They say there are only two seasons in Israel: winter and summer. Winters are cold – not a bitter, frosty cold, but a permeating, damp cold. The wind is often unsparing, carrying the chill into your home, into your bones. The weather is predictable yet always unexpected; after months soaked in sweat, you are suddenly and perpetually the temperature of a frigid slab of Jerusalem stone.
Happily, spring comes early in Jerusalem. Spring is not a season, but a sliver of time, only a few weeks really, when the weather is bright and crisp by day, cool and brisk by night. The hallmark of these liminal February weeks is the calanit, a star of Israeli flora.
Poppy-like in its appearance, the calanit is a member of the species Anemone, and is known in English as a red anemone (or, confusingly, a poppy anemone). Its Hebrew name, Calanit (כלנית) is a diminutive form of the word כלה, or bride.
Surveying the fields of blossoming calaniyot (plural: כלניות) as I walk to school through the Valley of the Cross, it is easy to imagine them as little brides flocking towards the monastery in the center of the valley. Who wouldn’t want a spring wedding?
Since moving to Rechavia, I have treasured this new and incredibly beautiful route to school. Even on wrong side of the bed days, the path astounds me. As I walk down Rabman Street and enter the Valley of the Cross, I always feel an intense sense of gratitude. After all, how many students trek to school through a place that was consecrated in the 4th century by Emperor Constantine? Oh, the joys of Jerusalem.
Georgia was one of the first countries to convert to Christianity, and in 327 CE, Constantine gifted the valley to its king. Eight centuries later, King Bagrat IV of Georgia commissioned the monastery on the site where, according to Christian legend, the tree that was used for Christ’s crucifix once grew. Today, the flag of Greece flies over the monastery, and the site is administered by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
The landscape lopes towards the stark stones of the monastery in a race of lush vegetation and budding color. The trees and plants are every shade of green from the winter rains, and in addition to the calaniyot, yellow and purple blossoms dot the terrain. In the morning sun, the hillside sparkles with ruby, amethyst, and citrine in an emerald setting. The branches teem with birds, and the chorus of their chirping overwhelms the nearby traffic. Oblivious to everything but a feast of pollen, bees move stealthily from one bloom to the next, their weight enough to tickle the petals downward so each flower looks like it’s laughing in the breeze.
Only a few steps away from the city, nature engulfs me. Confronted by history, I feel timeless. This is both Jerusalem and the absence of Jerusalem. It is a center of peace in a city of strife. For the first time in a long time, I felt compelled to write, not a blog or a journal entry or an article or a paper, but to write as art.
Spring comes early in Jerusalem.
Already the heart of February has burst
Spattering red anemones across the valley.
Blossoms vie like belles
To court the last Georgian in town.
Bees gather to groom –
A swarm, a congregation.
Each bloom opens to their meddling
And the birds feast.
Little brides, do you remember
The perennial story about this place?
According to legend, the monastery
Stands where a tree once grew.
Christ’s cross was hewn from its wood.
Today the hills are pews –
Stems witness, petals bless:
This is where the day begins
And where the world will end.