It seems that the most splendid things are those the existence of which is most fleeting. Spring is here and already gone, and there is never enough time to really enjoy it. I am sitting on a bench in the Valley of the Cross, beneath a small olive tree that I would estimate it to be about three decades old - not much of an age for an olive tree you might say, and you would be right. I have seen others said to be considerably older than the ancient, weathered monastery behind my back. In the blue, blue sky above a noisy little show is going on - the aerobatic antics of five Fouga Magisters that come and go, swoop, dive and rise, then vanish, though they can still be heard behind the hills like a voice behind a curtain. And now they reappear with a noisy buzz that grows into a full-throttled roar. They loop and twirl, flashing silver as they momentarily catch the sun. Four of them are in formation, but the fifth is an independent spirit. He follows reluctantly, occasionally catching up, but always on his own trajectory, and sometimes turning away to take entirely his own route. The four that are in formation trail white vapour and at one point they separate into two sets of two, circle apart, then come together creating the shape of a huge white heart. How ironic, I think, for machines of war to be inscribing in the blue above the valley this eternal symbol of love, and how sadly appropriate that this love symbol begins to vanish the moment it is complete.
Now that the aerobatics have ended, above the steady and somehow pleasing hum of traffic on Ruppin Street other winged creatures find their voice, or rather, I find them – crows cawing, the twittering of sparrows and bulbuls, and the fine, small, buzz-chirp of multitudinous insect life.
But it the fleetingness of the spring that I am thinking of. Across the asphalt bicycle-path the low hill rises, dotted with other small olive trees and scattered limestone boulders that are ragged and jagged. On the hill crest are dark Jerusalem pines, and beneath the olives are the remnants of spring flowers that had only begun to appear a few weeks ago yet are already almost done. The cyclamens and anemones are entirely gone, as are the crocuses, irises, and most of the various terrestrial orchids, for none of these are lovers of the Sharav, or Ḫamsīn, that hot, dry, regional equivalent of the Italian Sirocco that blows up from Egypt and north Africa and turns the sky a murky, oppressive yellow for days on end. The poppies, however, are still here. Scattered in clusters in the long grass, they give us their splashes of fire red. And there are other minor touches of red - wild tulips and those pretty little red cousins of the buttercup knows sometimes as Pheasant’s Eye (Adonis annua) that are also known as ‘blooddrops’. And there are occasional purples – thistles and convolvulus, but the whites and yellows dominate - chamomile in quantities, a scattering of asphodels, and a few members of the wild carrot family. Around the trees and rocks are diverse grasses that form islands in a variety of greens, and the wild barley is turning from emerald to gold, already bent, its grain-heads, swelled to their full, having become top-heavy. They bow down while all else seems to be rising – a reminder perhaps that the long hot months ahead will bow everything down.
Now I am up again and walking the path towards the museum. And how splendid - someone had left a purply-crimson, flowered shawl on the grass, and it appears as the most brilliant bloom in the entire valley.