No more than 17, already she knew what she wanted out of life. Not marriage, not that metamorphosis into the still tree called a wife. But freedom to be Karen, to be five feet four, with windblown abundance of black hair that seemed to wink at itself with little blue winks, as if to keep it from taking itself too seriously; to have eyes that spun riddles of soft, hazel light; and to be someday the best animal photographer in the world, or at least in Israel.Skip to next paragraph
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I met her when I was visiting my grandfather at his kibbutz in the hills above the Sea of Galilee. He was the kibbutz shephered, and a great protector and confidant of the young people as well, so he knew everybody. "Karen," he said one morning, "meet my David. He is a nice boy from America, so please to look out he doesn't get lost here in Israel."
That would have been impossible. We spent almost every day together, first doing chores and then gadding off into the hills, never running out of things to see or to talk about.
"It's hard for girls in Israel to do anything really creative," she told me one day. "We're supposed to be strong, so practical. But I do have to learn their language, David, because each one of them knows something we don't, some secret, some unguessable truth. They're like little prophets, really. Our prophets of old spoke to us out of their wisdom; the creatures speak to us out of their innocence. I want to understand, every sound, every silence, so I can tell their truth in pictures."
"If I'd been born a goose, then," I said, "would you learn goose and paint me in all my magnificence?"
"You're half a goose already," she said, taking my hand and leading me off on fresh adventures.
Some days we hardly stopped for breath. We ran through orchards of orange trees, chasing the white blossoms blowing on the wind as if they were rare and wonderful butterflies. And even when we caught one we'd keep running, holding on to it as if it were a piece of forever that we'd been entrusted to rescue from the here and now. Our laughter ran with us, glimmering off the wings of birds like days in childhood.
Other times we'd sit perfectly still, our backs resting against a sunny boulder, and Karen would click her telephoto lens at sheep grazing on the hills practically all the way down to the Sea of Galilee. Later, when she showed me one of the pictures, the sheep came out looking like angels down on all fours, searching for fallen stars; and in the background the Sea of Galilee, which had looked to me like a little blue puddle, was a lovely basket of dusky blue grapes held up to the hills by finger tips of sun.
"How do you do it?" I asked.
"Art," she said.
One evening, our last, i will never forget. As usual we'd balanced our way carefully over steppingstones in a stream, holding our arms out to the sides like tightrope walkers, picked our way up through the brambles of a steep hillside, and arrived at last, dry of foot but scratched of hand and face, at the shepherd's hut where my grandfather stayed when he was with the sheep. Seeing us, he came out to greet us, not with his usual two bottles of lukewarm soft drink, but with a newborn lamb in his arms.
Surprised and glad beyond words, Karen took it from him and rocked it in her arms almost as if it were a child.
And while the lamb, still all sticky and woobbly-limbed from the ordeal of birth, looked up at her with eyes seeking some explanation for this interruption of its feeding time, she comforted it in a language that even a half-goose understands: "Little lamb, God bless thee! Little lamb, God bless thee!"