Since the accident that left the upper half of my body resembling braised ribs, the most strenuous exercise I had indulged in involved wiggling my toes or swimming in the Dead Sea. When one cites floating in a body of water so salty that it is impossible to sink (or swim, for that matter) as ‘exercise’, walking across a country is only possible if she employs two significant weapons: Humor and Denial.
“You know, if I pull this off, it will sort of be my own Forrest Gump journey,” I quipped to Elijah. “I, too, can say one day I walked out of bed and walked 60+ kilometers.“
On Day 1 of the hike, this Forrest Gump could barely get out of Nazareth.
Now, in my defense, getting out of Nazareth involved climbing 250 wide stone steps. “Oh dear Jesus,” I muttered to myself approximately 80 meters into our walk, only for Elijah to point out the irony in the timing of my blasphemy.
On one of my breathing breaks, we met the only other person those days who had thought it was possible to walk across the country. Two million Israelis went hiking on the weekend we started our walk – Vince from California was the only one to select that path. I came to find beauty in the solitude of our trail, but had you told me that only three people had thought this was a good idea during that breathing break, I would have given up and now I’d be writing about the medieval church bells of Nazareth instead.
Vince came and went, and I was still negotiating with my heart to slow down its beat.
“Honey? We cannot let a 60-something man kick our a$$es this badly,” Elijah said.
Oh but we could, and he did. And though Elijah may have joked about our snail-like starting pace, he followed it up with a “We Are Young And Can Do This” comment of his own:
“I have to say — Vince is not carrying as much weight as we are. No tent, no sleeping bag. Just a tiny rucksack.”
Hiking can be a competitive sport, in that subtle “Oh, haha, how curious! You got altitude sickness climbing Kilimanjaro? I didn’t feel a thing!” sort of way. Vince got a smile out of sailing past the panting twenty-somethings and we found solace in our load of salami, sleeping bags and socks slowing us down.
“One kilometer down,” Elijah proclaimed, and we kept on walking.
We sit in a bus stop to eat some of that salami. The location of our snack break bruises my ego a little. I want the world to know I am walking and I will not be mistaken for a bus rider. Not today. Cars start to pull over right by our bus stop and, just as I wonder if bladders in Northern Israel are on a coordinated schedule, a siren sounds.
This is not the two-tone wailing that has sent us diving into bomb shelters before. It is a high-pitched drone and, once a year, it sounds across the entirety of Israel at the same time to commemorate fallen soldiers.
Everything stops. Truck drivers stand at attention. Drivers exit their vehicles right where they are, without pulling over or parking. Elijah and I are the only pedestrians. I am holding the salami that is missing a bite at the top and, though I have not lost anyone in this conflict, I am contemplating the solemnity of coordinated collective grief.
Two minutes later, the siren goes quiet, the buzz of car radios returns, and we leave the bus stop and concrete behind to take to the fields.
I had never been a bird lover. Perhaps it was because they have a knack for identifying my head as the perfect place to defecate. Or maybe it was the way Alfred Hitchcock’s bird thriller eerily replicated itself in a friend’s apartment. From now on, I will forever be thankful to the fields between Nazareth and Cana for changing my mind on winged creatures.
We saw the orange beaks first. Then the black and white body, the golden red feet.
I spot the first one, Elijah findss the next. “Herons?”, he wonders. “Maybe pelicans?”
“No — storks,” I reply, shocking both of us with my first ever correct bird identification.
We turn the next corner and the two storks become dozens. One stork prepares for flight and, not unlike a plane, she takes off by running first, then leaping, then opening her wings wide and giving in to the wind.
The storks gain height by soaring in circles, higher and higher, until they are almost out of sight. Black dots in the sky.
“They are big birds!”, Elijah remarks. “I wouldn’t want to be pooped on by them…”
Sure enough, a bird obliges within minutes. She was kind with him, though, leaving only a small white token on his cheek.
Next: The Barcelona Bicycle Gang of Cana