Desert Journeys 17/3/17

Desert Journeys 13

March 17th 2017

About twenty years ago, I went on a group tour of Egypt, and saw wonderful things – monuments which will last long after all of us are returned to dust, and gems which still shine as brightly as the day they were created. Two decades on, there are many things I remember, and the one which comes immediately to mind is probably hardest to explain. But I’ll give it a go.

We travelled overnight by coach through the desert, from Hurghada to Aswan. As darkness fell, the glow of city lights receded beyond the horizon and the sky seemed ink-black. Apart from the coach driver, I was the only person awake on the coach, and I looked out of the window, fascinated. I saw diamond-bright stars on a sky like velvet, and desolate sands and rubble streaking past on the other side of my coach window.

I was seized with a strong feeling of connection, of presence in place and time, and a sense that this was a reminder – of how the immensity of a natural landscape often makes us feel part of something larger, whilst also reminding us how small we are. When faced with a desert stretching to the horizon, or a star-filled sky reaching to the edges of our imagination, it’s hard to cling to our human-sized concerns and worries.

The American writer Henry David Thoreau wrote that ‘we need the tonic of wildness’, and I agree; when we remove ourselves from our everyday lives, reflection seems a natural reaction. And when we connect to creation in all its sweep and scale, wisdom and insight can make themselves heard. In taking ourselves away from it all, perhaps we’re best placed to rediscover who we are.

John Soanes


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