Grateful Traveler: March On

Israel Golan Heights countrysideHow’d you like to walk through the still waters where King David is said to have written the 23rd Psalm?

Or watch the sun break over the martyrs’ landmark of Masada and think about what it means when a nation says, “never again?”

Or how’d you like to float in the Dead Sea, walk through aqueducts built by the Romans, or visit churches that feel older than time?

If you travel to Israel, you can do all of the above if you spend some time on the naturalist-led hikes and getaways sponsored by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (Israel’s version of the Sierra Club).

In their company, you’ll take away a sense of the country’s history and destiny, which is unrivaled for its complexity and drama.

That should be enough to fill any traveler’s journal, but looking back I realize that on a weekend trip I spent in the Golan Heights, I took away much more. Thanks to the young naturalist who led the trip, I found a way to move steadily uphill even as the weather grew stormy.

Looking toward Mt. HermonNot surprisingly, hiking in the Golan involves a lot of climbing. At the time an ardent hiker, I considered myself to be in very good shape and ready to conquer the Heights. Looking around at the rest of our group – 25- to 60-year olds from around the world, all of whom looked to be pretty fit – I figured we’d all do just fine.

And we might have if the weather had agreed to cooperate. But as the day progressed, storm clouds blew in and suddenly we were hiking in a squall. Cold and tired, we began to run toward the nearest shelter – a grove of trees quite a way up the hill. But the more we ran, the more we slipped, slid and fell in the mud, leaving us wet, dirty and no closer to our goal.

That’s when I noticed the naturalist who was in charge of our hike. Younger than any of us, she, for some reason, was way at the back of the pack. And while all of us hiked in fits and starts, she just slowly, carefully, steadily put one foot in front of the other.

Feet walking on sandSun out? She put one foot in front of the other. Starting to rain? She put one foot in front of the other. Lightning and thunder? She put one foot in front of the other. She never changed her pace. She seemed impervious to the changing weather patterns. She just stayed at the back of the pack, walking steadily, carefully and slowly.

And yet, somehow – and this still seems like a form of alchemy to me – when the rest of the group finally managed to struggle to the top of the hill, she was there, already waiting.

I think of her now in these troubled times, on an almost a daily basis.

When the headlines get to be too much, my job is to put one foot in front of the other. When the economic news sends me into a panic, it’s one foot in front of the other. When travel seems beyond my reach, I just have to lay aside funds, one dollar after another.

Using the naturalist as my psychic guide, plans will be made; places will be seen; the world will still hold as much wonder and joy as ever. And like the naturalist, I know I’ll get there – putting one foot in front of the other.

By Jamie Simons for

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