In the wood house where I grew up, you could feel the walls reverberate in a rainstorm. I never noticed until last night, when the wind blew hard and thunder struck, but inside this stone house, all was still.
“People are like the places they come from,” Samira said. She sat in the hard chair with both her feet on the ground. I swayed a little as I stood and listened, balancing.
Jon’s family’s house in Douma has stood for nearly three hundred years. It is the yellow stone of these mountains, with a red roof that once meant wealth.
The stone they mine to build in this steep valley is weathered yellow. All the buildings look the same, like the stripes of rock and quarry you can see in the sides of the hills. The spur-tops are studded with gray craggy rocks in close formations. I want to map them, run around in the scratchy brush and feel dwarfed by formations six feet higher than my head.
But people do not run in the scrub brush here; you have to stay in the olive groves or on the road. There are land mines buried from an old war, and the locations were lost with the imprecision of memory.
By now, people have gone everywhere here and left their traces on the land. It is not like home, where the oldest things are forests. I wonder if there is anyplace here that has not known human touch.
We drove through Byblos, where the alphabet was invented, the town for which the bible was named. I had expected to see a green space, someplace empty between Douma and Beirut, but there were houses the whole way.
This valley, the red-yellow stone of its natural walls, is riddled with caves, and the caves are riddled with human symbols. Crumbling grottos with archways built by hands. Cuneiform, crosses, and faces inscribed in ancient walls whose years have seen everything.
Modern change is fast. Even mourning is faster now: family of the deceased used to wear black for a year after a death. Now, color comes back more quickly: in the Lebanese war, loved ones died every year for twenty years.
Nobody makes plans, here. If they want to do something, they do it immediately, before the chance is taken away.
In Byblos, there is church beside church beside mosque beside church. We stood on concrete rooftops in the jasmine-scented town where people of all kinds have felt the wind and looked out at the swelling, roiling sea.
Lightning flashes across the mountain village of Douma. Thunder rolls. We stay inside as the rain and hail batter wind against the windows. I feel only the stillness of the stone.