Mentions of Kibbutz Shamir, in Upper Galilee, often describe an unusual celestial phenomenon: a sunrise in the west. Each morning, when the early rays emerge over the Golan Heights and the steep eastern slopes of the valley, on which the kibbutz sits, they first strike the taller ridges on the far side of the Jordan River, on the border between Lebanon and Israel, and then spread across the Huleh, giving the illusion that the sun is about to make its grand entrance from the wrong direction.
I don’t remember people talking about this effect when I lived on Shamir. I do remember the sunrises and sunsets, though, from our perch on the slopes of the Golan, and how they illuminated the rich earthen palette of the valley, from autumn, through winter and into the spring. I probably watched more sunrises in Israel than anywhere else, thanks to pre-dawn shifts in the cotton fields and the apple, kiwi, or avocado orchards.
We would drag ourselves from our cots, alarm clocks screaming, and descend into the valley amid the murk of first light, in the back cab of an old Toyota truck. The light would begin to illuminate our surroundings as we shook off sleep (and often hangovers) with caffeine, nicotine, small talk or silence—whatever it took. And there we were, as the day began to warm, in the wide embrace of the Huleh: pulling stones from the cotton fields, burning stubble, trimming the branches of the kiwi trees, digging irrigation trenches past the apple stands, clambering up the long limbs to reach the last avocado.
The end of the day, long after our work shift had finished, tended to be more dramatic. I’d often have a siesta and go for a jog around the kibbutz’s ring road (or perhaps I’m embellishing my athletic activity—I did do a few circuit loops), as the sun started to descend into Lebanon, a burning ball extinguished against the mountains’ silhouettes, and the rock rabbits would release their surreal, almost mechanical squeals from their warrens and farther away, amid the hills and the scrub, the wild dogs would take up a howling call and response.
Night would fall. The electric lights of the valley would flicker on. Qiryat Shmona would appear as a constellation across the river. And I would get anxious for activity: a drink (or more), a conversation, some gossip, laughter around the TV or the bar, a friend or two to fend off the loneliness of the night. And then, the next day, the sun would rise again in the east.
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I lost track for a few days and realized that this post marks the 100th of my blog—and my goal of writing 100 to celebrate the centenary of the kibbutz movement. Of course, I never intended to end at 100—especially when I’m only halfway finished describing my trip to Israel this summer and have barely begun to relate my experiences (and embarrassing journal entries) from more than 20 years ago. So I thought it best (especially before taking time off for two weeks of family vacation) to mark Post #100 by looking back to Galilee from a more personal perspective and touching once again on some of the images and memories burned into my own imagination by the kibbutz I once called home.