One Saturday morning, Jonathan and I drove up north in Israel. This was the first time we were to go horseback riding, and, truth be told, I was rather wary. I’m hardly athletic and barely flexible – “brittle” might be a better word — so the combination did not seem promising.

By 9:45 we were on the road, or perhaps I should stipulate that I was on the road.  Jonathan was somewhere in dreamland for most of the route. So, for about an hour and a half, my only voluble companion was Sarah Vaughn. One can, of course, do worse than Sarah Vaughn, but she did have a habit of repeating herself now and then, and, besides, there was no way I could share the trip with her.

Our goal was Moshav Abirim, not far from the Lebanese border. From Pardess Hannah, I would continue up Rte. 6 into one of my favorite views, when on exiting a tunnel, the scenery is framed by a large oval, as if to form a living picture of golden wheat and rolling hills and the green of tilled fields and native oak. The sky was azure that day; the weather, gorgeous.

And so we made our way, past the high tech park of Yokneam and around the Carmel Mountains, north through what we call Cucumber Valley because of the number of cucumbers grown there — in the summer, you can see the native sukkot, flimsy structures for harvesters placed in the valley, since the houses are up on the hills. The area is largely Arab with a sprinkling of kibbutzim or moshavim,  We continued Into the Lower Galilee mountains and up to the Upper Galilee,  passing by the groves of olive trees at the entrance to Kfar Yassif, which I remember when it really was a village, and turning right at Kibbutz Kabri where I picked up a hitchhiker, a  young  Druse from Horfesh.  He had returned to Israel only recently, since after the army, he left for Vietnam, where he had worked for a relative.  Mostly, he was proud of Horfesh and its military tradition.  If you grew up in Horfesh, he told me, you had to be an officer. 13% of all officers in the army were Druses, he told me (I have no way of checking this).

When he asked me whether I knew any Druses, I told him that my children had studied in high school in Haifa with Druses in their classes.  However, when I commented that a good friend of my son, a young woman, had told him that she could find no place as a modern woman in a Druse village, he refused to agree that a woman might find any difficulty. Everyone can make his own place, he claimed, even in a village. But that, I have to admit, I knew not to be true.

One is not often given the gift of a day so extraordinary that I haven’t words to express the joy I discovered when riding a horse in a marked path at the top of a ridge of the Upper Galilee. The day was, as I have written, gorgeous.  We rode through a wooded area and passed by or under terebinth, oak, laurel, and other trees native to the Galilee.  The rocky ground, strewn with weeds and grasses, had few flowers – here and there, spikey balls of blue, called barkan in Hebrew, yellow chrysanthemums, daisies that hugged the ground with white coronas and centers like bold yolks, and late-blooming red poppies. I thought, I’m 65 years old and riding a horse for the first time. There was immense pleasure in doing something new amid scenery that was so pleasant and invigorating.  The sky was white at midday, and in the distance in the clearings we could see the town of Fassuta and the bluish mountains of the Lebanon. Even remembering that afternoon I am filled with a delight as if touched by the rays of a brilliant sun as I brush by green leaves of trees and watch everything with that acute attention first-timers must have when they ride horses.

What was equally remarkable was that two evenings before we had seen an extraordinary performance of “Madama Butterfly,” shown for free on a screen outside the Israeli Opera company. That memory was still fresh, both dissident and complementary to the physicality of this pleasure.  It is only when you venture out of your usual habits that you are reminded of how physically lovely Israel is, how small, and what a remarkable range of opportunities are offered in this my country.

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