Joanna Maissel
The answer to life is simply found in nature

Nature offers us a glimmer of hope

Nature offers us a glimmer of hope.

On 7th October our lives were irreparably changed, our foundations were shaken and the war infused our consciousness and every part of our bodies. Everything we knew, we did, we felt, we thought, pivoted and shifted. Even our breathing changed, became shallower as our chests tightened with fear. Fear for our lives, our loved ones and fear for our country.

On that same day, in a tiny untended plot on a quiet Jerusalem side street, lying a few centimeters underground, was a cyclamen bulb (rakefet). It was not aware of the dramatic changes and heightened tensions going on above it. It was only aware that the time was right. Its hidden sensors felt the small drop in temperature, the moisture level rise in the soil cocooning it, and they sensed the shortening hours of the sun’s rays from above and even the change in the angle of the sun.

And so it pushed out its first shoots and they reached up through the soil towards the light. It had been preparing for this moment. During the previous winter and spring its leaves had bathed in the sun’s rays for many months taking in its energy, drinking water from the rain, and absorbing the nutrients from the soil. This was to fatten itself up and tuck away some essentials for the next season. Then it went to sleep all through our long hot summer. It knew if it awoke too early it would not get enough water to survive in our searing summer months. It only has nature’s offerings to depend on, no water cooler, bottled mineral water or desalination that we humans have invented for ourselves.

Two weeks after it awoke and two weeks into the war I was halted in my steps as I encountered its brand new leaves shyly peering up at me. Old leaves that have been on display all year round are dusty and gray; these were fresh and deep dark green, new and still eager to show themselves off. My first cyclamen of the season. In life there are many firsts that we remember. In nature we are blessed to have new firsts every year as the seasons turn and turn.

Photo credit: Joanna Maissel

Each year I delight in the first almond blossom, the first anemone (calanit) or the first caper flower. I don’t remember the location of these yearly sightings. Yet somehow I feel that I will always particularly remember my first sighting of this year’s cyclamen leaves.

There is something very visceral about each first since the war. It is almost like a feeling of being reborn, taking baby steps and learning how to live again. When Kibbutz Alumim, one of the Gaza border communities in Israel, published its first post-war newsletter out of an evacuee hotel in Netanya, instead of numbering it with the next number in the sequence it was simply numbered as Newsletter no 1. The Kibbutz was starting over.

And as the kibbutz members gradually find their new path, so will the cyclamen leaves continue to grow. They will multiply and thrive and their intricate pattern will continue to charm anyone who happens across it. I will follow its progress as the first tiny bud of the flower appears and opens up into the delicate, pink flower that hangs its head in modesty. These bold new leaves and the anticipation of the flower to follow offer me my first glimmer of hope.

The second glimmer came from the sky. Well actually I saw it hopping on the grass in my local park joyfully wagging its tail up and down. It came in the form of the first Nachlieli (white wagtail) of the season. It had flown in from a cold European country. Why did it come here? Did it not know there was a war going on? Did it not see CNN? Why come to a country full of sorrow and guns and missiles and sirens? It could have gone to Cyprus; it’s much more peaceful there. It came because that is what it has always done. It is what generations of Nachlielis have done before it and it is programmed into its DNA.

The Nachlieli’s natural GPS guides it to a warmer place to reside for the winter months. This tiny little creature has flown thousands of miles and it knows to stop here just before exhaustion and starvation sets in. Here it will be able to eat and drink and build up its energy so that as winter with us turns into spring it will return home to nest. To everything there is a season.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

I identify with the nachlieli. I too followed my internal GPS and at the age of 22 I left my friends and family and made Aliyah. I acted on an urge to come to a place where I felt I belonged. My natural homeland. My family were persecuted out of Poland and then Germany, and in England I never felt that I belonged. How many more generations of persecution did my family go through that I don’t know about? I connected myself to this land through its landscape, its Bible, its culture and its people and those roots are firmly holding me to this land even during a time of war. So when I witness the Nachliel return for its yearly visit, even during war, I feel a glimmer of hope.

A few leaves, a bird, can I squeeze out a tiny bit more hope? I found it in the sea. On the third weekend after that terrible day I descended the steps to Netanya beach, my ‘first’ beach visit since this all began. My beach visits are mostly a calming and uplifting experience, yet they are often accompanied by a tinge of despair at the thousands of bits of plastic deposited by the waves on the sand or floating in the sea.

On this day the sea was smooth as glass and the beach was pristine, scattered with pebbles, shells and a sprinkling of seaweed. I waded into the water and it was so clear it took my breath away. I could see every grain along the top of the sand ridges that embellished the seabed. The swell of the waves undulated  gently against my body as I made my way deeper in.

And then my progress into the depths was halted. I had to stop and wait. For in front of me swam a school of fish. Not the tiny ones I am used to seeing in but large fish that sparkled as the sun glinted off their silver scales. Thousands of them in a neat convoy like an entire school of children walking down a street. I watched them wend their way past, not wanting to disturb the shoal. When they had passed I went deeper and the sea water between the surface and the rocks on the sea bed took on an exquisite aqua hue. I floated for a few minutes and felt a glimmer of hope envelop me.

I invite you to dig deep down into your natural curiosity and discover your own leaf, bird or fish. Let your own glimmer of hope reveal itself.

About the Author
Nature is my passion and I am fortunate to have turned it into my career. I am a freelance nature guide at Neot Kedumim Biblical Nature Reserve and Park Ariel Sharon. I believe that everything we need to know we can learn through nature, we just need to take the time to experience it with every sense in our body (and there are way more than 5 senses). I was born in London and made Aliyah in 1991. I have never for one second wanted to live anywhere else. I live in Modiin with my husband, dog and various changing combinations of my three children.
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