Two uniformed schoolboys call to me as I walk through Cana of Galilee, “Hello, what is your name?” I tell them mine, and ask theirs. “I’m Armando,” one says. The other probably tells me his name in Arabic, but I don’t catch it, so instead I say, “Have a good day!”
It is a beautiful morning with a few wrong turns. My route takes me out of Cana the back way — old paving stones become asphalt, which turns to gravel, then dirt, and lastly a thin trail. The view down into the Tur’an Valley is stunning. Tur’an itself is a compact hive of mostly white boxes with two mosques, one gold domed, the other green. A geometry of fields runs west down the valley–without lawns, there’s more room for farming.
I misread a trail marker, and go three wrong directions before spotting the overgrown trace up the hill. On a detour to a ruined Roman road, I stoop through several yards of muddy storm drain, clamber over a guardrail, and tiptoe up a slope of grey and blue thistles. I see a jumble of stones with just enough order to not be natural. The Via Maris; the way from sea to sea, Mediterranean to Galilee, and then on, probably, to Damascus. Now a ruined row of curbstones and a scattering of summa stone, and lots of thistle.
But this would have been the easiest way from Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, to Capernaum, where he lived, at least for a while, as an adult. He did, after all, tell a story about seed falling on pavement, and among thistles. And if this road truly continued on to Damascus, it might have been the route Paul took when he was struck blind so that he might see. The road is near gone, but the way is not.
Later, unlike Jesus, I’m walking through Lavi Forest, which couldn’t have existed in his day. It is an odd mixture of pine and prickly pear. Arab farmers imported the cactus from North America in the nineteenth century, to plant convincing boundaries between farms. It has spread. And since 1948, Israel has planted thousands of non-native trees, so their new land might feel more like their old–Europe, where most of Israeli Jewish families are from. The smell here reminds me of church camp.
I come to a campsite, where a family is unloading their gear. I hear the repetitive sounds of excited children–one phrase in particular. I realize that a four year-old with long blonde curls has been calling to me, louder and louder: “Shabbat Shalom! Shabbat Shalom!” It’s not Sabbath, but there is some measure of shalom. I return the greeting. And her father says, “Have a good day!”
I do believe I have.