Friday, January 28, 2011

The long and the short of it

It's Tu B'Shvat time again so of course I had to plan a nature walk up on our little wilderness hill to see if despite the late rain and extended drought some of the seasonal flowers are in bloom, and most importantly, to check out the almond trees.

This is the first time I've had two walking children to take on the annual family Tu B'Shvatish ramble. OK, so one still has a distinctly toddlerish gait to him and as far as I can tell no concept of Tu B'Shvat or even what day of  the week it is, but thank God, he has two very keen eyes and is incredibly observant, so maybe he got more out of the walk than I thought he would.

J is an aspiring botanist and naturalist among other things. She confidently led the way pointing out things she recognised and in between getting carried away and running ahead she also made time to take the little guy's hand and teach him a little about the local flora, inviting him to rub his fingers on the leaves of sage and za'atar plants and then to sniff them while intoning breathless mini-lectures to him along the lines of "Baby, this is sage, it tastes good in cooking, Ima puts it on potatoes and you can make tea with it to make a tummy ache feel better and I think Abba puts it in the meat when he makes it for the Seder and in another few weeks maybe it will have little white crescent shaped flowers".

Baby smiled, laughed, pleased at the attention, but before she was finished had already noticed something else, maybe an ant highway or a beetle. I sometimes think that his fondness for ants in particular is simply that he can say their name so easily. Or maybe it's just an affinity for creatures so small and low to the ground. Regardless, he loves them. Perhaps it's just that a fascination with creeping things runs in the family. We tend to get strange looks when as a family we all stop in our tracks and stoop to study a passing beetle or millipede.

A few metres on and J excitedly left the path to investigate a huge clump of leaves, proclaiming it to be a "child sized forest". It was actually a clump of giant asphodel leaves, some with tall sticks of buds, a scant two or three already with flowers. "Ah yes, asphodels, these are commonly found around the Mediterranean" she announced confidently. "I learnt that from David Attenborough".

Further along her excited shouts announced great clumps of cyclamen leaves, followed by a shrill whoop when she found two actually in flower, and even greater excitement ensued when she finally found Eretz Israel irises, a low ground-hugging white and yellow iris, among the first flowers to bloom during the rainy season.

The bright red crown anemones are always a treat, only a handful were out, late by usual standards, but considering the lack of rain, that was no surprise. What did surprise me though was J's insistence that some were in fact nuriot (buttercups). I patiently explained that I thought it was too early for nuriot, and anyway, these all looked like anemones to me, but she adamantly studied each one of the few flowers on the hillside and insisted that she'd counted the petals on each and that one had the wrong number of petals for an anemone so it must be a nurit. Her brother chose this moment to tire of toddling, so it was back to the buggy on the path and no chance for me to check her findings in the field.

While the kids focused on the ground my sights were set on higher things. From my (comparatively) lofty height, it was my job to scan the hillside for almond blossom. I saw a paltry few blooms here and there, but mostly the almond trees were disappointingly bare.

All that is, except for one on a west facing slope overlooking the town. There in all it's glory was an almond tree in full bloom, a huge cloud of delicate white-pink blossoms like a giant cotton candy fluff on the hillside. Couldn't have asked for better. J ran excitedly down the rocky path to get a closer look. I tried to draw her brother's attention to it but at that moment a jay flew by and enthusiastic birdwatcher that he is all he could see was the "Bir! Bir! Bir!". Chacun a son gout as my grandmother used to say.