Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Tu B'Shvat

So we didn't do anything too exciting for Tu B'Shvat, but we did have a great walk on a hill near our home. Almond trees are not at their peak yet, aside from one tree, many cyclamen are yet to open, but the crown anemones are glorious, plenty of Land of Israel iris, wood sorrel and Dominican sage, asphodels starting to bloom in patches, some spring groundsel and pimpernels, start of the wild mustard, chamomile and several other flowers we usually see slightly later in the season and even a few early green ears of barley. Plenty to feast the eyes and senses on.

I've been walking over this hill for so many years, observing it in all seasons and weathers, but exploring with my kids is like seeing everything anew. I'm still the crazy lady lying belly down in the mud trying to capture just the right angle for a cyclamen portrait or a shot of an interesting clump of anemones, but now I have J and T getting down on the ground with me and noticing an ant or a grasshopper hiding in the grass, or spotting a tiny unfamliar wildflower I might not have seen otherwise. And sometimes as I'm trying to get my photograph T will climb on my back or J will lean over and block the light, but that's part of the fun of it, they want to learn everything from what each flower is called to why I need to twist in convoluted contortions to shoot a picture of a flower.

Their boundless curiosity forces me to keep learning too, whether it's recalling long forgotten classes in geology or history, or looking up botanical facts, I have endless questions to answer. Even T is now old enough to be able to ask questions, albeit usually of the one or two word variety. He has graduated from being a "she-eino yodea lishol" (one who doesn't know how to ask) to a "tam" (one who asks simple or naive questions).

J is often the one who rushes to answer these days, she is so excited to have a little brother to teach. The two of them enjoy exploring the hill together, J sometimes leading him along by the hand, pausing to point out items of interest, crouching down with him to inspect a patch of lichen or teach him the parts of a flower. I have no idea what T is absorbing from all this at his tender age, but he laps it up, thrilled when he recognises a flower he's learnt about, questioning if another yellow flower is the same as the one next to it.

The highlights of our Tu B'Shvat walk were definitely the butterflies though - a painted lady and a green-striped white. I gave J our pocket butterfly field guide and she sat on the ground and opened it up, pointing out the different insects to T and trying to figure out which was posing for us on the path. Then the painted lady led us a game of chase around some of the prickly pear cactuses the kids trying to trace its erratic path, giggling in delight when it swooped low over them.

It wasn't all nature lessons though. Our region is blessed with an abundance of archaeological sites - ruins from Crusader, Byzantine, Roman, Second and First Temple periods, and earlier. The earth is littered with shards of pottery and the entire hill is covered in ancient cisterns, now thankfully gated over for safety. Little T who barely talks in sentences recognises ancient olive presses and excitedly yells out the Hebrew "beit bud, beit bud!" whenever he sees one or anything resembling one. J points out the difference between the large rectangular stones typical of the Second Temple or Roman periods, and the smaller, uneven stones used in later construction, such as the upper section of the Crusader ruin atop the hill. We carefully peer down into an ancient mikva (ritual bath) and note the remains of plastering on its walls.

To be sure we are a family addicted to books, watchers of documentaries and regular visitors to museums, but here, in our own backyard all of that truly becomes real and tangible. My oldest thrives on the theoretical, but out here she learns what books and films and museums just can't quite teach.

Our little local hill is truly their classroom.