In the Nothing

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Etosha National Park, Namibia – August 2015

Dust. Gritty, immaculate dust like ash from incinerated bone. It veils the sky and everything below. “August is a strange month”, our guide informs us. “The animals are restless.”

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The safari truck thunders down the road, kicking up clouds. The powder settles into my eyelashes and the fine lines in my face.

Isabelle leans towards me. “I love the desert, but I find this landscape incredibly,” she pauses. Her eyes harden. “Ugly.”

I look out the window without responding. While this bleak panorama is not a view I’d like to wake up to every day, I can’t bring myself to hate it. Under the nebulous sun, colors are muted. Yet they shimmer. There are so many hues within hues.

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From out of the murk, life appears. Silent, spectral movement. Tree carcasses litter the earth, branches forever frozen in death throes. Eerie boneyard beauty.

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The great gray beasts, old and young, drink their fill before disappearing once again into the wilderness.

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The veil thickens to a shroud as we approach the Etosha pan. The vast ocean of salt stretches into the horizon. The gloom deepens. Are there clouds above that we cannot see?

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Gray becomes white. The horizon vanishes. My heart swells and ascends.

It is natural to surround yourself with tangible things, to fill your mouth and ears with words. I can’t remember when I began to seek out the sanctuary of empty spaces. So much became insignificant, somewhere along the way.

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Dust. Achromatic desolation. It creeps into my shoes as I stray far from the others, into the silence. When I am alone, I am open to receive. What lies deep within the white void, beyond the force field shimmer? In the nothing is everything.

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63 thoughts on “In the Nothing

  1. Beautiful post and photos. I loved your “hues within hues.” There’s great beauty in the subtlety of desert color, the immense sky, wildness of a place. Thanks for bringing me there. :-).

  2. Fabulous imagery of a mind seeking the Universal. I love your writing. I love your mind.

  3. “Dust. Achromatic desolation. It creeps into my shoes as I stray far from the others, into the silence. When I am alone, I am open to receive” And you took me into that emptiness too. Cheers, Julie.

  4. “There is nothing in the desert and no man needs nothing.” From “Lawrence of Arabia.”
    I totally disagree; there is more of awe and infinity in the desert.

  5. I do find some strange beauty in the dusty, colorless places of the world, but I find my tongue smacking against my lips and my fingertips rubbing together even as I read your post, trying to moisturize skin that goes dry just gazing at these scenes. I want to powerwash the animals and drop a hose into the tree roots. I seek these kinds of places out because they make me physically and emotionally uncomfortable, both of which drive my urge to travel!

    • I’m a very unlikely desert lover. I have a very low tolerance for the sun, but there’s something about the hot, dry air that makes me feel good. Jungles, however…I get physically ill to the point where I can’t do anything. I admire your motivation to seek out uncomfortable places. Still planning on visiting Namibia?

      • Yes, for sure, but I don’t have a fixed plan yet. My daughter will be in West Africa this fall and I hope to spirit her away to Namibia at some point. As for deserts, I adore the heat but struggle with the dryness. Small price to pay to see something so fascinating, though.

  6. In the nothing is everything? “L’être et le néant”, Julie? 😉
    Nothing can prepare you for Africa. And one never gets over Africa. For better or for worse. 🙂
    (I could see the heat in your pictures. Thank you)

    • There is something about Africa. No other continent has exerted such magnetism over me. (I haven’t yet been to Antartica, but I suspect the magic is strong there, too)

  7. Hi Julie

    this post is what I really like about travel blogs. Namibia was, for a long time, high on my travel plans, but then things worked out differently. In spite of having bought a guide and having read it, my mind pictured a land of rocky or sandy deserts, a sort of Oman in Africa and with German towns peppered here and there, with the occasional gazelle or oryx. I wasn’t expecting this sort of scrub land – which I find quite enticing, don’t know why – and so many wild beasts! Definitely a surprise, thanks for having taken us there.

    So are those elephants camping in a salty flat? Are they getting the Dead Sea mud treatment by any chance? Just kidding!

    Fabrizio

    • Hi Fabrizio – For such a desolate place, Namibia is bursting with wildlife. You can always recognize Etosha elephants by the white mud on their backs. In the photo with the tree, you can see the white mark where elephants stopped to rub themselves up against the bark. Scratching the unreachable itch. 😉

  8. I sometimes dismiss things if they’re not surface pretty Julie, but it’s always a mistake. Anywhere you can find peace is a good place to be.

  9. I enjoyed both the photos and your writing. The last photo in the line is so haunting and yet strangely serene at the same time.

  10. Wonderful photos and words. Our reaction to landscape can be deeply personal and varied so an interesting contrast of thought from you and your fellow traveller.

  11. As I child I grew up in New England which is covered in thick tall trees. You rarely see much of the sky. When I moved to the south, especially Texas, the size of the skies was daunting. I felt naked. Now, I have become so accustom to the largeness of it all, when I return to my family home, it feels a tad suffocating. I love these images and the dust and dryness of it all. Beautiful.

  12. Your post- pictures and words- about Namibia,Julie, about “the nothing is everything”, is just gorgeous and I thank you dearly for having me lead into this quiet desert! It’s good to have you back.:) Martina

  13. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That being said there is something incredibly magnetic about that expanse of muted shades that seem to escape to infinity. Not many vistas such as this left in our world. Perhaps the ethereal beauty of your tonal photos would change Isabelle’s mind?

  14. “When I am alone. I am open to receive.” Yes, I like that line.

    My bro-in-law was the Mission Director of USAID in Namibia from 2009-2011. I can’t endure long distance flights these days and did not visit. But he and my wife’s sister and two children shared with us the vastness and emptiness of the country. The job was boring but safe as the country enjoys political stability. That is uncommon in Africa.

  15. This is sure a place where I’ll love to get lost… I’ve always been attracted by the desert, the empty spaces, the silence. Your photos are just stunning, Julie.

  16. Hello Julie,

    Your words were so good, the images became richer for me. The thoughts and feelings were spilling across the landscapes and I felt this palpable unity of human awareness with the sparse and shimmering heat, with the many-generations in the cloud of elephant, with the distance, the muted tones and the passengers alongside you. With the aloneness and isolation of the human heart that at times is so complete, and yet so full…

    Very beautiful.

    Peace
    Michael

  17. Mesmerizing and deep insights…
    These words truly resonated with me and I found them really moving:
    “It is natural to surround yourself with tangible things, to fill your mouth and ears with words. I can’t remember when I began to seek out the sanctuary of empty spaces. So much became insignificant, somewhere along the way” .
    Nothingness might fill us…
    Very captivating, dear Julie… Have a beautiful weekend… Best wishes. Aquileana 🍀

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