Off the Beaten Track: Wildflowers in David's path

February is the perfect month to visit the South and see the wildflowers that blanket the usually barren land.

By JOE YUDIN
February 2, 2012 10:59
Darom Adom Anemone Negev Festival

Darom Adom Anemone Negev festival 311. (photo credit: Liron Keinan)

Joe Yudin owns Touring Israel, a company that specializes in “Lifestyle” tours of Israel.

As for man, his days are as grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth.
For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof knoweth it no more. But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear Him, and His righteousness unto children's children (Psalm 103).

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Today, during the season of the first wildflowers, the above excerpt from a Psalm, which is attributed to King David, brings images of him strumming his harp, writing his poetry, all the while walking through the multicolored fields of Judea.

David believed, according to this passage, that only by following God's rules would one and one's offspring be able to enjoy their limited time on this earth. Imagine what would have inspired King David to draw such parallels between the life of a human being and the wildflowers in the field?

Growing up in Bethlehem as a shepherd, before fighting to unite the Hebrew tribes around a new capital city Jerusalem, and striving to defeat the Philistines once and for all, he would have surely appreciated life and experienced the loss of those close to him at the hand of God and his enemies. What better way to imagine David writing his poetry and playing his harp then in a beautiful green field adjacent to a lush forest in his own backyard during the season of the wildflowers.

Caesar's Way:
Leaving Jerusalem, take Hebron Road towards Bethlehem. Soon you will see King David's hometown of Bethlehem in the distance just beyond the security barrier. At Gilo, take the Tunnel's Road following Route 60 and go through the tunnels.

Take a right onto Route 375 towards Beitar Ilit and go through the check point to Tzur Haddasah Junction. From this junction travel almost five kilometers and there will be a dirt road, picnic tables and a parking lot on your right. Park here and start your trek on the multi-colored Israel trail.

The trail marker is unique as it incorporates many trails into one and stretches from Dan in the north to Eilat in the south. The three-colored trail marker is white for the snow-capped peaks of the Golan Heights, blue for the Mediterranean Sea and orange for the hills of Judea where you are now. Using your trail map head east on the trail to the ruins of Horvat Hanot.

Check out the pink and white cyclamen all around you. Look for the Byzantine inn and wine press, crusader bridge and Ein (Spring) Mata. This area is famous for its blue Lupin flowers that usually start to bloom near the end of January.

For the more adventurous, hike up to the Israelite ruins of Horvat Darban which date back to the 8th century BCE. Then return to the lot and head in the other direction on the ancient Roman road called Caesar's Way, clearly marked on the map. On this stretch you will see stairs carved in the road dating back to Hadrian's time in the early 2nd century CE. Pass over a small wood bridge and you will come to many fallen roman columns. You will also find a reconstructed olive oil press from Byzantine times. From the press walk back to your car.

The Britannia Forest:
Drive south on Route 38 from Beit Shemesh. Pass the junction with road 353 to Li On and make your next right onto a dirt road. Drive to the end where there is a parking lot. You are at Masoa Overlook and there is a multi-colored cone-shaped tower at the center. Check out the views from there.

You can see the ancient Israelite city of Tel Azekah to your north, the battlefield of David & Goliath in the Elah Valley to your east and various hiking trails throughout the forest all around you.

There are a number of fields between where you are now and Tel Azekah and the Elah Valley where you can check out the flowers. For an eight to ten km (there are various trails, use a trail map) hike to Tel Azekah, take the black trail north to the blue trail, turn west then take the green dirt road to the red trail northwest which comes back to the green-marked dirt road that leads straight to Tel Azekah. This trek will take you through some really beautiful scenery.

A great shorter loop trail to take is the black trail down the hill and up another to some ruins of an Arab village built over other ruins and down the other side of the hill. Meet the blue trail here and go southeast which will take you down to the road that you initially drove up on. There are lots of biking, hiking and off- road trails to take, just use a map. The best part of this hike, however, are the red anemones and pink cyclamen as well as yellow groundsel and mustard.

Land of the Philistines:
Our last stop on the path of King David leads us to the edge of the Gaza Strip. It is in this land between the Judean Lowlands and the Mediterranean Sea where David took refuge from King Saul who was trying to kill him, and actually joined the Philistines for a time before coming King of Israel himself. Take road 232 south to Shaar HaNegev Junction and turn right onto Route 34 and a quick left onto road 232. Gath, Ekron, Ashkelon, Ashdod and Gaza, the Philistine Pentapolis are all in this area. Pass Kibbutz Melfalsim and bear to the left. The vast fields of wildflowers, including red Anemones this time of year are overwhelming. Enjoy the drive until you get to Sa'ad Junction. Turn left at the junction then a quick right onto a dirt road. Find one of the many parking lots and then enjoy a stroll amongst thousands of wildflowers, just as King David would have done this time of year.

Joe Yudin became a licensed tour guide in 1999. He completed his Master’s degree at the University of Haifa in the Land  of Israel Studies and is currently studying toward a PhD.


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