Thursday, March 8, 2007

Wildflowers and Wild People

Earlier this week we took the 2 younger kids on a hike (okay, okay, meandering walk) in the area of the Adullam Forest about a half hour drive west of our home. The wildflowers are in bloom- narcissi, cyclamen, poppies and lupines are rioting everywhere, a delightful change to the usual rioting we hear about. In a country not known for disciplined behavior there is an astonishing consensus about not picking wildflowers. Few laws are so strictly adhered to (think of someone smoking under a 'no smoking' sign and you have an idea of what passes for usual behavioral mores here) so the profusion of color, smell and texture is enjoyed by all. Nature rocks.

It was a beautiful day and we wandered through what had once been an area of settlement for millenia. The area is rife with caves as it transits from the hard limestone of the Judean Hills to the chalky earth of the foothills. One large cave appears to be a columbaria, or dovecote, although it's far from certain. In Temple times the pigeon/turtle dove was a common sacrifice and so the niches in the walls could have been for the birds, although it's a bit far from Jerusalem. One of my favorite guides (Era Rapoport) related to me when I was here with him that he was once in the cave with a world expert on columbaria who was pompously declaring that this was not one, as he could not envision any birds entering. Just then 2 pigeons flew in and sat in the niches.

So much for experts. Had some, er, egg on his face, me thinks.

As with so much archeology one looks for clues as to the meaning of the remains that we find. I was explaining to the kids (as we examined pottery shards) how it was like detective work, painstaking but so rewarding when it falls into place, and how the history belongs to all mankind and teaches us about times past. Just then we came upon what has once been a burial cave with a fancy lintel and sections of ossuaries strewn about. The sign told us that 15 years ago the cave had been vandalized so there was no entry. It's all too common all over Israel that Arabs go to caves and sites, digging up even graves looking for antiquities to sell on the black market. The theft of coins and other valuables is bad enough, but it's the wanton destruction of what has no price that is worse- wrecking the evidence that remained of the people who lived and died here. All that is destroyed during the robbery. If the layers are messed up we don't know when, for example, the ash is from - ie. when the fire was, or who ate the seeds that were found, or who traded with the Greeks because a pot has clay that is from the isles, not local. Etc. That knowledge is priceless and the damage irreversible. Some of our ancestors hid there to escape Romans and other enemies, others stored food and water or used natural pools for ritual baths. And of course many other people came through and have left clues for us to piece together. There may be no other land in the world with such a variety of historical remains due to our sitting on the crossroads of Africa, Europe and Asia, as well as part of the ancient Spice Route and with ports to the Mediterranean, too.

Seems like some nations only leaving their mark by trying to erase others. So sad. For everyone. Remember the ancient Buddhist statues in Afghanistan that were destroyed a few years ago? Same idea.

It's another lovely evening in Judea after an unusually warm day that hinted at the coming spring. No wonder the flowers are blooming- they've got the rain soaked ground below and the warm sun above. Lovin' it.

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