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Galilee Diary: Different Drummers

Galilee Diary: Different Drummers

We will dress you in a garment of mortar and cement, and we'll spread for you carpets of gardens; on the soil of your redeemed fields the grain will sing like bells.
    – Nathan Alterman, 1932 (popular Israeli children's song until a generation ago)

Almost every day I'm at Shorashim, I get up early and take a walk around the moshav, about 20 minutes up and down the hill; I did this when we had a dog, and kept it up after he died; now when we dogsit our daughter's dog, he joins me. About half of the route is near the perimeter fence, and looks out over a wild area of brush and trees, down the hillside to the Hilazon Valley, which is carpeted in olive trees. The color of course changes with the seasons (except for the olive and carob trees, which stay the same). For years, I have noticed that every few months, I encounter a woodpecker, working the tops of the light poles along the fence. His staccato, decrescendo riff, often with a lovely woody resonance, is a distinctive addition to the usual background chorus of birdsong. Hearing his work always makes me wonder if there is indeed just one woodpecker in the area, who rides a circuit that includes a few days at Shorashim every few months – or if there are lots of them, so that each time I am meeting a different bird (I may sound speciesist, but from a distance they all look alike...). And is there method to the timing, based on food supply, or assignments from woodpecker central? Somehow I like the idea that there's just one, who keeps coming back.

Last week, for the first time in the years I've been enjoying this performance, there was something new: a duet – two woodpeckers working together on the same pole, their overlap producing a complicated rhythm. Perhaps an apprentice?

And as I passed them and continued on my walk, I became aware of a lower frequency, more metallic drumming in the near distance. It was the ubiquitous sound of a hydraulic rock hammer, carving out the mountainside for a new home in Shorashim. The limestone bedrock here is pretty soft; it generally only takes a few days of gouging to scoop out a homesite. Since there are communities with homes being built above us on the mountain and below us in the valley, there is rarely a day when we aren't serenaded by the echoing of rock drills' clanging as they rearrange the landscape.

These dueling drummers symbolize a tension that is universal in the world today, and especially in Israel: On the one hand, Zionism grew out of a deep connection to the land of Israel and its natural landscapes with their historical echoes – while on the other hand it always carried overtones of conquest – of taming the desert, draining the swamps, ingathering the exiles, staking out borders, building, building, building. Nature conservancy is a strong tradition in Israel, with important organizations and popular support, based on the sense that the land as it is is somehow holy. But crudely materialistic development interests – and basic human needs for shelter and livelihood – probably hold more power; the ugly evidence is all around us, from waterfront condos blocking the beach, to Bedouin shacks covering vast tracts of desert. It's tempting, but not always fair, to make quick moral judgments in such matters.

The rock drill does have a certain music; it probably can't be silenced, and I guess it is the sound of the future. But there's nothing like the echo of the woodpecker's drilling in the early morning. I hope he is duly grateful for our electric poles.

Published: 8/21/2013

Categories: Israel, Living in Israel
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