Friday, December 18, 2009

Hillside Stories . . . Flowers, Snakes & the Farmer's Daughter

This is not just any hill. It’s The Mount Of The Beatitudes, the place where Jesus said the Lord’s Prayer for the first time and delivered the Sermon On The Mount. It’s just a hill. In West Virginia it would be a knoll but the crusaders never thought anyone would get here, so they gave out some strange names.
Once a year for about ten years , we went to the "mount" every March/ April to pick wild flowers. Let’s leave why for another time. There is a convent on the crest, the only holy place run by nuns in the entire Holy Land. The church was built my Mussolini, and Italian dictator from 23 to 45. The church is in five different styles. I guess he wanted to make all the sects happy. If there’s enough rain, the wild flowers stretch like Grand Mom’s quilt from here to the Sea of Galilee, about four hundred yards. It knocks you socks off. And speaking of that, there are a few other things which will knock more then those off.
Our first season picking, we take a present to the tenent farmer and meet his three daughters. They work the farm, grow wheat, herd about sixty sheep, harvest the wool, and go to college. They all speak, English, French, Hebrew and Arabic. Not bad for farmers, right? Bet your butt.
So we’re out in the mustard, a yellow flower which grows to about three feet. I’m wading in there, picking away, when one of the girls rolls by on her tractor and stops dead. She motions to me and I go over. She tells me it’s not safe to go in the mustard. ‘ There are three snakes here. A green, a yellow and a red. The first two will make you wish you were dead, and the red one gives you about twenty seconds to decided where you want to sit down and die’ sure. But I’m Emperor Of The Universe And Surrounding Areas. So once she’s out of sight, I wade right back in. I’ve been picking for an hour and nary a snake! They’re scared of me!
I’m bent over and something strikes my leather boot with the force of a small hammer. I look down and red is looking back at me. There’s a small clot of stuff dripping off my boot. Did I get out? Mark, my youngest son claims that he now believes I did play some major football. ‘ Dad , you came out of there like you were a star corner back!’
Another year Marilyn and I are picking and come across two kids sleeping in the mustard! It’s cold so they got about an hour before the boys come out to sun themselves. We tell ‘em. They hesitate. After all they are immortal! Besides they’re French! But somehow we do get it over to them and they pile out of there. We see two green ones about two hours later.
The flowers. Israel has some of the most beautiful wild flowers in the entire world. If the rains come, then the flowers suddenly transform a barren red clay hillside into some Impressionist painting in 24 hours. You can drive about and never really see more than two kinds again in any one place. We were very careful about what we picked. Mustard is abundant. So is Queen Anne’s Lace. You can not pick the poppies. That’s a national treasure. The purples come early. The yellows blend in about two days later. And then the poppies take over fields and you feel like this is where the Impressionist painters worked. Not Belgium!
So why? We gathered, pressed and dried them before we came home. Then we set them to hand lettered verses Christ spoke from the hill. For ten years we had a great time and made many friends over there. And then two people were murdered on the hill, and a couple of rockets from Lebanon came in. We weren’t there, but our Israeli friends told us it was too dangerous, so we haven’t been back since 2000. And oh that year! The Pope showed up. Thousands of tourists stole flowers, swipe rocks and generally tried to . . .oh well. It was fun. More on it later.

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