Life Unexpected: Stuck in the Mud

There we were, a combined 153 years between the two of us, in a white 2007 Mazda, spinning our wheels. Not proverbially, but actually. We were thoroughly and completely stuck in the mud, and not just any mud, but thick, brown, oozing, sticky mud. Now, if you have to be stuck in the mud (and that indeed is a philosophical question of epic proportions, which we will leave for discussion to a later date) try to choose a sunny day, world ­class scenery and a good friend. I did.

The fishponds

To round out a lovely visit with my dear friend Anina, a longtime resident of a kibbutz in the Bet Shean Valley, we decided to drive out to the nearby fishponds to see what birds we might spot, and to enjoy the flowering bounty of spring. Thanks to abundant rainfall the valley was lush and green, and we spotted many varieties of birds enjoying the sunshine and water.  Anina suggested that we continue driving in search of the black stork, a very rare variety of stork that had recently been spotted in the vicinity. She pointed out the way to a nearby fishpond and after slipping and sliding cautiously on the narrow ring road, our wheels began to spin and soon we were utterly marooned.  The Gilboa Mountains climbing off to the west, and the even taller Gilad Mountains soaring off to the east formed the backdrop. Right next to us, thousands upon thousands of birds were circling overhead, swooping down and occasionally coming to rest a stone’s throw away at the edge of the fishpond. There were enormous birds of all sorts: ­ pelicans, seagulls, kingfishers, and yes, the black stork too!

The black stork

There was absolutely nothing we could do to extricate ourselves, except for what we had already done, which was to phone for help. Enjoying the minutes as they slowly ticked away, my 93 year old friend Anina assured me that this was not the first time this had happened to her, and she had thus far always gotten out. I decided not to worry. With a sparkle in her eye, she told me that she had actually arranged for this to happen so that she would remain unforgettable. Dare I say she succeeded?

To my mind, slow travel focuses on savoring the experience, the people, the culture of new places and foreign countries, in contrast to ticking off sites one has to see. Writing a blog about slow travel for the last few years, I thought I had come to understand just what slow travel meant. However, being stuck in the mud puts a very different spin on that concept. Just how slow is slow? When you are stuck, as we were, and all you can do is wait for someone to come and pull you out, you have time to look around, savor the view, laugh with your friend, and enjoy the sun.

Our saviors on the way

The first truck arrived to extricate us but was unable to make it up the slippery slope. Calling for reinforcements, a tractor with my friend’s son riding shotgun arrived. After failing to find a place to connect my car to the tractor from the front, the tractor backtracked through the muck and in order to make the long and muddy approach from behind. The tractor was slipping and sliding in the mud and I wondered whether this time they would succeed. After attaching the cable, my friend’s son slipped into the driver seat as I gratefully buckled myself into the back. Getting pulled out along the narrow, muddy path, with the fish pond plunging down to the left, and an equally deep gully on the right, all I could do was screw my eyes shut and pray. I could feel the car slithering over the mud, as the seconds crawled by. We held our collective breaths in silence.

A few minutes later as we drove to the garage to spray down the car and do a damage assessment, the magic of that half hour at the fishpond receded.  We were  thrust  into real time and the pull of everyday events.  Gone were those magical moments when there was nothing at all we could do, so all we did was wait, look at the birds, the scenery and each other. Gone but not forgotten.

In memoriam of my dear friend Anina Korati who passed away peacefully, aged 95, in her own home almost two years after that eventful day. 

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