Please excuse me if this post ambles a bit – there is currently some French cafe music playing at my friend Tavor’s house, and I find music that is new to my ears like this – especially that which is jazzy, sensual, slow, and French – to be extremely enjoyable/distracting. It may also mean that this post is infused with some spelling errors derived from excessive shoulder swaying (I’ve noticed a few spelling/grammatical in the past couple of posts, and the English major in me has been shaking his head; please forgive me Pericles! ;).
I have two days to cover, so I will go with some highlights/particular images and experiences that stick out (see the view from Omer’s window above). The first: there’s something about the way that the sunlight falls in Omer’s house that brings a warm feeling into my heart every morning I wake up. Especially the way it dives under the debris-blackened prongs of Omer’s old school stove top. I don’t know why, but there’s something about a stove that you have to light with a match that brings me back to another time – not unlike the Wonder Years, which I had a wonderful chat about with Tal, Omer’s girlfriend.
Spending time with Omer and Tal has been one of the highlights of my time in Israel so far. I came to see what everyday life in Israel is all about, and with them, I got to see an everyday life in Israel filled with laughter, playful partnership, and scrumptious cinnamon buns, delicious goat cheese infused shepherd’s pie, and, of course goats. Two days ago, he showed me the fine art of walking the herd up the hillside. It was one of those things that he made seem so easy – i.e. just walk behind the goats, and make sure no one falls behind – but something tells me such ease only comes after years of walking among goats, and developing that unseen rapport with each herd.
Tal was kind enough to give me a lift to Tel Aviv (where she works doing top secret things for the government ;), and I spent the next couple of hours relaxing at a cafe, enjoying a cup of delicious cinnamon-dusted cappuccino (so metropolitan) and catching up on life back in the States. Only one more week! I can’t believe it!
I then got a Facebook message from a Camp Tawonga friend, Ori, who was planning to go to a Dave Matthews tribute out in the city. That triggered a series of events involving Gold Star Lager, a big bowl of hummus with egg and chick peas, and eventually meeting up with Tavor, who the following day (yesterday) was planning to head to an agricultural festival out in the Negev desert (not too far from the Dead Sea for anyone trying to get their bearings). In Israel, it’s imperative that you follow wherever the humus leads you (and I mean wherever), so yesterday, after a restful four hours of sleep, Tavor and I were on the road with his friend Tal to learn about agriculture in Israel.
It was nice for me to get to drive through some of the same areas I had been on my Birthright trip, and to see them from a new perspective. We drove past Masada and the Dead Sea, and stopped along the way at a monument dedicated to workers who had died trying to construct this massive highway through the desert (easy to take such things for granted). I also learned a lot more about the precarious status of the Dead Sea, and how dreadfully low it’s dropped in the past couple of decades, thanks to the combined efforts of cosmetic companies who boil the water to get at its minerals, and the blocking of the Jordan River (primary tributary of the Dead Sea) to help keep more drinkable water from running away. There were certain areas where the difference between the current water line and the old one, stained into the rocks, was quite drastic. Tal and Tavor told me that certain ecologists estimate that the Dead Sea may be completely dried up in 8 to 10 years. Moral of the story: how badly do we need Dead Sea face creams?
The agricultural fair ended up being a really interesting look into the industrial side of Israeli agriculture. Though I think Tal and I were expecting to find a bit more representing the efforts of small, organic farmers in Israel, the fair was primarily dedicated to large companies selling farms a variety of equipment and technology, from water distribution systems, to advanced green house netting, to large tractors with every functional attachment imaginable, to seeds, bees, flies, and compost.
It definitely highlighted for me the growing importance of water and water efficiency (especially in an arid climate like Israel), and again, made me wonder how we can strike a healthy balance between some of these incredible innovations, and working with nature, rather than against it. Having to truck in loads of bees and flies to pollinate and stabilize pest populations works – but the problem of pests itself is often the result of planting vast tracts of land with a single crop. It’s like ringing the dinner bell for aphids, moths and slugs, and then throwing up our hands and wondering why they come in droves to eat our corn, wheat and tomatoes. Systems that diversify crops, and create a natural habitat for the flies, bees and wasps that control pest populations, produce systems that are naturally more resistant to the threats of pests, and more resilient when a particular population temporarily gets out of control (after all, it is nature, and things are always in flux). The question is: what is the right balance of these two approaches that helps to drive down our need for trucked in fertilizers and pesticides (be they in the form of chemicals or imported predators), while still providing the efficiency needed to feed our growing populations? Planting in diverse clusters or guilds isn’t as well suited to machines that are designed to drive down rows. That said, how much effort are we devoting to producing machines that can efficiently harvest crops grown in clumps and circles rather than straight lines?
Driving back from the fair, Tavor, Tal and I had some great chats about where food comes from, and the dangers of a system where massive amounts of food are exported for economic reasons, rather than distributed internally to feed a population. The way things work right now, it would seem that exporting is a necessity, both economically speaking, but also to maintain the lifestyle of constant abundance and availability that we’ve become accustomed to (blueberries available year-round are pretty nice, you know?). But again, we’re beginning to see a growing interest (I think) in the re-localization of food, as seen in the growth of farmer’s markets and to some extent, in home gardens.
I realize I’m speaking somewhat off the cuff again here, but to help ground this idea, if you haven’t watched it already, I highly recommend checking out “The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil” as an example of what can happen when a country essentially becomes cut off from the rest of the world’s imports and exports, and no longer has the oil to run its tractors and machines. It’s inspiring, and I think a model that could be embraced proactively rather than retroactively, while we still have resources like oil and petroleum available.
Also, another great read to close things out – check out this badass article from Raffi, throwin’ down about climate change. Raffi – who knew?
The bird’s are chirpin’ and the day is waiting to be started.
P.S. I saw this sign on my way to meet up with Ori, and have no idea what this sign could possibly mean, other than the obvious. Any ideas? Translation error perhaps?