A Farewell Visit

The pleasurable feeling inspired by sand dunes causes people to shed something, and when that weight is lifted they can't help smiling

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The sand dunes of Pardes Hannah belonged to Pardes Hannah. That is, during that brief episode, lasting a generation and a half - from the time the moshava was built, until the dunes to the west of it were destroyed and became the site of high-tech factories - these dunes belonged to it.

Michael Kovner, "Dunes". Charcoal on paper.

What does this mean exactly? No one lived on the dunes; you couldn't plant orchards on them. Indeed, the only thing there was a narrow road that connected the town with the old coastal highway and with the beach itself. There were also two factories that made cement blocks, which, granted, did cover some of the dunes, but they seemed like no more than little rodents that would never make any kind of real dent in this wonderful wilderness, stretching between Pardes Hannah and Hadera and the seashore. The sand dunes were a part of Pardes Hannah the way the Rishon dunes were a part of Rishon. In other words, they belonged to the children of Pardes Hannah and to that part of adult life that was willing to still be connected to childhood.

People walked to the dunes. They walked a kilometer or two, between the eucalyptuses and the orchards, across the train tracks, until they came upon the dunes. What does that mean exactly? It means that all of a sudden, they were there: The dunes "started" all at once. There was an ordinary field, all red loam and grass, and right next to it the first sandy hill loomed. One moment it was a regular sort of place - and just one step ahead, without any transition whatsoever, was the world of the sand dunes.

The grown-ups usually climbed around a little, took their shoes off and sat down with a sigh; after a minute or two, they spread one handkerchief underneath their heads and another over their faces, lay down and fell asleep. And the kids ... where to begin? Everything was open and out there. First of all, they ran and ran, rolled around in the sand and got up, crawled and writhed around, dug and covered themselves up, and played hide-and-seek. And before long everybody was in their underwear or naked, and getting lost in that oblivion of the dunes, when you're not sure anymore just where you are. And what you were certain was one particular mound with a shrub on it turns out to be another mound with an identical-looking shrub, and all the voices are swallowed up and disappear.

There is total silence and a soft breeze envelops you and you feel a slight tremor of anxiety but keep on, delightedly getting farther away from everything and knowing that you're getting lost. That you are untethered and free, and so is everything around you. And this freedom feels cool and smooth.

How to describe the dunes? The ivory whiteness, the soft, sloping curves that become steep. Sliding over them fast and becoming coated in soft-and-cool sand. The precise shadow of each twig on the sand. Overlapping tracks of beetles - rows of brand-new ones and ones made an hour or two before that are already smudged, practically erased, smoothed out by the wind. Everything is smooth and rounded and the sky above is bluer than ever.

It's all so pleasant. Exceedingly so. More than water. Like a warm, snug bosom maybe. Later on, when you're older and you're in the bosom of a beloved, you recall this; one thing is just like the other. And this pleasurable feeling causes people to shed something, and when that weight is lifted, they can't help smiling and running and rolling around.

Once upon a time, about a generation ago, when I was studying in Jerusalem, I invited three friends, fellow students, to stay at our home in Pardes Hannah. On Saturday morning we walked to the dunes as I used to do with my childhood friends. I knew that the dunes were our big treasure - better than a lake, better than a cave, better then a dense wood. The other three, the Jerusalemites, didn't get what the big deal was at first. The trek through the eucalyptus groves and orchards wore them out, and right after arriving at the dunes they nearly fell asleep. But then the only girl among us, beautiful R., got up and started to feel what sands do to a person: She began running, barefoot, and shouting out loud, and she called to the other two fellows to get up and join her. And we all started running and going wild and rolling down the steep slopes and getting lost until we came to a narrow, sheltered valley, as sheltering as a bosom, panting and laughing. And beautiful R. suddenly stood up and said she just had to take her clothes off.

And so she did, casually removing one garment after another. Panic overcame us boys. We students of music and literature and psychology, timid to the core - what were we to do now? Not that there was anything to be ashamed of. Quite the contrary: All were perfectly well-endowed. But we weren't children anymore. What should we do here with beautiful R.?

G. was the first brave one and did the only thing that could be done, and we, with pounding hearts, followed suit and began to undress. I, of course, tripped myself up pulling my legs out of my pants and fell on the sand to the delighted laughter of the others. The chill that enveloped us during those first moments of nakedness is something I vividly recall to this day. Beautiful R. was standing there in front of us in all her splendor and looked at us with a smile that was not in the least bit judgmental, and this smile wordlessly explained what was going through her mind. And so, in another instant, this is what happened: We were children once again. That is, the sand dunes did what they always do.

When we returned to the backyard of my house, just as we would do in childhood, we undressed again on the grass and rinsed each other off with the garden hose and my mother, from the kitchen, swallowed a smile either in embarrassment or understanding.

Years later, when I came to the Pardes Hannah sand dunes with my young children, there wasn't much left of them. The central part of the area had been turned into a drainage reservoir for the Nahalei Menashe water plant, and the edges were now covered with a dense thicket of acacias - a ravenous and invasive shrub that cleared the sands of the broom and wormwood plants, covered them and ruined their pristine whiteness.

When I arrived there with the kids, now as one of the grown-ups, I understood that that walk with my Jerusalem friends was the last time I would ever really get to go to the dunes, that it was my farewell to them.

A few years later, the entire area was taken over and converted into the infrastructure for a brand-new industrial zone.

Pardes Hannah, once defined by its sand dunes, wasn't able to protect them. The older folks still talk about the purple irises that blossomed in the dunes in the spring, and about the huge bouquets they picked of these flowers when they were children. In my childhood, there was no trace left of those legendary irises. Which is to say that, from the start, the relationship between the moshava and the sand dunes was in essence parasitic. All it takes is a generation and a half for an average Israeli community to wipe out an entire landscape.

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