Maybe because I grew up some years in South Dakota, I am attracted to places which call themselves “Badlands”. A few weeks ago on a Friday when my kids didn’t have school, I convinced my 13 year old, my 17 year old and a 13 year old friend to come with me to see flowers in the Badlands of Be’eri. As I was preparing for the trip, I had to try to think what would make a flower hike interesting to a bunch of teenage boys. Of course, every trip with me is fun, and my kids love being on the trail and joking around, but they also like a bit of challenge. Often this challenge comes in map reading, climbing down dry waterfalls, reaching the top of some peak, or following wild boar tracks. If the day is not challenging enough, I get it from them – they make fun of me and say that they will make sure to remember this hike for when I am “more mature”. So flowers, teenage boys, badlands. Hmm.
I have been trying to go to see the flowers in the area of Be’eri for a few years. Because Be’eri is located in the Western Negev, the area comes within firing range for rockets fired from Gaza. Unfortunately, for the past several years, rockets have been fired during the one month each year when the flowers are blooming in this section of almost desert – making a visit there unwise. This year, the coast was clear (at least until the afternoon of the day we were there) and so I made the trip.
For every new flower we could identify from the flower books, either Tal, Gideon or Avi wrote the name of the flower on a whiteboard I had brought, and then took a picture. They liked the whiteboard and soon took to drawing funny pictures about things they saw. They took turns taking pictures, drawing pictures, holding the book. Since the hike was not so challenging, they were able to draw and walk with ease, and looking up the flowers in a book was like an exercise in the “Where’s Waldo” sense.
We left early, to get there before the crowds, and parked the car. I told them that despite the fact that we seemed to be on the edge of a random wheat field, by the time we returned to the car several hours later, there would be many cars parked by mine. They, of course, didn’t believe me. Who believes their mother? We started on the path which took us straight into the badlands of Be’eri.
What exactly gives a place the description “badlands”? Here, in the Western Negev, winds blew sand particles in from the Sahara. When these particles hit the damp air along the Mediterranean coast, they became heavy and deposited in the Western Negev. There they mixed with clay to form loess. Because of the clay content in the soil, rain that falls does not absorb into it, but rather rushes into the nehalim (streams) and creates flash floods. The sudden surge of water causes erosion of the loess in low lying areas. It is these flash floods which form the uneven terrain called “badlands”. (Besides Be’eri, badlands can be found in Israel in the area of Ruchama.)
Because of the nature of loess soil, it is the ideal environment for burrowing. Animals, from single-cell organisms to voles, make their homes in the loess. Over time, the death of these animals in the soil adds to the organic content of loess. This, combined with the clay content, makes loess great for growing grains – and we saw wheat and barley growing in plenty on our trip. When we took time to examine the soil and I explained how it was formed and how important loess is to world nutrition (25% of the world’s caloric intake is from grains), they realized that “loess is more”.
As we took the long, somewhat boring route back to the car, we passed (and were passed by) tens of people riding bikes. The terrain there, except the area within the badlands, is relatively flat; and on a beautiful spring day, it must have been a joy to bike. As we got closer to the car, we decided to make a bet on how many cars would be parked near mine. The kids all wanted to bet zero. Who would have parked near us on the edge of the wheat field? I bet four. As we rounded the final bend, we saw not zero, not four, but nine cars with mine! It was a popular spot and we were happy that we came early before the crowds.
A stop on the way home for ice cream (every trip ends with ice cream) made for 3 very happy teenage boys, and one happy mother! I finally made it to the Be’eri badlands to see the flowers!