After sleeping at the Kibbutz Almog, we got up early (no surprise there) before sunrise and headed back to Wadi Mishmar, by the Dead Sea. We were getting desperate for Sinai Rose Finch and Scrub Warbler, so we returned to where Paul felt was our best chance of seeing them. Wadi Mishmar was difficult walking; lose rocks covered the floor of the canyon — they were anywhere from the size of a softball to boulders as big as wheelbarrow.
When we were there two days earlier, I had fallen...nothing injured but my pride. We got there at first light and had our sights set deep up into the canyon. When we were after a specific bird, Paul would play a recording of its song, to coax it out into the open. It was barely light when he tried for the first time in Wadi Mishmar. It was supposed to be the song of the Scrub Warbler, but instead it was the first chord of a heavy metal song, so an enormous sort of “WONNGGG” reverberated up the canyon. That made me laugh out loud. The second try was more of the same...I’m not sure why it struck me as so funny, but it did. The third try was the right song for the bird, and Paul successfully coaxed out a pairof Scrub Warblers who were engaged in the all-important business of nest-building. The natives were temporarily satiated. We continued hiking up the wadi for an hour or so, and while we never got to see the Rosefinch, we had great looks at rock hyrax and some friendly Tristram’s Starlings checked us out. There were sea-shells imbedded in the rocks up there...indicating a living sea how many years ago? Millions? As we were walking out of the wadi, families were walking in – apparently there was a spring further up the canyon which was a popular hiking destination. Many small children were hiking over the boulders with ease...I felt like a wimp!
We finally left Wadi Mishmar and the Dead Sea to head north into Galilee. I had waited all week for this. It was my turn to sit up front – a vast improvement from the back of the van. The view was far better, and the company was vastly better too. Paul was easy to talk to; he was funny and I found myself laughing a lot, while simultaneously getting more annoyed with the old men in the back of the van. To be fair, I have to admit they were growing on me in a way. The conversation was a little less formal and a sense of cordial familiarity had settled on the group. All things considered, they were good traveling companions. Paul saw European Bee-Eaters on the electric wire next to the highway, and we pulled over for a “proper” look through the scope. One of my heart’s desires! They were magnificent. Turns out, if you’re looking for Bee-Eaters, you need to watch the wires. They like wires and fences too. Not long after the Bee-Eaters, we also saw a Roller...another gorgeous bird who winters in South Africa.
It was a beautiful, sunny day, but then again, they had all been beautiful, sunny days. Somehow, this day felt different. I had a sense of being woken up, and everything seemed very, very different. As we drove north, up the Jordan River valley, the landscape became greener and gentler. We passed through the West Bank, and a young, border guard gave us a thorough once-over. She was no more than 20 and armed with a loaded machine gun. She asked to see our passports, interrogated two of the men in the back, and then let us pass. There were some comments from the back about how it was a little unnerving — I think it was so because it was such a role-reversal with a young woman having power over old men. We ate lunch at café in the West Bank; Paul had to negotiate that they would serve seven of us, and they agreed to prepare us all the same thing — sort of sandwich/falafel...really good.
We went to a Kibbutz in the Beit She’an Valley, on the east side of the Jordan River to visit fish ponds. Entry in and out of the kibbutz was a bit dicey through a un-manned locked gate. There were staggering numbers of Black Kites, perched on irrigation sprinklers and loads of Black Storks. All day long, starting in Wadi Mishmar, we were aware of another phenomenal migration taking place high overhead...Lesser Spotted Eagles, Steppe Buzzards, and Short-toed Eagles.
We crossed the valley again, driving to the west and Mt. Gilboa, which overlooks the Jezreel Valley. It was a beautiful spot — high and with a great view to the north. We saw two “Merrill” Mountain Gazelle there. My favorite photo of the trip was taken on Mt. Gilboa...it’s grainy, but I think that somehow improves it as a sort of iconic image. The landscape is lush and green compared with the desert of past week. My gents were all engaged — doing what they love to do. It has a sort of Zeitgeist that captures the tour. I was curious about the name “Mt. Giboa” and googled while I was there. Turns out that in the biblical narrative, Mt. Gilboa is where Saul led a charge against the Philistines and the battle ends with Saul falling on his own sword and Jonathan being killed in battle. Pretty amazing spot.
We continued driving north, and I’m fairly certain I told Paul on that drive I was going to leave the pastorate. I had to tell someone, to speak it out loud and give voice to an emerging truth. I was becoming aware that everything had changed. Everything. And though I didn’t know exactly what that meant and what it would entail, I knew I was done as a pastor. It was as plain and simple a truth as taking off a jacket when you get too warm, or putting down a load when it gets too heavy. It made complete sense. Paul simply acknowledged it, and we drove on.
We reached the Sea of Galilee as it was getting dark. It was gorgeous and was not nearly as big as I had imagined. It reminded me a little of the southern end of Lake George. A strange thought occurred to me as we drove along the western shore: according to the Gospel of Matthew, when Jesus came to the disciples walking on the water, Peter said to him, “Lord if it’s you, command me to come to you on the water.” And Jesus did. So Peter got out of the boat and started walking on the water. But he became frightened and started to sink, and he cried out, “Lord, save me!” As I saw the Sea of Galilee for the first time, the thought that occurred to me was that even if they had been out in the very middle, the swim to shore would not have been very hard. Seeing it changed the way I understand that story. Peter wasn’t afraid of drowning, he was afraid of walking on water.
I wish we could have stopped at the Sea of Galilee. I would have put my feet in and thought more about the stories of Jesus in and around the Sea of Galilee. But it was getting late, so we kept driving north to the Hula Valley. I will get back to the Sea of Galilee someday. God has more to tell me there.