would have driven my Hyundai station wagon through without concern, but I was alone and was in no mood to get stranded without help in immediate sight. So I parked the car at the bottom of this gully and walked the extra kilometer up a steep hillside to reach the starting point of Nahal HaShofet.
What a happy accident! Other than a few scraggly campers, the area was mostly empty and the vistas in wildflower-covered groves were among the most beautiful I have ever seen to date in the Galilee. I was glued to the spot, soaking it all in, truly grateful to be there just then. It was magical.
As I approached Nachal Shofet, I was alarmed to see at least 30 giant tour buses and an ice cream truck parked at the entrance. There was Arab music blaring, and the voices of many excited schoolchildren. Just how many excited children enjoying nature would become apparent as I made my way down Nachal HaShofet.
I had picked an Arab town’s school district’s annual field trip day. At least 1000 (!) Arab Muslim kids and their teachers were there enjoying themselves. Which would have been fine, except I had my Standard Poodle Truman with me, and generally, religious Muslims find dogs repugnant at best and are terrified of them at worst. Every time I would turn a corner along the trail and meet up with yet another class of kids, I’d be greeted by 25 – 50 voices screaming with fear at the top of their very healthy lungs when they would see Truman. My dog looked at me questioningly like a wizened Yoda. “Seriously?” he seemed to say, because he is possibly the worlds most passive, quiet, non-aggressive and innocuous Standard Poodle that ever lived. And besides, he was on a leash.
As I waited silently along the side of the trail for yet the next group of children to pass us so we could continue on ahead, a young boy of about 8 asked me in Arabic if he could touch the dog. I was surprised by his “courage” but was happy to have Truman oblige. He immediately received the unspoken admiration of his still-terrified classmates who were convinced there was little difference between petting a poodle and putting one’s head into the mouth of a lion. They were even more amazed when Truman did not react (in truth, Truman was feeling rather bored). And then, another boy found the courage to approach, and another, and another. Soon I had a line of 100 excited, happy and nervous children waiting to pet Truman, and even more amazing – – their stern, grumpy chador-clad teacher wanted to be part of the action too. Many of them called out “huruf!” (which means “sheep” in Arabic, and indeed, Truman’s coat resembles that of a lamb). Of course I had to photograph the event for posterity – – with the now-smiling teacher included. So now I call my dog “Truman, Ambassador of Peace.”