Photos by Yossi Buchman
This week our hiking guide decided that he wanted to personally examine the destruction of the mega-fire on Mount Carmel. So he led our group* through wastelands of twisted bare black tree limbs – kilometers of once proud pines denuded of their finery. The scene brought visions of walking through a petrified forest in a Grimm's Fairy Tale. There was a strange, captivating beauty in the black sculptures of the contorted, screaming trees.
We hiked along forbidden routes. However I only noticed the fresh signs warning of danger once we had reached the other end of the track. Fortunately, unaware we had successfully navigated the warned of dangers. We followed our leader with all his ‘shigonot' (madnesses), trusting that he had checked out the routes beforehand. It was not the first time that he had led us where no man was meant to go (and especially no 65 year old plus, plus!)
Some of the Druze living on the mountain have found a bit of brightness in all the bitterness and taken the opportunity of gathering wood for the winter (that is so long in arriving) with naturally prepared charcoal for their wood ovens and hearth.
The mountain is not all destroyed. We walked through a mosaic of black, ash, gray and green. Some patches have been miraculously untouched by the fires. There were trees scorched brown but still waving green pine needles. One tree was particularly noticeable, a line through the center between the toasted half and the intact glowing green mirror image. Unfortunately my camera memory card was full and I was unable to capture the image to share.
The bed of Nahal Oren is intact – a haven that was passed over by the flames roaring above it. I imagined how petrified animals could have taken refuge in the shelter of the gorge, unsure if the flames would change direction and come racing down towards them.
The most unbearable moment was when we reached the memorial constructed for the rescuers who had died in the fire. Cars had stopped all along the road to pay their respects. The television cameras were there, still recording and trying to absorb the tragedy.
We returned home humbled but with hopes that the Carmel will regain its former forested beauty. There are signs of the survival of nature - bulbs pushing out green leaves into the coal-coated soil, the pink petals of the autumn crocus blossoming from the ashes and cyclamen leaves lifting a testing finger.
However our guide left us with the sobering thought that not all forests renew themselves and that in fact the fire had occurred at the worst time of year. A summer forest fire brings greater chance of seeding and regrowth. It is evident that it will take the care of the caring to bring the green back to the Carmel.
Hilary Lavi (Baron) – made aliyah from Bulawayo, formerly Rhodesia, in 1973, after five years of teaching in London. For 30 years she worked as an English teacher and teacher /mentor/counselor in northern Israel. She is co-author of two English text books for elementary school. She is now semi-retired. She works for the Partnership 2000 English project in the Central Galilee and is involved in other English educational projects. The English Project aims to help LD and slower pupils in improving their English skills.
*The hiking group consists of youngsters from 60 to 80 years old. The members come from the northern area, from Haifa to the Golan Heights. The group has been in existence for over thirty years and its members are still discovering new routes in Israel. The tracks may be marked or determined by the “inspired” guide who makes his own routes. Once or twice a year the group spends a three-day campus in the Arava, Negev or Yehuda deserts acting like mountain goats. The 80 year old leads the way and often seeks out more dangerous routes to satisfy his desire for challenge.