I’d spend hours gazing across the valley, the two dogs demanding my hands-on attention, a cat sitting on the sofa with me, while a frog from the pond next door serenaded us   Photo: Ruti Porter

Our young son and his family were going on holiday. While he had found friends to look after his house in Harduf, including its two dogs and three cats, there was still a space of three days which had to be filled. We assured him we were willing volunteers, and so a much relieved family went off for a three-week holiday in Bulgaria. And this is how we took off three days from Tel Aviv and its traffic, for the peace and quiet (and wonderful air) of this mountaintop kibbutz! To get to Harduf, we turned right opposite the city of Shfaram, and the road climbed steadily upwards for the next fifteen minutes until we arrived at our destination. Standing on a high point of this tree-covered kibbutz, I look south across to the mountains opposite me. Haifa is somewhere in the distance. Directly below me, on several terraces, the kibbutz homes tend to  disappear  in the surrounding foliage. Still further below them is a gigantic valley, stretching for many kilometers in all directions, until it disappears at the horizon. On the opposite side of the valley, I can make out tiny clusters of mountain-top towns and villages, and I realize just how high up we are. Many houses in this  Swiss-type  kibbutz are built in their own style, presumably chosen by their owners. The houses are surrounded by trees (some being really large), and the green of shrubbery and bush. Bougainvillea – mainly pinks and whites, with the occasional yellow – grow in profusion alongside small winding roads, and even along the larger roads on the terraced slopes below me. Cars are parked in the parking areas, but they rarely seem to be used – presumably mainly to get to an outside source of work- and then back home. To walk in the kibbutz is a pleasure not only for us. Once inside the house, we start our make yourself at home proceedings. The fridge is full, we tidy up a few rooms and beds, Ruti loads up the washing- machine, and then we take a long walk around the kibbutz. The dogs, whom we had met on previous occasions, eagerly come along with us. Next morning we wake up to absolute silence. All this is overwhelming to city slickers. The air is so good. What more can one ask for! Before it gets too hot, I take the dogs – both bitches, one large and one small – for their first walk of the day, into the forests of another mountain-top not far off. Along our way we pass the sheds, stables, and horses – goats and cows. Hours later, the temperature is shooting up until it feels like I am standing next to one of those old coal burning iron stoves going full blast, with the oven door open. In the evening it gets cool again – time for another dog-walk. Many hours later after midnight, the cold wind coming through the window wakes us up, and we have to cover ourselves. Our dog-walk routine (the cats never come – they're far too independent), occasionally takes in the small shopping center of the kibbutz and not far off, we walk through groves and orchards. The figs are already ripening and other fruits are showing an early promise. (Other crops are planted on a flattish hilltop, outside the kibbutz. From there one gets a good view of the tremendous homes of Moshav Adi, perched on several hills not far away). I spend long hours sitting on the wooden verandah under a grape arbor in the back garden, just looking over the valley. One of the cats sits down with me. The two dogs come up and nuzzle their noses in my hand, asking for attention; the frog in the pond next door croaks his song in a high falsetto. What a wonderful way to spend the day! All too soon our three days are up. We pack, and although I carefully close up everything the dogs manage to get out and want to go for a walk with us. I shout at them rather angrily Lech haBaita , and they move off a few paces, but don't go away. What remains with me is our last look, at the two bewildered dogs, standing motionless on a small hill under the trees, watching us leave them – just as their own family had left them a few days before.

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Mike Porter

Mike Porter was born in South Africa. In Johannesburg he became a newspaper reporter on the Rand Daily Mail, besides writing for the Sunday Times, Zionist Record and, years later, for the EP Herald...
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