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Monday, January 29, 2018

Seasons Change: Dreaming of Spring in Israel

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Moving to Israel, everybody told us, I’d have to give up on spring – there are no seasons here. I wish I didn’t love spring so much – it’s such a cliché – but how could I not? The smell of rain clinging to everything in sight, the soft bounce of the dirt underfoot. Mud everywhere, but also life.

I only learned to love the seasons when I started gardening in our last home, a tiny Toronto bungalow with an equally tiny lot.

The backyard was a mix of sand and shade – a gardener’s nightmare where only ants could play. Grass refused to grow, though many attempts had been made over the years.

But over the eight years we lived there, with the help of two compost piles and countless experiments with hardy native species (and countless hours weeding out perennial sunflowers), things improved, slowly.

I knew it was getting better when I spotted snails. Though many gardeners are horrified at the thought of snails, chomping up pretty hosta leaves and oozing slime trails, I took them as a compliment. Where there are snails, there is moisture and decay. And where there is moisture and decay, there is life.

My backyard had come to life.

When we moved to Israel in August of 2013, it was more of a nightmare than a season. Back in Toronto, it was also the full heat of the summer, but there was hope of fall, and the ripening of tomatoes to console us from the heat, or what we called heat.

In Toronto, the heat isn’t an enemy. It doesn’t leap on your chest and keep you down for two months, three months, four. It doesn’t make you stop, panting, for water, every block on the way to the grocery store. It doesn’t make you duck into banks just to enjoy the air conditioning. It doesn’t make the kids cry as you weave drunkenly down the sidewalk, in and out of every patch of shade. It goes away at night and lets you sleep, or at least sit on the porch with a glass of wine.

Here, it was hot. And it wasn’t summer as I knew it. Nothing was growing – well, nasty-looking succulent plants with bulbous, waxy leaves, or spikes, or unattractive protuberances. Lizards skittered in the dappled light beneath trees. When lizards are happy to play in the shade, it’s truly a hot day.

But one day, well into what I used to think of as fall, it rained. Just a little – the random specks they call teef-toof. But then it happened again, and another evening, I had to buy the kids umbrellas. The rain had stopped by the time we got out of the store, but everyone around us knew – winter was on its way.

And suddenly, suddenly, the world came alive.

Another day, a sandy front yard I passed every day on our way to my son’s kindergarten was full of green stubble – grass! The next, all the bushes, it seemed, had new, pale-green leaves; a few, here and there. The ground was awakening at last.

Now, months later, we’re nearing the end of winter. We haven’t had enough rain, everybody agrees, but all is green and lovely. Cool breezes blow through the window, citrus trees exuberantly flaunt their colourful baubles: lemons, oranges, kumquats.

It turns out there are seasons in Israel, just not the ones I’m used to. Every Israeli knows them intimately.

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