THE DESERT OF SINAI.
time a foaming torrent, from eight to ten feet deep, was tearing down the
valley, which was nearly 300 yards in breadth. A beautiful tamarisk
wood, two miles long, was completely swept away; and hundreds of palm-
trees, from the gardens of Wady Feiran, were borne down to the sea,
besides scores of sheep and goats, camels and donkeys, and even men,
women, and children; for an Arab encampment, pitched a few miles above
me, was overwhelmed by the flood.
At half-past nine the waters were rapidly subsiding, and in the
morning a quietly-flowing stream, a few inches deep, was all that remained.
But the whole bed of the Wady had been changed, and a scene of devastation presented itself, such as I shall never forget.
The violence of these floods results in great measure from the absence
of vegetation and trees, to retard and check the streams which flow down
from the mountains.
When, formerly, the country was inhabited by a large population of
monks and hermits, who cultivated every available spot, placing walls
across the valleys, planting fruit-trees, and building reservoirs in which
to store the water, it was impossible for a flood to gather force, and sweep
everything before it, as it does at the present day.
It is also a well-known fact that the presence of trees produces rain;
and so, doubtless, at that time the rainfall was larger, and more constant;
and, consequently, the amount of vegetation far more abundant. This
was, perhaps, still more the case at the time of the Exodus; for the
Amalekites, the then inhabitants of the country, appear to have been
to some extent an agricultural, as well as a pastoral people. There
are also many other reasons for supporting that the Peninsula was in
olden times far better wooded than it is now; and, with the description
of the woods, it is easy to see that both the supply of water and the
amount of pasturage must have been decreased in proportion. Even now there
is both more water and more vegetation than has usually been described,
especially in the neighbourhood of Mount Sinai.
The trees that are most common are the date-palm (of which a
group is represented in the picture), the tamarisk, and the acacia. The
wild palm-tree of the desert grows in groups, and generally marks the
presence of water. When cultivated, and stripped of the dead leaves which
hang from its trunk in its wild state, it is very fruitful; and the dates from