Mist like plumes of smoke hangs over the eastern plain below, but mountain walls stand as sentries before hazy ambiguity. We stand at the top of the Hetzron Ascent in the clear light of a cool January morning and gaze out over the Little Makhtesh, a desert basin ringed by limestone peaks.
We climb over the foot-wide pipe laid across the trail to deny vehicles entry into this mute land. No other hikers will cross our path the entire day. I have two companions, and the smooth, unadorned golden wedding band on the ring finger of my left hand flashes in the light of the rising sun. How can I, a devotee of “The Lord of the Rings,” not imagine that we are on a quest to end the war, and that this barren land encircled by mountains is Mordor, the land of evil?
The shadows of dawn still stretch over the floor of the valley, highlighting the arid furrows and folds of channels, rivulets, and outcroppings of sandstone laid down on a primeval seashore in an as yet unchanged world. But these are minor aberrations in the fundamentally flat stretch we are about to cross, from wall to wall to wall.
Unlike its two larger geological sisters in the Negev, the Little Makhtesh is small enough that it can be seen in a single gaze, as a coherent landscape. And since we can only see landscapes through the skein of our minds and experiences, I cannot help, as I pick my way over this rocky section of the Israel Trail, but see it as a reflection, or inversion, of the mythical landscapes of my youth. For when a human being sees a plain ringed by mountains, it is not just geology. It is story, too….
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