Saturday, April 25, 2015

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Poppy Birthday to Me

This weekend was my birthday weekend, so Dear Husband and Tayta asked me where I would like to go for a wildflower outing. We didn't have a lot of time and cold, rainy weather was predicted for the late afternoon, so we didn't go far or plan a sit-in-the-sun picnic. I had noticed that poppies were blooming around the kingdom so I suggested that we try to find the famed field of poppies in Anjara, a village close to Ajloun. We didn't find the field, but I wasn't disappointed as we saw many poppies along the Mafraq-Jerash road, and later as we meandered through the mountain villages near Ajloun.

Horned Poppy
Glaucium alleppicum

Also along the way, Dear Husband pulled over to look for black irises in a place we had once seen them. I hadn't remembered the spot, and besides, I opined, I think they must have all bloomed by now. All the others I'd recently seen were spent. The irises were there and they were at the peak of their bloom. I told Dear Husband that I considered them my birthday bouquet from him. Turns out that he had looked for a bouquet of cut flowers for me in Mafraq, but could find nothing suitable. The natural bouquet of black irises suited me very well!

Black Iris
Iris nigricans

Crazy flower lady with her birthday black irises

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Extreme Wildflower Spotting~Desert Tulips

Two of the biggest challenges to wildflower spotting are: 

1. Knowing exactly where to find a particular wildflower
2. Getting to its location during its brief blooming period

Because my spring days are punctuated by many events and obligations, I don't often consider taking a trip to another part of the country to search for a particular wildflower. However, reading the Orchid Thief last fall, gave me pause. My wildflower spotting "adventures" were nothing compared to the globe-trotting, life-risking endeavors that orchid aficionados undertook to see or possess a rare bloom. Maybe I needed to be a little more daring in my pursuit of some of Jordan's rarer wildflowers.

Friends who live in the south of Jordan told me about a small red tulip which blooms on one particular hillside near their home--if there is enough precipitation. Since we received rain and then snow this winter, I was hopeful that the red tulips would be blooming. I sent a message to my friend and asked her to let me know when and if she saw the wild tulips begin to bloom. I was not sure that I could get myself down to see them, but I figured that I could at least inquire.

I received a text from my friend on a Tuesday. The tulips were blooming, but I'd need to come soon if I wanted to see them. As it turned out, we were schedule to head south on Saturday for our annual camping trip to Wadi Dana. The tulips were another hour and a half south of that destination. I somewhat timidly asked Dear Husband what he thought of driving to see the tulips. It would mean an early departure from Mafraq and three extra hours of driving  on our first camping day. He agreed to do it, and Tayta bought into the adventure as well. I informed them that I would double-check the tulip status on Friday, to make sure it was worth the drive.

Results of Friday's tulip-tracking inquiry: my friend said that the sheep and goats, the bane of Jordan's wildflowers, had been through that week, but she thought there were still a few left. Another friend, who went south on Friday scouted the field for us and confirmed a few remaining tulips. Tayta and I worked steadily to get all of our camping gear together on Friday night. At the 11th hour, more adventurous wildflower-loving friends decided to join with us. To bed we went for a night of restless sleep--the kind you have when you know you have to get up for an early morning flight. We were up at 4:30 am and heading out of Mafraq at 6:15am, wide awake with anticipation even before coffee.

We arrived in Ras an-Naqab about 10:30am. This is not the terrain where you would expect to find spring tulips, but I've learned the look for the unexpected.

Coke marks the spot. Our scouting friend marked the point at which we should turn south into the field with an empty Coke bottle and a stick.  

We fanned out over the field of rocks and dirt to look for the low growing tulips. Dear Husband was an awesome scout--you can see him way out in the distance, the white speck on the edge of the bluff. A couple of us remarked that the experience of searching for tulips reminded us of childhood Easter egg hunts.


We were near a rural village and so pulled on our appropriate long skirts and donned our headscarves. The wind was wild so we were challenged to keep everything in place. 

Dear Husband for the assist in the photo shoot: blocking the wind and holding back the thorny brambles so that I can get a shot.

This picture shows well the challenging  habitat of the Naqab tulip, and helps one to better appreciate it's determined beauty.

Tulip stylosa

This tulip had its leaf chewed by goats or sheep, but the beautiful flower remained.

Black Garlic
Allium aschersonianum

We also spotted some black garlic, and Dear Husband, the superstar scout of the trip,  found one and one only specimen of the this previously-unspotted-by-me desert lily. It remains nameless as I haven't located it in my field guide. I'm pretty sure it is in the genus Ornithogalum, a type of Star of Bethlehem, but I'm not able to confirm that.

Photo credits for the people pictures go to my people-loving-always-up-for-an-adventure friend. Thank you! What a great support staff I had in the field that morning!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Baby Cashmere

I put the wool needle into my sewing machine for one last cashmere project before my sewing efforts become completely dedicated to sewing squares for Tayta's college quilt.

This baby blanket was made a for a sweet baby boy, welcomed into the world just two weeks ago.

Can you guess the baby's nationality from the colors I chose? Orange was the first color I chose, and the stitching was done in orange.

Here's a hint: Color inspiration from a favorite artist...

Church at Auvers
Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh

Painter on the Road to Tarascon
Vincent Van Gough

Yes, this blanket was given to a beautiful Dutch newborn this afternoon, at his "coming out" party. Welcome to the world, little one!

Edit: When I asked my Dutch friend which Dutch artist she thought inspired my quilt, I was surprised when she replied, "Mondrain?"

But of course! 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A Birthday Outing to Abila

Last Saturday was a perfect day. It really was. In celebration of Dear Husband's birthday, we planned a day trip to the countryside, once again joining our preferences for ruins, landscapes, and wildflowers, and chose the ruins of the ancient decapolis city of Abila, about an hour from our home.

(Asphodelus fistulosus)

Abila is not nearly as developed or excavated to the extent that Jerash and Um Qais (Gadara) have been, yet there is yet evidence of a large ancient city. Below is a distant view of city ruins which I took from atop another hill of ruins. We picnicked on yet a third hill of ruins.

We immediately set out exploring: Dear Husband and Tayta for ruins and maybe some Roman glass, me, for wildflowers.

I was surprised to find several stands of orchids (which Dear Husband and Tayta passed by completely!) as I didn't know this species grew in the area. Disappointingly, they were just past their prime, browning around the edges of their petals, but beautiful all the same.

Fan-Lipped Orchid
(Orchis collina)

(Adonis aestivalis)

Jagged-leafed Phlomis
(Eremostachys laciniata)

We left the main site of the ruins and drove up to the top of an adjacent hill--Dear Husband's  vision for a picnic site. We had this lovely spot, with its panoramic views, ruins, and wildflowers, all to ourselves.

Views from our picnic spot:

The main site of preserved columns at Abila

And turning slightly to the south, this spring-time view of rolling green hills, gently sculpted with stone terrace walls and olive tree groves~

Having laid out our picnic lunch, Tayta's next task was to round-up her parents, who are prone to wander around such places, her father, exploring the ruins, and her mother, searching out the dearest freshness deep down things.

Judean Bugloss
(Echium judaeum)


Oriental Garlic
(Allium orientale)

Star of Bethlehem
(Ornithogalum montanum)

She succeeded in coaxing us to sit down.

And after lunch, some more wandering and exploring:

Dense-flowered Fumitory
(Fumaria densiflora)

"I stumbled upon a land of my childhood dreams. All of a sudden, the stories of The Silver Chair became so real: here I stood at the edge of the ruined City of the Giants. This place matched what I had imagined, or perhaps, my imaginings came from what I knew..." Tayta

Purple Clover
(Trifolium purpureum)

Chaotic, abundant fields of beauty

Dear Husband reflected that visiting Abila was an ideal birthday present for him as it was his first visit to the site, a new discovery. And, he has now visited all five ancient decapolis cities in Jordan.

Happy Birthday to a very Dear Husband. May God give us more years of wandering and exploring together.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Tell Al Hamman~Biblical Sodom

One  aspect of residing in Jordan that we've come to appreciate is living amongst the ruins of ancient civilizations: some excavated, some in the process of excavation, some buried forever under the foundations of our present civilization. The archaeological, and particularly, the biblical archaeological record of Jordan is very rich.

Several years ago our family had the opportunity to participate in a fascinating archaeological dig just east of the Jordan river and 14 kilometers northeast of the Dead Sea: Dr. Steven Collins, of Trinity Southwest University led an excavation of Tell Al Hammam, believed to be Biblical Sodom. The team returns every year for a month-long season in January/February, and this year, they graciously allowed us to again join them for a day.

Since we joined the dig on a day that two new helpers had arrived from the States, we were privileged to listen to Dr. Collins give his introductory talk about the site from the highest point of Tell Al Hammam, believed to be the palace of this Middle Bronze Age fortification.

The location of Tell Al Hammam and the of the other sites around it, which are located precisely where the cities of the Jordan plains should be, according to the Biblical text, satisfies a major criteria for its designation as Biblical Sodom. To the south and east is Mount Nebo, the traditional site where Moses looked into the Promised Land. It also overlooking the Dead Sea.

To the west, is the Jordan Valley, sites of the cities of the plains, and, through the haze, the land of Canaan, present day Palestine and Israel.

After a stimulating lecture/briefing, we were invited to help  the other archaeologists and dig workers in one of the pits.

Excavation of charred wooden beams

Dr. Collins put Artist son to work cleaning the dirt that he removed from one of the walls.

We learned how to "dig" properly. Notice that Dear Husband is using a flat trowel. This is so that he can take the dirt down by levels--think bathwater going down the drain--rather than digging down. The pointed end of the trowel can be used to gently chip away the remains of ancient mud bricks.

And how to get all that dirt out of the pit? The dig crew fills the "qoufas ", which are then tossed by a strong, able-bodied young man up to another strong, able-bodied young man. The dirt is taken by wheelbarrow to a dumping area.

Getting ready for the toss

The catch

The scene above reminded me of just how enjoyable it can be to dig in the dirt. These men were obviously having a good time, and I easily imagined them as small boys, minus the kneepads and gloves, 

I wasn't able to photograph the coolest find of the day: a man, his first hour on the dig (!) unearthed an intact pottery jug from the Middle Bronze Age period. We all congratulated the new digger, but I knew that Dear Husband must have had just a bit of artifact envy. He had been excavating just a couple feet from where the jug was found. Perhaps one of the local workers sensed it too, as he kindly said to Dear Husband, "wijak khair", "your face is good"-- a way of saying that Dear Husband's presence brought good to the dig site. 

I asked Dr. Collins wife, herself an accomplished site manager and excavator, how often someone found a piece of pottery like that, in such good condition. Her answer: "Not." We each found various sherds and animal bones which we collected in plastic buckets and mesh bags for later readings. I noticed a smooth rock on the side of the dig wall. I pulled it out and asked Dr. Collins if it was something to keep. Yes, he said, it was a pestle. No, I didn't find the mortar. 

There are so many more fascinating things to be told about this site. If you are interested in Biblical archaeology, or archaeology in general, I recommend Dr. Collin's book: 


I haven't yet read it, but I plan to purchase it when we are in the US this summer. 

Of course, I took a break from digging to do a little wildflower spotting:


  JAYA:  Just Another Yellow Asteraceae,  growing out of ancient ruins, so that makes it unique

Unidentified JAYA