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Friday, February 25, 2005

Photo Friday (Vol. XVI) [signs of life edition]

Many of the most common comments I've gotten about the pictures I've posted of my commute route have used terms like 'lonely' and 'desolate' to describe the landscape.  I decided to post some other pictures to help people understand why I found these comments to be off-base.

My drive to work does indeed take me through some wide open spaces, but there are signs of life nearly everywhere one looks... it just so happens that I didn't point my camera in the right direction for you to see them.

Until now:

One of the most common sights one is likely to see are the small piles of rocks that have been left by shepherds.



I have wondered for a long time what these piles meant.  There are plenty of references in the Torah of the Patriarchs setting up make-shift alters by stacking stone upon stone, but I had my doubts that these modern piles had any religious meaning.

On a recent drive I had to wait for a shepherd to cross his flock, and while I was snapping the following picture I decided to pull over and ask him about the stones.

I was initially worried about how an Arab shepherd would take to being approached by me, but when I walked over to say hello, he spoke to me in perfect Hebrew!  It turns out he was a Jewish shepherd from one of the small agricultural settlements in the south Hevron hills!  What are the odds?!

This Shepherd told me that there were several explanations for the stone piles.  He said that some shepherds set them up as a way to mark the edge of roads and other hazards (such as holes and caves).  On the rolling hillsides it is often hard for the shepherd to spot places that could be dangerous to the flock from a distance... so they set up markers.

He explained that some shepherds set up the markers to mark the borders of areas where they have permission to graze their flocks.  He said that this is less common since most shepherds do not feel bound by silly things like borders and property ownership. 

As an example he pointed out a field of rusting oil barrels.  I had seen them before but never understood their purpose.  As we walked closer he pointed out that each one had a small tree poking out of the top.  The barrels were there to keep sheep and goats from chewing on the saplings.  The owner of the young trees figured it was easier to protect the trees than to try to keep the shepherd's flocks away.

On another morning I was driving through the seemingly empty landscape and was startled by an Ibex leaping across the road in front of my car.  There was no danger of hitting him, but I jammed on the brakes none-the-less.  I quickly pulled over and grabbed for my camera, but by the time I was out of the car the Ibex was a small dot on the next hillside.  Here is the blurry results that my little camera's zoom provided:

I guess the lesson I'm hoping people take from this week's Photo Friday is that things are rarely as they appear at first glance.  Seemingly desolate landscapes are actually brimming with signs of life... and almost everything one thinks they know about Israel changes as the lens of time brings things into focus.

Shabbat Shalom!

Posted by David Bogner on February 25, 2005 | Permalink


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Hi, Dave. Very interesting! Next time I'm out in the middle of nowhere . . . oops, I mean, on the way to the Negev . . . I'll know a bit more about the meaning of those stone piles.

However, I think you should know . . . oh, dear, how do I say this . . . . well, you know, Dave, it's true that clearly there are "signs of life" -- even HUMAN life-- on your way to work. Shepherds and ibex certainly qualify as life. Trees in barrels indicate a human presence.

But . . . as someone who moved to Jerusalem from the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and goes to the bustling Emek Refaim street virtually every day, I'm looking at your pictures and still thinking "yup. It's lonely and desolate. The man drives through the middle of nowhere."

Sorry. I know intellectually that that is incorrect. But I'd wager that any of your readers who live in a big city are right now thinking "If this is what he thinks points to 'brimming signs of life,' then Dave really needs to get out more."

You want brimming signs of life? Your pictures of the open market in Jerusalem on a Friday -- THAT's brimming with life. The dance clubs in Tel Aviv brim with life. A shepherd and an ibex . . . . don't "do it" for people from the big, big, city.

Sorry to burst your bubble, Dave.

Posted by: Sarah | Feb 25, 2005 2:17:20 PM

Wow, who knew? With apologies to Sarah, as a "city girl" I do appreciate wide, open spaces and small signs of life, as well as the shuk on Friday, etc. Nice to have the contrast. Shabbat Shalom, David.

Posted by: Essie | Feb 25, 2005 4:03:58 PM

I'm partial to your landscapes and feel at home as I drive away from central Israel (or even Beer Sheva!)toward those spaces.

When my kids were very small, and my husband working late in the lab at the University, I used to pick up the kids around 4 or 5 pm and head out to the kibbutz, just loving the drive. Of course, it was wonderful for the kids to get to their grandparents, dinner in the dining room and have them bathed (and usually asleep) as I'd pull back into Beer Sheva by 9pm.

thanks for the pictures.

Posted by: timna | Feb 25, 2005 4:27:41 PM

Thank you. Very nice.

Is that where the phrase "shooting saplings in a barrel" comes from?

Shabbat shalom.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Feb 25, 2005 4:47:02 PM

Nice pictures. I can't help but think out loud how similar the landscape appears to be to parts of Los Angeles and California.

When people mention Manhattan as "brimming with life" I think of congestion and noise, not always a bad thing. But there is not a whole lot green in some cities and to me that it is always a little disconcerting when I encounter it.

Just in case people are wondering where in the LA area I see similarities I would say around Chatsworth and Simi Valley, off the 118 freeway.

Anyway, the pictures are nice, certainly helps to paint an image of my mind of what you do and who you are.

Posted by: Jack | Feb 25, 2005 5:53:07 PM

1. I thought the oil drums were another Christo contribution to the art world. Cost: two million dollars.

2. And those piles seem like 'cairns' (def. piles of rocks) that hikers build in the mountains because they smoked too much pot on the way up - I mean, to mark trails. Not that I would know anything about that. Really.

Posted by: Alice | Feb 25, 2005 6:46:34 PM

Sarah... Why is the theme song to 'Green Acres' suddenly running through my head? :-)

Essie... Thank you! You see that, Sarah? Some people know what I'm talking about!!! :-)

Timna... Thanks for the picture you just painted for us.

Doctor Bean... Exactly... I was going to mention that.

Jack... Every few miles (um, I mean Kilometers) the landscape changes. As you travel around the country you can find similarities to hundreds of locations around the world.

Alice... Don't worry, nobody noticed the slip. :-) These are definately the work of shepherds, though.

Posted by: David | Feb 26, 2005 6:59:07 PM

Jack... Every few miles (um, I mean Kilometers) the landscape changes. As you travel around the country you can find similarities to hundreds of locations around the world.

That is true. During my time in Israel I have driven throughout the entire country, so I feel like I have a pretty good handle on that.

I have been fortunate to have visited many places in the world and I haven't always felt that same sense of familiarity and comfort. Israel has a special place for me for many reasons, but the similarity to the place I grew up adds to it.

In any case, Photo Friday is one of my favorite features, with or without things that are familiar to me.

Posted by: Jack | Feb 26, 2005 8:35:31 PM

I find the scenery absolutely breathtaking, and the ibex is icing on the cake. ...

(Oh, all right, maybe it's not the right metaphor.)

Posted by: Rahel | Feb 28, 2005 12:21:34 AM

One of the better photo Fridays... but they are all so good. Israel is a beautiful country. A hebrew sheperd! Now that is returning to your roots.


Posted by: Dave B | Feb 28, 2005 5:55:03 AM

[Sigh] I miss Israel. And the fact that my eldest daughter's middle name is Netanya and my middle is named Yael, for those selfsame Ibex you photographed, and my youngest's name Aviva reminds me that spring has already poked its head into the Holy Land... ah, I am homesick.

Posted by: Isaac B2 | Mar 2, 2005 2:05:41 AM

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