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December 20, 2014 | 28th Kislev 5775

Green thoughts V: spring report

Galilee Diary #435, March 29, 2009

Marc J. Rosenstein

For now the winter is past, the rains are over and gone.
The blossoms have appeared in the land, the time of pruning has come;
The song of the turtledove is heard in our land.
The green figs form on the fig tree, the vines in blossom give off fragrance…
    -Song of Songs 2:12-13

It may be complicated, but it works: the Jewish solar-lunar calendar once again has put Pesach right where it belongs, and when we chanted Song of Songs on the Shabbat during Pesach, the text and the landscape were in sync. Here is a field report from the Western Galilee:

The winter wildflower cycle has just about run its course – first the crocuses, then the cyclamen, then the bright red anemones and their red look-alikes, ranunculus and poppies, the masses of little purple ricotia – it's still mostly cool and we're not done with the rain yet (hopefully), but their season is over by now. Around here the main color on the mountainsides now is provided by the stalks of pink sage flowers, and the bright yellow of wild mustard and of the thorny calycotome. Once the weather finally warms up, the hollyhocks will bloom, marking the end of the flower season (except for the capers).

So indeed, the blossoms have appeared in the land, and we have spent a few refreshing and exhausting days in the garden pruning and weed-whacking, piling the compost high and dragging away load after load of branches – rose, hibiscus, citrus, rubber tree, pistachio… The pungent smell of marjoram and sage, mixed with the sweet citrus fragrance, is pretty strong stuff. Now that the clock has shifted to daylight savings, I get up before the birds, and enjoy their music. I don't know if the cooing ones are indeed turtledoves, or just pigeons… And yes, there are little green figs on the fig tree, but no, our grapevine is still stuck in its winter dormancy – no blossoms, no leaves yet.

Meawhile, in the market the citrus, bananas, and avocadoes are receding, to be replaced by a tsunami of strawberries, available at every highway intersection. For us, besides the traditional symbols of Pesach, there are seasonal tastes that have become inextricably associated with the holiday – strawberries are one; artichokes are another – they too are plentiful and cheap at this season, not a delicacy but a proletarian vegetable. And the third is fresh garlic, which we buy by the bunch and hang by its long leaves to dry (and stink) in the laundry room – it will last us half a year or so. This is an in-between season for fruit – strawberries definitely dominate, as it is still a little too early for the early summer fruits of shesek (loquats) followed by apricots; the two of them each have brief successive seasons, holding us over until they give way to the peaches, nectarines, plums, grapes, and sabras of summer.

Of course, cities are cities everywhere – Tel Aviv children might get the impression that fruit, like meat, grows in plastic boxes. And between globalization and hothouse technology, sometimes the seasonal distinctions can get blurred. However, because Israel is both small (not containing a wide range of climate zones) and relatively isolated, you can generally tell from a quick walk through the market just what season we are in. You are never more than about a twenty minute drive from real live agriculture – and if you live in Tel Aviv, the farthest distance that apple or tomato can possibly have traveled is only about 120 miles.

The Jewish calendar is based on the agriculture of the Land of Israel; it encodes the experience of nature here into a virtual reality of liturgy and images. But once you get here and experience the real thing, you realize that "the next best thing to being there" is indeed only next best.

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