I think one of my favourite things in the world must be coming home wet and muddy from a walk in the woods in the middle of a verdant Israeli winter. If my clothes reek of damp earth and woodsmoke from sitting around a campfire, so much the better.
The folks who organised my kid's morning in the forest certainly knew what they were talking about when they refused to allow rain to stop play, at least until at lunchtime it turned into a real downpour complete with hail. By then though everyone had enjoyed several hours of stories, crafts and running around and was about ready to scramble into their vehicles and head for home anyway.
Our outings to the woods have become a regular activity this year. J scampers off with her group and madrikha (youth leader) doing a good impression of Peter Pan and the Lost Boys climbing trees and making things from the forest floor's raw materials, while the toddler makes nature his playground with dry carob pod rattles to shake and twigs for scratching the dirt. Little wonder I guess that "tree" was amongst his first few clearly distinct words.
Today in the rain the madrikh taught the children how to safely and responsibly build a campfire, how to keep it burning in the drizzle, what kind of kindling works best to start a fire, which to maintain it, how damp wood would make it smoke and crucially, how to put it out. The tragedy of the Carmel fire is still in everyone's thoughts and with bonfires so much a part of the local culture teaching fire safetly to such young children is more prudent than ever. Only you can prevent forest fires. Indeed.
As the kids and a few parents gathered around the crackling fire the madrikh donned a silly hat and spun ever more complex yarns featuring animal folk tales from around the world. The children interjected comments or corrections now and then, my budding little story teller volunteering one of her original creations.
The rain beat down from time to time, some folks huddled under umbrellas or in their hooded anoraks, other just enjoyed the sensation, keeping warm by the fire as the rain soaked into their hair and clothes.
Even during the unseaonally warm days of dry drought, the green carobs and eucalyptus offered respite from the yellow browness of a landscape which should have been greened by winter weeks (and later months) earlier.
Using the miracle word here is to be sure a cliche, but that's just what it feels like now that winter has finally arrived, watching the land come to life again, finding freshly grown grass and shoots sprouting from the dust. Today we found carpets of pink cyclamen, clumps of tall white asphodels, covered in raindrops as though adorned by diamonds. All kinds of unfurling leaves promise even more delights on our next visit.