12, Flinders’ Ranges, the Outback: Huddling around a lonely fire, dogs slinking about at the edge of darkness. We skewer sausages and roast them, with the dusty land, the infinitude of stars as companions. In the morning, I wake early and with the rising sun, trek out to see the kangaroos grazing amidst the bush.
15, Sabah, Malaysia: Chased by a storm at dusk, we stop at a deserted prawning farm by the river, the smell of marshland and rain heavy in the humid air. We pull at our lines to draw the prawns and the water bubbles as fish surface briefly. Then the skies break and rain batters the zinc roofs, vestiges of a fading era. A great peal of thunder and for a brief second white lightning illuminates the entirety of the marshes as the building shakes. Plunged into semi-darkness as the electricity goes out, we wait, a little shaken, for the lights to come on.
17, Yosemite, California: My brother and I step out onto the ice and it cracks ominously. He throws a stone, breaking the placid surface of the lake where it is yet unfrozen. I can see bubbles, tiny and fragile, in the clear ice beneath my feet.
19, Bagan, Myanmar: We sit outside a temple on flimsy chairs, sipping sweet coconut juice through pastel plastic straws. The dusty ground is the color of burnished copper, as is everything in this sacred region. Behind us, miniature wooden puppets hang spookily in a tree, the late afternoon sun casting strange shadows. Later, we cycle by starlight over treacherous dirt roads past fields of dry, uncut grass and the sensation of flight, of freedom, is exhilarating.
Yuriy and Julia (i.e. Mr and Mrs Globetrot) took some incredible photos of Arches National Park in Utah. I love this national park (see my earlier post) and having climbed up to view Delicate Arch myself, I can assure you it is every bit as spectacular as these photos.
I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams… (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince)
The Lord Howe Island Group is situated off the southeastern coast of Australia. Australia, where I have spent many Decembers during my childhood, is a place of many wonders and these islands are no exception. Particular reverence is to be paid to Ball’s Pyramid, a stark, jagged volcanic stack rising steeply from the depths of the Pacific Ocean. Born of an ancient shield volcano and caldera formed 7 million years ago, discovered in 1788, it holds the allure of peaks like the K2 or Everest, a siren call to climbers and adventurers to come forth and conquer it. A team from Sydney finally did, in 1965.
Hatty Gottschalk‘s photographs take us where these adventurers have been.
“As for me, I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts. – Captain Ahab, Moby Dick”
The Atacama Desert is the driest non-polar desert in the world. It lies west of the Andes Mountains, on the Chilean coast. It has been described as a desolate lunar landscape on Earth, with lunar rovers being test-run on the terrain. This parched landscape also has its share of geysers and volcanoes, believe it or not. During years where the El Niño effect is especially strong, where the waters off the Peruvian coast warm, the Atacama desert blooms into what is called a “flowering desert” or desierto florido (because Spanish sounds so much more romantic).
The arresting landscape, as seen below in photos taken by Stéphane San Quirce and lepinephotos.
The geological landforms are stunning. Photos by mikkol79, gaujourfrancoise,
The blooming desert after rain, by Miss Mountain and lephinephotos.
And the beautiful Licancubar volcano, by Francoise Gaujour.
The blue, shimmering Altipatic Lagoon:
The Paranal observatory situated on a mountain in the desert, that study the skies for worlds vast beyond our imagination, beautifully photographed by Owen Perry or Circa 1983. These deserve a later post all of their own.
I love Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire. Documenting his three seasons as a park ranger in Arches National Park in Southeastern Utah, it is a passionate and oftentimes angry love letter to Nature and the desert. The NYT described it as such: “A passionately felt, deeply poetic book. It has philosophy. It has humor. It has its share of nerve-tingling adventures…set down in a lean, racing prose, in a close-knit style of power and beauty.”
I own a physical copy and flipping through it now, I find lovely passages:
Now the night flows back, the mighty stillness embraces and includes me; I can see stars again and the world of starlight. I am twenty miles or more from the nearest fellow human, but instead of loneliness I feel loveliness. Loveliness and a quiet exultation.
Suddenly it comes, the flaming globe, blazing on the pinnacles and minarets and balanced rocks, on the canyon walls and through the windows in the sandstone fins. We greet each other, sun and I, across the black void of ninety-three million miles. The snow glitters between us, acres of diamonds almost painful to look at.
I read Desert Solitaire, Abbey’s thesis on the desert and freedom, after my visit to Arches National Park. How I wish I could have had his book on hand while travelling amongst the cliffrose and juniper, the burnished rocks and soft sands. Here are a couple of photos from that trip (I will upload more in future). I believe the bottom is Landscape Arch.
And I liked the idea of telling my kid, “When you were inside me, we went to see the edge of the earth.”
But the truth is, the ten or twenty minutes I was somebody’s mother were black magic. There is no adventure I would trade them for; there is no place I would rather have seen. Sometimes, when I think about it, I still feel a dark hurt from some primal part of myself, and if I’m alone in my apartment when this happens I will hear myself making sounds that I never made before I went to Mongolia. I realize that I have turned back into a wounded witch, wailing in the forest, undone.
Most of the time it seems sort of O.K., though, natural. Nature. Mother Nature. She is free to do whatever she chooses.
Today I read this beautiful piece of travel writing, “Thanksgiving in Mongolia” by Ariel Levy. Here are some of my favourite parts. Do me a favour and go read it here.
One of my favourite places on the South Island. It’s a long dreary drive out, but I promise you that it’s worth it. We were lucky enough to be the only ones at the lookout, with the wind, the ocean and rugged cliffs for company.