Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Walkabout in the Desert

The emptying today took me on an Australian desert walkabout with Bruce Chatwin in The Songlines, a book that I read about 10 years ago and that yesterday fell magically back on my lap. I'd thought of that book a couple of days ago and felt the desire to read it again, but couldn't imagine finding it in any bookstore in St. Croix. Then yesterday afternoon I stopped in to say hello to Beth at Beachside Used Books and there it was, waiting for me on her counter. My eyes popped in disbelief and Beth said that someone had just dropped it off and she hadn't yet gotten around to shelving it in the proper section. "It's fate," she said and I believed her.

Now, I had not intended to do much of anything today, including reading, but this book was irresistible. And as I sat with it, traveling in my mind to that expanse of desert in the heart of Australia, I understood why this book was calling to me: The Australian outback is one of the most barren lands in the world, a place where emptiness takes on a physical, tangible form.

I've always been in love with the desert. Perhaps this love is genetic, coming all the way from my nomadic forefathers who centuries ago traveled in the great deserts of Saudi Arabia. Or perhaps this love is simply an understanding that the emptiness of the desert is not emptiness at all, but a place brimming with a life that is unseen to the naked eye. Its mystique is only visible to those who would stop long enough to open their hearts and eyes and ears and attune themselves to the land.

A man can only be free in the desert, says an Arab proverb. Today I didn't stray away from home, but in my mind I sensed the freedom that Bruce Chatwin felt in the Australian outback, and I relished my own freedom at dropping out of the world and living in my own personal desert for a little while.

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