Into the Desert

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June 2010

Twenty minutes outside of Jerusalem, silence takes over. The intensity of the ancient city is left behind. Signs of human habitation dwindle and then disappear altogether. We are now in the West Bank region of Palestine. On the horizon, a shimmer as thin and radiant as a sliver of glass. The Dead Sea.

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A strong wave of nostalgia washes over me. Many years ago I lived in California’s Coachella Valley. I spent my days off taking solitary road trips far out into the desert. I felt exhilarated and disconcerted. In the desert you cannot hide from yourself.  Everything is illuminated.

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Not long after I moved away from the desert, my counselor told me that most people, including herself, are drawn to oceans, because it reminds them of being in the womb. I responded that I’ve never felt comfortable near the ocean. I’m at my best, both physically and emotionally, in the mountains. But I’m also drawn to the desert. I can’t say that I feel an affinity for the desert. It’s more like reverence. It sometimes feels good to be humbled. When I told her this, she smiled, but offered no explanation as to what it might mean.

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We pass over into Israel again. My husband, his friend, and I spend a few hours at Ein Gedi spa. We cover ourselves with mud and let it harden into a shell on our skin. Then we float in the Dead Sea. It leaves an oily sheen on the skin. This must be what makes it shimmer. Instead of sand, the floor is covered with solid salt crystals. I dig out a big chunk to take home with me. I collect some water and salt crystals in a small jelly jar for my ten year old niece. She likes learning about the world. The Dead Sea will probably disappear in her lifetime. At least she will have a tiny part of it.

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As the sun sinks behind the Judean Hills, I stand on a sandy cliff and stare at the white mountains of Jordan. My husband and his friend goof around, making a mock documentary with the video camera. The hot breeze sweeps their voices away. Even in their midst I feel alone. Such is the way of the desert.

25 thoughts on “Into the Desert

  1. Wonderful pictures, absorbing writing. Interesting observation of experiencing the desert. When I was stationed in Oklahoma, my friends and I would spend most Saturdays out in the National Bison Game Reserve, following the trails, enjoying the emptiness. There is something eternal and (until you get thirsty) perfect about the desert. You describe the sensation so well, with a minimum of wasted words.

    • I’ve found that walking in the desert with people strengthens the bond you have with them. Maybe it’s because there tends to be less talking when you walk in the desert.

  2. Hello~ I came by to thank yo for;liking my post titled What I know About Everything significant and found this lovely piece of the desert.
    You spoke my heart, what i feel about my desert but had no words for.
    So very beautiful.

    I live on a high desert in the mountains in Oregon, USA, some people are surprised to learn Oregon which is known for its lush valley’s has a desert.
    I grew up here in the valley., I am able to be at the beaches in less than 5 hours from where I live in the desert. But this is where my home is, in these mountains where the sun shines over 300 days a year. The beauty and peace of this desert still takes my breath away.
    I woke to a white blanket of snow this morn.

    It is this desert that I call home,a gift from the universe, that refuels and restores me daily.

    Thank you again ~ BB

  3. Ahh this is a nice surprise, I lived in Isreal for nearly 5 months on a kibbutz and have also been to California.. the desert is so quiet it’s deafening.. Did you go up to Masada too? I like the analogy of the ocean and the womb.. I think the ocean is pregnant with possibility..

    • Hi there- “Deafening silence”..you’ve got that right! We didn’t make it to Masada, sadly. We got there as it was closing. Spent too much time at Ein Gedi. Thanks a lot for stopping by here and reading.

  4. Hi J, thanks for always taking me with you on your traveIs, I always love reading them 🙂 and maybe I’ve told you enough.

    I’ve not appreciated the mountains before, not until I came to live in California. Maybe because the mountains in my homeland are rebel infested plus I grew up by the coastal area. Now I love the ocean & the mountains equally so wherever the hubs decides to go is fine with me. 🙂

    • Good to hear that you’ve discovered a love for the mountains. Have you been out to the desert yet – Palm Springs, Joshua Tree, etc? My favorite desert in SoCal was Anza Borrego which is inland from San Diego.

      • We’re planning to go to Joshua Tree or San Diego this spring break, thanks for mentioning the Anza Borrego in San Diego so maybe if we plan to go to SD we could hit both the ocean and the mountains. 🙂

  5. I feel better when I am surrounded by trees, I am not a beach person but love the ocean, I went to Arizona some years ago and I felt like I was in a trap wanted to be home so bad, it is true what you say about the desert, now that I am older I don’t feel that way it is ok to be alone. That fourth picture reminds me of my trip to Cabo, we were heading towards Todos Santos (small town) and we saw the sea, moutains, and dessert at the same time… it was priceless. Love these photos each of them have a story and thank you for making me think about the dessert.

  6. Ein toller Bericht über das Tote Meer, interessant geschrieben. Ich war 1964/1965 für ein paar Wochen am Toten Meer zuhinterst im alten Kibbutz. Die Baracken gibt es sicher nicht mehr. Grüsse Ernst

  7. Hi,
    I just found your blog and am happy to see pictures and stories of my current home. Coincidentally, my next home will be in the Coachella Valley. I’ve never been there, but I look forward to it because I do have an affinity for the desert.

    • Hello! I loved living in the Coachella Valley, but that was way back in the late 1980s. I went back for a visit in 2003 and it had changed so much. A lot of the empty desert had been developed. I imagine that’s it even more developed today. However, the desert is vast and there are still isolated corners. Good lick on your move!

  8. It’s dry air, a distance between without the touch of moisture to cloud thoughts at a point when clarity becomes clear, just as it is about to tip. Perhaps that’s why one finds clarity with the land, rather than any people we are amongst, perhaps it’s the land we need to converse with while the winds give it a voice so as to sing a song we often miss in listening amongst other places, its whispers, the whispering voice of the land in deserts, forests and on mountains.

    • And you would know about the clarity of deserts, since you live in a desert land. I much prefer the sound of the wind and water to that of human voices. Wishing you a tranquil weekend, Sean.

      • Wind and water can pass through a desert without rain ever touching a single grain of sand, while the solitude of a single mountain amongst a many sandhills will of withstood the challenges of time, their voices in constant conversation with few listening, but for the winds.

        How are those mountains and forests where you are?

        Voices to wind, land and water, certainly sing of far better stories than the peculiar lives we live as humans at times.

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