One of the happiest winters we had was in the late eighties when we spent a sabbatical semester in Tucson Arizona. We drove from snowy Iowa City, where we lived, to Arizona at Christmas time. What I noticed first were the different colors of Santa Catalina Mountains and the smell of citrus bloom in the air. Whoever lives in a cold climate can identify with my conclusion, that we arrived to paradise.
A year later we returned to Israel and my husband got a job at Ben Gurion University in the southern city Beersheba. Beersheba is not a beautiful place, but an hour away in 3 directions there are some of Israel’s most beautiful spots: the Dead Sea to the east , the Mediterranean sea to the west, and the *Ramon Crater to the south.
One late afternoon we drove to the Ramon Crater and were struck by its beauty. We were overwhelmed by the different colors inside the crater and loved the gazelles running on its rim. We both remembered beautiful Tucson and our happy time there and at that moment decided that we would buy a house by the crater in the small town of Mitzpe Ramon (Ramon Observation Point).
The opportunity came some weeks later and within two months we were already at our new home in Mitzpe Ramon, that was 23 years ago. We only stayed one year in Beersheba and then went back to the States, but that house has remained our home in Israel and whenever we went there on vacations we spent our time in Mitzpe Ramon mostly doing what we loved doing in Tucson: hiking and being outside.
The sleepy town of Mitzpe Ramon has a strange mixture of people: there are the pioneers who created that settelment in the 1950s when they built the road to Eilat. Then in the 60s new immigrants were brought there from North Africa, in an attempt to populate the Negev. In the 70s a group of Americans who call themselves Hebre’ic Blacks came to live in Mitzpe Ramon, and later on the hippies, the artists, and the nature lovers came to town in an attempt to escape city life.
Two years ago the most expensive resort hotel in Israel was built on the rim of the crater. Guests in that hotel spend more than 1000$ a night to sit on their balconies and watch this natural wonder. However, so far, even this development has not changed the town which has remained sleepy as ever.
If you ask around, many people here in Mitzpe Ramon would say that they do not want their town to change; this is exactly what they were looking for when they left the big city for the quietness of the desert mountains. Yet, other people may complain about a very high unemployment rate and the lack of opportunities for the residents.
Unfulfilled potential (just like unfulfilled talent) often causes disappointment-- a feeling of opportunities missed: "Mitzpe Ramon could have been just like Sedona AZ, if only. . . " Indeed Mitzpe Ramon is a classic case of an unfulfilled potential: it is a small, unsophisticated town by one of the most spectacular natural formations on earth.
But, from selfish reasons, I still prefer this state of unfulfilled potential. In the late 1970s I visited another magical place-- Stanley Park in Vancouver BC. It had wild, not yet explored, beach areas. Going back there with my family in the mid-1990s I saw that in 15 short years the park has been transformed. It has become a cultured park, still beautiful, but for me it has lost its magic.
Whenever I tell people about my house in Mizpe Ramon they say that I am very lucky to have a home in such a beautiful place, but usually they add that it is a pity that nothing has been done here. I don’t delude myself that Mitzpe Ramon will always stay the same, and when it does I may even be happy for the local people who will benefit from more opportunities. But in the meantime I enjoy being in this quiet unfulfilled place to where commercialism and progress have not yet arrived.
*The Ramon Crater is a geological feature of Israel's Negev desert. Located at the peak of Mount Negev, some 85 km south of the city of Beersheba, the landform is not actually an impact crater from a meteor, but rather is the world's largest makhtesh. The crater is 40 km long, 2–10 km wide and 500 meters deep, and is shaped like an elongated heart.Today the crater and surrounding area forms Israel's largest national park, the Ramon Nature Reserve. Wikipedia:
only poetry is possible.
I think that the most common perception of the desert is that it is a dead and inhospitable place. I’m sure there are places like that. Maybe the Atacama Desert in northern Chile would be nearly lifeless. It is one of the driest places on earth and has been dry for three million years. I’ve never been there so I can’t report from personal observation but I’ve read that in wet years it might get a half inch of rain. That’s dry — but there are plants and animals that have adapted and thrive there. The Atacama is located along the Pacific Ocean and sea fog brings some moisture and humidity to coastal areas. There are scorpions and a few lizards. Where there are plants, there are grasshoppers who are followed by birds. Flamingos and penguins live near the ocean. There is a species of mouse that lives in dry areas. If conditions are foggy along the coast there will be a few vicunas and guanacos, camel relatives, who survive by eating cactus flowers.