Admission: over the last month, I fell woefully behind in writing. There was so much to do before leaving the World Centre–boxes to pack, projects to complete, farewells to bid–that I simply could not make the few hours needed to complete this blog. So, these last entries are being written from within the purple walls of my home in Wisconsin, not from the Holy Land.
It might seem illogical for a couple with little interest in swimming to travel to a swimming hole, but once in a while, it comes time to explore something beyond the confines of our street. So, Sergey and I signed up for a trip to Gan HaShlosha National Park, more commonly known as Sakhne. People flock to HaShlosha from all over to shlosharound–I mean, slosh around–in the unusual turquoise waters of the pools, which are supposedly colored by natural minerals. So, after driving to the eastern edge of Israel, past vast sunflower fields bordered by low purple mountains, we found ourselves idling in a long line of cars, mostly filled with smoking Arab men ready to spend a smoky day with their grills, hookahs, and oh yeah, the crystalline waters.
After what felt like several hours of waiting, we finally made it to the parking lot. 9:00 AM on a Saturday and nearly no open spaces. Israelis take their weekends seriously, whether that means observing Shabbat or finding water to play in. We unfolded a towel and laid it on the dead grass on a hill beside the pool, from which point I surveyed the surroundings. Again, the main denizens of the water were Arab men, who had brought all manner of floating devices, including air mattresses. I had never realized that air mattresses could be seaworthy. The young men frolicked in the water, vying for spots atop the floaties, reminding me of walruses fighting for territory on an iceberg. Sergey remarked on the boyishness of their play–some of the men looking to be in their mid-twenties and above. Maybe the lack of women freed the men from putting on a display of savoir faire. Or maybe their playful jousting was actually for the benefit of the onlookers.
In almost all parts of the interconnecting pools, the water was over my head, and the shallows had other dangers (dead leaves, dirt, splashing kids). So, I spent most of my time perched midway down the steps into the water, letting my legs float like dead wood in the hopes of attracting the “piranhas,” as Sergey called them. These minnow-like fish enjoy snacking on dead skin, and they seem to get plenty of it from the hordes of swimmers, as it took a while for me to finally attract some. But once they came, they flocked. At the peak feeding time, I had at least fifteen fish giving me a pedicure. Their small beaky mouths tickled, but I stayed strong and still. (I can’t say the same for Sergey, who was reduced to giggling and squirming.) The fish were easily spooked. The slightest movement would scare them away, so keeping my legs immobilized became my mission. Of course, I couldn’t control the rambunctious people around me, who insisted on swimming, disturbing my piscine idyll. The fish seemed to sense even impending impacts–in the time between a boy’s leap and him hitting the water, they would race away from me.
After I had my fill of the crowded park and the fish had full tummies, we headed home.
So, what do cats have to do with this story? Well, they also relate to our recreational activities.
When we moved into our apartment last summer, we became acquainted with several adolescent cat siblings, all with the same gray and white spots as their mama. Over the winter, they grew up, got hitched, and come springtime they were all pregnant. After they had their litters, we found a new hobby: kitten-watching. (Lest you scoff at our interest in strays, please remember that Haifa lacks cute rodents to observe–no rabbits, squirrels, or chipmunks…just rats, and once in a blue moon, a mongoose. Also, the feline families served pretty well as a compost solution for excess leftovers.)
One cat mama birthed a brood of three tabbies, and another had three distinct kittens: one completely black, one black and white, and one gray and white. If only she had an all white kitten, she would have covered the whole monochromatic spectrum!
I think the tiny black kitten was my favorite. It looks like a surprised bush baby, all shining eyes.