Upon enjoying the beauty of Thursday's meander around the countryside, Dear Husband and I decided to get out on Friday in search of more fresh, green landscapes, short-lived as they are in Jordan. We headed north on the road from Mafraq to Irbid, and then continued north into the countryside.
As we began descending a hill and on a road that wound between more limestone hills dotted with oaks, Dear Husband commented that we might be getting close to the Jordanian-Syrian border and would need to turn back. Just after he said this we rounded a bend and found ourselves at a check-point. Though the guards were polite, as we've always known Jordanian guards to be, these were the toughest looking border guards we had ever seen, and we've seen quite a few. We turned around, of course, and headed back up the hill. The landscape was so beautiful that I took a few pictures from the inside of our moving vehicle; We didn't think it a good time or place to stop the car or get out to take pictures.
Maybe it is my advancing age, but I am growing ever more aware of the beauty of trees.
We decided to wander over to Um Qais, to see what wildflowers were blooming. We didn't go into the main ruins of Um Qais, another ancient decapolis city, but drove a a few kilometers north. This was the area where I first discovered, some ten years ago or so, the bounty of Jordan's flora. Some friends took us to an area which has been closed off as a security area for many years, but which has recently been opened after Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel. We picnicked in this area, in which we found ourselves waist deep in an incredible variety of wildflowers. The fields are grazed and degraded now that the area has been open for a number of years, though the view into the Golan Heights and to the Sea of Galilee is beautiful on a clear day.
A patch of bright yellow and chartreuse caught our eye, so this is where we stopped to explore.
The euphorbia and fennel (a shorter, clumpier variety, I think) grew in such a way from the extended ruins of the old city, that it looked as if someone had planned and planted a lovely rock garden.
Ferula (wild fennel)
Cerinthe palaestina (Honeywart)
But where was Dear Husband? Oh, there he is, over yonder, exploring more ruins.
We were a couple kilometers outside the restored ruins of Um Qais, so began to get an idea of how big this decapolis city once was.
The base of a column
A well preserved Corinthian capital
A closer look of the capital shows the carving of leaves from the acanthus plant. I found a couple acanthus plants, though not yet in bloom, growing nearby.
Edit: per a close look at my field guide, I would now identify the leaf below as belonging to the Syrian Artichoke plant, note the Syrian Acanthus--similar appearance, entirely different plant family.
I was surprised to find the Chrysanthemum already beginning to bloom as I have memories of visiting Um Qais in April and this flower being in full bloom, brightening the hills and the meadows surrounding the old city.
Chrysanthemum segetum (Corn Marigold)
Leaving the ruins, we stopped by the family home of our oldest and dearest Jordanian friend. We thought we would stop in for a quick hello, if our friend was there. It turns out he was still on the road from Irbid to Um Qais, but his brother saw us from the roof and came down to greet us. Once we were seen by his brother, it was if the drawbridge was drawn up--we were now "prisoners" to our friend's Jordanian hospitality, even though he wasn't even there yet. Dear Husband and I smiled at each other knowingly. Though we've lived in Jordan for many years, we were reminded that we are still foreigners and had not yet learned how to graciously extract ourselves from Jordanian hospitality. Though, as Dear Husband later commented, it is nice to experience the value of relationships and friendship in the Arab world.
Our friend arrived and we had a nice chat over first tea, then fruit, then coffee, before we were allowed to leave. Once on the road again, we determined to drive straight home as we had a Skype appointment with Oldest Daughter, and no time to spare lollygagging over more wildflowers, but as Dear Husband drove, I caught site of an extended blue patch of growth out of the corner of my left eye. Dear Husband, who has grown very forbearing, yea even interested and encouraging, turned the car around at the next possible place to make a U-turn, and headed back. I'm glad he did.
Lupinus varius (Lupine)