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.
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.
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.
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.
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.