Whenever people say the word “basically” I cringe a little. Rule number one of working with people with disabilities is that nothing is basic, or simple, or easy. Each evening before the next day’s trip I discuss the logistics and details with our group’s tour guide. Often she will say something like “the bus will basically drive us up to the summit of the mountain and then it’s a short walk from there.” Excuse me if I’m hesitant.
So on a recent trip, this is basically what she said. I tried to get more details, but from what she told me, the walk from the bus parking lot up to the summit was not to be worried about. We were heading up to daven shacharit while the sun rose over the Kneret. Sol would be able to feel the breeze, the change in temperature, and enjoy a spiritual morning prayer service with his peers. Awesome.
The walk started off fine, a paved pathway with a slow sloping upwards. Then the paved pathway ended, replaced by a dirt path. Not ideal, but still doable. Sol and I slowed down to accommodate for some of the rocks on the trail, and the group continued walking, now a bit ahead of us. As we approached the summit, the dirt path was replaced with large, sloping, flat rocks and no clear path. Our group had chosen a spot farther away from where the dirt path ended. I deposited our three backpacks (1 for Sol, 1 for me, and 1 for the braille siddurim) and Sol’s cane at the bottom so Sol and I could begin the trek up the rocks. Every step was an accomplishment. How do you describe which rock to step on when surrounded by rocks? What directions can I verbalize to make the process smoother? So when Sol politely asks, “where did the group go?” I explain that we are actually quite close but we still have to continue a little further. It takes us approximately 15 minutes to walk up the rocky terrain, a walk that took that rest of the group under a minute to complete.
A similar experience happened the next day at an archeological site with an ancient castle (from around 2000 BCE). Our tour guide said that we would take the “easy” path to the castle. A paved path led to the ancient castle entrance, and was then replaced by a series of rock steps. Challenging but not prohibitive. Then the stone steps turned to large stones. Some were more like cobblestones, and others were massive rocks, flattened by the years of use and disuse. And then they started sloping uphill. A typical person does not even process how we use the visual information provided by our eyes. We take in the shape, size, texture, and orientation of the rocks and make split second decisions about where to put our feet. Not in the crevice. Larger step over that bump. Step left to avoid that slippery patch. Without those pieces of information, the walk up becomes trying and tiring. By the time we made it up to the group, our guide had finished her explanation of the area and was ready to move on. Sol and I decided to explore the area, since we had only just arrived, and then make our way back down the way we came.
This blog post is not meant to be a public complaint, a place to air my woes to the world. In fact, reflecting back, I would change nothing about our actions. Sol is very determined to be as much a part of the group as possible, and clearly these parts of the hikes were possible for him. After the sunrise hike/shacharit I asked him how he felt. His response was “accomplished.” When we finished the ancient castle, he said “Well I think I earned that swim later!”
There is, however, something for us able-bodied people to learn: nothing is simple. Sol is acutely aware of every curb, every step, and every rock. Without the comforts of paved sidewalks or wooden walkways, the world is a much more treacherous place. Treacherous, yet also a world that should be experienced as fully as possible. That’s as “basic” as it gets.
On top of Har Arbel, Northern Galilee
Path leading to ancient castle, Tel Dan Nature Reserve