“A cloud gathers, the rain falls, men live; the cloud disperses without rain, and men and animals die. In the deserts of southern Arabia there is no rhythm of the seasons, no rise and fall of sap, but empty wastes where only the changing temperature marks the passage of the year. It is a bitter, desiccated land which knows nothing of gentleness or ease. Yet men have lived there since earliest times. Passing generations have left fire-blackened stones at camping sites, a few faint tracks polished on the gravel plains. Elsewhere the winds wipe out their footprints. Men live there because it is the world into which they were born; the life they lead is the life their forefathers led before them; they accept hardships and privations; they know no other way. Lawrence wrote in Seven Pillars of Wisdom “Bedouin ways were hard, even for those brought up in them and for strangers terrible: a death in life.” No man can live this life and emerge unchanged. He will carry, however faint, the imprint of the desert, the brand which marks the nomad; and he will have within him the yearning to return, weak or insistent according to his nature. For this cruel land can cast a spell which no temperate clime can match.” Wilfred Thesiger, Arabian Sands
My own experience in the Wadi Rum desert of Jordan had echoes of Thesiger’s description. I was mesmerized, drawn in by the desert’s harsh, but at the same time, enchanting quality. Everything unessential fell away, like a snake shedding its skin, and I felt free. At night, the most miraculous spectacle imprinted itself on my memory, a sight no camera could ever capture. From my horizontal perspective in the open desert, as the chill set in with the dying embers of our campfire, I watched the sky change a thousand times over, until my eyes could almost not bear the intense bejewelling of the night with a million star-lights turned on. An irrepressible fatigue closed the curtain to a sky whose expression I have never seen again like this one.