Friday, November 13, 2009

"Maybe God created the desert so that man could appreciate the date trees."*

I just got back from 3 glorious days spent hiking in the Negev with Pardes. It was incredible to be out of Jerusalem, and spending 6+ hours a day outside and hiking in the desert. It's both physically and spiritually refreshing. Our guide, Dan, encouraged us to take moments of silence throughout our hiking, rather than continuing the same conversations we have in Jerusalem. It led to lots of deep breaths and personal spiritual reflection, at the same time as I was pushing my body physically in ways that it's not used to. Unlike up north, where we saw many other hikers and their garbage, over the course of the 3 days, we only saw two other hikers, and very little signs of others. I'm always struck by the diversity of the desert - once you are in it, it seems like it goes on, unchanging, forever, but every day we hiked through vastly different terrain.

On the first day, we hiked through Nahal Mishmar - a nahal is a riverbed, in this case, a dried up one. The picture above is looking back through the nahal, and the picture below was when we were standing on the ridge above the nahal. The Dead Sea is in the background.

On the second day, we saw a machtesh, a geological formation, looking something like a crater, that occurs only 5 times in the world - three are in the Negev, and two are in the Sinai desert. The picture below is of Machtesh Katan (little machtesh) - not so little!

A desert is defined by receiving less than 200mm of rain a year, on average. We were hiking in the EXTREME desert, which receives less than 70mm of rain/year, on average. Dan told us that humans have yet to find an environment on earth so extreme that no life can survive there. Even in this most extreme of environments, we saw snails, animal poop, plants, trees, bushes...there are snails that can survive for over 800 days on 1 drop of water!

A tree in the desert!
On the morning of our last day in the desert, we woke up at 5:30 to watch the sunrise over the Edom Mountains in Jordan. My friend Sheryl and I almost didn't make it due to a malfunctioning alarm clock, but we woke up in time, and it was well worth it!

When I was in the desert, everything seems incredibly simple. There is nothing manmade to be seen, literally just land and sky. I felt very far removed from the complications of life in Israel - the politics, the opinions, the debates. It feels as if nothing else matters - power is irrelevant, because there is just land and sky and creation. Yet even in the desert, one is never too far from these challenges. Dan started many of his talks with, "Not to talk about politics, but..." There are debates about water, borders, archaeology, ecology, resource allocation, nuclear power.

Roommates in the desert

*From Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist, my favorite desert book. When we got back to where we were staying each night, our hosts had delicious sweet, juicy dates awaiting us. So good!

1 comment: