July 30, 2012

Where Prayer Is Clear

“Where are you from?”

Relieved to take a break from hiking up switchbacks, I shifted the heavy pack on my back, then answered, “Israel.”

Silence.  I looked into his eyes and saw tears.

He had been hiking the Sierra Nevada for six weeks. He started the Pacific Crest Trail in Mexico and would finish in Canada 2,700 miles later. He was alone. And this was his third time walking the entire trail. He said he had been looking for a sign to strengthen his resolve and when he heard the word ‘Israel,’ he found it.

My eyes filled with tears.

My husband and I had also been on the road for six weeks. We covered close to 5,000 road miles visiting red rock gorges, vast canyons, rushing rivers and glistening falls. We were in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada and California. We traveled in an RV, by car and now, by foot. We had seen sea otters wrapped in cozy kelp blankets and sea lions wrestling in sandy coves. And we had just watched a deer crunching ferns for breakfast. I missed Israel, but I was so caught up by superlatives, I did not give it much thought.  Widest, longest, highest, hottest, deepest: I was overwhelmed by nature’s beauty, dwarfed by her vast canvas and awed by her untouched peaks.

And now, one lone man on one silent trail brought me home.

We walked together and he shared stories of Israel and of Israelis he had met on the trail and I was reminded that I come from a special place. He told us that Israelis are not ‘casual.’ I was puzzled as I hardly ever see people in suits and ties in Israeli offices. He explained. When he meets an American on the trail, he is greeted with the words “How are you?” And the person smiles and walks on. When he meets Israelis, they ask him how he is and how much water he is carrying and if he knows where the next water source was and if his water bottle is secure.  They will walk by only when they know for sure that he is fine.  

I understood.

He told us that aside from Americans, the nationality he meets most on the trail is Israelis. I was astounded. Such a small nation, yet so adventurous. He told us a story of two young Israeli girls who helped rescue a group of lost boy scouts. It was dark and they were escorting the terrified boy along the trail. He looked up and saw a group of flashlights bobbing through the trees. And then he heard Hebrew song. These young girls lifted these boys’ hearts with their song and walked them to safety.

I knew it was time to go home and to walk my land. Our land. To put on my boots and hike the Golan with its deep valleys and cascading falls and cool rivers.

Before we parted, we asked him why he hikes. He answered that hiking makes his prayer clear. We had climbed so high, we were at the tree line, a place where snow still nestled in shady mountain crags.

We looked across an alpine lake, its dark blue waters shuddering in the wind and he gave a prayer of thankfulness. I too am grateful for all of these experiences.

I fly back to Israel tomorrow, to a place where my prayer is clear.