" Thou comest to me with a sword and a spear and a shield, but I come to thee in the name of the L-rd of Hosts, the G-d of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast humiliated..." (I Samuel, 17:45-47)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Off The Beaten Path: Israel's Wild Places

A stroll at this late hour reminded me why I love the desert. The mystery and serenity of the desert night is like nothing else in nature. I spotted my first striped hyena tonight. I don't even know if it saw me. It was just wandering about on the periphery of town for awhile, until it finally headed out into the desert night and was gone. An incredible sighting. I still have it's distinctive black and white pattern in my mind's eye. That classical hump standing out against the desert night. Somewhere out there, the wild things with fur and teeth still roam about.

Fortunately, Israel still has some wild places left that haven't been raped beyond recognition by the land plowers. Places where Bedouins haven't set up their filthy illegal shanty towns. Thank G-d. We need such places to reflect and think, to get lost, and to try to find ourselves. To test ourselves against the elements and become men, or else die trying. Places where the risk of falling off a cliff (due to wind or personal carelessness) collapsing from dehydration, or stepping on a viper, is very real. Hidden haunts where we can go to sleep under the stars and reflect on the natural beauty of the Holy Land.

Edward Abbey, the great American writer and "voice of the American wilderness" had a love affair with the deserts of the American West. Abbey noted that the desert's hidden charms are lost on most people, who are turned off by the nasty things one finds there. Crawling, creeping, and slithering things like snakes, spiders, and scorpions. (Sometimes bigger isn't better. In the case of scorpions though, the old cliche is true.) That's why deserts are easier to protect. Most people don't want to live there. And if they come to visit it's usually from the air-conditioned confines of an SUV or charter bus, that graciously leaves as fast as it arrived. I recommend his classic work, Desert Solitaire, which is a masterpiece of nature writing.

I believe it was Abbey who defined wilderness as 'any ecosystem that has at least one animal species that can eat you'. I agree. Hiking and camping isn't the same without the concern, (unlikely as it may be) that something with teeth and powerful jaws might clamp down on your neck or skull while you slumber. Here's to the striped hyena and the few remaining leopards that still haunt this country's wild deserts. Live long and prosper. And if you should stumble upon some Bedouin encampment, feel free to treat yourself to a little snack.

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