Saturday, March 28, 2009

Camping in Wadi Dana~just about my favorite place on earth

As a family, we don't do much camping, but there is one camping trip which is the perennial highlight of our year: Camping at the Rummana campsite in the Wadi Dana Nature Reserve with 75 of our closest friends. We started as a small group of families with small children about ten years ago and for the past four years we have reserved the entire camp (20 four-man tents) for this much anticipated March weekend. Food preparations begin in earnest about a week before we head to Wadi Dana as we attempt to simplify yet upgrade our meal repertoire every year. This year's favorites: Sesame Chicken Noodles for our arrival lunch and grilled lemon chicken and vegetables (Shish Taouk) and twice baked potatoes for our second dinner.

The Wadi Dana Nature Reserve covers an area of 320 square kilometers and is a series of wadis (valleys) and mountains which extend from the upper edge of the Rift Valley down to the desert lowlands of Wadi Araba. Since opening in 1993, the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature has done a wonderful job of highlighting this remarkable area, home to breathtaking landscapes, about 600 species of plants, 37 species of mammals, and 190 species of birds.

No cars are allowed in the reserve so we load all our gear into a large covered pick-up shuttle and rattle about ten minutes down the dirt road to the campsite. Sleeping tents (the teepees) are fitted with foam mattresses, sheets, pillows, and blankets.

But the large Bayt Sha'r (Bedouin tent) is where we spend most of our time hanging out, cooking, eating,

playing cards and "La De Da",

and catching a few zzzz's.

Early in the morning I have only to walk a couple hundred yards from the campsite to find a sunny rock on which to read and pray.

A Rock With a View

Though I usually stick to photographing flowers, I tried to do a little bird photography on this trip. Very little. Flowers are much, much easier. We were treated to the sight of a few different birds of prey majestically soaring over the valleys, enjoying the warm wind currents found there. I only managed to photography these two Bulbuls, though I saw and heard many other species, this being the time of year when many birds migrating from Africa to Europe for the summer months.

After enjoying some time alone and with God in the midst of his awesome creation, I rejoined family and friends on the patio for a Dana breakfast, prepared by the camp staff: fresh baked flat bread just delivered from the nearby Dana village, homemade yogurt cheese (the creamiest I've ever tasted), hummous, foul (broad-bean dip), sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, homemade apricot jam, and Dana tea--brewed with cardamon.

After breakfast and sunscreen, many head out on the various hiking trails, some gentle, some more challenging. The first morning, Dear Husband lead the way on a trail which took us scrambling around the edge of a valley.

There were caves to explore,

and from every vantage point, stunning landscapes to take in.

Even though the reserve was very dry this year, with very, very few of my flower friends in bloom, I was able to find a few spots of color along the way:

Helianthemum vesicarium (Sun Rose)

Ononis Natrix (Yellow Restharrow)

Afternoons are good for a rousing game of multi-generational ultimate football,

Climbing Fort B (not sure how this well-loved sandstone rock came by this name, but it has endured through our years visiting Dana. I remember when we first starting camping here, when the kids were little, it was a momentous occasion when one of the kids ascended Fort B for the first time),

Fort B

or just hanging out (or laying out) with friends. Plenty of rocks to go around.

Last year our camping weekend fell on Western Easter (we celebrate Eastern Easter in Jordan) and so begun the two year tradition of holding a Sunday morning service amongst the rocks behind the campsite. We sang, we prayed, we took communion, and the kids and youth performed a Resurrection play under the direction of Mr. H.

Soldiers guarding the tomb where Jesus' body is to be laid

Peter, John, and Mary outside the empty tomb.

Around lunch-time we pack our things, all of which smell of campfire smoke through and through. It would be hard to leave our favorite place on earth if we weren't so tired, dirty, and almost out of food!

Wadi Dana 2009

Some see weeds...

I think it's a matter of perspective.

J.A.Y.A. (Just Another Yellow Asteraceae)

Crupina crupinastrum (Crupina)

Adonis palaestina (Palestine Pheasant's Eye)

Tesiera glastifolia (Globe Mustard)
(I think--you really need the fruits to identify these, and they haven't matured yet.)

Trifolium resupinatum (Pink Clover)

The first three beauties were found on a field trip with my biology class of three high school guys; they're not completely past the "they're just weeds" perspective, but they're coming along and can now place some common wildflowers in their proper families. The mustard is growing in many a vacant lot and field around town, including the one across from our house, and the clover is a mostly unnoticed "weed" in our front yard.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

They're Off and Running~Dead to Red, 2009

It's that time of year again--time for the Dead to Red, the 10-man, 244K relay from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea. This is Active Son and Artist Son's fifth Dead to Red (Artist Son first ran when he was just nine and received an honorary award for being the youngest runner) and it just seems to get more fun every year.

At the beginning of the week, Dead to Red Fever began to heat up; strategizing began in earnest, supplies were gathered and packed, and an official Dashing Dudes T-shirt was designed and produced:

By last night the Fever was really burning; Active Son was now entering the realm of hyper focus, on the race, and was losing focus on just about everything else. At 1pm this afternoon, the 10 Dashing Dudes and their drivers loaded into two vans and headed for the start-line, about 20K south of the Mujib Bridge. Beginning the race at 3:30pm this afternoon, the Dashing Dudes, along with 15 other teams will run through the night, hoping to reach Aqaba around 8am tomorrow morning.

Map of Jordan from Lonely Planet

Mr. Mag., this year's team captain, dedicated this year's run to Dear Husband who is missing his first Dead to Read race in five years due to -yawn-meetings abroad; DH entertained thoughts of playing hooky from his meetings but it couldn't be. This one's for you, DH. You've been a great coach and encouragement through the years and our boys couldn't have done it without you!

Update, 6:30pm: The Dudes are in fourth place with high hopes of catching the third place team, the student team from King's Academy, an upscale boarding school located outside of Amman. Active Son is encouraged by their pace--they are currently running one kilometer legs.

Update, 7:45pm: Active Son called to tell me that they are now in 3rd place! They overtook the King's Academy team on The Hill. King's put up one runner to take The Hill while Dashing Dudes took it by a few legs of sprints. The Dashing Dudes, however, are not resting on their laurels: Active son reports that the King's Team is strong, made up, he thinks, of members of their track and field and cross country teams. He's not sure if they'll be able to hold their lead, but it looks like the neck and neck competition will keep them running their fastest through the night. Go Dashing Dudes!

Update, 10:10pm: Another phone call from Active Son and he doesn't sound tired yet; I think he is energized by the fact that the Dashing Dudes are now in 2nd place! They passed the former 2nd place team a little bit ago and Active Son estimates they now have about a five minute lead on them. Dashing Dudes are averaging 3 min. 50 sec. kilometers now. In first place is the national team, as in really, really fast runners, so 2nd place is probably as good as it can get for the Dashing Dudes--and it is very good!

Update, 12:00am: This will be the last update before the finish because I'm going to bed! Dashing Dudes are still in 2nd place, now with an increased lead. They hope to finish in just seven more hours or so. Just. I'm predicting they'll set a Dashing Dudes record time this year. Makes me feel kind of guilty for going to bed.

Update, 8:00am: Active Son calls to report that the Dashing Dudes finished the race in rare form: not only did they maintain their 2nd place position, they pushed hard on first place team who finished only 22 minutes ahead of the Dashing Dudes and broke the race record. They said the Dashing Dudes were a little too close for comfort! There was lots of whooping and cheering going on in the backround of our phone call but I was able to get Dashing Dude's official time:
15 hours, 19 minutes, and 32 seconds.

Congratulations to all the Dashing Dudes!

Dashing Dudes Team, 2009

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


"Then the prophecies of the old songs have turned out to be true, after a fashion!" said Bilbo.

"Of course!" said Gandalf. "And why should not they prove true? Surely you don't disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don't really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!"

"Thank goodness!" said Bilbo laughing, and handed him the tabacco-jar.

~The End~

The Hobbit

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Busy Days...

...but never too busy for me to stop and enjoy the first narcissus of spring, cheerfully blooming just outside the kitchen door.