June 28, 2022

A Farmer in the Dell

A food forest in Israel.

With a June birthday, I have officially entered into a new decade.  This decade felt more ominous when it was looming ahead; but now that I have arrived, waking up feeling exactly the same as in the previous decade, it is not so bad. 

I have arrived, determined not to ‘go there’ about ageing, having regrets of life flying too fast, or dwelling on aches and pains.

I feel fortunate to be alive and am grateful to have energy and enthusiasm. In fact, I am about to start a brand-new project as I will soon become a ‘farmer,’ of sorts. I am not sure what got into me to do such a flip. Was it the pandemic? The doom and gloom over impending food shortages? My fickle, ever-changing Gemini nature? A thirst for the spiritual? Or maybe it was a combination of everything above. 

Our barren land and next door, our neighbor's abundance.
The bottom line is that I am shifting focus and throwing myself to the dirt. Literally. Amir and I bought an empty, dusty, dry, and rocky piece of land that we dream of transforming into a food forest. 

I know how to grow a few things badly; last winter (pre-shmita), we enjoyed growing and eating spinach, lettuce and kale, but come summer, my wind-tossed tomatoes fell over into a hopeless, tangled mess. I did not pick my cucumbers on time, but I did enjoy a few sweet peas (three to be exact), kohlrabi, and radishes.

My strawberries had a party sprawling across the garden bed and mingling with the spinach, but did not produce a single fruit (unless the birds got to them before I did). I had a strangely shaped eggplant that I do not remember planting, hot peppers that were on fire, and super bug-infested broccoli.

Yet I want to continue learning even if it is trial by error. I want to embrace a clean and healthy way of life by growing and harvesting my own organic, pesticide-free food. I want to be more self-sufficient as I strongly believe the world is very unstable now. 

I also feel that being outside in the sunshine tending to plants nourishes my soul and body. I crave that connection. Yet I have far to go to achieve this. It is like standing at the base of a mountain and seeing the summit far, far above. 

We will have to wade and climb through new permaculture knowledge: understanding patterns of sun, wind, and rain; amending soil, planting nitrogen fixers, selecting heirloom seeds, attracting pollinators, interplanting, companion planting, succession planting, over cropping and under cropping. We will experiment with soil recipes to be able to grow abundant food, take on worm composting, and learn how to plan winter, summer crops, and take care of the food forest.

Produce from our small raised bed pre-shmita garden.

And then there’s chickens. We need to build a secure chicken coop, as well as learn how to feed and care for chickens who will hopefully provide eggs and manure for precious compost. Then there’s getting electricity from solar panels and somehow storing water. I may sound like a homesteader wannabe, but at this early stage, that word is way too ‘off-the-grid’ for me.

Each garden has potential
to be a Gan Eden.
This project is now in the planning stages as here in Israel, we are still in a shmita year. This happens every seven years here and is a time for the land to rest. But come Rosh Hashana, the year is renewed, becoming planting time once again. 

This is also a renewal for me as I enter this new decade of not slowing down. This vision rejuvenates me, making me feel like an excited kid all over again. After shmita, we will take this farm project step-by-step, first trying to revive the soil, planting, and then hopefully transforming this dusty plot into a place teeming with life. 

For me, entering this new phase is also a way to leave behind the negative forces that are happening on the outside and refocus on life, growth, hopefully co-creating towards a healthy, healing, and sustainable future.

It is meaningful for me to be part of repairing the world, even if this starts on one small, dusty plot. For every small change starts at home.

May 30, 2022

Unmoving Rocks

If one were to name the most common feature of Israel’s topography, 'rocks' would most certainly tumble to the top of the list. The rugged and stark Negev, Judean, and Arava Deserts are pure rock, sculpted over millennia into steep cliffs, gorges and dry, sandy wadis. Be it amber, brown, or white, the dominant feature is rock.

Travel north and you will see chalky cliffs along the Mediterranean seashore. More rock!  The Galilee is also stony, with mountains and valleys creating a series of rocky waves. The Golan is so rocky, fields are flecked with what looks like speckled melons, yet on closer inspection, they are a bumper crop of rocks.

Israel’s plentiful rocks are like snow to the Inuit or lakes to the beaver, yet I was in for a shock to learn that you cannot move or take rocks in Israel. You need a permit for this, and you need to pay! This is yet another example of 'don't ask why, this is Israel.'

Perhaps some government official created this rule to add to the already senseless and  inefficient bureaucracy here. (I think of the Israeli post office; one can literally walk to the letter’s destination, arriving there before the stamped package does.)

Case in point. I am soon moving to a place that is endeared with more rocks than the usual rocky Israeli terrain. I want to build a rock garden for privacy, so I thought a few boulders would nicely do the job. 

There is a subdivision being built at the end of the property and bulldozers amass mountains of rocks daily to clear the area. If we could take some of those rocks for our garden, the builders would be relieved – and perhaps they would even be kind enough to move a few of them with those bulldozers on site.

No, no, no. And do not ask why we cannot even have one stone, as nothing makes logical sense in this holy land of rocks. You see, there is a law in Israel forbidding one from moving rocks away from the place where they were dug up. In order to do so, a builder needs to apply for a permit, and only then can he sell them. 

Or, the builder can grind the huge boulders up on the spot where they were extracted, spitting them out as gravel and transforming ancient volcanic boulders into dusty, dry gravel. More sand in a dry, parched land.

I no longer scratch my head or pull out my hair. I have been living here for too long to question the illogical, so I simply watch in disbelief as the bulldozers transport their load to an onsite quarry, which then spews out gravel, sand, and dust. 

I could wonder if the builder would be kind enough to give me some of the dirt, but I know the answer before I even pose the question. Nothing here is for free, not even a measly rock or a pile of dirt. Is there a similar seashell bylaw?

The crazy thing is that rocks are not even considered a valuable natural resource here. They are, well, rocks. Israel is valued for its potash, copper, natural gas, ore, magnesium bromide, and phosphate. So what’s the big deal about a pile of rocks? 

Maybe some bureaucrat from the 'Ministry of Rocks and Boulders' was bored, so he came up with this law, or perhaps an official wanted to play a practical joke on the population. We may never know. 

Like many objects and places in Israel, rocks do have a powerful energy. G-d is compared to a rock and the patriarch Yaacov used a rock as a pillow when he dreamed of angels on a ladder. 

Moses was told by G-d that water would pour forth from a rock and when it did not, he hit it a second time and was punished. And the Cohen HaGadol had a breastplate of twelve gemstones that acted as mediator between G-d and the people.

The shiny and smooth boulders of Jerusalem’s Western Wall are softened by tears, prayer, and loving caresses, while above it looms the Dome of the Rock.  

There are healing rocks here, such as the blue-green Eilat stone, also called the Israel stone, while the salty hot Dead Sea rocks resemble icicles.

Yes, this is a land of revelation and bewilderment where rocks have sovereignty. Ancient, hard and sun-baked, rocks continue to reign supreme, stoically standing in piles far from from my garden.

April 27, 2022

Intrepid flower chasers


This was attempt number two. Last April, I found myself hiking in the Meiron Mountains, searching for a flower. It was a different sort of walk as I usually focus on the trees and the views when I walk, not on my toes. 

We were looking for a pink flower. “Admonit,” my friend called out, scouring the path. People ahead were also on the search and indicated that it had been recently spotted not far from this spot. 

We walked and walked until I ran out of “Where’s Waldo flower time.” And as soon as I headed home, I received a photo of a pink flower. A trophy and a sign from my more persistent friends that yes, the Admonit had been spotted. 

Of course it was found just when I left. But I did not feel FOMO as I am not one of those ‘spring flower people.’ In Israel each spring, loads of people will drive hours just to see a flower. They comb the Negev for rare blooms, climb the Gilboa for the purple Gilboa Iris, trek over coastal sand dunes to catch a sight of black irises, and drive to Lupine Hill to see, guess what, lupines! 

This is serious stuff for the intrepid flower chaser. People will drop a pin on their phone to locate the last sighting of a rare flower and will photograph the prized bloom along with each member of their family. 

During Pesach this year, I decided once again to pursue the Admonit. Driving through a Druze village, we saw friendly guides sitting at several corners aiding errant flower searchers. We soon arrived at a huge parking filled with cars and a KKL-JNF tent complete with festive flags, hot coffee, and tour guides. All for a flower. 

Packed parking lot of flower chasers.
We started off with a guide but the going was too slow, so we decided to do this solo and picked up the pace. We entered a forest and again, I was told to look for a pink flower. Feet to the forest floor. Nothing. 

We passed a group of Druze school children on a flower tour. They were eating lunch on the trail and wished us a warm ‘chag sameach’ as we passed them. After half an hour of walking, we came across a group of people crowded around a single bloom. The elusive Admonit!  

I took one look at it and said, “But that’s a peony.” My friends looked at me in disdain. Yes, but this is a peony that only blooms for a few days in one very small part of a tiny country. 

“Ohhhh,” I said, trying to put this in perspective.  

We did the photo thing, found a few more blooms, then called it a day. I did not pin it on my phone or send celebratory messages to flower friends. I may love nature but I guess I am yet not an intrepid flower chaser.

Living in world that is primarily focused indoors and is cut off from nature, I find it sweet and endearing to know that Israelis will drive far and then trek at length just to  glimpse a flower. 

March 31, 2022

An Israeli Winter

Israel is supposed to be a very hot and sunny place, or I thought that was true until this past winter. Living in Amirim, perched high atop a mountain in northern Israel, the weather proclaims its own kingdom, and Mediterranean this is not.

It has been a long winter of hail, sleet, and snow, along with freezing cold temperatures. During the day, the clouds would huddle in the valley below as if waiting at a bus stop, then sweep up the mountain and swirl through the pines, creating a shield of thick fog. Like shapeshifters, they would slide right under my front door and seep through the window cracks, adding dampness to the chill.

Those who have fireplaces would cozily huddle inside sipping tea, the fire’s smoke twisting from chimneys into the cold night air. Those without fireplaces (like me) would simply freeze while staying indoors. Israeli houses, or at least the ones I know, seem to have windows that entice the cold air inside. The doors have no sweeps, so the cold air finds another way to intrude, nudging underneath. 

As there is no central heating, regular air conditioning units are called upon. They have a so-called ‘heat’ function, but they groan under the stress. I fondly remember those centrally heated houses in Canada where people could comfortably wear a T-shirt inside all winter long, while Jack Frost was safely locked outside to doodle on the windows.

In our house during this Israeli winter, we tried to keep warm using two air conditioning units that have a hole cut into the window screen for the compressor hoses. Sensible piece of engineering, I thought, as I stuffed these wide openings with towels. But still the wind found its way inside. 

So we plugged in a few small electrical heaters that we could move around the house from room to room. These were so tiny and ineffective, Amir called them hair dryers.

Last week, both of the large air conditioning compressors were moaning, with one calling out shakily in a form of a death rattle. I went outside to inspect and saw that it was covered in ice as if it were in the deep Arctic. The other unit simply shivered until we finally turned it off, throwing another coat on top of our layers in order to stay warm.

At this point, I was wearing two pairs of leggings, two sweaters, a hat, and two coats - inside. I would have worn gloves but was unable to type on my keyboard with them on. I so wished I owned a nose warmer (if there even were such a thing) and I was sure I could see my breath. Even my potted pineapples and palm tree called it a day.

The most interesting part was that it was actually colder inside the house than outside. I would often exit the house wearing my regular ski wardrobe of two sweaters and two coats, only to find that I did not need this winter apparel outside.

The cold continued from January, February, and right through March. March is ‘supposed’ to be hot here, but not this year. I have also never seen so much rain. It formed two rivulets down my street, turned potholes into ponds, and clad the trees in moss. 

The rain transformed the earth into squishy red mud which my dogs would then trek across the house. We set up a paw washing station outside the front door complete with bucket, brush, and towels. The dogs would stand outside offering us a paw while we massaged the mud from their feet and fur. 

Yet the mud found its way inside, imprinting the floor with perfectly formed paw prints, which was efficiently caked on, care of the whirling cold air. I would take a mop to ‘depaw’ the floor only to find a fresh red trail readily reappear.

A few days ago, the sun started to wink at us from behind the clouds, revealing magnificent rainbows. While driving one afternoon, I saw four rainbows within a half hour, jumping out of the car to marvel at them like an overexcited child. The clouds retreated, the rain stopped, and a blinding indigo sky had us blinking like badgers.

The sun has now taken full reign, turning this battered mountain enclave into a Mediterranean paradise. There is not a cloud in the sky and I may not see another one float by until November. The sage and lavender are in bloom, the birds are busy nesting, and those mucky puddles have evaporated. 

The walls of this house are warming up and the windows are wide open. I have disbanded the paw washing station and removed the towels from the windows. The ‘hair dryers’ are no longer required and those fatigued air conditioners that are supposedly heaters can finally take a well-needed vacation. 

I can sit now inside with one layer like a regular person. But why stay indoors when spring is beckoning?

February 28, 2022

Oh, Canada


Photo by Denise Jans on Unsplash

After months of feeling doom and gloom, it is a relief, like a ray of warm sunshine, to come outside mask free and see those Green Pass signs stripped from restaurants and shops and malls and wedding halls and museums.

And then “it” hit Canada, my place of birth, the country described as “strong and free” in the national anthem. Canadians are polite, quiet, respectful, and tolerant. They do as they are told, wait in line in a dignified manner, and end their sentences with “please” or “thank you.” They even sit at street lights until the light turns green.

I can say all of this as I am a Canadian living in the wild Middle East, a place where the word lineup is a suggestion, or more likely, an open invitation to bud in. As getting onto an Israeli bus from a crowded stop means shoving and elbowing, I would rather walk, thank you. 

Here, sitting in a car at a red light requires edging forward the millisecond before it goes green, or being honked at with fury. Yes, it can be exasperating. And so I look to those patient, honest, hard-working Canadians with great respect.

To actually witness Canadians out there protesting in sub-zero conditions means they have had enough. And it takes a lot to get a Canadian to complain, thank you. Their recent display of protest was because they had enough lies, enough rules, enough of a ruined economy, stunted childhoods, and lack of decent education. 

I was cheering the truckers on as if they were my long-lost buddies. I wept along with these burly men as I watched videos of them receiving letters filled with hearts and thanks and homemade cookies from grateful children. I saw a Canada united by hope and by a yearning for true freedom. I saw people from many races and languages and professions coming together in a hug fest. 

And then I saw that this was not being covered in the MSM, until the devious lies began. They turned these innocent people, the young and elderly alike who paraded about with flags of red maple leafs, into dangerous terrorists. They turned horn honking into the words ‘Heil Hitler.’ It was ugly and distorted and a full-out lie. 

The Canadian government would not even take the time to sit down at the table and talk with these people about the freedom they wanted. The government also refused to listen to many learned doctors and scientists who had important information about public health and keeping Canadians informed.

Instead, Trudeau passed the Emergency Act, beat up the innocent, arrested the truckers, took away their licenses, and froze their bank accounts.

What kind of freedom-loving democracy with so-called elected politicians is this? The people are supposed to be in charge of their destiny and the government is supposed to work for the electorate.

This is a scary, slippery slope and sadly, I must welcome Canada into the totalitarian Hall of Fame where Israel is already a long-standing member. You may say I am over reacting. I am simply observing and I see that life is not going back to how it was, not in Israel, not in Canada, and nowhere else in the world.

I now question everything, especially messages in the media that contain the same script. And I look for information on other platforms, finding many voices who feel the same way. I will refuse fall prey to fear as this is a tool to weaken and create chaos just as has happened over the past two years.

As one deadly chapter sputters slowly to its end, I hear a prologue for the new fear that may require our subservience. Look up at the warming air and out to the diminishing sea, for I now hear complaints and fear-mongering about climate change in the media. 

Will this soon become a woeful story about our giant carbon footprints stomping all over the place? Then perhaps those digital passports will need to return after all, in order to make this world a healthier place. 

I am grateful to see through the charade and invite others to observe this tragic parody. Think I should catch a ray of sunshine outside while I still can, please!