Posts Tagged ‘nature’

Afghan village

The following photos of a village in Afghanistan were in an email forwarded to me by my mother.  Village or Habitrail®?  You be the judge.

And you wonder why they can’t find Osama bin Laden.

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Early hyacinth

Among my many fond memories of living in New England is seeing the snowdrops push their way up through the dirt, wet leaves, and slush in February.  They were the first harbinger of spring, and I planted them deliberately to have something blooming before the crocuses came up in March.

My garden in Israel has been a disappointment thus far.  Most of the plants in it are spindly or diseased, and the soil (of the worst possible quality) is packed so hard that it took hours of hacking away last year for the girls and me to put in a few bulbs.  (I have requested that the Cap’n start a fund toward which we put the money for a total overhaul of the garden in another year or two.)  Last spring we had a couple of crocuses, a few narcissus, and two hyacinths.  This year only one hyacinth has appeared in the great confusion of warm weather before winter’s final exit.  (The other hyacinth and most of the crocuses appear to have been dug up in the course of the local feral felines using my garden as a public loo.)  Beans came in breathless this afternoon having taken a turn about the garden and spotted the Lone Survivor:

Ahhh, a spot of beauty in a garden of mediocrity.

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Rain, rain, DON’T go away

Today is our second day of rain in a row, and we’re due for more tomorrow.  (Some rumors are circulating that it could even turn to snow, but while snow is sometimes seen outside the Golan Heights, including in Efrat, I’ll believe it when I see it.)

It began yesterday morning.  We rose to a typical day of bright, morning sunshine, and got the kids out the door as usual.  As I was sitting at my computer and looked out the window, however, I saw the sky quickly turn to gray and the wind pick up.  (One thing that is amazing about Israel, and particularly Gush Etzion, is that the weather changes on a dime here.)  The sky opened up soon after, and while there were brief respites during the day, the rain came down pretty steadily all day, and most of last night.  (I know because I was awake for much of the night.) When my friend Ilana and I traveled to Jerusalem yesterday, the fog was thick on the road, a common occurrence in the Gush since our altitude places us nearly in the clouds during weather like this.

Rain in a desert country like Israel is almost like manna falling from the sky.  Israel has had a serious of unusually dry winters, and while this winter was predicted to be wetter than past years, until this week that prediction did not appear to be accurate.  Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar called for Israelis to fast and pray for rain (even harder than we do anyway, which is three times a day).  But a look at the level of the Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) shows that the heavy rains have had an impact on the water level.  The Cap’n informs me that the Kinneret used to feed into the Jordan River and make its way ultimately to the Dead Sea, but that this has not been the case for many years, the outflow having been closed off to preserve Israel’s precious chief water supply.  (The Dead Sea continues to be fed, much less regularly, by runoff from the desert.  We have hiked several of the nachalim, or washes, that lead from the desert highlands to the Dead Sea, but those would be quite deadly in the last few days.  The road that runs along the Dead Sea past Masada and Ein Gedi is sometimes washed out in weather like this.)

As beautiful and necessary as the rain is, it also wreaks havoc when it falls in torrents like this.  Last time we had heavy rains, several people were killed.  Sometimes it is Bedouins in the desert lowlands who get caught by sudden flooding.  But sometimes it is thrill-seekers who hear dire warnings to avoid certain areas where flash-flooding occurs, and interpret those warnings as an invitation to see something cool.  The Jerusalem Post had an editorial a couple of weeks ago recommending that such people be responsible for paying for their own rescue missions, which are dangerous and costly.

On a rainy day earlier in the year, one of the Crunch girls came home and said it was a mabul outside.  Mabul is the word used to describe the rising waters in the story of Noah.  But in ulpan we learned that the rivulets of water and flash flooding are actually called a shitafon.   (Shin-tet-feh is also the root for “wash,” and expressions that use this root include “scolding,” e.g. shtifah min haminahel and “brainwashing,” i.e. shtifat moach.)

Having grown up in Oregon, I am not bothered by rain.  I loved the weather there, and when the rain sometimes turned to snow, it became magical.  One New Year’s Eve, when I was home from college for the Christmas holidays, my entire family–parents, adult children, and Irish setter–went sledding down the very long, steep hill near our house.

In Boston, the Crunch family was always equipped with both raingear and snowgear.  But now the Crunch girls have nearly outgrown all those boots and slickers.  I asked someone what kids are supposed to wear on their feet on the rare snow days in Efrat.  My neighbor (a Minnesotan, no less) answered with a smile, “Oh, just rubber-band plastic bags over their shoes.  It’s only one or two days a year.”

Today I will spend most of my time in the kitchen preparing food for Shabbat (warming soups, warm tomato and zucchini gratin, warm chocolate dipping sauce for fruit chunks and homemade marshmallows).  My kitchen window looks out through a small section of our garden to our car parked on the street outside.  One of the things I will enjoy when I look out the window will be seeing that car, like all the other cars around here, get its thick layer of dust and filth washed off.  For free.

Come again some other day.  And another.  And another.

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Partial eclipse

This morning, the Cap’n and I hauled the kids to the Dekel, the most central neighborhood in Efrat, to view a partial solar eclipse.  They got to miss a bit of school (we were there from about 7:45 to 8:15), and enjoyed viewing the eclipse through thick cellophane filters, through a telescope which projected the sun and moon’s images onto a file folder, and with an old-fashioned, low-tech method of two pieces of white paper, one with a pinhole in it and the other behind it acting as the “screen.”  The morning’s viewing was courtesy of AstroTom, a local amateur astronomer who keeps interested Efratniks informed of interesting astronomical events via email.  It’s also thanks to Tom that we saw the Space Station pass overhead a couple of nights in the fall, and know which planets are appearing in the sky at a given time.  He told us that if one were in South Asia or Central Africa this morning, one would have observed a total eclipse.

A partial eclipse is not as dramatic as a total eclipse, but it is still amazing to see how nature works.  I witnessed a total solar eclipse when I was a kid in Oregon back in the late 1970s.  They talked about it in school for weeks beforehand, and showed kids how to make the white paper projector to watch it safely.  I had trouble getting the papers to work back then; today it worked beautifully.  (Though AstroTom’s image from his telescope was much bigger and easier to see today.)

I suppose most kids went to school as usual this morning, and either didn’t know about the eclipse or didn’t take much interest.  But these things don’t happen often, and while our kids may not take a huge amount of interest right now, we still think it’s important for them to see and learn about the wonders of nature.  And we had a good time chatting with a real star-gazer and accosting passers-by, handing them filters to view the likui chama themselves.

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The science of fall foliage

While this is not a Mayflower-specific fact, it is one that I gleaned from reading Nathaniel Philbrick’s book, and that interests me greatly:

Neither Bradford nor Winslow[two governors of Plymouth Colony] mention it, but the First Thanksgiving coincided with what was, for the Pilgrims, a new and startling phenomenon: the turning of the green leaves of summer to the incandescent yellows, reds, and purples of a New England autumn.  With the shortening of the days comes a diminishment in the amount of green chlorophyll in the tree leaves, which allows the other pigments contained within the leaves to emerge.  In Britain, the cloudy fall days and warm nights cause the autumn colors to be muted and lackluster.  In New England, on the other hand, the profusion of sunny fall days and cool but not freezing nights unleashes the colors latent within the tree leaves, with oaks turning red, brown, and russet; hickories golden brown; birches yellow; red maples scarlet; sugar maples orange; and black maples glowing yellow.  It was a display that must have contributed to the enthusiasm with which the Pilgrims later wrote of the festivities that fall.

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Fall foliage

One of the things I knew I would miss when we made aliyah was the incomparable fall foliage in New England.  Israel in the spring is stunning, but it’s nothing like the sensory blast one gets from the yellow birches, red maples, and green and brown oaks of the northeastern US.

But today, I was heartened to see this gorgeous photo in my email inbox.  It was taken by Yehoshua Halevi and is on his photo blog, “Israel the Beautiful” (to which I subscribe and receive weekly photos of Israel).  He took the photo here in Gush Etzion (of which Efrat is a part).  Check out his other photos of Israel in all her seasons at his blog.


I heard someone once say that Israel is supposed to contain a little of everything that is in the rest of the world, but in miniature.  Mini-Sahara (the Negev), mini-Mt. Everest (the Harmon), mini-Lake Superior (the Kinneret).  And now mini-New England, here in Gush Etzion.  Who knew?

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Parrot flowers

My mother sent me these photos.  Since they’ve been circulating on the Internet, one never knows if they’re real (Thailand is famous for its rare orchids), or if they’re just a really good Photoshop job.  Either way, they’re a remarkable work of craftsmanship.




If they’re real, then clearly there are flowers, and then there are flowers…

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