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Seasons Change: Dreaming of Spring in Israel


Moving to Israel, everybody told us, I’d have to give up on spring – there are no seasons here. I wish I didn’t love spring so much – it’s such a cliché – but how could I not? The smell of rain clinging to everything in sight, the soft bounce of the dirt underfoot. Mud everywhere, but also life.

I only learned to love the seasons when I started gardening in our last home, a tiny Toronto bungalow with an equally tiny lot.

The backyard was a mix of sand and shade – a gardener’s nightmare where only ants could play. Grass refused to grow, though many attempts had been made over the years.

But over the eight years we lived there, with the help of two compost piles and countless experiments with hardy native species (and countless hours weeding out perennial sunflowers), things improved, slowly.

I knew it was getting better when I spotted snails. Though many gardeners are horrified at the thought of snails, chomping up pretty hosta leaves and oozing slime trails, I took them as a compliment. Where there are snails, there is moisture and decay. And where there is moisture and decay, there is life.

My backyard had come to life.

When we moved to Israel in August of 2013, it was more of a nightmare than a season. Back in Toronto, it was also the full heat of the summer, but there was hope of fall, and the ripening of tomatoes to console us from the heat, or what we called heat.

In Toronto, the heat isn’t an enemy. It doesn’t leap on your chest and keep you down for two months, three months, four. It doesn’t make you stop, panting, for water, every block on the way to the grocery store. It doesn’t make you duck into banks just to enjoy the air conditioning. It doesn’t make the kids cry as you weave drunkenly down the sidewalk, in and out of every patch of shade. It goes away at night and lets you sleep, or at least sit on the porch with a glass of wine.

Here, it was hot. And it wasn’t summer as I knew it. Nothing was growing – well, nasty-looking succulent plants with bulbous, waxy leaves, or spikes, or unattractive protuberances. Lizards skittered in the dappled light beneath trees. When lizards are happy to play in the shade, it’s truly a hot day.

But one day, well into what I used to think of as fall, it rained. Just a little – the random specks they call teef-toof. But then it happened again, and another evening, I had to buy the kids umbrellas. The rain had stopped by the time we got out of the store, but everyone around us knew – winter was on its way.

And suddenly, suddenly, the world came alive.

Another day, a sandy front yard I passed every day on our way to my son’s kindergarten was full of green stubble – grass! The next, all the bushes, it seemed, had new, pale-green leaves; a few, here and there. The ground was awakening at last.

Now, months later, we’re nearing the end of winter. We haven’t had enough rain, everybody agrees, but all is green and lovely. Cool breezes blow through the window, citrus trees exuberantly flaunt their colourful baubles: lemons, oranges, kumquats.

It turns out there are seasons in Israel, just not the ones I’m used to. Every Israeli knows them intimately. In wintertime, schoolchildren celebrate the nachlieli, a little brown bird who appears only in the winter (in English, it’s known as the Wagtail). Every kid knows the snakes and lizards hibernate each fall in sandy holes until the sun comes back.


Nachlieli / נחליאלי / African pied wagtail (Motacilla aguimp vidua), photo © Charlesjsharp via Wikimedia

However tough Israelis think themselves to be, most share the secret national obsession with winter flowers. More than a few songs have been written about the almond tree, the first sign of spring (in January!), with its whitish-pink cherry-like blossoms.

Newspapers here report annually on the thousands of Israelis who drive out to the countryside to see the kalaniyot, poppy anemones that show their bright-red blooms in February. And everyone loves the purple-pink rakafot, the cyclamen that seem so vigourous growing in bunches beneath trees and around rocks compared to their pale, coddled Canadian cousins sold singly in pampered pots.


Kalaniot / כלניות / Japanese poppy anemone © רפי בביאן via PikiWiki

Rakafot / רקפות / Cyclamen © arie tennbaum via Wikimedia

One day last week, it rained overnight, a “washing” rain that cleansed the dusty city and left a million snails crawling out from behind the bushes. Snails! Where had they been hiding? These were no simpering stripey Canadian snails, either, but big, oozing brown snails, snot-trails sliming up every sidewalk, corpses tragically crushed underfoot up and down every footpath.

And that’s when I smelled spring. The early-morning air was damp and chilly, and the soil, as I walked, bounced in an unfamiliar but welcoming way. A striped cat stalked its prey through the long grass, imagining it was a tiger, deep in some jungle, some rainforest, some tropical paradise. Cherry-red hibiscus blooms lit the way home and I breathed in deeply.

I wanted to save the feeling in my lungs, desperate to hold onto the season, in the same way I’d always wished I could hold onto spring in Canada, though it inevitably gave way to summer.

Here, too, every day, the sun is getting stronger. Most days that start with a sweater have conceded to shirtsleeves by mid-afternoon. But I know by now that they were wrong, the folks who told me to kiss the seasons goodbye. It’s different here, for sure, but the feelings are the same; the hope, the dream of green.

Soon enough, the grass will dry up, the blossoms fade, and the striped cat will stalk lizards, pouncing on them in the once-again-barren sandy yards of our neighbourhood. And just as it did in Canada, the memory of spring will have to suffice for another year.

(Daisy photo © Anja Pietsch via Flickr)

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה


  1. Yes, once you catch on, you see amazing seasons here, and you should connect them to the Jewish Holidays, which of course is another post.
    A number of years ago, I took a course to try to improve my Hebrew, and the teacher told us that the early Hebrew Israeli poets had that sort of problem, adjusting to Israeli weather and wrote their poems in European season concepts which made no sense whatsoever.

  2. Lovely imagery. I could only wish that I lived in a Mediterranean Climate. Mind you I love those spiky plants you so dispise. Interresting how Israel’s flora takes a break in the heat of summer while Canada’s flora is at rest in winter.


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