Life in the North

netZoo correspondent D. Heimpel just returned from a trip to Israel with the following dispatch.

The thin black trunks of charred pine trees hugged the dusty road of the Biryya forest (map), 20 km south of Lebanon. A few weeks before, a rain of Katyusha rockets lit the forest ablaze. Heat, high winds and steep slopes had conspired to give the fire speed. The result: acres of nuked trees, dead but standing, sap leaking from heat induced cracks.

“What about the animals?” I asked Paul Ginsberg, director of the Forestry Department of northern Israel. The video camera on my lap bumped up and down the as we moved along the dirt road.

“Well I imagine the fast ones got out,” he said as he pulled his truck around a bend. “But the slow ones… the tortoises and the chameleons… ha ha ha… I don’t think so.”

It made me unhappy. When I watch movies I’m always more saddened by the death of horse than rider. Animals have no capacity for evil and shouldn’t die a death meted out by the evil of man.

“Look up there,” Paul said, slowing the truck and pointing in the sky. I saw a hawk, circling low, above a stand of green trees spared by the blaze. “Come on, get it. You’ve gotta get it.”

I lifted the camera and started shooting. The hawk came in and out of focus on the flip screen. I put down the camera. It was much better to just look.

We continued on, now in an unburned swathe of forest. A small dog-like thing ran across the road and slunk into a ball of underbrush. It was a brownish red, and its head looked too big for its tiny, scruffy body. Although I had never seen one before, I immediately knew it was a jackal.

“You see those often?” I asked.

“No but I hear them every night.” I can just imagine Paul, twenty years since he left NY for Israel, living on the Kibbutz where he met his wife, his children with him and the nightly braying of the jackals.

Paul wanted to take me to a place where you could see a tree that had been hit by a rocket. The road ran down the spine of a ridge. Everything down the east slope was burned up to the road, the other side was green. He showed me the tree – the top blown off, and the branches strewn on the ground like someone had clipped them off and was too lazy to take them away.

I walked out into a sad stand of burned trees on the east side, their trunks as thick as my thighs.

“They’re like a bunch of dead soldiers,” Paul said.

The ground was a fine powder, black, gray and white. My nostrils stung with the charred pine and the heat off the Hula Valley floor, where the Syrian plate rips from the African. The sun was being pulled under the conveyor belt of the earth, and the shadows of the trees were long.

“You hear that?” Paul said.

I did. It was the sound of a family of jackals. They were whimpering and whining at the last bits of afternoon.