Hiking in America is a marginalized activity. People go to beaches, parks, and backyards, but hiking is a niche activity for Hippies and sport freaks.
It may be because people in America live so far from accessible hiking trails, or it may be that America is so vast that hiking one small part of it doesn't feel like much of an accomplishment. Or it may be that there are so many other activities to do, or so many beautiful places to find that don't require hiking.
In Israel it's a different story.
Israel is a small country. Every inch of the country is criss-crossed with hiking trails, color coded on maps and on the trails themselves. Every few hundred meters - or few kilometers in sparse areas such as the Negev - is the start, end, or crossing of another trail. To follow the trails, you look for the special three painted color stripes that adorn rocks, trees, and signs along the trail.
Some hikes are trivial, flat, and short. Some are rough, steep, and wild. A few trails cover the entire country from one side to the other.
Israelis use these trails. Youth groups, high schools, day schools, communities, organizations, and tour groups can be found all year long walking, climbing, wading, and resting along these trails. Around the holidays and vacations, the trails get crowded with hikers. Sure, we also hit Israel's beautiful beaches and parks, zoos, museums, malls, wineries, sport stadiums, and so on. But hiking is the national pastime.
It may have something to do with the compulsory army service, in which you are going to be hiking a lot anyway. Or that we are constantly under threat, and this is our way of loving every inch of our land. Or that the trails are not far from us, or that we still internalize the sense of pioneering spirit. Or that every hill and valley in Israel is rich with the history of our people.
Rachel and I spent yesterday hiking near Ela junction, on a hill where a certain type of lupin grows only for a short time each year (we missed the time). It's also the hill on which David stood facing Goliath right before their climactic battle. The trail is littered with ancient caves, olive presses, and the occasional mosaic.
It was hardly a great hike: little shade, no water, the flowers already gone. Even so, the views were nice, as was the company (we went with our shul). And the sense of belonging: this is my land and I'm walking it.
Today I'm driving 45 minutes to an interview in Petach Tikve. 45 minutes from Jerusalem is essentially coast to coast; I'm crossing nearly my entire country in a car ride.
So happy Earth Day. Go out and walk your land. Your country. Your planet. While you still have it.