Earth Wide Open

The image captures nature's sense of humor, its reaction to its interrelations with people. It's nonjudgmental.

This is a photograph of holes in the earth. They have a terrific name in Hebrew: bolanim - meaning, roughly, "swallowers." In English they're known as sinkholes. In either language, they deprive one of a feeling of security, operate contrary to the laws that people set, work against stability. It's impossible to predict the exact moment at which sinkholes will gape open. They have a wonderful, round shape, but no purpose other than collapse.

Sinkholes Gil Cohen Magen
Gil Cohen Magen

There are more than 1,000 of them around the Dead Sea, mainly in its northern section. They were created because people pumped and siphoned off water that flowed into the Dead Sea from the north, causing the water of the sea to dry up, evaporate, disappear. The sinkholes are beauty created via a process of enfeeblement, by dilution of the salt in the water, by the sagging of the very foundations that shore up the earth, by the erosion of mineral deposits, by dissolution.

Visitors to Ein Gedi must be on guard lest a sinkhole suddenly open up beneath their feet. Even if it wants to hold back, it has no option but to rupture. Because the sinkhole is only trying to swallow its pride - unsuccessfully. Because it is earth that lacks something, has undergone change, has no strength.

Still, this aerial photo, taken by Gil Cohen Magen on October 1 near Masada, is suffused with a certain merriment. The sinkholes look innocent. Taken collectively, they look like a painting by Miro, a sculpture by Henry Moore. Like a bright child's drawing, like the surface of the moon - like extraterrestrial spit. The image captures nature's sense of humor, its reaction to its interrelations with people. It's nonjudgmental.

Though taken from the air, Cohen Magen's photograph seems to be taken from an angle, and somewhat low, as though he does not want to stick the camera directly into the sinkhole's face: Here's a rabbit, whose two ears are at the lower right of the picture; here's a woman walking in the desert, like Hagar, her small erect head at the top left edge. The shades of brown are warm and soft. The sinkholes mottle the ground, scuttle diagonally across the frame - no longer a surprise or a trap.

We need to understand the sinkholes, not be afraid of them. They need long-term treatment, new stability, a renewed flow of water from the north, cultivation, restoration of strength, attention to their welfare and forgiveness. Even though they are signs of distress, it is impossible not to fall in love with them immediately. Because beauty is symmetry, and symmetry is, after all, what can be grasped in a single glance.