This is the story of the first time I crossed paths with my young Syrian companion.
The Golan Trail winds south from Mt. Hermon to the Sea of Galilee, passing on the outskirts of Moshav Odem through acres of abundant cherry orchards and the Odem Forest Reserve. Hikers navigate by following a striped rectangular tag -- green, blue, and white -- painted on rocks and fence posts along the way. The trail is narrow and dusty in some places. It overlaps with roadways in others, exploring the dynamic landscape. My friend Shlomi and I set off northward toward Mas’ade, an hour’s trek from Odem, in the glowing late afternoon.
Descending on this path from Mt. Odem, about nine miles from the Syrian border, opens a view of Ram Pool and surrounding Druze communities. High elevation topography encloses the area. Druze buildings meld into the hillsides, layering upward from the valley floor. Typical homes are several stories high and constructed from square, stone blocks of a similar shade as the ground they rise from.
The smooth surface of the trail weaving through the cherry orchards is trafficked by farmers and families working their crop. Tattered blankets and mattresses, couches and chairs, gather under the canopy. Laborers rest there during the day. Swollen fruits dripping from the branches vary in shades of bright red to dark purple. Crossing paths with the workers usually results in a handful of cherries or a cup of coffee, their generosity overflows.
The bright tags directing our way split sharply from the road. Plunging into the Forest Reserve, the trail transitions into an uneven dirt path whose twisting roots and boulders grab the toes of your boots. Low-hanging branches and overgrowth crowd the path broken up with large boulders. Gradually, space grows between the trees entering the valley floor.
The evening became chill as we approached the village, dense fog coming to rest below the caps of the hilltops. Nearing the highway we stopped to make a decision: continue down the sloping road another mile to Mas’ade, or turn back. Unable to discern the rational choice, we put the outcome into the hands of fate. Neither of us had a coin, so we flipped Shlomi’s passport. The toss sent us continuing on.
We had just crossed the roadway about a mile from our destination when a young dog emerged from the bushes and trash, scurrying close to the ground toward us. His wide eyes locked onto mine, dark with worry and fear. Veering suddenly toward oncoming traffic, I intersected him and pinned him to the ground. He squirmed and rolled in the dirt and I could feel his ribs jutting out from beneath his filthy, tan coat.
“You have two options,” Shlomi counseled, “Leave him, or bring him with us.” Picking him up, I carried him away from the roadway and crafted a collar and leash from the piles of rubbish. A rusted coil of wire wrapped in a child’s cast off t-shirt functioned as the collar, attached to a leash of plastic tubing. The dog was skinny, too skinny, with fat ticks lodged into his hide.
Despite this, his Syrian eyes remained sharp, a deep gold color surrounding black pupils. I noticed a sweet face with a black dimple on each side. One of his pointy ears was flopped over, his curious black snout exploring everything in reach. Gangly legs and oversize feet further revealing his youth. He began to relax, his pink tongue licking my hand.
He joined us for the return back to Odem. Our attempts to hitch a ride while toting a mangy dog became an exercise in futility, so we set off on foot.
Stay tuned for Part Two