The Dryad — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

She laughed and shook her head as she unrolled the clingy plastic from around her slug-shaped sandwich. Down below, raucous teenagers gamboled in a spring that seemed to be the source of the river along which she and her companions had hiked all morning. She laughed at how easy it had been not to think about it, how well her plan had gone. Her companions were no longer visible ahead. Soon they’d wonder about her and send someone back in search. In the meantime, she’d have something to eat.

 illustration by Avi Katz

 illustration by Avi Katz

The rains had not yet come, yet the Tzipori River had flowed gently but surely along its terraced channel as they walked beside it that morning. At one point it bowed and nearly circled a low hill on which a tiny village perched. Children played in a schoolyard. The leader had given the village a name that she could no longer remember. Further on was an old millhouse that you could now rent out for weddings and bar mitzvahs. There the trail had crossed the river (all of three meters wide) and she had followed the others over half-submerged stones. The water, which the leader said was partly sewage, washed over her boots. Last to cross, she had probed the riverbed with her poles to steady herself. She thought of turning back but did not.

She hadn’t hiked seriously since her teenage scout years, which were three decades past by now. Back then, at tough spots, like the river crossing, the boys were always ready and eager to help. Some were very serious about it, as if pulling her up a boulder or guiding her over a narrow spot in a path above a canyon was the very reason that they had been placed on this earth. Others had laughed at her fears, in a big-brotherly way (she was the oldest in her family, and had always wanted a big brother). In this group, today, the others were obliging but cool.

She signed up for the hike because she knew it would be good for her.

Read moreThe Dryad — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Of Feet and the Man — “Necessary Stories” column from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

photo by Marc Render

In the valley that runs west of the Omer ridge I wrestle with my angel. Noon is approaching and I’m munching a bagel-and-cheese sandwich under a tamarisk tree with my hiking buddies at our meeting point on the most boring section of the Israel National Trail. It’s a 21-kilometer stretch that is nearly all flat; the sky is cloudless and the sun blazes despite the mid-November date. Halfway through our hike, the five of us stink to high heaven from sweat and grit.

Since we have only one car, we’ve split up. Asher and I were dropped off at the northern end of the route, while Marc drove with Gary and Yitzhak to the southern end and started there. Here under the tamarisk Marc hands Asher the keys. When we get to the end, we’ll drive Marc’s car back to pick up the others. We estimate that we have three to four hours more to walk. It’s time to get up.

I shoulder my pack and rise slowly to my feet. I mutter a curse under my breath and take a step, then another. Each step sends pain shooting through my body. My right ankle is stiff and my foot twisted so that I can only walk on the distal, outward edge. This is no surprise-it happens every time I hike. At the age of 40, thirteen years ago, I contracted a serious illness that resulted, among other things, in the amputation of all my toes. Toelessness placed unnatural demands and pressures on muscles and joints, causing many a visit to a neck pain chiropractic center as one result was severe arthritis in my right ankle. Because of this, I tend to walk with a limp and it puts pressure on other parts of my body, which then led to back pain. This is opened a whole new can of worms for me and means that I now struggle sleeping due to the pain in my back. If you are unaware, this article on How Back Pain Affects Sleep will explain why this happens. The pain, which is most severe after a rest stop, is the price I know I will pay when I go on a hike. But, to add injury to insult, I’ve also developed a large blister on the ball of my left foot, so I can only walk on its outside edge as well.

I grit my teeth and hobble south like a cowboy with rickets.

Read moreOf Feet and the Man — “Necessary Stories” column from The Jerusalem Report