spring days

”there is nothing much to argue about
when it comes to taste and smell”
– – – old Hebrew proverb

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Nechama surveys the rich vegetation

As the sun starts to set this evening, we in Israel will usher in the holiday of Passover, commemorating our exodus from slavery, and the establishment of our state something over 3000 years ago. There have been a lot of preparations for the banquet, which will be celebrated tonight, during which we will tell our children (and in my case, grandchildren), of the many things we learned on our way from slavery to freedom… and what happens when you’re not ready for freedom… and how to relate to an enemy, and how to relate to an enemy after victory. There are many things that are discussed. There is as much discussion as there is food, and there is a lot of fine food. There are also four obligatory glasses of wine. But for those who cannot drink wine for one reason or other, there are also bottles of pure grape juice, which may be drunk instead.

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this friendly neighbor offers to join us in our walk

As I’ve already spoken about Passover, and even though there is a lot more to tell about this unique and very special holiday, I will direct my attention to two aspects that I haven’t written about in the past, celebrating the spring, and emphasizing values.

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another friend, enjoying the sun

Spring has arrived in Jerusalem, and we are conscious of the warming up, the great increase in vegetation, the birds singing from the tree tops, and it won’t be long before some of the less desirable visitors will show up, checking out what’s available in human domiciles. I am speaking of the ants and the cockroaches, the flies and the mosquitoes. We have our ways of making them feel unwelcome. But it’s a long standing contest, even if we’re confident of winning.

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this one is called ‘the cows tongue’ because of its leaves

But now, at the beginning of spring, we celebrate the renewal… all the beautiful wild flowers. Nechama accompanies me on my daily walk, and she steps off the beaten path to enjoy walking between plants and flowers, and letting the new leaves of succulent vegetation comb her fur. She doesn’t mind absorbing a little dust, and having some thorns and seeds caught in her fur. She enjoys rolling around on the ground, and rubbing her back on the hard earth while I stand guard, so that no one will take advantage of the fact that her feet are in the air, and her soft stomach is exposed. You know cats. They love a little mischief… and if I wasn’t standing there by her side, one of her friends would jump right on her soft stomach, yelling surprise! Or Happy Birthday!

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after a roll on the hard earth, Nechama looks around

Of course, a lot of the holiday discussion is about how we were slaves, and that the nobility of freedom can’t be taken for granted. And at the very beginning of the banquet, we tell our children that we are descendents of pagans, who worshipped many gods. Because it’s important to remember that there is always choice. And that we shouldn’t be too proud about where we are today, because culture is a process that is developed over generations.

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these are mustard. I put them in my sandwich

And as we discuss values, we consider that values are not only the big rules… that we shouldn’t steal or murder; or be jealous of what our neighbor has. But that we should enjoy the pleasures of life with a sense of proportion. Today, extreme sports are popular, and in fact, we are often tempted and encouraged to go to extremes. There is something wonderful about climbing a mountain, for instance. You usually start at a point where the ground is still pretty level, and then as you begin the climb, there are places where you have to descend in order to reach that other place where you will again ascend. Little by little, the air gets thinner, and the vegetation changes according to the altitude, and you meet different animals who know how to take advantage of the many different variations in the environment. Looking up, there are the birds overhead, who can reach the isolated crags and peaks that are so hard for us to attain.

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Now it may seem to some, that it is even more exciting and pleasurable to go up into the sky inside a plane, and then jump out of the plane at a great altitude, and feel the adrenalin come rushing through the body as the wind rushes by on the outside. I have not experienced this adventure myself. But even so, I believe that it is a mistake to always search out the extremes, and that there is much more to be enjoyed when including the many subtleties and minor pleasures that are a part of a conventional adventure. This type of choice, is also a part of studying values. Just as it is not in our interest to eat only sugar, no matter how sweet, or peppers, no matter how exciting… so in our pleasures we should try to enjoy a variety of shades and colors.

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all the flowers here are wild…

My best wishes to all, at the start of spring, and to my friend Peter, and others who are reading me in the southern hemisphere, as they begin to enjoy the fall and approach the winter. May we all find reasons to rejoice, and enjoy the changes of the seasons, and our meetings with the younger generation that has come after us… and bring strength and friendship to the older generations who went before us.

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and our best wishes to all the cats out there!

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52 responses to “spring days

  1. What a great pose of Nechama in the last photo. I love to see all the flowers which grow in Israel and around the world. The temperature has dropped here and it is time for warmer clothes, we are also on our Easter weekend break. Wishing you and your family have peace, friendship and love this passover.

    • Thank you, GB, for joining me in rejoicing over the flowers… which I know, do the same thing for us, in all colors and in all shapes, all over the world, and for appreciating my dear cat. And thank you for your sweet blessing.

  2. Thank you Shimon. Your pictures and prose are lovely and meaningful as usual.
    Wishing you a joyful Passover!

    Susan

  3. Thank you for inviting us along on your walk with Nechama, Shimon. She is a beautiful cat. I liked the points you made about extremes. As you have shown us, there is much pleasure to be taken from a gentle walk in the sun on a lovely Spring morning. Thank you for teaching me a little of what Passover means to you. I hope that you and your family enjoy your celebrations.

    • It is a great pleasure, Chillbrook, to share these simple pleasures of life. When I wrote this post, we were in the stage of preparations. Now we are in the full swing of the holiday, which lasts a week… much more relaxed. May the spring bring rebirth to all of us.

  4. Wonderful words and images about spring and renewal … and Nechama makes me smile. Chag Sameach to you and your family (and I hope I got the greeting right).

    • You got the greeting just right, Frank, and I thank you very much. And glad you enjoyed a visit with my cat. Let us all rejoice in the spring.

  5. I was told by our guide, Joe, that Israel being a geographical crossroads, it enjoys the greatest variety of wildflowers anywhere, and once he said that my eyes were rooted between stones and along fences. There were many Tels I didn’t examine that well because I was searching for yet more blooms! And this ‘cow’s tongue’ is one reason why. It is so lovely. True blue in flowers is rare and very sought after by gardeners.
    It was a blessing to be included in several Haggadah-led meals–an honour I can’t forget. So who in your family is the usual finder of the afikomen? And what is the prize?

    • It could be so, Lance, about the variety of wildflowers. I didn’t know that. And I’ve always been attracted by wildflowers wherever I go. I know that we have the greatest variety of birds in our country. And that is for the same reason that you heard… but hadn’t heard about wildflowers. Still, we do have so many beautiful wildflower, and it is a great pleasure to encounter them, and to get to know them well. Those blue ones are quite little, but absolutely beautiful… and the color is just amazing. The person on our family who usually steals the afikomen, is my grandson Hillel. As you know, children usually ask for something special. Sometimes there is even ‘negotiations’ about the return of the afikomen. But Hillel, though he is intelligent, and likes to play games, is so pure of heart, that he usually doesn’t ask for a thing, and is proud to return the lost item. This year he will get a chess game, because his father told me that he would like one of his own. When I heard this suggestion from my son, I remembered bringing him a chess set with a very nice folding board when I returned from a trip abroad, many years ago.

      • Wonderful to hear this story from the traditions and your family. I know you are always quite busy answering your many commenters. But when you have some moments, please help me understand what is “aches set”?

    • Thank you for your correction, Lance. I guess I was typing too fast. I was referring to a chess set.

  6. orlando gustilo

    As usual, gorgeous pictures and gorgeous thoughts. Have a glorious celebration! Here in the U.S., Pesach has not yet begun, but it’s Good Friday already in the Christian calendar of holy days. For nature lovers, we have a sunny, mild day for the rites of spring – visiting wildflowers and our gardens, the wild and the domesticated, aspects both of a unity we forever yearn for but will inexorably obstruct.

    • Thank you very much, Orlando. So good to hear of your beautiful Good Friday. The weather has been very kind to us. And after a fever of preparations, there is great peace and happiness now; families get together, people of all ages. Men and women, boys and girls and boys in harmony. It’s almost too good to be true.

  7. George Weaver

    Ah, your photographs are sensitive and delicate and so beautiful. I never saw such wildflowers. I can imagine your telling of the story to the children. Enjoy your mother and your family during this Passover celebration of history and life.

    • The holiday is upon us, and the preparations… and the tension behind us. Yesterday, I walked along where the old railroad track has been replaced by a wooden walkway, and watched an idyllic moving picture… it was like being in a movie or a dream… seeing the fresh grass underfoot, and young parents walking with their children in the outdoors; beautiful and intoxicating. This holiday lasts a week… and I have to steal a bit of time to check the computer. There are tests too. But on the whole, it is delightful.

  8. So lovely, ShimonZ. Full of wisdom and peace. I had to pause for a while after I read that you speak about “what happens when you’re not ready for freedom.” Handling freedom well isn’t easy.

    The photos are all beautiful, but I especially like the cow’s tongue – the color, composition, and that stone wall in the background.

    • So glad you enjoyed the post, yearstricken. And of course, as an educator, you know, just how important being ready is. It’s hard to teach someone something, that he or she isn’t ready to learn… And during this ceremonial banquet, we try to impart certain deep truths to our children, the generation growing up… about to continue the stream of life. They are of all ages. So we compose stories on a number of different levels, hoping that there will be a little something for everyone sitting around the table. It is a learning exercise, accompanied by an endless variety of good food, wine, and riddles. No one gets drunk. And we do our best so that no one gets bored.

  9. I love the phrase, “the nobility of freedom,” Shimon. This is a lovely reflection…and my cats enjoyed it very much, too!

    • Thank you very much Catherine. One can own a violin, but not know how to bring beautiful music out of it… the same is true of freedom. One can get out of the clutches of an oppressor, but being truly free is so much more than that.

  10. I love the photos that you’ve shared, especially the purpley-pink flower (do you know what it is called?), and most especially the photos of Nechama enjoying her daily walk, as she scrubs against the hard earth under the shadow of your protection, and that last photo of her where she perches on the rock, looking both a bit wild in her wilderness, and yet domesticated and comfortable in her familiar surroundings. Touching.

    I hope you have an enjoyable Passover holiday.

    Thank you, as always, for sharing this glimpse into your world.

    “it’s important to remember that there is always choice’

    • Thank you very much, N, for visiting with me here. It is amazing, the passage from days of preparation, tension, doubt and hard work… and then all of a sudden we’re enjoying something altogether different, with warmth and light and relaxation. Now, we trade cakes with our friends, take walks in nature… Nechama eats chicken soup with dumplings…

  11. Very beautiful flower pictures. Nice words of wisdom as well on the meaning of Passover and its observance.

    • Glad you enjoyed it BoJo… it’s strange, there are so many visual delights… and yet I’m in a state of sublime appreciation, and haven’t opened my camera since the start of the holiday… maybe later… Thank you for coming by.

  12. few things are as humbling and as “grounding” as what your thoughts. there are no people who have faced as much adversity nor risen as high because of or in spite of it. who else could have taken such a barren chunk of land and created such a wonderful place? as i recall, those who agreed on where to send the jews after world war II were probably thinking, “sure, let’s see how they handle THIS situation.” you didn’t just “handle” it. you flourished and created – in very little time – an oasis that those surrounding you couldn’t have built and did not build with all the time, resources, and advantages that certainly outweighed what the jews had to begin with.

    there’s nothing else to do other than bow to the greatness of israel and its people.

    • Thank you very much, Rich, for your words of appreciation. I don’t usually talk about it, because we Jews are often accused of being too proud. But occasionally, I too, think of our accomplishments. And then I think, with all of these capacities and talents, why do so many of us want to be ‘just like everybody else’. But in fact, all of us Israelis, just want peace. And probably a majority of us, just want to be considered like everyone else. Thank you so much for your comment.

      • instead of jews wanting to be “just like everybody else,” it would be a great thing if everybody else wanted to be like you.

  13. I love cats as you dear Shimon, they are so lovely but Nechama seems so artistic 🙂 Knowing you are a wonderful photographer! I loved your flowers too… And of course, as always it was so nice to read you… Happy Holiday, Blessing and Happiness, Thank you, with my love, nia

    • Yes, it’s true, Nia my dear… both of us like cats in much the same way, and I love looking at your many cat pictures. I’ve thought of you often since the start of the holiday, knowing how much you would enjoy photographing some of the sights I’m seeing… and still, I haven’t opened my camera yet. I guess I’m just floating on air. Maybe later today or tomorrow, I will finally take a picture. My best wishes to you.

  14. Springs is indeed a time of renewal and of hope. And your pictures captures this feeling excellently. And Nechama seems to enjoy spring, too.

    • Thank you very much for coming by, Otto, and for your kind words. Yes, it’s so good to get carried away by the holiday, as I am now. And the weather is certainly cooperating.

  15. A beautiful series of photos Shimon. I enjoyed them very much.

  16. ” To see a world in a grain of sand, And a heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, And eternity in an hour.”

    I admit to blorrowing this fragment from Blake. But have no better words for this inspiring piece. My dear Mom taught me and my sisters the power of “the perfect moment” when we were very small. I thank her every day for bequeathing this gift to me.

    And I thank you for this lovely piece. And the equally beautiful photos. Somehow there is a fragility about those early Spring blooms, almost a shyness at being confronted with the onrush of Spring.

    • Thank you so much for coming by Nikki, and for adding the beautiful words of Blake to adorn the post. Those words are well chosen. I know that you too enjoy going with the flow, and the spirit of the world around us. It is always a pleasure hearing from you.

  17. I love your photos Shimon. We have wild mustard here in California that is said to have been brought here by the Spanish priests who came here to build missions and convert the Indians to Christianity.
    I love your last few sentences; they are inspiring.
    Nechama is quite the beautiful cat, and I’m glad you stand guard so no one can surprise her.

    • So glad you enjoyed the post, Angeline. I visited California, more than forty years ago, and loved the nature there, and enjoyed visiting a few of the missions built by the Spanish. I remember seeing the yellow flowers, and wondering if they were mustard, because there was a lot in California that reminded me of Israel. Nechama is really a very dear friend, and I am usually honored to serve her.

  18. You know I like a walk, and you have just treated me to a wonderful walk – the first photo drew me in, a cat on a high perch surveying all that is around then onto the vegetation – the colours, shades, light, textures, I’m left to imagine the scents and the sounds. For someone who has been throwing herself down mountains, I understand entirely the simple walk, the slow paced, the smaller, the attention to detail. All so beautifully framed Shimon.

  19. ShimonZ— I am sitting here a little stunned by the exquisiteness of this meditation on the beginning spring and on the spirit and meaning of Passover. (Not to mention the photographs. The photographs are gorgeous!) I feel much the same as you do about extremes, but I am fighting the desire to start raving about the richness and beauty of this essay.

    No, I’m just going to go with it. Here’s what I am enjoying right now— besides the well-crafted prose, I am thrilled with the meditative pacing of this piece, which works, step-by-step with the words and the images. I am thrilled that you can discuss so much beauty, and then, fold in a line like:

    Of course, a lot of the holiday discussion is about how we were slaves, and that the nobility of freedom can’t be taken for granted.

    A line that places me firmly into stunned silence.

    And finally, I am thrilled to be included, as a reader, on this walk with Nechama and you. So much beauty and so much care. Thank you for this moment. I feel as though you’ve woken me up. Suddenly, there is so much to see and enough time to see it all. Thank you, again.

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, Courtenay. We are a very small people, and speak a language that is not understood by most peoples of the world. When I was young, I enjoyed traveling in the world, and getting to know other cultures and customs. And it is my pleasure now, in old age, to share a bit of our culture with friends and readers in other countries. Most of what I write is subjective and personal, and I’m glad we’ve met, and can share some of the things we care about. Thank you very much for your kind words.

      • The more I read of your blog, the more grateful I am that you open a beautiful window with your words and your photographs and invite us (me, included!) into your subjective experience. Every piece I’ve read so far feels like I am opening a little box filled with quiet immense beauty. I am so glad to be here! Sir, I am so pleased we have met each another as well. Thank you!

    • Thank you very much, Courtenay. As a young man, I traveled to far off places, and learned from many different people and cultures. And now as an old man, I have the opportunity to renew contacts and once again to step out of my little town and meet others by way of cyberspace. This too, is a great adventure, and I am often amazed by the possibilities.

      • I have traveled some, but not enough, not nearly enough to sate my desire to know the world. Cyberspace is giving me an opportunity to step out, also, and I am grateful every day. (My husband says that he knows when I’m working on my blog/reading blogs because I am always smiling.)

        ShimonZ, I wanted to tell you— I was describing your beautiful essay with photographs to my husband on Saturday, and when I mentioned your cat, Nechama, he smiled to himself and said, quietly, “That’s one of my favorite names.” So, it turns out you have two fans in this household!

    • I don’t know if your husband is Jewish… or if he knows Hebrew, but just in case he doesn’t, you can tell him that all Hebrew names have a meaning… and Nechama means ‘consolation’. And please send him my regards.

  20. Similarly to you, my husband is well-traveled. He does speak a fair amount of Hebrew also. He sends his regards!

  21. It was lovely to step into your garden for a short while. The blue flower was very special, and unfamiliar to me..

  22. Your cat Nechama lives in a paradise!

    • I suppose she does. Especially when I think of all the cats in the world, and their conditions, and then think of the way she lives… it is very good. I could say the same about myself. We are both very lucky.

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