Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Answers come on a clear, starry night

     The desert brings clarity to mind and spirit. I need that remaining feeling (from a trip to Morocco) while the holiday season is in full swing in order to keep me sane in a frantic world.

     For centuries the desert has had its metaphors, and like the three Wise Men following the stars to find the Christ Child, all spiritual souls have wandered deeper into their beliefs after thoughtful, uninterrupted contemplation.

     It’s the stark presence of earth all around me while I perch on a campstool watching the stars pop out into the night sky. When all is said and done in life, there is not much anyone really needs except a personal belief system, basic needs and a few added on luxuries.

     I was visiting a country where the population is poor, but happy. No one can take that joyful spirit from Moroccans. People ride into rural markets on donkeys loaded with produce for sale, or they come in a cart, dilapidated car or truck. In cities, often the contrast between wealth and poverty is more evident, but without a social welfare system, everybody takes care of each other as much as possible. Surely that is the meaning of true happiness, and not the fleeting kind that vanishes after the holiday season bell ringing is over and January lifts its head.

     One night an hour before sunset, my travel mates and I walked the dunes a distance from our camp. The sun was setting yet the temperatures were still in the high 70s.  Our 4x4’s brought us to a secluded spot and some of us prepared for hiking sans sneakers, and others not. Later on the trek, I gave up with the sneakers and went barefoot, which is what I should have done in the first place. Each of us filled our water bottles and began slowly single file up the side of a dune digging in deeply and then carefully planting our feet when we reached a narrow ridge on the top for a bit. It’s hard work reminding me of breaking a trail while snowshoeing.

    I trudged and stopped way too frequently for others who were more on a march than me. I wanted the aloneness and held back always keeping the group within my view as was our instructions. Something wonderful was building inside me that I couldn’t explain. Besides, our 4 drivers were walking alone parallel to us out of sight to keep us from getting disorientated. Once in a while I would hear a voice and an arm motioning someone up ahead to get back in the right direction.

     Photographs do not do the Sahara justice. You have to be in the middle of the place to get it. What surrounded me was a world landscape so much bigger than my insignificant being, and I felt my importance diminish by the foot. I was like a piece of fine sand sifting through my toes for a mere moment. The world came before me, and will continue long after I am gone. That is for sure.

     I’ve had a similar sensation near the ocean in an indirect way, but the ebb and flow of the tides has a different scenario for me. The desert, on the other hand, is simply there. Man has to figure out how to survive in it.

      I came to a greater appreciation of a clean water supply and how much our world needs to protect what we have presently. Water is a common sense requirement for adaptation to a desert climate, and somehow my body sipped water day and night from a plentiful supply provided for me. Even today at home, I look at my simple glass of water and an adequate supply of hot water for a shower and don’t take it for granted anymore. Water is a gift that can’t be wrapped up and put under a tree.

     And I contemplated more and more about my purpose in my present life – thoughts of which I shall keep private, reader ‒ while I completed my round trip walk in the dunes exhilarated from pushing my body beyond its limits. When I reached further than I expected, there was a fine tingling sensation throughout my limbs hours after.

     One of the women with me was a recent breast cancer survivor, and she came on this trip as a personal thank you for her blessings. Her hair hadn’t grown out yet, and she was wearing a lovely wig.  I was excited for her and her accomplishment more so than my own ordinary one. The desert not only calls on us to be self-reliant thanks to its harshness, but also, to be in harmony with those in our landscape. We must depend on others, too ‒ the camp staff preparing my dinner on return.

     Finally, I made my way to the point of watching the sun nod below the dunes, and being a slightly hazy night, there wasn’t a lot of color for a grand show. A couple pictures more and I wound back to our vehicles shaking off the grains of sand covering my legs.
     For you dreamers and drifters, stargazers and peacemakers, lovers and gypsies of the night, for you global souls and sunshine chases, for those with salty skin and wild hearts, the desert will refresh you like it did me. That’s the best gift I could ever desire of life. Oh, and a few precious grains of desert sand that I brought home.