Right in Our Backyards or Right by the Dead Sea?

One value of traveling to other countries is the opportunity to imagine what life might have been like if we lived there instead of the Blind Brook Valley in Rye, New York.

b10 dead sea
Published January 10, 2013 5:00 AM
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b10 dead seaOne value of traveling to other countries is the opportunity to imagine what life might have been like if we lived there instead of the Blind Brook Valley in Rye, New York.

 

By Bill Lawyer  

 

b10 dead seaOne value of traveling to other countries is the opportunity to imagine what life might have been like if we lived there instead of the Blind Brook Valley in Rye, New York.

 

During our trip to Israel, I got a sense of how my life might have been if my backyard were the rift valley of the Sea of Galilee, Jordan River, and Dead Sea. I could be living in the Ein Gedi Kibbutz, which has about 650 residents.

 

Due to plate tectonic activity, that valley has been widening fairly quickly by geological standards, resulting in plenty of new real estate, along with occasional earthquakes and destruction. (Remember how the walls of Jericho came tumbling down?)

 

First off, there’s the matter of elevation. Instead of living 50 feet above sea level in Rye, I’d be 1,348 feet below sea level at the Dead Sea. That means more oxygen, and a light vapor of bromine, to help people stay mellow.

 

And unlike going into the waters of Long Island Sound, where if you can’t swim you’d be in trouble, the water of the Dead Sea is so packed with salt and other minerals that you couldn’t drown if you tried. Of course, any scratches or even close shaves might sting pretty severely. My grandchildren considered their “float” one of the highlights of the ten-day Tova Tours experience.

 

With all Rye’s recent troubles caused by Hurricane Sandy and winter storm Athena, one might think that living in the Dead Sea valley, where the average rainfall is only 11 inches a year would be a lot less worrisome.

 

But no! The so-called Jerusalem limestone, which forms the bedrock of the mountains running along the country from the Negev Desert to the Golan Heights, has a slick, slippery surface. Thus, most of the rains, which fall mainly from November through January, run right down to the valley, causing severe flash floods.

 

The night we arrived in Jerusalem and the following day it rained over seven inches. Luckily, we had no rain the remaining nine days of our visit.

 

The spreading rift has formed the mountains on either side of the valley –Israel on the west and Syria and Jordan on the east. On the northeastern side are the snow-covered Golan Heights – notably Mount Hermon, which can be seen many miles away.

 

Whereas the northern part of the valley gets much more rainfall and has fertile soil, life down by the Dead Sea area is dry and dusty — and extremely hot in the summer.

 

Only a few year-round natural springs provide enough water opportunities for living a good life based on agriculture and, more recently, the mining of valuable minerals from the Dead Sea. The spring-fed villages along the west side of the valley usually have groves of date trees and other food crops that thrive on the drip-style irrigation system.

 

Some of the people working in the area live on the kibbutzim, but others reverse-commute from Jerusalem on the other side of the mountains.

 

One of the main sources of income in the valley is tourism. This is the area after all, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, where the towering 32-acre mesa of Masada (from the Hebrew word for fortress) was turned into King Herod’s winter retreat, and where the natural spring canyon oases of places such as Ein Geti attract abundant wildlife and natives and tourists who enjoy frolicking in mountain waterfalls.

 

Our tour group got to Ein Geti on a warm, sunny afternoon, where the temperature had quickly risen from the mid-50s in the morning to the mid-70s. Off came the coats and sweaters – many of our group stripped down to bathing suits and T-shirts. But we needed good hiking shoes, as the path up the streambed was narrow, rocky, and quite uneven.

 

Ironically, down by the Dead Sea the streambed was completely dry, but the presence of bulrushes, trees, and other vegetation gave us faith that there was water further up the hillside. By the time we’d gone a quarter of a mile, we came to the place where the stream disappeared into the sandy bed.

 

From there up we had increasing difficulty walking. The path became steeper, and the greater flow of water made the limestone steps and rocks extremely slippery. At one point, the trail makers had put in an escape route for hikers to avoid danger from a flash flood.

 

The only problem with my attempt to envision myself as an ancient villager going up to the waterfall for spiritual cleansing was that the trail was packed with visiting groups of college students from UVA and UCLA.

 

By the time we made it to the gushing King David Falls (young David allegedly hid out here when he was on King Saul’s naughty list), hikers filled the entire bathing pool, enjoying more physical than spiritual pleasures.

 

So, we took the opportunity to get around them and return back to Dead Sea ‘Level’ on our own. Then we had the chance to enjoy the abundant population of rock hyraxes that dwell in oases throughout the Middle East. These distant relatives of elephants look like a cross between prairie dogs and groundhogs. They were perched on rocks and trees looking down at us, as if to say, “What are these crazy tourists doing?”

 

According to signs at the park entrance, very beautiful Nubian Ibex live in the area. In fact, the name of the village and oasis there, Ein Geti, means the place where goat-kid springs live. But we didn’t see any. We did, however, see lots of butterflies, honeybees, gray-winged hooded crows, and the usual sparrows begging for scraps of food at the snack bar.

 

All in all, I concluded that I’d rather live in Rye than Ein Geti — it might be tough learning Hebrew at my age. Not to say that life in that an oasis village would be so bad — I love dates. I’d be sure to build my house up above the flood plain, but we have to do that here in our backyards, too.

 

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