As a Green Prophet studying at Ben Gurion University, for the last two weeks I have been out of school due to rockets on Beer Sheva. Earlier this week I took advantage of BGU’s location in the desert to hike away from the sirens and remember the beauty of being outside in the undeveloped areas of Israel.
I woke up this morning thinking I was on the streets of Chicago with the wind loudly blowing between the blocks of skyscrapers. It took a few minutes to realize this howling wind was actually the rocket siren, an especially long one.
The siren is a wail that crescendos and decrescendos; usually the rockets fall 60 seconds after it starts. Since this one was so long, I heard a boom in the middle of it. The house shuddered; the rocket must have fallen nearby (I returned to Beer Sheva last week). The siren stopped and I dozed off again.
The reason I was tired enough to go back to sleep was that last night some friends and I took a break from the action and went on a full-moon hike in the desert, in a dry riverbed called Nachal Havarim near the Sde Boker field school. It’s out of rocket range.
As we drove the 50 minutes south of Beer Sheva, we listened to Bohemian Rhapsody on the radio and reminisced about the effects of Wayne’s World on our youth. Eventually we got out and hit the trail. The moon was so bright that it cast shadows from the large boulders onto the rocky, sandy ground.
We were six students, and as we walked we got warm enough to forget that it was the middle of winter, except for a refreshing chill on our cheeks. At one point we passed a large flint stone and threw rocks against it, throwing sparks into the weak darkness.
There was a flat area on one edge of the riverbed, high up, where we drank wine and coffee and ate oatmeal cookies. The moon lit up the rolling hills and canyons all around us. In the distance we heard cars intermittently on the highway.
Towards the end of the hike we took another break and stared at the sky. Although for the last two hours it had been clear, suddenly a thin lace of clouds stretched over half of it. The bright round moon slipped between the clear and the clouds, shining and then casting a light halo on the white around it.
We talked as we walked, about how the war had put some of us in a bad mood or in a slump. Twice the conversation went into the politics of Israel’s actions in Gaza and reached an uneasy stalemate between those who supported and opposed the war. Then the chatter moved into discussions of trips abroad, of when school would start again, what we had been doing with all our newfound free time.
Around midnight we got back in the car and listened to the Israeli singers Ehud Banai and Nurit Galron, and then Leonard Cohen as we drove back home. The trip had taken us out of empty Beer Sheva, which is dreary because so many students went home, and into the desert whose very charm and magic comes from emptiness. Away from the sirens and the newscasts, it was lovely to just take a breath.