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October 4, 2015 | 21st Tishrei 5776

Turning Point

August 25, 2002
Marc Rosenstein

The carobs have all ripened by now and are a rich chocolaty brown among the thick dark green foliage of the trees; there seem to be many different varieties or strains of them on our hillside, with the pods ranging from thin and dry to thick and meaty. I tried to convince my kids to map the distribution as a high school science project, trying to determine if the differences in the fruit were due to genetics or environment; however, no one seemed interested in the question except me. A good project for sabbatical, or retirement... The pods eventually drop off; those that aren't eaten by the Beduins' goats will slowly dry up and crumble, or rot. However, it is still possible to find undeteriorated, sweet pods on the ground a full year later, while the new pods are ripening overhead. The carobs grow wild here; their seeds are quite fertile, and the seedlings grow quickly. A tiny wild seedling in our yard when we arrived 12 years ago is today a magnificent, spreading tree; my only regret is that it is a male, providing us with a vaguely nauseating smell in the spring -- but no fruit. The deep green of the carob, interspersed with the distinctive gray-green of the olive tree, provide most of the color on the slopes around Shorashim at this season.

Around these two dominant trees, the ground has gone to shades of brown. All the annual weeds and wild flowers have dried up. The thorn bushes that thickly cover the rocks are by now all a springy mattress of brown thorns, their leaves long gone and any greenness baked out of their stems and prickles. The sage bushes' triangular, fuzzy leaves have shrunken and folded in on themselves, waiting for rain. A few months ago, just walking through a field released a cloud of their pungent perfume; by now, you have to pick a leaf, crush it, and hold it up to your nose to catch the smell. There are still sweet figs to be picked, and wild blackberries if you can get unscathed through their thorns to harvest them; and we just finished the last of half a dozen amazingly sweet sabra fruits from the bush in our yard that we propagated several years ago by laying a pad on the ground until it rooted.

Our little pomegranate tree is drooping with beautiful fruit, waiting for Rosh Hashana; we like to save them for the second day of the holiday, to say the shehecheyanu over a fruit not previously tasted this year. What an amazing fruit -- the shape, the color, the taste, the way it is impossible to eat without afterwards finding juice stains on the white walls in places that don't seem to make any sense.

No flowers left. The delicate caper flowers were probably the last of the progression, and they have been gone for a month. Any day now the hatzav (squill) stalks will shoot up, marking the beginning of a new cycle of growth and reproduction.

It is brush fire season in the Galilee. The dry thorns are the perfect fuel, and on a hot, windy day the horizon is hidden by an acrid, smoky haze. The mountainsides are scarred with large black blotches. Reminding us how we long for rain.

And yet, at the same time that nature seems to have hit a kind of nadir -- no more moisture, no more growth, the breeze a hostile force -- you can't miss the change in the air. It is cool and humid at night, and there are often scattered clouds sailing overhead during the day. We even had a cloudy day and a sprinkle recently. As the days get shorter, there is also a change in the angle and quality of the sunlight. It is definitely a pregnant time; there is a sense of impending change, of "bottoming out" of the season. On the one hand, this feeling goes with the beginnings of Rosh Hashanah and the new academic year; on the other hand, until the season really turns, the heat breaks, the rain falls, we continue to wait, to thirst, to be frustrated, and even a bit depressed despite or perhaps because of our anticipation. Waiting for a sign.


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