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The day of wheat and worry

[This is part of a series of posts chronicling a walk across Israel. For previous parts of this story, click here. For the how’s and why’s, read The Time We Walked to the Sea.]

Everything is wet. Having stayed up all night, I am photographing dew on flowers. A voice bellows from inside the tent and interrupts the daybreak.

“I hate camping!”

The night after Elijah and I met, we were sitting in a group of soon-to-be friends and talking about the types of things expats talk about when they gather in groups outside their home country. You know: food, travel bragging, poop, etc. We got to the subject of sleep and Elijah was sharing that he is a very particular sleeper. “I need to lie in a particular position, completely still, in complete silence.”

None of this was unreasonable. Considering, however, that this conversation was taking place in Cairo, Elijah’s preferences meant that he spent most of the nights in the next few months watching me sleep. It was neither the flies alone nor the heat that kept him up; neither the car horns nor the flutterings of the heart. It was just, well, Egypt and particularness. The latter is what is keeping him up this morning, in our little tent, outside Cana, Israel.

“This tent sucks…”
“These sleeping bags suck!”
“Everything sucks. I hate camping…”

I crawl back into the tent and observe its moisture drying slowly in the early morning sun. Elijah closes his eyes and I smile. In the past few weeks, he has been remarking on the fact that I have a loud smile. You can hear my lips turning upward.

“No”, he protests to the sound of upturned lips.

Through our open tent flap, I see a bird fly by. In Greek, it is called “karakaxa”. Who doesn’t love a funny-sounding bird?

“You know what this bird is called in Greek?”, I ask too cheerfully.
“Go awaaaay.”

***

A few hours later, between Golani Junction and Kibbutz Lavi, I am the cranky one. We are lost. We are not really lost, but we are off the trail and for someone who was formerly (?) neurotic, “off the beaten path” is best embraced metaphorically. Walking off the trail meant we walked on the highway, with buses and cars wheezing by and every step feeling heavier because it was a step taken on tar. We have also walked through wheat fields. It is just before the harvest, so everything around us is golden and swooshing in unison. I am tired and prickly plants are making my legs itch and the pack feels heavy on my back and I am too consumed in myself to acknowledge the beauty.

frecklesElijah takes his pack off and sets it on what I am pretty sure was manure.

“Hi, Freckles.” He smiles.
“Freckles? Me? I have freckles? On my face? Where?”
“Yes, you. Hi, Freckles.”
I squint.
“You know, in America, we think freckles are cute.” Elijah smiles again.

He kisses the freckles under my right eye, we put our packs back on, and continue walking through the wheat fields.

***

I worry. I worry professionally and thoroughly. I worry about people and places. I worry about the familiar and the unknown, I worry about loved ones and I worry about those I have never met.

The sun is going down and we are pitching our tent near Kibbutz Lavi. In the distance, we can see the Horns of Hattin, where an important battle took place during the Crusades. The rocky hills forming the Horns are purple at sunset and do not look nearly as intimidating as they would the next morning, when we would have to climb them. Gusts of wind are forming and the wheat dance near us becomes loud.P1030073

We pitch the tent together and feel its resistance in the wind. “Do you think a Crusader died right here?”, Elijah asks.

I spot one mosquito, then another.

“Let’s get in the tent,” I suggest to Elijah. Mosquitoes love me nearly as much as he does and I do not take my chances.

Then the worrying kicks in. It’s not the harpaxophobia I have experienced in conflict zones before. It’s an all-encompassing worry that stemmed from nowhere. Some would say it was panic, and they would probably be right.

“Do you think we are safe here? In the middle of a field? In the middle of nowhere? What if something happens to us?”
“Darling, we are very safe. We have not seen a single person in hours.” Elijah tries to comfort me.
“That’s my point! What if something happens to us? We are so vulnerable out here. Nobody could help us.”

Nothing would happen to us, but I kept on worrying.

I hear a sharp sound in the distance. Before I say anything, Elijah says “someone is shoveling cow poop.” I make a mental note to write Kentucky a thank you note for instilling this knowledge in him and continue to worry.

“What if a tractor comes early in the morning, ready to harvest the wheat and runs us over?”
“Are there wild animals here? What about snakes? All that wheat and high grass! Of course there are snakes!”
“Do you think this tent fabric is thin enough for a snake to bite us through it?”

Elijah pulls me closer. At this point, I am wearing nearly all the layers I have brought on this trip. It is cold and windy and I am shivering with irrationality. All our clothes smell like backpack. He puts his arm around me, which also smells like backpack, and does not let go.

“White chocolate and hazelnut cake. Why don’t I get you some of that? You love that cake.” Elijah’s suggestion works.

He tries to open the tent flap and we hear a siren-like sound. Or a wail. Maybe the wind?

“NOT THE WIND!”, Elijah says as he hurriedly closes the flap before he can get to the cake. “What you heard out there was the sound of at least 250 mosquitoes dancing outside our tent.”

In the moments the wind dies down, we hear them. We can see their bodies sticking to the outside of the tent. When the wind picks up, the mosquito sirens are silenced. Somewhere between wondering whether a Crusader had died at our camping spot and worrying about getting run over by a tractor, we neglected to check whether we had camped right on top of a water pipe.

What do you know, we had.

***

“I feel a little better.” I announce to Elijah after forever. “I think I might have to use the bathroom though.”
“Go ahead, I do not hear the mosquitoes anymore. I will hold the flashlight for you from inside the tent,” he says.

So I go ahead. There I am, pants dropped, amidst the thistle and the prickly plants and the wheat and under an enormous night sky. Elijah and I bicker about which way he is shining the light and I insist that he keep his eyes closed (even though the tent flap is closed too). There is only so much poop a relationship can survive.

We make fun, we laugh, we are all alone in a valley. Once Elijah’s flashlight-holding duties are done, he steps out and joins me under the stars. We look behind us, towards the Horns of Hattin and survey tomorrow’s path. In the thistle and the wheat and the darkness, it is hard to make a trail out.

“Hey darling? I think you may have just pooped on the trail.” Elijah informs me and we go to sleep.

Next: The day we made it to the sea

12 Comments

  1. I love people with loud smiles. I also love Elijah after this post about him. He sounds like your perfect tent sleeping, knowledge of cow-poop shoveling, less worried match 🙂

  2. I am so struck by how this post has triggered so many confessions by fellow professional worriers. I am comforted by the fact that I am not alone, but at once, I wish we could take a collective breath and let some of our prized worry go. Thank you, fellow worriers for supporting me — I always feel less worried in your company.

    Tracy, your calls for a book are encouraging and are actually about to prompt another post by me on that very subject. Stay tuned and thank you for inspiring me.

    Brandee, I am glad the mosquitoes can provide some laughter. I am certainly not a natural in the camping setting either, hence all the mishaps in this post. The process of writing this story has showed me something I have known all along: I have a rose-tinted memory and only the positives stay on my mind when I indulge in recollection and retelling.

  3. I, too, am a professional worrier. I can relate to that so well. What struck me was how the distraction of the mosquitos diverted your attention from the wider worries, to how soon you could leave the tent for a bathroom break. In a way, I suppose those mosquitos were a good thing…if only to give you some relief – in every sense of the word!

    I laughed at several points during this post. I am sincerely enjoying this journey. I’m SO not a camper. I am appreciating the highlights of your walk, being raised above the discomforts that I would most likely focus on.

  4. Roxanne, Roxanne, Roxanne! You made me chortle with delight. So much wonderful silliness. I love it. Love the mental note about being thankful to Kentucky for Elijah knowing about shoveling poop. 🙂
    Then there’s this – in seriousness: “I worry. I worry professionally and thoroughly. I worry about people and places. I worry about the familiar and the unknown, I worry about loved ones and I worry about those I have never met.” I know that worry. I wake up from time to time out of dead sleep crying because I can “feel” – really feel that someone out there is in pain and hurting. It’s scary and doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does, I feel like I can sense and feel the pain of others around me and far far away.

    Wonderful post and I’m so happy I am finally catching up! I didn’t mean to be so late to the party. Hugs, my friend.

  5. Brett, thank you very much. Your photos – both on Instagram and on your own site – always make me think and laugh.

    Noel, perhaps because I adore Elijah, I have come to find ‘particular’ sleepers very endearing. It is very frustrating when it happens and I have struggled with insomnia myself too, but it can also be funny — and can make for some of the best late-night conversations. Thank you for your very kind words about storytelling; I am thankful to Elijah, the landscape and our legs for the experience…

    Marjory, my darling, I still cannot believe I did that! There was so much vegetation and it was so dark – even with Elijah holding a flashlight inside the tent – that I really could not tell it was the trail. It was, let’s say, “interesting” the next morning when I had to clean it up.

    Kim, what a lovely compliment. I do not think travel writing is my favorite genre to read or write either, but something about this story made me happy to be telling it. I hope you are still enjoying the bliss of PEI!

  6. This was worth waiting for. I took my time making it to these posts, but at least I was able to linger over them and worry, laugh, and roll my eyes along with you. I don’t read much travel writing–or nonfiction at all for that matter–but I think I would read more of it if I thought it would transport me this way.

  7. There is so much tenderness, my heart melts again and again. Tears, laughter, deep breaths. My words just want to rest on the golden earth of your trail.
    “Hey darling? I think you may have just pooped on the trail.” Divine.

  8. Oh my goodness, your storytelling is so luscious. The way you talk about it all — what’s running through your head and the irritating things about living of outdoors and the beauty of being under the sky all alone, away from the city. Perfect!

    (Also, I have the SAME sleep issue Elijah does. I have the worst time sleeping whenever I travel.)

  9. Shannon, thank you so much for the encouragement. It was a phenomenal experience and it is a treat to share it with you.

    Akhila, I have never, ever seen that many mosquitoes in one place. Perhaps the Amazon, but at least the mosquitoes were scattered there, as opposed to dancing in a sphere-shaped formation. Thankfully, as you said, the trip was absolutely worth it.

  10. I have to agree – you really are a majestic writer. Sounds like you were pretty brave! I myself am not a huge fan of camping, mosquitoes, living in the wilderness or pooping in the grass 😉 I have tried to avoid camping and bugs as long as possible! But it sounds like it was a breathtaking experience – well worth the bug attacks 😉

  11. You are a majestic writer. Sounds like quite the experience and I am thrilled that you are sharing with us.

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