August 15, 2016


It is Perseid season, a time when the night skies transform into a spectacular light show. Up to 200 meteors an hour can be seen zipping across the heavens during the month of August.  Doubling the regular rates, in astronomical terms, this huge display is called an ‘outburst.’

After eagerly following this story, we discovered that August 11 and 12 would be the climax of these Perseid meteor showers.

We put it down on our calendars and told some friends. The next step was, of course, the creation of a Perseid Meteor Shower Whats App group.

The excitement mounted as we debated on where we should watch the light show. As we live in the center of Israel where city lights and car beams create inferior viewing, we wanted to seek dark, black skies.

The desert! There is no better place to lie back and watch the stars than in the desert.

There were special meteor gazing events  at Mitzpe Rimon and Timna, but, practically speaking,  these places were just too far away. And so our compromise was to drive to Pura Nature Reserve just north of Beer Sheva.

We packed the car with mats, sleeping bags and bottled water. We even brought along cozy sweaters, a delicious event in itself. As we are from steamy Ra’anana, the mere suggestion of wearing heavy clothing in August could create beads of sweat trickling down one’s back.

We headed down south to Pura but soon realized this area was too close to the highway. So we drove our 4x4 cars over sand and down bumpy tractor roads deep into fields in search of tranquility and velvet black skies.

Ahh! We jumped out of the car and were greeted by skies thick with stars and air stilled by silence. We unfurled the mats and sleeping bags and neatly lay down in a row, snug like sardines, ready for the show to begin.

Woa! We saw one meteor zip across the sky and clapped in glee like small children. More! More!

Suddenly, Amir jumped up and started jumping on one foot, then the other, smacking his neck and his back all at once. What was this? A tribal Perseid dance?

Slapping at his own face, he continued to shake himself out. All eyes were now on Amir, not on the sky. 

We took out a cell phone and probed the area. Big black ants, so ginormously gigantesque they could pass off as beatles, were swarming our mats. An ant outburst! They had stolen our front row seats at the light show. We jumped up and danced the same dance, shaking out legs and arms, scratching at our throats.  Next we shook out our hair and mats. Yet the ginormous ants clung to the mats and to us with what felt like pincers or claws.

Another meteor flew by. And another. But we did not see them as all eyes were now on the ground inspecting the ant teeming metropolis below us. 

As we tried to trample them and reclaim our spot in the field below the twinkling start, we realized that one cannot fight with ants. 

If need be, move.

So we pulled our mats over, right into the middle of the dirt road that was in the middle of nowhere. I found this move a little daring. What if a car were to come along and not see us, and then squish us like ants? Everyone ignored my concern, dismissing my paranoia, and lay down to see part two of the Outburst Light Show. They ‘oohed’ and they ‘aahed,’ they clapped and they shouted in glee.

And then I saw two head beams coming our way. Here we were in a deserted, fallow farmers field, atop a dirt road hidden in a nature reserve-and a car was coming. Paranoia eh?

I jumped up and ran to the side while the others directed cell phone beams to warn the car and simply kept lying there in the middle, like fresh road kill.

It seems as if in Israel, one cannot ever truly escape into nature. I have been hiking in the middle of a desert atop a lonely peak and seen a bus of tourists pull up nearby. I have been quietly admiring spring blossoms in a nature reserve when a caravan of cars whips by, passengers glimpsing the flowers by hanging out car windows and arguing about local politics.  I have been biking down isolated roads and nearly been knocked over by screeching dirt bikes.

On our dark desert road, the invading car honked and veered into the field to pass us safely. But the appearance of this car, coupled by the ant metropolis, simply took the serenity out of my sails. I stood up like cardboard, hearing 'oohs' and 'aahs' as meteors flew by. But I missed them all.

I literally had ants in my pants and could not relax for a single second. 

Suddenly, around 1am, the second outburst occurred. A car appeared out of nowhere blasting "FunkyTown" music and slowed down. It stopped right beside us and killed its lights. My heart skipped a beat - even the ants in my pants were stilled. 

“Where’s the party?” the driver asked in accented Hebrew that sounded Arabic to most of us and Russian to Amir. 

"Here," our happy group, lying sardine-like in the middle of the road, chirped.

The guy sidled out of the car, cigarette in hand, looking totally wasted. He meandered over and dropped on the mat beside Amir.

But when he saw us silently gazing up at the sky, he asked “What are you doing? This is a party? Do you have music?"

I had a deeper question; who goes looking for a party in an abandoned field in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere? Only in Israel.

I was done. I did not care if 500 meteors were to elegantly dance across the sky. I would not look up as I was too busy crunching ants crawling behind my ears and up my legs. I was scanning the gravel road for errant cars with wasted drivers because one never knows…. 

My 2016 outburst was on the ground, not in the sky. Just hope I do not bring some ant souvenirs back home. 

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