The Call of the Desert

A recent venture into the hostile, unforgiving world of a desert landscape puts the fragility of life in clear perspective for me. A desert’s arid, desolate landscape stands in opposition to my very existence. The desert has a way of stripping away the luxuries, accommodations, and catered expectations of civilization to reveal the dry, barren underbelly of this earth. And yet, the desert is strikingly beautiful for all of its neglect. It’s a captivating landscape where your vulnerability as a lifeform looms over your head like the blazing desert sun.

            I recently took a trip to Arches National Park in Utah, near Moab. On the way through Utah, I drove down a 50-mile strip of road with nothing but an open expanse of desert. And I mean nothing, no homes, no service stations, not the slightest traces of civilization except the single strip of road etching its way through the desert sand. What a strange feeling that washed over me as I drove down this road alone. It was like drifting through a foreign world, it might as well have been another planet. The weight of my life in the mix of an unsympathetic terrain became very apparent.

            My needs as a lifeform became clear, simplified. An overwhelming sense of both vulnerability and gratitude came over me. Having lived in a world of abundance, where all of my wants and needs are around every corner, this terrain was a harsh reminder of my sheltered existence. This world is hostile and indifferent and we are exceedingly vulnerable. The desert is the great teacher of these notions.

The desert reveals how we have lost touch with that friction of survival. That precious impulse to survive, to cooperate, to overcome, create, adapt, and think on our feet in an impersonal world. We have become far too comfortable and complacent in our world of abundance. Without proper exploration of places like this, we tend to easily slump into the opinion that the world was made for us. We get lulled into a false sense that we are somehow the masters, that we are in control.  

No. The desert will not have you believe that. The desert sun will gleam down upon you, riding your body of water, its precious lifeblood. The desert night and the winds that follow will freeze your body and there will be nothing around to comfort you. Driving through this vast, empty landscape these thoughts kept flooding my mind as I gazed out upon the endless shades of browns and reds. The desert is like a great Siren, both mesmerizing and dangerous.

With no distractions to get in my way, the open desert road left me alone. Alone in my wants. Alone in my needs. Alone in my thoughts. That is where the magic happens. That is where the power of a place can transform you, where it holds you in its clutches. Where it squeezes the confidence and hubris out of you, breaking you down to your very essence. What’s left is a creature awakened to the reality of nature so that when one makes it back to civilization, one will have a whole new context for the needs and luxuries provided in life. You will have a whole new context for the collective effort of people to come together in necessity, in love, to construct a more nourishing world.

 Gratitude, appreciation, and respect for the environment naturally washed over me and I came out of the desert sand with a fresh perspective and appreciation for life and everything it takes to keep it going. It was invigorating, rejuvenating, and enlightening. The desert told the tale of us, as survivors, as wanderers, as creators. We are still here, against all odds. With our beating and bleeding hearts we march forward. And we would be wise on our journey forward to go with respect and humility for this world, for we are bound to it and deeply dependent on it. We must not become so blinded by complacency and hubris that we neglect this delicate, interwoven ecosystem that carries the weight, the hearts, and the dreams of us all.

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