Small children are fascinated by nature, but that interest tends to fade by their teen years.
When I was a teen, my parents once took my siblings and I on vacation to Arizona. We drove out to Sedona; its main attraction is its array of red sandstone formations. The formations appear to glow in brilliant orange and red when illuminated by the rising or setting sun. The red rocks form a popular backdrop for many activities, ranging from spiritual pursuits to the hundreds of hiking and mountain biking trails.
“Look at the red rocks!” my mother said excitedly, as she pointed out the window and turned to us kids in the back seat.
My brother, my sister and I gave an obligatory glance, not removing our headphones from our Sony Walkmans.
“Take off those damn headphones and look at the nature!” My dad ordered from behind the wheel. We grudgingly obeyed.
I suppose not much has changed these days, except that it’s probably even harder to get kids to look up at nature, while their heads are buried in their cellphones as they rapidly text one another. If a parent is lucky, maybe the child will look up long enough to snap a photo of the view with their smartphone and post it to their Facebook page, before returning to their texting or game of Candy Crush.
I used to think that this only happened with teenagers, and that you grow out of it as an adult – but I was wrong.
Growing up in Northern California, we once had relatives from New York City come visit us. My parents decided to show them the beauty of nature and took them on an outing to Muir Woods, a unit of the National Park Service 19 km. north of San Francisco, to see the historic majestic redwood forests. After five minutes of walking along the path between the giant redwoods, the Manhattan couple turned to my parents and asked, “Tell me, besides trees, is there anything else to see here?” Ariel (Arik) Sharon, the 11th prime minister of Israel, who passed away this week, has been described with many adjectives: a fighter, a warrior, a politician, etc. But perhaps the adjective he felt suited him best was simply “farmer.” As Sharon once said of himself: “I was born on a farm. My strength has nothing to do with political apparatus. I get my strength from nature, from flowers.”
All Israeli politicians say they love the Land of Israel, but Ariel Sharon really did. He always seemed uncomfortable in a suit and tie, but perfectly at home in his blue jeans and cowboy jacket among his sheep out on his ranch, the same ranch where he made his home and near which he is now buried.
Last week, on his weekly radio program, Israeli singer Yehoram Gaon complained about how frequently Route 1 from Ben-Gurion Airport to Jerusalem had been closed off to traffic due to US Secretary of State John Kerry’s numerous visits. Gaon wondered why Kerry doesn’t just take a helicopter to Jerusalem instead of causing delays for Israeli motorists. He also joked that Kerry should just buy a house in Israel, since he is here so often.
Just a day later, after Sharon had passed away, I heard a person interviewed on TV who had worked as an assistant for the former prime minister. He said he often suggested to Sharon that he take helicopters rather than be driven long distances throughout Israel, but Sharon adamantly refused. “I like the view,” he reportedly would answer. “I never fall asleep when being driven past scenery in Israel. I love to look at our wonderful country.”
On Thursday we will be celebrating Tu Bishvat, the Jewish New Year for the Trees. In Israel it is celebrated as an ecological awareness day, and trees are planted in celebration.
Of course, my favorite Tu Bishvat story tells how Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk once asked his student, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir, to speak at their Tu Bishvat seuda (festive meal) of fruits from the Land of Israel.
Rabbi Yitzchak Meir chose to discuss the Talmudic section which teaches that Tu Bishvat is the New Year for the Trees, and gave a lengthy and complicated discourse on the subject.
When he finally finished, Rabbi Menachem Mendel replied, “If we were in the Land of Israel, we could just go out to the fields and look at the trees. We would then understand what the ‘New Year for the Trees’ really means, and we would not need scholarly learning on the subject! For there, in the Land of Israel, Tu Bishvat does not say ‘darshuni’ [expound upon me], but ‘asuni’ [do it]!” Ariel Sharon was certainly a “doer” on the military, political and national front, but he was also a nature lover who truly loved the Land of Israel. This Tu Bishvat, I believe that all Israelis should make a special effort to do the same.
I think Arik would like that.
The writer has an MA in creative writing from Bar-Ilan University.