A Song of Sifting Sands

There is a place that I always knew existed, hidden behind a secret door in my soul. It seemed that I had searched for eternity. I peered into the darkness, hands out in front of me, searching for a crack in the wall, a keyhole, a sliver of light. Some sign of a way in.

I am unable to recall when I first learned of Namibia. Images must have paraded before my eyes – a National Geographic documentary, surely. What I do recollect: the absolute stillness of recognition. A paused heartbeat. Breath caught. Then, a nod.

It takes a vast soul to see the beauty in desolation. The enchantment of wastelands. Infinity in the emptiness.


August 2015. So there I was. The doorway was a mirror. My presence was the key. I stepped through. When I turned around, the door was not only gone. It had never been there at all.


The only shadow was my own. Growing, shrinking. Flickering. Candlelight from the abyss. Relentless illumination is much more unsettling than darkness.

Namibia now roams my psyche. A spectral, holy presence.

In my dreams that are not dreams.

March 17, 2017 
Still wrapped in this morning’s dream flight. I was here again, in this otherworld called the Namib Desert. Solitary. The valleys were filled with indigo waters upon which boats drifted. I dove deep, dodging nets and other entanglements. Cautious but excited. So much more, here, than I saw before. I resurfaced. Dunes glowed deep red, like embers, under starshine. A mystery song in my mind. An orb swelled in my chest and I began to weep with gratitude that such a place exists and that I’m here again.

There is a map within each of us. Roads and destinations that call us to them. Is it one’s own artistry or that of a Divine Cartographer or a fusion of both?  Follow the signs. Treasure beyond the imagination awaits.

The souls met along the way, at the intersections of personal destinies. Affinity captured in a glance, a phrase. A fleeting connection can be more profound than lifelong acqaintance. The role we play in each others’ story is often not immediately apparent.

She is, for me, the human face of Namibia. Madonna of the Dust.

Bare feet on cold morning sand. Grainy, dust-muted light. A serpentine shadow. The path itself is a wanderer. Ascend.

At the summit, I lift my head. What I feel transcends awe.

That for which there is no language, I understand. A song of sifting sands. A sigh, a whisper, a gasp, a hiss. The “I” inside me dissolves. The hourglass runs out. I no longer participate in the finite. I reach out and turn it over. It is that easy.

A flash from the deep past: a holy man traces a cross on my brow with his ash-covered thumb. My young face stares back at me in the mirror. The black smudge has already faded to a faint shadow. A shiver seizes my thin body. Look. I’m alive. The terror is profound, but I don’t avert my eyes. Deep within the mirror, a flash of white. A horizon without end.

“For you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.” – Genesis 3:19

98 thoughts on “A Song of Sifting Sands

  1. How I adore this space and your mystical, magical take on it. So many of your images transport me right back to the place I was physically in a year ago; the boat crashing through the waves and the Namibian Madonna have deepened my experience of it. I think that the picture of you and your shadow should be used for your book jacket. Love to you from Puerto Vallarta …the polar opposite of Namibia, but just as good for my soul given I am surrounded here by the company of 12 dear friends.

    • I remember your post about the ghost town, a place I missed. So much to see there. And that dust gets under your skin. Even my hair became rust-tinged. The shipwreck is on the Skeleton Coast. Even the coast is desolate and dangerous. I wrote this as I gazed out my window at freshly fallen snow. Enjoy your time with your friends! Love from the frozen north. 💙

  2. “There is an internal landscape, a geography of the soul; we search for its outlines all our lives. Those who are lucky enough to find it, ease like water over a stone on its fluid contours, and are home.”
    Josephine Hart
    You have found yours, Julie,
    Glorious words and images, especially Madonna of the Dust

  3. Your words and photos always have a way of taking me to the places you are writing about! Full of such emotion and description. Thanks, Julie!! ❤

  4. Ah Julie … You capture the magic of Namibia much as I already understood it through the eyes of my brother and sister-in-law. He was director of USAID in Namibia from 2013-2015. (?) I could not travel there but many other family and friends did visit and I jealously admired his idyllic posting. It seemed a “perk” after years of difficult assignments. He went on from there to a more challenging place, Pakistan. 🤔 His career is now winding down with a professorship at Tufts University. Namibia, however, remains as THE extraordinary interlude in a life working in public service. Our families vacation together every summer. I will be sure to share your post with them.

    • I seem to recall you telling me about them. It’s a damn shame you never made it to Namibia while they were there. It’s an expensive destination to visit, especially from the US.

  5. Such exquisite writing, JD. I love the dreamlike quality of this, but also how profound it feels, a homecoming of the soul. It’s that sense of “homecoming” to a patch of foreign land that makes me believe in reincarnation, or at least something spiritual that aligns us with a place. Stunning.

    • This is one of those posts that seemed to come from someplace else. All of my Namibia posts have flowed out of me almost effortlessly. Such is the magic of that land. I also wonder why we have an affinity for certain places while others repel us. It’s one of those beautiful mysteries.

  6. Your photo of the Madonna of the Dust is really powerful. The contrast between them, that dreadlock style, surely borne out of a millenary experience, and the barcode on the wrapper is something that says a lot of things to me.

    I’m not very much of a believer, but Ash Wednesday always resonated with me too (if I got your reference correctly, Julie). It felt, I don’t know, important. Maybe it was the human touch.

    • Hi Fabrizio – Yes, you caught the reference. Ash Wednesday was an interesting day, for sure. I went to Catholic school and I can remember all of the kids having that mark on our foreheads all day, even on the bus ride home with non-Catholic kids. We weren’t allowed to wash it off, as you know. Not that I woud have.

      The Himba people are really unique, but, like most traditional cultures, their way of life is disappearing. The barcode will win out in the end, unfortunately.

  7. The colours and light are awesome! Pictures are in harmony with writing. Emptiness of the dessert creates a special feelings and mood. Thank you for the lovely post. I can say the words from the name of your blog – “Wish I were here!”

  8. “For you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.” – Genesis 3:19

    Your words read as a poet would write. While we live in an reality that is finite, moving one way – always forward, I have come to the realization that infinity is within us in some way. Dreams, serendipity, stories. We are engaged in a huge narrative, which do not understand, but have glimpses of what is possible. Always a joy to read your thoughts.

    • I also believe that infinity is within us. Beliefs are slowly shifting, with new scientific research. I’m thinking of quantum physics. And, you know, if the scientists are talking about it, then it must be acceptable to believe what mystics and artists and other eccentrics have contemplated for so long. 😉

        • Now that is something I’ve believed since I was a kid. And I never let that go, though I rarely bring that up in conversations. Haha. 🙂 I believe it will take a “child’s mind” to be able to access the parallel realities. The adult, conditioned mind is too rigid.

          • One of my most favourite quotes and desires are found here: “May what I do flow from me like a river, no forcing and no holding back, the way it is with children. Then in these swelling and ebbing currents, these deepening tides moving out, returning, I will sing you as no one ever has, streaming through widening channels into the open sea.” Rainer Maria Rilke

  9. Robin’s quote from Jacqueline Hart so perfectly mirrors yours that I thought he was quoting you at first. Comforting to know that you are not alone in your thoughts, Julie? I liked your song. 🙂 🙂

  10. New here and I don’t even know how I ran across you, but this is just lovely wonderful writing that goes perfectly with the pictures.

    It spoke to me..somewhere deeper inside.

  11. Your words and photos are so true, as in your aim is true, no wavering, no hesitation. I sense your intimate connection with and love of Namibia, as you sensed mine with India. Lovely.
    Alison

    • Definitely no hesitation with this post. It was an absolute joy to put together. When I read your India post, I was thinking the same thing about connections with a country. 🙂

  12. Desolation has the beauty of undying beauty, because death conveys (although it is a mirage) eternity, a ghost place as it is a museum. Places lush of life have the beauty of the ephemeral, we know they will pass with time and seasons, it’s a flicker of beauty and that promise of farewell give it a touch of sadness. Thank you, Julie. It is very different to the Namibia I use to see, I admire its hush tranquility.

  13. Another insightful post showing the beautiful places this planet holds as well as revealing the magic of the human soul ~ your photo above the words “The only shadow was my own. Growing, shrinking. Flickering…” captures this spirit well. Your spirit, Julie, is something else. The way you live this life matches well with your thoughts and photo of the Madonna of the Dust, and there is nothing truer than the understanding that a fleeting moment of connection with someone can open a pathway of light and adventure. It contrasts so vividly when compared to lifelong relationships held dear, which I suppose makes them hold such value. These brief moments in time bring it all together and I can see you continuing on your incredible path to the destiny that awaits ~ and I suppose destinies that await us all. You make the idea of returning to dust, the infinite dust, quite exciting 🙂
    Wishing you a wonderful 2020 ~ it looks to be a great one.

    • No one can say that I have not lived, that’s for sure. Whenever I get down on myself, I conjure up that thought. It’s been an incredible path, so far, and I sometimes can’t believe all of the incredible places that I’ve visited. If I didn’t have photos to prove it, I probably wouldn’t believe it. We all have no choice but to return to infinite dust, so may as well do it in style. 🙂 Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Randall. May your 2020 be filled with adventure.

      • There is something surreal when looking back at a life well lived ~ where I think in the present, life is so simple and in a sense unspectacular, but when looking back you see things you’ve done that are incredibly spectacular and it makes it hard to reconcile it all. 🙂 Living life in style is the way to do it, and should always bring a smile to your face. Cheers to an awesome 2020…

  14. A fascinating and insightful post. Did you anticipate that Namibia would affect you the way it did before you arrived? You sound completely as one with the country and with what it gave you.
    I haven’t been but have been tempted. Would you go back again?

    • I did have a feeling it would be breathtaking, but looking at that vista from the top of Big Daddy dune, I was truly beyond words. I tend to not go back to places, because there are so many others that I haven’t seen, but if I ever got an opportunity, I would certainly go. There are places that I was not able to get to during my time there.

  15. That was such a profound piece of writing Julie.. Sometimes there is no explanation of telling others of that deep Soul connection we often KNOW beyond words.. But you have done a wonderful job here Julie of expressing that deep connection you had with Namibia and it’s people…
    We can only gasp in wonder at times how we travel beyond the confines of this density that takes us back into our past, future or present reality, One that makes us whole and complete .. It is through such experiences we expand and grow in the knowing we are ONE..

    Many thanks for taking us on this Soul Journey of Sights and Insights … I loved each photo that brought your experience to life…

    Have a Blessed day dear Julie… Love and Hugs your way ❤

    • Yes, it is often impossible to convey that feeling – so terrifying and liberating. I do my best and it makes my heart sing when others get it. Thank you so much, Sue. Love to you as well. ❤

  16. I feel this way about Namibia … and I’ve never been there. My impressions have come from articles and photos and, especially, posts like yours, with images and words that both attract and haunt me. If I could, I’d make a wholesale change of my Asian itinerary to this place right now!

    • Namibia is a place that haunts the imagination. It doesn’t seem like it’s of this Earth. As magnificent as photos and words are, they don’t come close to seeing it in person. Too bad you can’t just change your trip.

  17. You’ve beautifully transcribed that experience of both living and vividly dreaming, of existing in both the real landscape and the one in our imagination. How marvelous that at just the right moment Namibia came to you in your visions, to highlight the journey onwards a little bit more.

  18. Hi Julie. Loved your post and will come back to it. Quick word: we’re meeting Lisa Dorenfest tomorrow! They’re driving through Mexico city. We will have to that thing in Chicago. 🙂
    Biz
    B.

  19. Julie, I just realized you had a new post. I will return to do it justice. SO much to contribute to this one. Today is gym day and I will not rush with this post. Later, friend. (((HUGS)))!! xo

  20. I’m so not together right now I just lost my first response to you, Julie. I had to walk away from my computer due to weeping so hard. I’m still shaking and I’ve still got tears in my eyes. Between your Soul words and your sublime pictures, you evoked in me the “feeling” of what I experienced in my NDE. No one or no-thing has ever done that before. When I got to the Madonna picture, I completely lost it. How I long to be HOME so perhaps this is why nothing until today has crossed my path that reminds me of the place I went to. I would obsess about it and not have my head in this reality.
    Namibia’s Essence flowed from you so effortlessly and so powerfully, Julie. I continue to write and the tears won’t stop. You’ve touched me so deeply and profoundly, something that no one has. And if I read your words correctly, even though you are not in Namibia right now, you are immersed in the “feeling” of the Essence of Namibia in your present day life. I “feel” you. You are so beautiful inside and out.
    Thank you for sharing this. Still wiping tears. You are an incredible Soul. I am so glad you have crossed paths with me. I felt every word you wrote. And my Soul recognized every picture as well. Bless you, dear friend! xoxo

    • Dear Amy – what an honor to hear that this piece reminded you of Home. That Home that I long to return to as well, even though I’ve never had an NDE like you have. I’ve never felt a part of the “real world”. How beautiful to know that it captured that place. You’re correct, Namibia is always with me now. I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t share the words that flow through me. Maybe it’s why I’m here. Peace to you, my friend. So very grateful that our roads have converged on the Journey.❤️

  21. Beautifully written J.D. “It takes a vast soul to see the beauty in desolation.” ~ “The souls met along the way, at the intersections of personal destinies.” ~ “The role we play in each others’ story is often not immediately apparent.” These words really resonate with me. I only reflect on how many intersections of personal destinies are acted upon and seized to see how that intersection can be expanded beyond a single moment. Movies that are designed around a group of seemingly unrelated characters, yet whose life intersect at a precise moment, always fascinate me. Perhaps in slower paced realities like Namibia, and much of the developing world, people can and do take the time to expand on these momentary intersections whereas in the West, we are so conditioned to optimise time and go go go and do do do, that we allow such beautiful moments to lapse without pressing the pause button.

    I spent time in Namibia as a teenager with my brother and parents and it had a profound impact on me. I remember feeling like we were at the end of the world on some strange planet. You really do capture this well with words and photographs. Your portrait photo really says it all.

    Peta

    • Dear Peta- I remember you telling me about traveling there and about your brother. Namibia’s beauty is unsettling and haunting. It is without a doubt the landscape that has moved me the most in my travels.

      I love the point that you bring up regarding our frenetic culture. How many connections are disregarded for the sake of time “optimisation”? Priorities are really messed up. I seek out those little moments of connection. A sincere smile means so much more to me than years of superficial, “safe” conversation.
      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. They are always very appreciated.

  22. Home. Africa. The desert and sand. Ashes of Wednesdays gone.
    You write so well, I sometimes wonder where Home can be for you? 😉
    Sure as hell don’t know for sure where it is for me anymore…
    Never been to the Desert, even on a horse with no name. I had a friend who has, in the Sahara, he came back transformed. Looking inside rather than out. A long time ago, yet we still see each other every year. On the clock.
    We really need to get that beer together somewhere…
    I wonder, after re-reading your text, two things.
    Was Namibia the place you said “If I come back alive”? Or are you somewhere else.
    And, last but not least: have you found Peace?
    🙂

    Biz, Julie.

    • I visited Namibia in August 2015, so it is not the place I was talking about when I said “if I come back alive”. I will be visiting that other place, which is not a desert, in April. 🙂I’m in frozen Michigan now.

      I can’t believe you’ve never been to a desert! No desire? I’ve been to many and even lived in two- in California and Arizona. Absolutely love the ambiance.

      Not surprised about your friend being transformed. There’s no place to hide in the desert. You are at your most vulnerable.

      Chicago is calling you, mon ami.

      Bz back.🙂🧡

      • Thought as much. I will be biting my nails in April. 🙂
        No desert. Just chance I guess. I lived more in forest or savannah places. And maybe no particular desire. Except for Namibia…
        Now, I’ve climbed mountains which are deserts of sorts. Snow deserts. One peculiarity on the mountain: the quality of silence… 🙂 And the starry nights.
        Will make a note. “Find a desert. ASAP.”
        And yes, that’s what I understand: in the desert you’re alone with yourself… For good or for bad.
        Chicago is a good idea. I hear they also have good Art museums… 😉

  23. Bonjour Julie… I hope you’re as ok as can be, you and your family. Crazy times. I assume your mysterious trip for April has been suspended?
    Let me know how you fare.
    Biz
    A +
    B.

    • Salut mon ami, Je suis toujours en vie et relativement en forme. Thank you so much for thinking of me. Yes, my trip is canceled for now. Will try to go in November. Hope you are well. Biz back.

      • Salut “ma grande”. Good to hear. Not sure about “relativement”? 😉Hope you could get a refund. Our trip to Colombia at Easter is toast but we still don’t know whether we’ll get our money back. What worries me is the July trip to Paris… tan tan…
        Stay safe
        😘

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