The High Holy Days have been and gone, and I completely forgot about my promise to write about my trip to London. So much has happened since then, that the short break in the city of my birth has more or less faded from memory. Apart from two excellent plays (“Boudicca” at Shakespeare’s Globe and “Queen Anne” at the Theatre Royal in the Haymarket), I have very little to report – other than lazy days in Regent’s Park and Hyde Park, and the inevitable visits to the National Gallery, the Tate Modern and the British Museum.
But now autumn is upon us, with a wealth of new activities – from the start of the fourth and final year of the Bible course I am taking (see previous posts, under the tag 929), through the start of a new course intriguingly entitled “Love and Death in Classical Music”, to the opening of the 2017/18 season of field trips offered by Yad Ben Zvi. As my faithful readers know, for the past two years, I have been taking part in field trips linked to the 929 Bible Study project. This year, I decided to try something different and signed up for a series of field trips focusing on Israel’s many wildflowers.
On November 1st, we set our faces north, to Israel’s Carmel Coast. We visited two sites. The first was the Nachal Taninim Nature Reserve. The literal translation of Nachal Taninim (נחל תנינים) is “Crocodile Stream” , but don’t be alarmed. It’s been over a hundred years since the last crocodile was sighted there. Some historians believe that crocodiles were imported in the Roman period, to be used in the gladiatorial combats held at nearby Caesarea. Zoologists, on the other hand, consider the crocodiles to be the remnant of a tropical ecosystem which existed in the Land of Israel over two million years ago. But a local tradition holds that there was once was a king of Caesarea who had two sons. The elder was a leper who used to go every day to bathe in the river, hoping thus to be cured. After their father died, leaving his kingdom to the joint rule of the brothers, the younger, who wished to be the sole ruler, secretly brought crocodiles to the river . When the older brother went down to the stream to bathe in its waters, the crocodiles attacked and devoured him, leaving his younger brother as the sole heir to the throne. This is how, according to local legend, the crocodiles were introduced to the region. Be that as it may – Yours Truly didn’t see any crocodiles 😉 .
What we did see was the partially reconstructed remains of the ancient Roman water-system which brought the precious liquid from Nachal Taninim to the great coastal city of Caesarea, to the south. One can also see the remains of Byzantine-era flour mills and Ottoman additions to the waterworks.
Here you can see a reconstruction of a Byzantine water wheel in action:
While we did not see any of the crocodiles after whom the river is named, we did see many birds, although most of them were wheeling high in the sky above our heads. The Nachal Taninim Nature Reserve is home to egrets, herons, storks, pelicans, ibis, sandpipers and many other bird species. There are also different varieties of gulls, attracted by the fishponds of nearby Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael – to the chagrin of the fish-breeders, it must be said – as well as other wildlife, such as turtles, catfish and other fish, frogs and sea-otters, to name but a few. Honesty compels me to admit that, with the exception of a single catfish, I saw no wildlife other than birds.
However, it was the flora which we had come to observe – in particular, narcissi and Steven’s meadow-saffron, which grow in abundance on the Carmel coast and are in full bloom at the start of autumn.
There were also late blooming sea squills, (urginea maritima), still showing a few blossoms, although as the first herald of autumn, the squill usually blooms in September and October. The white flowers are arranged along a stalk which can grow as high as 1.8 metres, and they do not blossom all at once. Starting from the bottom, each day a group of flowers opens, about 30 flowers at a time, immediately above the previous day’s blossom, which then wilts and dies. Since few flowers bloom in autumn, the squill does not have to compete with so many rivals for pollinating insects. The downside is that at this time of year, fewer pollinators are active. For this reason, the plant also employs wind pollination and even, to a certain extent, self-pollination.
After lunch, it was time to explore the Dor-Habonim Beach, one of the most beautiful stretches of Israel’s Mediterranean coastline, with its archaeological remains, its many rocky inlets and tidal pools. I last visited this part of the coast in late February this year, when I went, with other members of my choir, to take part in a musical workshop at Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael. This time, instead of Handel’s Messiah, it was the song of the sea and the flowers I had come to hear.
In ancient times, Dor was an important strategic site on the Via Maris, the historic road that ran along the Mediterranean coast from Egypt to Syria (the Fertile Crescent), and which was one of the major trade routes of the Levant. The archaeological site , Tel Dor, lies adjacent to the modern Moshav Dor. You can read more about Tel Dor, its history and its archaeological remains in the link I have provided. As this was more of a nature ramble, we concentrated on the flora – and in particular, the sea daffodil or sea lily (Pancratium maritimum).
In Hebrew, this flower is known as khavatzelet hakhof (חבצלת החוף) – a name very similar to khavatzelet haSharon (חבצלת השרון) known to us from the Song of Songs and usually translated as “Rose of Sharon”. Since the central part of Israel’s Mediterranean coast is known as the Sharon Plain, and since the flower in question grows there in abundance, it has been speculated that Pancratium maritinum is, in fact, the flower to which the Biblical poet is referring.
It gets dark early in Israel in November. The sun sets by about 4:30 p.m. and by half past five, it is completely dark. As we walked south along the coast, the sea and the clouds made for a spectacular sunset. I love seascapes, and I love sunsets – and confronted with the two together, my camera and I had a veritable feast.
I will leave you with the results: