Tsur Hadassa to Tel Azeka
Israel National Trail Day #25
Our group tradition before every hike is to place our poles together in a circle and make a blessing for the day. As today was Tu B’Shvat, our thoughts were about appreciating spring’s renewal. And did nature ever deliver!
The day started off quite chilly as we headed from Tsur Hadassah walking south west. The route took us on a slight downhill path, mostly following dirt tracks and well-etched paths. It was a gentle, sweet walk. The almond trees were in full bloom and the grass was a verdant green. Mauve and purple cyclamen dotted the meadows. Lupines stood up royally while delicate poppies swayed in the breeze. I felt as if I were walking into a Wordsworth rhapsody or an ode by Blake.
At one point, we all stopped in wonder and silence, taking photos of every bloom, striving to preserve the perfect beauty of this moment.
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
William Blake (in his Auguries of Innocence) was able to capture the feeling, while Jordan’s photos display the depth of beauty.
We passed on old tomb, the resting place of Sheik Ahmad El-Hubani. It was a dome and old walls with no inscription. Turns out nothing was written up on about him, so we passed by this mysterious place until we came to another ancient ruin, Horvat Durban.
Apparently Horvat Durban received its name from a celebrated porcupine who dug a burrow here, exposing an ancient potshard. On it was printed the words “for the king,” referring to King Hezekiah who reined from 705-701 BCE.
We walked on, passing an idyllic, sleepy moshav called Matta that sat in a valley. Roosters crowed and dogs barked lazily. It seemed as if this would be the best retreat if one wanted to embrace silence and natural beauty.
We walked past a majestic date grove where trees spiraled to the sky, creating a dense dark forest below. Soon after, we came to Horvat Hanot, which was once a caravansary, an old hotel for wayfarers and a Byzantine Church. Not much was left but a few beautiful Byzantine mosaic floors and crumbling walls. There were supposed to be brushes for us to inspect the floor, but none were to be found. It also looked as if curious hikers had walked off with pieces of this ancient treasure, leaving us with our imaginations to reconstruct the splendour of the site.
This was a good site for a snack and a break. We walked on and along an old Roman road, know as the Caesar’s Road. This road was built in 130 CE by Hadrian to transport Roman troops that quashed the Bar Kochba revolt. We also noticed many caves that were once hiding places for the Jewish rebels.
Crossing Highway 375, we then walked into forest and meadow, with a sighting of Ramat Beit Shemesh and the Judean Hills above us. With the sun starting to sink in the west, we walked along a gentle path past olive trees, vineyards and verdant fields of winter wheat until we reached the end point at Highway 38, spotting the starting point of the last hike with its steep ascent to Tel Azakah.
It was an idyllic way to celebrate Tu B’Shvat. We had a new appreciation of of spring’s renewal, so beautifully captured by William Wordsworth in his Intimations of Immortality:
There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
Happy Tu B’Shavat!