Concave apricot slices are belly up towards the desert sky, their wet insides unaware of the drought to come. In three days time, they’ll shrivel to brown. Lulu and I have just finished spreading hundreds of these slices on four white tables, singing Hebrew nursery rhymes all the while, laughing as I echoed her words.
For two weeks now, I’ve been volunteering on the Arazuni Family Farm, located in a small Israeli town called Ezuz. I’m not sure if I can call it a town, really—it’s more of a collection of stone slabs and metal sheets slapped together to create a charming, ramshackle cohesion in the middle of the desert. Each home is a haven of shade, with flat roofs extending far beyond the borders of walls made of mud bricks and old buses transformed into living spaces. There’s no corner store here because there are no corners—just a circle of families vying for the simplest life.
As soon as I’ve secured the mesh screen over the apricots to keep the flies from feasting, I race back to the volunteer cabin and slip out of my farm clothes. The cabin is a converted train car that houses three of us: Laurette, a French woman who follows Bob Dylan on tour around the world, filling gaps between shows by volunteering on farms; Tom, an aquaculture specialist from Hawaii who’s travelled far from the sea, searching for something only found in open air; and me, a twenty-one year old student who fled to the desert between semesters to escape a life of appointments. I peel back layers of dirt and replace them with a clean Yankees shirt, grab my notebook, and head a half-kilometer to my favorite rock, hoping I didn’t miss the show.
I’ve claimed my rock among the hundreds lining the path, carving its contours from the sandscape. I mount it, loving it for its plateau top, for its cratered form, for its strong stoneness supporting me, for this earth supporting me. I stretch my legs out before me to welcome the sweet soreness now streaming through my thighs and calves—sweet like the plums I picked this morning, when the sky mirrored a dim purple. All through the day, I said to myself: This is how my body was meant to work—not hunching over an office desk, but stretching and reaching for the pear from the highest branch, or squatting to search for the ripest eggplant hiding beneath tangled stems.
While out in the orchard or the greenhouse, my mind tends to wander: what will I do with my life? What can I offer to this planet? Will today’s lunch be hummus or goat cheese? To these questions I have few answers, so I turn them off and reach into the depth of memory, hoping to find something more tangible: poetry. I repeat the handful poems that accompany me wherever I travel, reciting them to the coriander beds: Forever – is composed of Nows – and hope they can understand Emily Dickinson’s wisdom. But then, I admire their patience in the hot sun, and wonder if they understand her words better than I do.
And tonight, I’m reminded of Yeats’ sky—of night and light and the half-light—as I glance over my left shoulder to watch the sun’s descent. It feels like a crime to take my eyes off the scene to write what I’m witnessing—to slice the stillness with my pen—but I feel a duty to store this sky in ink, to save it for storm clouds. Telephone poles and wires fail to frame boundless rays of pink and purple. In the foreground, rocks and brush are steeped in amber. Above my right shoulder, a faint moon gets bolder against a deep blue, rising higher and higher, as if lifted by the heavy sun at the end of an invisible pulley.
Back in Manhattan, I don’t look at the sun the same way as I do in Ezuz. Seeing the sun in the desert is like running into an old friend out of context and suddenly noticing all the intricacies of his face. I watch in wonder as the sun sinks down before me, enwrought with golden and silver light, burning with a fervor matched by my gaze. And when it finally disappears behind the sand dunes, I slide off my rock, dusty toes hitting the earth, comforted by the tender desert air and the astounding knowledge that this has happened, and will happen, forever.
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