Israel is small, in the same way California isn’t.
Much of what people think of as “California” is in a narrow zone, not more than 50 miles from the sea. Much of what people (or at least I) want to see is within fifty miles of Jerusalem. It’s not that I don’t want to see the Negev, I do. I love the desert, but desert abides and I can carry *my* desert with me. A brief sojourn in another desert is much like feeding a sourdough starter; the calmness the expanse of desert gives me is renewed.
People talk of how looking at the vastness of the sky makes them feel small an insignificant in comparison to the empty vastness of space. Not me. I look at the sky and feel enlarged. So There is so much out there that EVERYTHING is insignificant, so I am equal to galaxies. I am become the universe. Not so the desert. The Desert is unforgiving in a way “space” isn’t. No one ends up in space without preparing. One can’t just hop on a horse, jump in the car, walk out of town, into “space”.
But “The Desert”? It’s right there (or was, when I lived in Calif.) All it took to be in the sere and sandy “wastes” was a couple of hours. But being in the desert, where the wind sweeps from the dry interior to the drier area behind the hills which gird the peopled piedmont, that makes you feel small. The desert will kill you. Water? It’s there, but you have to know where it is, and how to get it. Food? The same. Shelter? Non-trivial. But people live there. People have lived there since time immemorial. Learning how to avoid dying there was something I started doing when I was about nine.
Sitting three miles up Rattlesnake Canyon, with a plan to head up toward Chair Rock, and down the backside, over toward Boy Scout Trail and back to Indian Cove… that takes planning. In that trek you will walk across deep sand, up narrow draws, across open rock faces; and over boulders. Scramble, and climb and saunter. By turns you will cold and overheated. You will sit in the sun to warm yourself, and hide in the shade to cool off.
It sounds trite, but the desert will test you. It’s not that the desert hates you. The desert doesn’t care. No place cares, but the forest, or the city, or the plains don’t seem to be so open about it. The desert makes you feel small because you have to plan for everything. The cold of winter, the heat of summer. The bites and stings of bugs, snakes, scorpions and plants.
In exchange… you get nothing.
And nothing is wonderful. You can sit, where the wind is all you hear, look down from some rocky fastness, and think. You can hie yourself to where the only evidence of humanity is the odd contrails of people in planes, thousands of feet above you.
Introspection is possible there as no place else I’ve been. I understand the desert hermits. It’s not that god is any closer in the quiet places, it’s that they were.
Which wasn’t what I meant to talk about at all.