Spring is in the air–quite literally, as birds migrate and trees lift their blossoms.

Tree in bloom at Bahjí

Tree in bloom at Bahjí

Spring has brought both excitement and challenges.

There was, of course, the pre-spring challenge of the Fast. This year, my colleagues upped the ante of “mutual support” during these nineteen days. When we passed through usual morning teatime or entered the afternoon slump, they would dispatch group emails with goading subject lines like “Help yourself!” filled with photos of delicious banquets, caffeinated beverages, and mouthwatering desserts. One colleague, remaining in the office past the usual start of her lunchtime break, explained that she was assembling an email to send later, replete with tempting dishes, now that she had figured out how to insert photos directly into the emails. It was kind of adorable. These emails were always met with sighs from me, and from others, either wistful yearning–“I would choose the marzipan!”–or gentle teasing–“Oh, is this what you’re cooking for us tonight?”

I chose the final day of the Fast, the spring equinox and “new year’s eve” for Bahá’ís, to make that very consequential decision about graduate school–in other words, picking where Sergey and I will settle for the next six years. The journey leading to that decision had taken me from my senior thesis in which I explored the field of composition and rhetoric, through grueling GRE studies and work on the applications…and finally ended rewarding me with acceptance letters and offers. It was a relief for us to finally choose Penn State, where, besides the studying and teaching, I look forward to strolling through autumn leaves hand-in-hand with Sergey and a cup of hot cider.

Pansies after rain

Pansies after rain

On Naw-Rúz, we were invited to dinner with some Ukranian pilgrims. While I was expecting them to be a bit subdued from the chaos their country is undergoing, they surprised me with their joviality, greeting the host and us by bursting into a hearty song. As the sole non-Russophone in attendance, I relied on Sergey to interpret for me throughout the evening. Thankfully, what did not need interpretation was that they liked the German chocolate cake I had made. The funny thing is that several of the women asked if the cake was “from an American concentration.” I started to say no, not entirely understanding their wording, but then realized that yes, the cake was indeed from a box of Betty Crocker cake mix!


Several weeks ago, as we were preparing to leave our flat, I sidled up to the window and noticed the sky peppered with birds. These were white storks, returning north from their summer homes in Africa. Israel serves as a crossroads for many species that migrate between Africa and Europe, explaining why for that one weekend, we spotted hundreds of storks silently cruising above us. There was something fascinating about the way they seemed to float as if weightless, holding their long curved wings still, making no sound. Just floating. We saw them again flying over Junayn Garden in Nahariyya, and over Bahjí.

Of course, sometimes the birds come to our offices–or the Arc, actually. The kingfisher has been teasing me by prolonging his poses on statuary in the gardens, seeming to mock me when my phone completely fails to capture his stunning looks. In fact, I’ve become something of a stalker with him. If only my phone came with a mini telephoto lens, then I would have some photos to show you other than the clusters of pixels I’ve managed to gather thus far.

Vision test: can you spot the kingfishers?

Vision test: can you spot the kingfishers? (Hint: on the right, it is above the statue, perched in the tree.)


We had a visit to the Ridván Garden a few weeks ago. The scent of orange blossoms, heady and sweet, surrounded us, and we were entranced by the splashing fountain that I’m sure figures in many Bahá’ís’ visions of paradise.

Ridván Garden

Ridván Garden, replete with snapdragons.

The garden’s custodians told a story about how the gardener in the time of Bahá’u’lláh had been horrified to see a plague of locusts descend upon the garden, and ran to Him to ask for help. He replied along the lines of “let the locusts eat, they must have their food too.” I must have absorbed this story into my bloodstream, because by the time our visit ended, I had assembled at least fifteen itchy bites from letting the mosquitoes eat. I looked like I’d developed a sudden bout of chicken pox centered primarily on my right leg. I was rather embarrassed by it and regretted not thinking ahead enough to pack backup stockings. Ah, the pain of vanity!


My Christmas cactus is in bloom. It budded around Naw-Rúz and is now bursting with flowers. I’ve been enjoying gazing at it whenever I can–I love the waving arms of the cactus with their petaled, bright hands.


PS: This is my 75th post!

The Fast

Today, my groggy eyes are presented once again with a stunning sunrise.  The sun peeks up at 5:52 like a fiery tangerine hoisted from its nest behind the mountains.  I lift a hand up to protect my eyes, and it is stained orange by the light.  Some of the clouds look like mountains that have simply detached from the earth; both land and sky are permeated by the same pink glow.  Two minutes after the sun rises, on schedule the lights at the seaport switch off.

Climbing onto my bed with a prayerbook in hand, pulling up the curtains, and assessing the sunrise has become one of my fasting rituals.  Most days, a layer of clouds obscures the sun now that we’re finally getting rain, but every once in a while, I am treated to this splendid feast of colors.

The first sunrise of the Fast

For me, the Fast forces heightened consciousness about time and habits.  I’m not saying my focus gets sharper during the Fast; the afternoons are always a struggle between my desire to take a long nap and my need to keep working.  The other day, I bumped into a friend who told me that during the rest of the year, our souls are slaves to our bodies, but now our bodies are slaves to our souls.  An interesting theory, but my stomach is certainly an ill-behaved thrall, kicking and screaming for food.

There is no other time of the year when sunrise and sunset hold so much sway over my habits.  In fact, usually I rarely see the sunrise.  But I also notice other things–for example, over the past two weeks, my sugar cravings have declined, and I have survived on a nominal half-cup of coffee in the mornings.  And getting up at 5:15 gives me so much quiet time before going to the office in which I can write.  I think I might be a closeted earlybird.

I’ve also realized just how close my office is to the upper terraces, the Bahá’í gardens that climb up Mount Carmel.  Without the routine of coffee breaks in the morning and afternoon or the daily trip to the lunchroom at noon, I find myself with more time to go outside and enjoy the scenery and sunshine, which is a form of sustenance in itself.  On one of my photosynthesis strolls with Sergey, I spotted a big praying mantis sitting motionless at the bottom of some terrace stairs, and crouched down to watch this alien-looking creature.  (Have I mentioned I like creepy-crawlies?)  It was the first time I’ve seen a “wild” mantis in ages.  A few days later, we saw what appeared to be an otter scampering through the gardens.  He clarified that it was not a landlubbing otter but rather a mongoose.  All my mongoose knowledge stems from the 1975 movie Rikki Tikki Tavi, which I remember watching on one of my parents’ compiled VHS tapes of children’s films.  It was pretty great to see one in real life, long, sleek, and tawny, though with no apparent cobras in tow.

In fact, many office workers have the same idea and emerge these days.  I wonder if the local gardeners think it’s funny, this yearly exodus of winter-pale Bahá’ís to the outdoors, sniffing the fresh air and clambering up the staircases of our Eden.  Where else in the world would I get to fast with so many other Bahá’ís, who all experience the same hunger pains, sour breath, and low blood sugar afternoons?