out in the country


One of the strange paradoxes of living in Israel, is that though ours is a very small country, there is such a great variety of landscapes here. Our first chief rabbi, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook taught us that the best way to celebrate independence day was to walk four paces in the country, where we have never walked before. There is something very charming about this modest ‘good deed’. Four paces is so little. And yet, we are in no way limited to just four paces, and each step we take after those first four is our own… our own initiative. And the four paces seem commensurate with the length and breadth of our small country.


But despite the small area, we have snow capped mountains, and the lowest land point on the face of the earth. We have a length of sea shore, with warm water (in the summer) lapping on the beaches, and we have more than one desert… forests and meadows and fields of wild flowers and wild grasses. Birds of all sorts stop by and visit us, from Europe and Africa too, enjoying the plant life, the crops in the fields, and occasionally the fish in our ponds.


Our forefathers walked great distances, from one landscape to another on foot, often with a donkey to carry their load. The ever changing landscape offered inspiration, especially of a religious nature. And so it seems very natural that our land should be seen as the source of three of the major monotheistic religions. I myself have experienced such inspiration in the desert. It is so quiet when one first encounters it, that there is a lot of room for thought and appreciation. But as we look closer, we discover plant and animal life of great variety. And while the sands might look parched, those who frequent the desert can reveal to us many sources of water, hidden from the unfamiliar eye. If we follow the wild animals, they too will reveal worlds unknown, filled with sustenance and color, and even drama, the likes of which we many not have dreamed of.


To celebrate the onset of spring, Chana and I took the car a few kilometers north of Jerusalem, on a day filled with hints of rain. Though there wasn’t any real rain… there was drizzle from time to time, and occasional droplets, felt on our shoulders as we walked, or appearing on the windshield of the car. A mild haze thickened at times, and then retreated, allowing us to photograph the territory of Samaria.


The hills and valleys, and the little communities to be found nestled between the hills or atop of them, could easily illustrate myriad stories. The many scenes we saw seemed to tease the imagination, stories and fantasies sprung from the hills, begging to be heard. The pictures in this post were all taken from that area on that same day. And there are many more, sulking in the background because they haven’t been chosen.


Of course, it’s not just the physical nature of our country that exhibits such variety. One can see the diversity among the population, and in the many sub cultures, religious beliefs, and customs. From one city to another, there are worlds of difference, and between the cities there are so many towns, villages and hamlets, each with its own customs and personality. And as you might have heard, there’s the joke about the freedom of expression among our people… it is said, when two Jews get together, you can hear three opinions at least.



81 responses to “out in the country

  1. A very enjoyable post, Shimon…being a stranger to your land, I would not have imagined such green in your landscapes…it looks very inviting.

    • Yes, that is one of the reasons I blog in English, Scott. In my travels around the world, I realized that though many people had heard of my country, there were so many mistaken ideas about it, that it seemed like I had to share a bit of this place I love with others. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Lovely tribute to the wonder that is Israel. Diverse in people and geography, rich in history and culture.

    • You said it, Lisa. And it is really amazing to come across some of the impressions people have of Israel, when they’ve never been here. Thanks.

  3. Those are lovely photos, and illustrate so vividly what you’re saying. Now I really want to do that walk in the 5th picture!

    • That walk was such a joy, with patches of flowers here and there, assembled not by some hard working gardener, but by nature itself. Thanks, Gill.

  4. Thank you for these glorious photos, Shimon; how beautiful and how wonderful to have such a variety of scenery and perspectives so relatively close to your home! I love Rabbi Kook’s advice, too. As always, your post offers nourishment for spirit and mind. 🙂 Thank you, again.

    • It is always a pleasure to have your company on these walks, Kitty… We are really beginning to taste the spring. It’s warmed up, and there are flowers everywhere… and tall grasses too. I’m amazed by the direct and immediate influence on my mood. Feeling quite positive today, and looking forward to a long walk. Thanks to you too.

  5. Such a wonderful post Shimon. You make me miss Israel but I won’t be missing it for long. I’ll be there in May for my cousins wedding 🙂

    • Oh, May is a wonderful month for a visit to Israel. I’m sure you’ll have a wonderful time, Edith. And especially when it’s an opportunity to take part in a joyful family occasion.

  6. especially love the wide sweeping vista photograph (#2) and the solitary road (#5), although all of them are so very enjoyable and appreciated

    ironic that I’m posting today about travel, for the sake of appreciating the land, although mine is based on nostalgia versus a current excursion

    • I haven’t gotten to your post yet, about travel, N. But I look forward to it. Because it is spring, the days are very different… one day it’s cold and rainy, and the next is like summer. That’s the way it is today, and I’m really enjoying the weather. Not at all hot, but nice and warm… birds chirping, and lots of color in every direction…

  7. Beautiful photography, Shimon. I hope down the road you share more of those that are sulking for not being chosen to post here today; I love seeing Israel through your eyes.

    • I’ve been thinking about how to share those pictures, and many others that I don’t use as illustrations on the blog. I’ve always had the feeling that blog readers don’t really have a lot of patience. But maybe I will post a series occasionally and then a link on the blog for those who want to look at more images… Thanks for the comment, Angeline.

      • Your images always add so much texture and other layers to your narrative. My guess is that the folks that read your blog would love an occasional link that provided an opportunity to view more images.

        I’ve actually clicked on several of your images, but sadly, always get pointed to a link I’m unable to follow, which I’m guessing is a different version of Flickr (or some other picture-sharing equivalent), different than what I’m accustomed to finding here in the States. I truly enjoy your photos, and would always welcome more of the same.

        • Yes, it’s a bit of a problem. Often the images on the posts are meant as illustration. Because I don’t usually show random pictures on my Flickr account. So I have to organize a series before I’m ready to exhibit them. But lately, I’ve had the feeling that it would be worth sharing some of these pictures, and I hope to do so soon.

  8. very interesting and prudent article with nice fotos that brings back the memories of many visits in Israel where I spent the best year of my younger life in a kibbuz, greetings

    • I love your icon, taphian, though of course I would be very gratified to see the image of your face. So glad that I’m able to bring back good memories. Kibbutz is a wonderful way to get to know Israel… I can imagine that it left you with some very good memories. Thanks for the greetings.

  9. Beautiful: both the writing and the pictures. 🙂

  10. Love the “many more sulking because they haven’t been chosen. Your images do that to you too?
    Why are two of those sheep orange? Intriguing landscape. Too bad my camera is here in the US and not there.

    • I’m not sure about those orange sheep, Bob. I think it’s chinah, which is a popular natural dye that people use here to color their hair at times… often young brides put it in their hair when they celebrate their engagement, I’ll have to ask around. I wish that you and your camera could make a little trip here. I would love to be your guide. Thanks for the comment.

    • I learned about the orange sheep. It turns out that sometimes the shepherd takes out the sheep belonging to more than one family. Then they paint the leader sheep to identify them. When they go back to their village, each group returns to it’s own family. They use food color to paint them.

  11. A beautiful landscape and those clouds creating such appealing landscape photographs Shimon. Some of my favourite weather in which to take pictures. Another wonderful post my friend.

    • Very glad you enjoyed the landscape, Chillbrook. This is a time of the year when I often got vacation as a college prof., and I remember that I was often disappointed by hazy skies which are common now. And I had a dear friend who would encourage me to find the beauty in every sort of weather. As the years have passed, I’ve learned to be more receptive to whatever comes my way, and not to insist on my expectations… but still, I’m often led astray by expectations and anticipations. Thanks.

      • “but still, I’m often led astray by expectations and anticipations”

        you’ve just read a page straight out of my book, Shimon.

        thanks for sharing that one … I’m learning more and more as the days go by to “be receptive to whatever comes my way”

        • It’s a hard lesson to learn, not to give too much attention to expectations. And I agree with you, the best is to be receptive to anything that comes our way.

  12. Thank you for the guided tour, Shimon. These landscapes were unexpected and unfamiliar, and your photos very evocative.

    • Yes, it’s so refreshing some times, just to look out at a different view. We get used to almost anything… even the most delightful things in life, at times. Very glad you enjoyed the photos, Tish.

  13. First, I wish you a good Pesach and enjoyable seders.

    I have visions of your sulking pictures becoming jealous of the broody ones you have chosen, when they are put back in the imaginary photo box.

    A few years ago, I sent a friend in israel a gift of a book about clouds. Hubby made the comment that there are no cloud formations to study in Israel. Photos taken on my trips seemed to endorse that view. Your pictures at the point in this season, definitely do not. There are cloud scenes and diverse shadows from clouds, all making the Sumerian hills very moody and intense.

    Just take four steps into nature is a wonderful suggestion. You are inevitably going to try and take more; you may develop the tracker’s observant eye, you may just absorb the delights that nature offers. They are good.

    • You know, we only have one seder here in Israel… and it’s a very big difference. I have celebrated Pesach in the diaspora. And after all of the excitement and the intensive preparation that went into the first seder, there was something very relaxed and sweet about the second seder night. But I always thought I prefer not to have to go through it twice. I will be surrounded by children and grandchildren, and I’m sure it will be a very rich and moving experience. Yes, the skies seem almost too blue in the summer. I remember hearing from a critic I liked, when I was a young photographer… that my skies were kind of boring. And sometimes we have haze, and they are gray… But we do get some beautiful clouds at times. Thanks for your comment, menhir.

  14. Beautiful landscapes, and it looks like rather mild weather. It is snowing here as I speak, so it was lovely to “visit” with you on your trip outside the city.

    • Yes, it’s very mild at this season… a little bit of rain here and there, but today as I write you it’s warm and sunny with a perfect light breeze coming through. Wish I could share the weather with you, yearstricken. Though there’s a lot of drama with snow, and I like that too. So glad to have you join us on the adventure.

  15. LadyBlueRose's Thoughts Into Words

    Beautiful Shimon as I walked the four paces in my mind within each photo…
    (some more…)
    Thank you for sharing
    Take Care…You Matter…

    • Those four paces are certainly a key, Maryrose, and it is always a pleasure to have you join us. Best wishes for health and happiness at the turn of the seasons. And thanks…

  16. These are beautiful places! I hope I can explore it one day myself!

    • Oh, it would be such fun, if you could visit here. I loved traveling far when I was younger… but now stay pretty close to home, though I do manage to see a lot of new places all the time… Thanks, Jess

      • You’re welcome! I have a massive desire to travel around everywhere, but I think it’s all too much for one lifetime!

  17. Oh how wonderful, I just LOVED this post, everything flowed so beautifully, it was as though I was walking with you listening to you talk. Your countryside is varied and simply stunning, how lucky you are to live there. I did smile about the three opinions too, it’s like that with Liverpudlians.xxx

    • Ah, it is great to know we have this in common with the citizens of Liverpool. I do feel very lucky to live in the city that I love, and in this country that I love. It is not something I take for granted, for many of my ancestors lived their whole lives in exile. So I am very grateful to live freely in my own country, and to enjoy the wonderful conditions I have. I do get cross occasionally, when things don’t go exactly the way I want them, but I try to remember how lucky I am. Always so good to exchange thoughts with you, my dear Dina. xxx

  18. Just a gorgeous painterly post: both your stunning landscapes and words. Walking in the world is underated I think!

    • Sometimes it seems to me that we’ve gotten so carried away by the newly revealed, and the more seasoned technologies, that we’ve forgotten the romance and intensity of animal existence that is also among our possibilities…. walking connects us with the earth in such a fundamental way… it’s a form of meditation for me too. Thanks for your comment, Karen.

  19. I love the diversity of the landscape that you illustrate here, Shimon! And a question: are those red creatures in the flock also sheep? I’ve never seen red sheep before!

    • Yes, that diversity is amazing, and it keeps on going and changing wherever you go in my country. It turns out that those sheep are painted with food coloring, either to mark them as leaders, or to keep an eye on them because they are leaders… but they are the leaders of the herd… Thanks, Cathy.

  20. I find the top photo both beautiful and a little frightening as the land is so bare.It’s quite mathematical in a sense.The next one is very moody like a fraught woman..I like that one very much with the clouds.I am pleased you are able to drive about in this landscape.I always feel better in the countryside especially near hills.We are not too mobile but even in a small area there are interesting sights as children demonstrate to us.We get too used to the wonders of life sometimes.
    I grew up with no trees or flowers near us and so I got very fond of little bladess of grass or weeds growing in the cracks in the pavement.we had few birds,just sparrows I recall.In the South we have flowering cherries and apple trees and more other flowers but I till like the “bonny purple heather ” on northern hills and moors where even sheep do nt venture.We have no wild goats and no shepherds.I think the farmer looks after the sheep.
    I long to travel up to the hills…… keep mobile as it is such a shock when it ends.

    • I can imagine that it would be very shocking if mobility ended suddenly. But of course, it is very common, as people grow older… that they have less interest in running around. I traveled a lot in my life. And for some years now, I am not tempted to make long journeys. I haven’t taken an airplane since ’95. I do like to see trees and lush country. And it is very rejuvenating to see a different scene now and then. It reminds us that we have to really look and listen. We take everything for granted so easily. Thanks for the comment, Kathryn.

      • Sometimes when I have been restricted by problems I have seen more deeply into places near me and noticed marks on tree trunks and little flowers.
        The stress of air travel gets too much and you have such beauty near you that it’s no longer necessary for you,You can see more deeply into your own landscapes and go back to sleep at home..that’s nice I think

  21. Ah, so from your last statement I guess 1 + 1 ≥ 3.

  22. Michelle "Rusty" Cate

    Wonderful words! The thistle photo I find compelling. I just drove around west texas and also Houston and appreciated the blue bonnets and wild flowers this week. The thistle plant would pop up ever so often on the side of the road, a very conspicuous, sharp and yet beautiful plant. I learned my lesson the hard way when I tried picking one with my bare hands as a child.
    The pain of being pricked, the lingering desire to pick and possess the bloom and the denial of it has crystalized the moment in my mind. It passively fought back, all the while clearly presenting itself in a beautiful display that looked dangerous. Still I couldn’t resist… it defied my ideas of what beauty is… how could it hurt me? But even the rose is not such a conundrum.

    • How very nice to see you here again, Michelle. I’ve never thought of the thistle in connection with the rose, but there is something similar. There is that outrageous beauty together with the thorns… almost like a parable on the temptations of life. I love your story. What a great way to get to know a beautiful flower. I had something similar happen to me when I was a young man. I talked to a deer that had gotten closer and closer to me. He was really impossibly close already, a closeness that had me on the edge of ecstasy… and then I raised my camera to take his portrait, and he gave me a vicious kick in the chest with his foot. I’ve never forgotten the letdown or the pain of that experience.

      • What an interesting story to share, about the deer (and the thistle, and rose). For some reason it immediately brought to mind a mandala that I constructed with colored sand, when I spread my father’s ashes on a mountain top in the El Paso gap. I spent hours constructing the mandala, with the air hot and still around me, as the sun beat down. The moment I returned to my vehicle to get my camera, a great wind blew through and smudged the mandala in various directions. It was meant to be impermanent, and I immediately regretted having made the attempt to capture it with my lens. No photos that day. Just a memory, of something denied, and the pain of losing it.

        • Thanks for sharing your own experience along these lines. That knowledge, that many of us have these moments, both touches the heart, and gives us strength… it is what ties friends together, and the threads combined provide a strong twine.

  23. Thank you Shimon for sharing these emotions and pictures… Israel is indeed a beautiful country!
    But for sure the message is clear: sometimes we don’t need to go so far away to discover something lovely & special… we do like to stroll around our little town, wondering about the spring coming suddenly with temperatures more or less high (alike in summer). Important is to enjoy every moment (carpe diem) as it could be the last one!
    We did it, just this afternoon 😉
    About wild animals (but valid for cow, horse, sheep a.s.o.): always better take some safety distance, specially if you don’t know them “personally”. I had myself bad experiences with foreign horses…
    Take care and have a lovely week… 🙂 claudine

    • Yes, sometimes it takes a while till we realize that there is so much to learn and appreciate around us, that we don’t have to go far. Very glad you enjoyed the photos. As for wild and domestic animals, I have to say that I had many very beautiful meetings with wild animals, and usually I have been sensitive enough to reach a sort of conversation with them. I have spent time with wild bears and wild cats in the mountains too. But that time, when I raised the camera in front of the deer, I was thinking too much of my own desires, and not enough about what was in the animal’s mind, and learned a painful lesson. But even so, I didn’t shy of living creatures, and have had many positive meetings since. Thanks Claudine.

      • This is one of the reasons that I come back to some blogs, days after a post, to read through all the comments. Often the author’s response to comments helps shape my idea of who they are, and expands my view to include more than what they include in their blog writing. I’ve found it to be an accurate way to learn more about people. Of course, time permitting. Today happens to be a day I was in the mood for discovery.

        • I should apologize for leaving so many comments on a single blog post. I suppose you know me well enough by now to know that I tend to seize the moment on those better days. Like a sponge, I absorb as much as possible.

          By the way, I loved the way you ended the post. A joke that is clever, and serious, and funny. A mixture of many things. An example of diversity.

          • There is no reason to apologize… just the reverse. I can only thank you for your beautiful comments which elevate the post to a higher level. I too enjoy the comments (not only on my own blog) that add so much to the basic text… for there is nothing so heart warming as a discussion between friends.

  24. You make me want to come and walk……it is a beautiful landscape you live it.

  25. Thank you Shimon, for this glimpse into the variety of Israel – including the great joke about 2 Jews and 3 opinions – love it! Your photos of the desert are spectacular – the weather that day was perfect, I think, as you described it – a little sun, a few clouds, a few drops of rain, more sun…bringing dapple light onto the distant hills. The Rabbi’s suggestion was wise.

    • Very glad you enjoyed the post bluebrightly. I think I’ve posted photos of the desert, but I’ll have to do so again because I really love that part of the country… and I’ve spent a lot of time there. Thanks for your comment.

  26. Amazing landscape.

  27. Wonderful post, Shimon – your landscapes are beautiful. I really like your style. Are you going to let your sulky shots out to play?

    • Thanks a lot, Richard. Glad you like them. I’ve been thinking about showing more photography. Thinking maybe I should just post a link to a series now and then. It’s a problem, because I don’t want to weigh the posts down with too many images…

  28. Through this wonderful post, my mind transported back to ancient times, thus wondering about the stories the landscapes could tell. Thanks for sharing your land!

    • Yes, strangely enough, we are still connected to ancient times… maybe because some of the more modern history is hard to bear… and the stories are interwoven in our countryside. Thanks for the comment, Frank.

  29. What beautiful photography, Shimon. Such natural, silken images. And, of course, the land itself is unparalleled in its diversity and beauty. You continue to make superb images. Amazing. I suspect that you are more attuned and skilled now than you were as a young man?

    Thank you for an inspiring and thoroughly enjoyable four steps into the country! 🙂

    • We continue to learn and to grow throughout our lives. There are characteristics of youth that are compelling and attractive; the daring, the passion, the desire to try new things… With age and experience we acquire other characteristics that balance the taming of our youthful enthusiasm and passion. I don’t look back with sorrow at what I’ve lost… nor do I take pride in what I’ve learned along the way… it is all part of the process… part of the living of this life. Always enjoy your comments, George.

  30. Samaria is beautiful, especially the clouds! Your post has me taking out a photobook with text that I bought a few years ago, called “Israel: Triumph of the Spirit” by Delilah Shapiro (published 1997 Metro Books (metrobooks.com)). To quote from the back cover (part of the Intro to Part 1): “Though the nation of Israel is just fifty years old, its story is as ancient as the sand that blows across the faded mosaic tiles of Masada, as old as the wind that rustles the lush gardens of Haifa, and as primeval as the walls of the old city of Jerusalem. With its sweeping history of the region and stunning gallery of black and white and full color photographs depicting the many faces of this holy land, “Israel: Triumph of the Spirit” is a glorious look at one of the world’s oldest and most enduring cultures.” I am now going to have a refresher-look at this wonderful book. Thanks for the reminder, Shimon! Shalom.

    • It is very strange to read that the nation of Israel is just fifty years old, Janina. I know that they were referring to the new state of Israel. But for myself, one of the sons of this nation, the age of my country is measured in thousands of years… and the culture has continued to develop and grow… But I am sure that the book will be a very interesting window, revealing my country, and I’m glad you have the opportunity to get to know a bit more about it. Thanks for the comment, Janina.

  31. Beautiful photos of a great nature! There is love in both your pictures and in your words.

  32. Pingback: Four Paces | Invisible Shadow

  33. Thank you for taking us to this beautiful landscape with eloquent words. I enjoyed every step of the tour. I agree what you said about life (responded to George’s comment), it really is a journey. Have you had a chance to see this post: http://shareandconnect.wordpress.com/2014/04/20/two-different-lives/

    • Yes, I did see that post when you first posted it, and looked again, when you mentioned it here. The photograph is both impressive and moving. Truly a masterpiece.

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