Bar­bara Kreiger is the author of The Dead Sea and the Jor­dan Riv­er, a chron­i­cle of the nat­ur­al and human his­to­ry of two of the Mid­dle East’s most icon­ic bod­ies of water. Bar­bara is guest blog­ging here all week as part of the Vis­it­ing Scribe series on The ProsenPeo­ple.

When I start­ed writ­ing my book about the Dead Sea, I was some­what ten­ta­tive in my approach because the sub­ject was so large and there were so many pos­si­ble ways to begin. Yet, mes­mer­ized as I was by the land­scape and his­to­ry, I knew it was what I want­ed to do. I was awed by the beau­ty and unique­ness of this strange land­scape, where the bar­ren cliffs tow­ered above a long and nar­row lake. I was intrigued by the fact that the Dead Sea was shared by Israel and Jor­dan, two nations that were then in a state of war. I looked out at the crisp blue water, salt crys­tals sparkling along the shore, and I won­dered how it could be that an inter­na­tion­al bor­der was some­how demar­cat­ed. Who could tell where 50% end­ed and ene­my ter­ri­to­ry began? I looked at my map, where a soft laven­der line, paint­ed in a pleas­ing curve, indi­cat­ed the bor­der. It was not at all intimidating.

To start the project, I spent sev­er­al weeks in Israel, where I divid­ed my time between the Rock­e­feller Library in East Jerusalem and hik­ing around the Dead Sea to become bet­ter acquaint­ed with the sur­round­ings. One day as I was explor­ing the shore, I hap­pened to meet a team of sci­en­tists who were going out in a boat to gath­er sam­ples of water and sed­i­ment to bring back to their lab­o­ra­to­ries. When they heard I was writ­ing about the Dead Sea, they invit­ed me to join them for the day. It was an unprece­dent­ed oppor­tu­ni­ty. I gath­ered my note­book and cam­era, quick­ly packed my back­pack, and jumped aboard.

It was a very excit­ing day. I was out on a for­bid­den lake, and look­ing first to the Israeli side, then to the Jor­dan­ian, I was struck by the con­trast between the tran­quil­i­ty of the scene and the tur­moil of the polit­i­cal world. At the same time, I was with a group of sci­en­tists whose work knew no bor­ders and who were com­mit­ted to one thing only: a greater under­stand­ing of this cor­ner of the nat­ur­al world.

I instinc­tive­ly knew that on both sides, on all sides, were peo­ple with shared goals and a pas­sion­ate attach­ment to the region. Indeed, lat­er I became acquaint­ed with a tri­lat­er­al orga­ni­za­tion con­sist­ing of Israelis, Jor­da­ni­ans, and Pales­tini­ans whose focus was their shared envi­ron­ment. Work­ing togeth­er to pro­mote region­al coop­er­a­tion as they strive to pro­tect their col­lec­tive resources, EcoPeace/​Middle East inspired me with their com­mit­ment to edu­ca­tion and cross-bor­der ini­tia­tives. Undaunt­ed by polit­i­cal obsta­cles, they con­tin­ue to draw sup­port from all sides and inter­na­tion­al­ly. Of course I couldn’t help but be drawn in by their devo­tion to social and envi­ron­men­tal teamwork.

So when I speak about my influ­ences, I think about the ded­i­ca­tion of all the peo­ple I even­tu­al­ly met — Israelis, Jor­da­ni­ans, Pales­tini­ans; the sci­en­tists on the boat, the nature lovers whose careers were devot­ed to pro­tect­ing the frag­ile envi­ron­ment, the hik­ers who trekked across the desert for a view of the Dead Sea from the heights — in oth­er words, all who feel drawn to this unique land­scape and com­pelled to keep return­ing. I con­sid­ered myself very for­tu­nate to have become aware of this net­work as I start­ed out: their devo­tion inspired me, and my own com­mit­ment, which was to do jus­tice to theirs, had to be expressed in a book wor­thy of their col­lec­tive con­tri­bu­tions. I felt I had to write as engag­ing and evoca­tive a book as pos­si­ble, to attract an audi­ence with a huge vari­ety of rea­sons for want­i­ng to read my nar­ra­tive, to high­light the work that so many oth­ers had done in var­i­ous fields over the years, and to find for myself a qui­et inter­sec­tion between my val­ues and the nat­ur­al world, too often threat­ened, but, we hope, resilient and enduring.

Bar­bara Kreiger is adjunct asso­ciate pro­fes­sor and chair of cre­ative writ­ing in the Mas­ter of Arts in Lib­er­al Stud­ies Pro­gram at Dart­mouth College. 

Relat­ed Content:

Bar­bara Kreiger is adjunct asso­ciate pro­fes­sor and chair of cre­ative writ­ing in the Mas­ter of Arts in Lib­er­al Stud­ies Pro­gram at Dart­mouth Col­lege. Her oth­er pub­li­ca­tions include Divine Expec­ta­tions: An Amer­i­can Woman in Nine­teenth-Cen­tu­ry Pales­tine. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Smith­son­ian Mag­a­zine, and oth­er publications.