Yup, that’s my mother with The Mushroom. I can’t prove it, but I suspect that nearly every tourist who comes to Israel’s southern desert has a picture of this particular fungal-looking sandstone formation. My first Mushroom pic dates to 1986 and the one you see above was taken just today. The Mushroom is located at a site called Timna that features “natural sculptures” such as this one as well as the remains of copper mining operations that were active from the 14th to the 12th centuries BCE and even rock carvings from the same period.
My mom, my husband, and I are on a three-day excursion to the desert and the Red Sea. This morning, my mom and I almost simultaneously suggested going to Timna. But my husband just looked at us and said, “Why?”
Suddenly I found myself blurting something about how I had important memories of the place from my childhood and so we just had to go and so did he! Important memories? Of rocks? Of copper-smelting excavations?
And so, the whole time we were at Timna I found myself mulling over my husband’s “Why?” and taking it seriously. Why did I want to return to a tourist attraction that I’d seen not once but three times before?
The first time I came to Timna was on a family trip in 1986. The next time I came was as a 14-year-old with a group of American and Israeli high school students. I was here last four and a half years ago on a bike tour. And now here I was again.
By the time we got to The Mushroom itself (after passing various other interesting rock formations including the slightly less iconic “Mushroom-and-a-Half”) I realized that — more than enjoying the stunning geological formations and the fascinating archeological finds — being here allowed me to engage in the geology or archeology of my own life.
“Were these signs here when we were here as a family?” my mother would ask and I would feel my mind sifting through the layers of the ensuing decades to try to remember.
Curious about the particulars of the ancient copper mining operation, I struggled to recall all the things our well-versed guide had told us the last time I was here. But uncovering this layer released a more visceral memory of how our guide got a call on his cell and we had to rush back to our tour bus because another group of bike riders (including my then husband-to-be!) was stranded in a dust storm up on a plateau and needed immediate rescue.
This Mushroom is exactly the same as the other times I’ve seen it, but how have I changed or stayed the same?
What is the path I have walked from one visit to the next and what have I learned from it?
This time, it was a particularly sweet to be walking here with my mom and giving her, only very occasionally, a shoulder to lean on near a steep and gravelly slope. We are each growing older and we have aged much more than The Mushroom seems to have done since we were last here together.
Its sameness is a background against which our changes are more visible and perhaps even more beautiful.
Toward the end of our trip, my mom looked at the map and mentioned that there was also a “Lake Timna” at the other end of the park but that she didn’t think she had been there before. “Have you?” she asked me. And suddenly, bubbling up from some depth came a cloudy memory of camping on the shores of that (man-made) lake as a 14-year-old and — can this be right? — skinny-dipping at night with my 10th grade classmates? I will take this memory and check it with the experts (friends I still have from those years). We will engage in some more archeology together. For now, I will enjoy how the memory itself is as refreshing to me as that innocently frisky swim.