Ruthi Soudack
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The season of purple thorns

Nature is strong and exposed in Israel: Spring bombards us with its fleeting wonders, even as we shift to summer
Photo by Ruthi Soudack
Photo by Ruthi Soudack

Spring in Israel is short — I always say this country has two seasons, not four. The trees and plants flower in their brilliant colors for about a month, wild grasses are green. Then the heat comes, and the dust, blowing in like an apocalyptic spirit, coating cars and windowsills in sand. And even if it’s only for a couple of days, the grasses begin to turn golden and dry. The flowers wither. The sidewalks are carpeted with fallen blossoms.

Photo by Ruthi Soudack

Then the thorns and thistles take over, many with a shiny purple hue. It is the time when you can smell the drying grasses as you walk early in the morning — there’s one with a particularly pungent odor, the scent of summer.

As a child, I lived in Haifa for a year. Behind our apartment building was a wadi — I’m sure it is full of buildings now, but then it was the domain of wildflowers in the spring, and dried grasses in the summer, and we even found a grey kitten there, and brought it home to live with us. And I remember my wonder at the purple thistle balls (echinops – in Hebrew, kipodon [little hedgehog]) that filled the wadi amid the grasses. They were one of my most distinct memories of Israel as a child. The spikey purple thistle balls.

Echinops — ‘Little Hedgehog. (courtesy of Rahel Jaskow)

And there are other purple thorns. The barkan, with its mauve fuzzy flower and thistles shining a brilliant lilac-silver in the sunlight. The purple eryngo. And other non-purple thorns — when I walk to my secret place in the forest, there is a spot where thorny branches reach out over the narrow path on the cliff edge and scratch my legs as I walk by.

The wind blows, the birds cry with their many voices. The insects hiss and buzz. Butterflies flit by, white and orange and yellow and silver-blue, and the sunbird, with its iridescent indigo head. The wild carrot raises its lacy flower, like a delicate doily, beautiful in all its stages (and driving my allergies wild), ending as a giant ball of fluff, a saba (grandfather) in Hebrew, like an old dandelion, to make a wish on and blow away, scattering copious seeds to become beautiful blooms next year. Caper bushes, with their white and mauve flowers, their thorns and fruit. Their purple branches. It is said they are strong enough to bring down a wall.

Field Eryngo. (courtesy of Guy Mosenson)

And it is also the time of purple blossoms. Jacaranda trees are rich, lilac-colored patches between the stone houses when I view my village from afar, or bright fuchsia bougainvillea, almost blinding in their intensity. Then the blossoms fall and the ground becomes a fragrant flower mosaic, their dying offering. Over the hills across from my home, clouds gather thick in the evening, like a visual representation of a line of thunder. Nature is strong and exposed here, and the transition seasons bombard us with their wonders, even in their fleetingness.

Photo by Ruthi Soudack

But it is the purple that I always come back to, that moves me most. The blossoms and the stems and the thistles and thorns, those purple thistles glistening so beautifully in the sun, but scratching your skin if you come too close, or leaving stinging spots in your feet or fingertips.

I started to write this a month ago, but I took a few breaths, and now it is already summer. The seasons turn on the perpetually rolling wheel of time. Nothing is permanent, and much is not as it appears.

About the Author
Ruthi Soudack, originally from Vancouver, arrived in Jerusalem for a short visit three days after the beginning of the first intifada, and has been here ever since. She is a traveller, yoga teacher, writer, translator, editor, storyteller, musician, and occasionally, a stand-up comic. (Profile picture by Shira Aboulafia)
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