top of page

Shabbat On Base

          I’m sitting inside of an old wooden…I’m not really sure.  Kind of looks a rail car.  The planks are dry, a once green layer of paint now just flecks and chips speckled under heat caked dirt.   Rusted iron cross beams with enormous round bolts are the same color as the bare wood.  It has the feel of an old barn, once clean and proud, made simply and well for a simple purpose, a simple life.  Except it’s on an army base, so that doesn’t really make sense.  But neither does rail car.  

          One side is filled with rusted, dusty jerry cans of tank grease and machine gun oil.  The dirt floor is dark brown and shiny from their leaks.  Most of the planks of the far wall are gone, splintered boards cutting into the desert framed before me.  A skinny tree’s sun bleached trunk and thick, sand clumped roots lay on its side as if this wooden structure was just dropped on top of it.  Long chain linked belts of .50 caliber bullets snake through the branches, petrified by the sand and the sun.  

          Floating along the opposite wall, buzzing angrily, a bee bumps in and out of different holes.  He’s looking for his home.  I saw a bee doing it yesterday near the Armored Personnel Carriers Field.  I was on guard duty.  They go quiet once they find the right hole.  The change is so sudden it almost sounds like a sigh as they float through the thresholds of their tiny apartments.  



          Slowly, but still somehow suddenly, the whine of a throttly engine reaches me, stumbling over the sandy hills.  A brown man in blue jeans and beige jacket crests the horizon on a red ATV, slowly zigzagging back and forth.  I watch him through the chain link fence, springy barbed wire etched clearly against the cloudy white sky.

          He stops and gets off.  It seems like he’s looking for something.  We do a lot of field exercises there, and food and ammunition often get left behind.  I wonder if he’s a Bedouin.  And if someone on guard duty will call him in.  And if the base will send a truck on the security road just inside the fence - just outside my little hut - to investigate.  And if they’ll see me.  Or maybe he’ll see me, even without them.  I have my rifle, but no ammo.  I gave my vest with full ammo to the soldier who changed me on my last guard, because he had given his vest to someone else.  But I’m not planning to use the gun.  I just realized though that I wouldn’t be ready if I needed to.  

          He drives slowly and in a careless pattern.  It makes me think he’s simple and kind and would return my wave if he saw me.  I think about walking up to the fence and waving to him.  I don’t think he’d come to the fence.  I wouldn’t want him to.  It would probably set off some alarms and I’d rather stay unnoticed.  I’d feel uncomfortable if someone knew I was here.  Not that I’m doing anything wrong.  Nothing that I couldn’t easily explain to whatever bored and overly rigid officer.  

          Actually, how could I explain what I’m doing here? How could I explain to him that I just like sitting here alone, not doing anything.  Listening to the tiny bird chirps and the chesty rumbling pigeon breaths and the owl that I can’t find.  Watching the light change as the earth slowly turns it’s back on the sun and the evening washes the white fog off of the blue sky, and that the light glinting off the oil stains makes me smile.  That I have a book with me, two books actually, but I haven’t opened them.  Just knowing I can is enough right now.  

          And I wouldn’t want them to find the cracked frayed cushion that I’m sitting on that I took out of the old tank quietly sinking into the ground next to my hut, and I wouldn’t know how to tell them that climbing inside the turret was more enjoyable than all the time I’ve spent learning how to use the brand new, highly advanced APC, that the musty old smell reminds me of the military museum in Danbury and all of the old army gear I loved finding at flea markets as a boy.  That the wooden planks and rusted frame make me think of dirt roads in Pennsylvania and the woods in New Fairfield.  Wooden structures are rare in Israel, and I am very new here.  How can I tell them that I just want to sit in the silence of my own language?



          So I don’t go to the fence, and I don’t wave to him, and he never sees me.  No one from base comes to check him out.  No one knows I’m here as I sit in my hut and look past the hatchwork fence, over the crayon squiggles of barbed wire sparkling inside an orange sky, at purple green yellow white flowers that ignite in the long slanting light, at the man who so lazily and freely rides his ATV back and forth across the wide open hills, on that side of the fence, and who, I smile to think, would have waved back at me.  

bottom of page