We spent two nights in Galilee, at a Kibbutz called the Gonen Cottages – nice rooms, but we didn’t get a “proper” meal there either day.  Nevertheless, it was good to finally be in Galilee.  It was very green compared with the Negev and southern Israel.  The eastern border of Israel in the north is the Golan Heights – an enormous volcanic range that contains Mt. Hermon, Israel’s highest peak.  The rest of the hills of Galilee range from 1,600 to 4,000 feet above sea level.  There are streams and steady rainfall (we had two fairly big thunderstorms) so it’s green all year round. This was the setting of Jesus ministry.  I’d like to go back before too long to take a walking tour of Galilee.  It’s called the “Jesus Trail” founded in 2007 by two hiking enthusiasts, who like me wanted a more intuitive approach to the Holy Land.  It’s a 40 mile hike that traces routes Jesus would have walked, connecting sites from his life and ministry. A tour company will transport  your luggage to the next town, within a day’s walk. The main part of the trail begins in Nazareth and passes through Tzippori, Cana, Mount Arbel Cliffs, the Sea of Galilee, Capernaum, and the Mount of the Beatitudes. An alternate return route passes by Tiberias, the Jordan River Valley, Mt. Tabor and Mount Precipice. Sounds amazing. I need to get back there with some friends who would get this.

Our start on Sunday morning was late by PF standards, 7:00 a.m., but it could have been later, as we found out the Hula Valley Reserve doesn’t open until 9:00 a.m.  It’s likely that in Jesus’ day, the Hula Valley consisted of a lake with surrounding swamps.  In the 1950’s, a project to drain the swamps  for agricultural development  changed the landscape considerably, and all that remained was the central lake area.  In the 1990’s heavy rains flooded parts of the valley, and it was decided to leave the flooded area as it was.  The resulting nature preserve, Agamon HaHula, is now the wintering grounds for thousands of white pelicans and an important migration stop-over for white storks and common cranes as well.  We saw vast flocks of all three species — another unforgettable migration spectacle, along with thousands more Lesser Spotted Eagles.  We had a nice walk around the lake, and saw more European Bee Eaters.  We also saw lots of little muskrat-type animals called Coypu and a herd of donkeys.  The kingfishers were electric blue-green – really stunning.

White Pelicans - photo Paul French

White Pelicans - photo Paul French

From the Hula Valley, we drove northeast , to the top of Mount Hermon at 6,416 feet.  When we got there, the chairlift was closing, so we couldn’t go all the way to the summit.  We didn’t get the birds we were after, either, so there was more grumbling from the gents.  It was freezing cold with patches of snow on the ground.  To be honest, I wasn’t dressed warmly enough so I was just as glad we didn’t go to the summit.  We passed a medieval ruin on the south western slope called Nimrod Fortress, built around 1229. It was surrounded by deep ravines on all sides – I can’t imagine how they managed to build it.   History was everywhere you looked in Israel.

Some believe that Christ’s transfiguration happened on top of Mt. Hermon instead of Mt. Tabor to the south, as it has been traditionally believed.  Apparently, in Jesus’ day, Mt. Tabor had a fortress on the top, so it was unlikely to have happened there.   The summit of Mt. Hermon was certainly cloud covered, and a little “other worldly”  – who can say it did or didn’t happen there?  By this point in the trip, I had started to grasp the mind-blowing historical significance of the was certainly hard to get my mind-around it, and best to experience it, physically and intuitively.  Everywhere you looked or stepped was steeped in history.  Mostly, I enjoyed Mt. Hermon because of the views it afforded of Galilee to the south.

When we got back to the Gonan Cottages, the front desk told Paul we were on our own for dinner.  This was the only time I saw Paul get angry.  It was the last night of the tour, and this one final glitch put everyone on edge.  We had missed a number of endemic species, so Roger, Bernard and John were all especially dour.  Roger and Bernard have enormous life lists, so they were pushing especially hard and griping openly about the birds we didn’t see.  Paul remained polite and respectful, but he didn’t take any crap either, even under pressure.  We drove to the closest town, and after a considerable effort to find a restaurant, we went into a shopping mall and asked two girls at a jewelry counter where we could have a “sit-down” dinner.  After much giggling and discussion about how to give us directions, they sent us to a good place, where we finally relaxed.  The men all had a couple of beers, and I had a glass or two of wine, which didn’t hurt either.  We had a good tour together, and finally knew each other reasonably well.  There was a lot of laughing.  Even John waxed nostalgic for a time — he said I should have used my “charms” on the ski-lift operator...who knew he thought I had any charm at all?  It was a nice way to finish the tour. 

The odd way the seven of us came together for ten days still has me thinking about how arbitrary life can be.  The people we meet day to day mostly just pass by.  I spent a lot of time with these men — I had significant life experiences in their company.  We spent every waking moment together in close quarters.  Yet, it’s unlikely I’ll ever see or speak to them again.  I hope Paul and I can remain friends – and it’s possible we can, given social media, but the chances are admittedly slim. I enjoyed our conversations a lot — he was a rare match in his breadth of thought, sense of humor and ability to go deep.  I think Paul enjoyed the time too, but it’s hard to connect in any kind of meaningful or lasting way.   On the last night I wrote in the journal: “Paul has reminded by of something — how important it is to share your life with others.  Friendship is possible, though hard.   I need to leave Tuckerton, and live a little more boldly.”

I read an article when I got back about the paradox of the electronic age.  In his book, Flickering Pixels (Zondervan 2009, p. 206-207), Shane Hipps writes, “[Our] electronic age retrieves and combines the characteristic of two previous media eras. If oral culture is tribal and literate culture is individual, the electronic age is essentially a tribe of individuals. This is a confused state of being in which we are thrown together from far-off places. We desire connection and community in our increasingly nomadic existence—yet we wander around the globe, glancing off other digital nomads without ever knowing or being known.”

That’s pretty much my experience on this trip...seeking connection, but coming up short.  God was working on me though, despite of, or maybe even through the disconnection.