The last thing I envisioned for myself that summer was discovering that I was in the middle of a 30-year old minefield with no one near enough to hear any calls I might make. For obvious reasons, no one would be going to that particular beach for an afternoon of sunbathing. So, how did I get in such a situation?
I was vacationing at the time, it seems, at a 40-year-old Habonim, an Israeli farm they called a mesheq. It served, among other things, as a children's summer base camp for touring Israel. Its location on a beach was a delightful bonus. My week-long stay there was a reward for myself after an exhausting mobile seminar devoted to Biblical archaeology.
It was an idyllic time. The workers on a daily basis gifted me with some of the seconds from their harvesting of avocados, mangos, plus a rare fruit for me, just-picked lichees. Milk was fresh from their dairy. The people were affable and the midnight swim parties legendary. I wasn't worried when everyone took a rifle with them at all times. It was just a habit, you know. You get used to that. Life was good.
One afternoon, I went beachcombing, naively oblivious to a danger that was common knowledge in that particular area. Leftover dangers, you see, are prevalent in a country that has been an on-and-off war zone for the last 4,000 years. Yes, there had been a two-year period of peace at the time. No one was making beach landings now. But I had learned in my seminars to be careful at all times, even around the ruins we were studying. You didn't just pick up anything that appeared to be "lost", as it might be a left-over booby-trap. In some areas, men with automatic rifles still guarded the city-dwellers from rooftops. At the farm, however, I felt safer. Beachcombing would be fun.
The farther south on the beach I wandered that afternoon, the fewer swimmers and sunbathers I encountered. The beaches evolved into a series of private coves. I was delighted to find one that was literally carpeted with small, pointy seashells.
Being from Texas, a place with a lot of shoreline, I was aware of Padre Island, a popular resort island on the Gulf of Mexico. One beach there is called "Little Shell" and another "Big Shell". I wandered on, looking for the Mediterranean twin of "Big Shell".
At one point I spied a weathered, paper sign with a photo of a blooming plant and information in Hebrew. Not being able to read Hebrew, I assumed it warned not to pick some endangered plant. Duly warned, I began to look carefully along the sandy beach for the elusive plant.
Momentarily, I glanced up and stood transfixed, afraid to move. Near me was the no-language-needed international symbol for "MINEFIELD!" The inverted red triangle on a stake glared in the sun. Nothing existed for me but that red triangle. A coldness washed over me, numbing me to everything but a calculating sense of self-preservation.
Taking a slow, deep breath, I twisted and looked back, confidently intending to retrace my steps, knowing those footprints would be my safest exit. I blinked in disbelief.
They were lost in the sand, indiscernible. Fortunately, a spontaneous Plan B was dropped into my head at that point by some heavenly hand. Still fixed where I stood, I surveyed my surroundings and took note of the ubiquitous white rocks of Israel. The ones here were big, some even Volkswagen-sized. Most were big enough, I reasoned, that no army would have lifted one up to put a mine under it.
I fervently hoped my safe exit had been revealed. The trick was to choose a boulder and to jump to it, and then to another and another, avoiding any missteps into sandy areas. I jumped as though my life depended on it, because it did.
For the next short while, I chose and leapt and chose and leapt again until I got far enough north that I was surrounded by vacationers. On returning to the house of my genial hostess, I was still stunned by my past peril. Finding her in the kitchen, I blurted, "Why didn't you warn me about the minefield?" Suddenly serious, she stared at me, "The minefield? I never dreamed you'd walk that far!"