April 3, 2007

Biking Israeli Style

Last week, around 6:00 a.m., yawning, I opened my shutters and was greeted by a deep blue sky. I thought of my bicycle and was instantly energized. After a cup of coffee, rushing around waking the kids, organizing school bags and lunches, I was finally able to take out my bike. Amir, always an eager cyclist, joined me.

When we leave the house, we have a choice of routes; turn left and head west to the fields or turn right and head east to the fields. The beauty of living in Raanana, or anywhere in tiny Israel, is that the towns are surrounded by farming communities. In sprawling North American cities, one could ride for hours before finding open fields. We can see them from the top of our street. This morning, we turned left.

Before long, we left the main road and sailed full speed down an empty farming road, passing by fields of tomatoes. A few months ago, zucchinis were growing here. The crops are always being rotated. And everything that is planted thrives in this rich red soil. Just fifty years ago, this whole area was swamp land. And for many, many centuries, nothing could grow here. Now, everything grows here ­ yet another miracle of this land.

I looked to my right and saw the Judean hills on the horizon, speckled by small villages.

We passed large cacti on the road side, its pink fleshy sabra fruit ready for the picking. And then grove upon grove of orange trees, Clementine trees, lemons and grapefruits. In March, the citrus fruits are in full bloom, with a delicate jasmine-like perfume. I breathed in the heady scent and felt so happy, so privileged to be experiencing this moment.

Amir, always searching for new routes, decided to veer off onto a small sandy path. At the end, it opened up into fields of wheat. I looked at the golden stalks and was astounded how each one looked so intricate, like it was perfectly braided. Looking up, I could see the white buildings on Netanya and beyond, the sea. I remember the day we biked to the sea. Leaving our bikes on the sand, we sat by the shore and watched the surf, mesmerized by the waves.

Amir then disappeared in a grove, looking for a road and I tucked in after him. It was cool and dark inside, the trees densely planted. We walked our bikes through the trees, looking for a way out on the other side when I spotted a perfect avocado hanging from a tree. I looked at another tree and saw more avocadoes dangling on thick stems.

Now when one has grown up in a cold climate and tried to grow avocadoes as house plants, this is a momentous discovery! My avocadoes in pots barely reached a foot high and always lost their leaves. These trees were huge!

I reached up and gently plucked one avocado to take home. I remember I once took a souvenir potato home, still hot from the warm ground. And often, when we are thirsty and tired, we pick an orange from a tree -- and these are always the best fruits we have ever eaten.

We made our way back to the road, eager to taste our new discovery and arrived home refreshed and envigorated. We have had a dose of the sun, the smells of the fields ­ and now, with a zest of lemon, a taste of the softest, ripest, most delicious avocado ever tasted!

Now this is a perfect start to the day ­ and where else can one do this but Israel?!