(photo credit: KKL)
Hundreds of hikers participated in a walk to view the wild flowers in the Carmel during the Passover holiday. They witnessed the terrible tragedy that befell the forest, as well as the renewing power of nature. Scorched trees are sprouting new branches and leaves, tender green grass covers the scorched earth, and colorful flowers are blooming throughout the forest.
The walk began at the descent from Nahal Khik in Usfiyyeh, continued into the Alon Valley, and ended at the HaAgam Campground. Many of the hikers were residents of Usfiyyeh, the village where the fire broke out.
"The fire caused us a lot of pain," said Issam Sharuf, a resident of Usfiyyeh. The Carmel is the green mountain of the entire country, but we don't only hike here, we actually live here in the forest. The children ask me why the forest is black and I tell them what happened and explain how important it is to be careful with fire. All of us need to take responsibility and care for nature."
Saba Sukrat and Basman Abu Gazi were among the many children and young people who participated in the walk. "It's hard to see the burnt forest," explained Saba. "Today we understand more than ever how careful we have to be in the forest." Basman was pleased to see that hikers had come to the excursion from throughout the country. "It's important that lots of people come to see the forest and to enjoy it. All of us need to learn to take care of this beautiful forest."
Nahal Khik flows down the western slopes of the Carmel. Pine trees, Greek strawberry (known as katlav in Hebrew) and Palestine oak trees grow along its entire length. The Khik Spring is one of the few springs that originates in the Carmel and emerges from it. The spring is surrounded by oaks and terebinths as well as abandoned groves of figs, pomegranates, and almond trees.
Experienced guides from the KKL-JNF were stationed along the route to explain about the forest, the battle against the flames during the fire, and how nature has renewed itself after the fire. "Nature is stronger than we are," remarked one of the guides. "We saw that during the fire, and we see it now as the trees begin to grow again. Man is only a small part of nature, and our job is to preserve it."
Young KKL-JNF guides set up stations for children passing by in the Alon Valley beneath the river. The guides explained about the Carmel fire and about forest fires in general, about the flora and fauna in the area, the surrounding panorama and the town of Usfiyyeh. They also provided games, quizzes, and other activities for children to explain about the various activities of KKL-JNF, preserving the environment, keeping it clean, and the importance of open areas.
The young guides were joined by youths from the drug rehabilitation center at Kfar Malkishua. The youths took part in a course during recent months and now work as KKL-JNF guides. "I enjoy the activities with KKL-JNF a lot," said Elik from Malkishua. "I didn't know anything about nature, but I learned a lot during the course. The connection with nature gives me a lot of strength. Meeting children and parents from throughout the country is really interesting."
Sagi Amiel and Adi Biton, two 18-year-olds from Tzur Yigal who are about to begin their military service, gazed sadly at the forest. "It's sad to think that this forest won't be green in our generation, and that perhaps only our children will be able to see it as it once was," said Sagi. Adi, on the other hand, is more optimistic. "You can already see how the forest is beginning to renew itself, and that gives us hope."
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The rain that began to fall during the walk did not deter the hikers, who enjoyed the panorama and the atmosphere despite the gray skies. Ariel Wasserteil from Jerusalem saw a certain beauty in the dramatic sight of the burned forest and not only in the green parts that were saved from the flames. "It's good that KKL-JNF is organizing lots of free hikes and activities for the entire family throughout the country. This is the best way to connect people to the forest and to nature."
The Moshe family from Rishon Letzion visited the Carmel for the first time since the fire. Rachel, the mother of the family, remarked, "It's chilling to see the forest like this. It's impossible to perceive." Tzachi, her husband, added, "We saw what happened here on television, but when you see it with your own eyes you get a different perspective." Their son, Yarden, is a guide for children's hiking trips for the "Shelach" (Field, Country, and Society) organization. "It's very important to connect the younger generation to nature. This is our country, and we need to get to know it and love it."
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