Between the Danube and the Wadi Shikma

There is no better way to feel part of the land than on horseback.

SMOKE RISES from Gaza, as seen by the author. (photo credit: Courtesy)
SMOKE RISES from Gaza, as seen by the author.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It was early in the morning and the mare was already tied to the hitching post, the sort you see outside saloons in Westerns. But Shikma wasn’t in a town in the Wild West with tumbleweed blowing down the main street in the desert wind. Nor was she in Italy on the set of a Spaghetti Western.
She was right outside my house. I got the idea a few years ago: instead of carting the saddle and the rest of the gear back and forth to the stables, why not tie up the horses near the house? The mare stood there contentedly while I fussed around her, cleaning her shoes, brushing her down, combing her tail and mane, carefully fitting a blanket and broad American saddle on her back.
Nothing demonstrates the distinction between horse riding and bike riding better than the difference between the comfortable American saddle, which makes you feel like you’re sitting in an armchair, and the narrow bicycle seat that threatens to do damage to your rear end – and sometimes makes good on that threat. And that’s even beyond the basic difference between pedaling and gently nudging a horse forward.
The animal waited patiently in the fresh morning air, obediently opening her mouth as I adjusted the bit and pulled the crownpiece over her head. We set out toward the south, along the untamed wadi.
There is no better way to feel part of the land than on horseback.
Anything with wheels, including a bike, comes between you and the ground and restricts you to existing paths. On a horse, there is a continuous connection between you and the land and you sense every furrow in the soil. Wild animals are also less likely to shy away from you.
The wadi has never let me down.
It invariably offers me an intimate look at the plants and animals that live there. What can I say: the peacefulness of the countryside, streams, fields – an Apache helicopter overhead, a warning siren, two rockets launched in our direction, two interceptor missiles from an Iron Dome battery spiraling up to meet them, two explosions in the air as they hit home, four gazelles skipping away, a gentle breeze – idyllic.
At a brisk canter we covered several miles to a nearby moshav. I tied Shikma to a tree and she waited for me quietly in the shade while I went inside to visit with my friends.
He is a man’s man, a hunter who was recruited by the late Gen. Abraham Yoffe, then head of the Nature Reserve Authority, who put him to work as a ranger. She should be recognized by UNESCO’s World Heritage Center as the last Hungarian in this region. Since my mother passed away, she is the only one left around here.
Her uncle Attila was the Hungarian fencing champion, but when he was crushed by the Nazis, it wasn’t in a sword fight. Her goulash and poppy-seed cakes could have been concocted on the banks of the Danube rather than between the Gerar and Shikma wadis in southern Israel, and the drinks he serves in shoe-shaped glasses were actually distilled beside European rivers. You won’t find better hosts anywhere. After a brief visit, I got back on my horse. A light breeze was blowing as we rode leisurely through the shady woods, the Iron Dome battery hiding among the trees.
“Did you get them?” I asked a young officer.
“Yes,” he answered proudly A quiet weekend in the country.
That evening, relaxing in the living room, we heard a loud explosion that drowned out the music we were listening to. A worried expression came over the face of our attractive guest from Tel Aviv. Her mother called immediately to make sure we were all right. From our house on the farm there was a clear view of the burning factory, the cloud of smoke rising above our fields. What you see from here you don’t see from Tel Aviv.
Translated from the Hebrew by Sara Kitai, [email protected]