Slippin’ & Slidin’

Until now my blog has been pretty devoid of narratives about my experiences. To be honest, I just haven’t found the time or the drive to sit down and focus on writing about what I’ve been doing. There was one day in Israel, however, that I do want to share. The day of the rock slide. And since I have an 8.5 hour layover in Amman waiting for my flight to Cairo, I figure I’ll share it.

The Birthright program I chose was Israel Outdoors. Originally, I intended to join the Israel By Bike subset of Israel Outdoors, but when the timing didn’t work out, I ended up on the more generic Israel Quest trip. (In the end I was grateful that I did because the people on my trip were awesome, the staff was amazing, and the experience was everything trite and overplayed (“The trip of a lifetime!” “Friends for life!”) that you hear from just about every other Birthright participant.)

Israel Quest involved a fair bit of hiking, most of which we were told we could wear sandals for but for which sandals were actually never really appropriate (a recurring joke amongst those of us on the trip). These hikes are the reason you see so many nature pictures on my blog. Most of them were typical group hikes, and people found themselves walking and talking in groups, picking friends who were going the same pace and stopping to chat about what they saw on the trail, thought about breakfast that morning (“The same as every single other morning in Israel”), etc.

The morning of 9/7, our guide, Erez, asked that our hike be silent. No talking, no gesturing, no cellphones (people rented them while there). Nothing but nature and a group of oddly dressed, non-talking American tourists and the Israelis (now friends) that were with us for that part of the trip.

About an hour into the hike, Erez stopped the group at a turn in the canyon – at that point we were walking along a dry river bed. We stopped under an overhanging of rocks and he told everyone to find a comfortable spot, lie down, and close their eyes. Erez spoke a bit about our walk, about what he was hoping we would get from it, and how we could bring that back to our lives in the States. He then began playing a song on a set of portable speakers about two men journeying through the desert, wishing for nothing more than a glass of ice water.

I should say here that the area we were in was frequently overflown by Israeli fighter planes, whose engine roar vibrated the area as they passed. There was also a group of birds flying in and out of the rocks near where we lay, possibly resting in the shade, but more likely nesting.

I considered video taping the song Erez was playing because the audio was really incredible and I thought it would make good music for a project if I ever decided to put together the pictures and video I had taken of the trip. Before playing the song, though, Erez had expressly suggested that we close our eyes, clear our heads, and leave our cameras alone. So, regrettably, I did.

About 3 minutes into the song, I heard a pebble fall from the rock wall I under lying under, about 15 feet to my right. I ignored that first one, knowing it was the birds knocking things about. But when a second fell, I turned to look up at what they were doing (so much for clearing my mind and closing my eyes!). What I saw I will never forget.

Out of a small hole in the wall came another pebble, and then slowly another. It appeared the birds were nesting inside a hole in the wall and were clearing out their pace by dropping the rocks out. But that drip of pebbles quickly turned into a stream, as if someone inside the wall had turned on a faucet that only ran rocks, and pebbles began pouring out of the hole.

I’ll never know if it really was the birds, or if it was the vibrations from the planes or our music, or maybe some combination of the three, but the noise from the faucet was not enough to attract the attention of people other than me. And when the wall rumbled, it was one of the Israelis who yelled – in English, thank god – “RUN RUN RUN!”

The video I managed to capture while running for my life shows only the last bit of the rock slide and the dust plume that enveloped me, but the pictures of the boulders should give you a sense of the size of what took place (and very nearly took us). I was the closest to the slide, as I said being only 15 feet from where the wall came down. Luckily for everyone, it was limited to only an isolated section of the canyon wall and not the entire overhang under which most of us were lying.

No one was hurt by the rock slide, though there were a number of scrapes and bangs from the ensuing rush to escape.

What if we had stopped 150 yards further down the canyon and never seen it? What if we had stopped 15 feet earlier and been crushed? What if we had never taken the hike? What if we were talking and laughing and joking instead of being silent and meditating? – that it’s something none of us on the trip will ever forget.

A number of people described the rock slide as one of, if not the scariest thing to ever happen to them. There was some debate as to whether the event was handled appropriately, and what the ideal response should have been. Personally though, I loved it. I know it sounds weird to say, but it was so unbelievably exciting, and no one got hurt, that I was really hoping it would happen again.

And that was just by 11am. Later that day we visited the grave of David Ben Gurion, learned about Jerusalem from a scenic overlook, and planted trees (bushes, really) while visiting a park that showed us how they track migratory birds.

Edit: Here‘s the song that was playing when the rockslide happened. Maybe listen to it while looking through the pictures?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.