Some days past, I visited a dear friend who lives in a beautiful, small village, in the desert. We have a number of deserts here in Israel, but the most famous, and that which I love the most, is the Negev in the southern part of the country.
One could get the impression, from watching films, and looking at the photography of deserts, that a desert is devoid of life… sand dunes as far as the eye can see. There are some deserts like that, and I have visited a few. But even in the most barren deserts, there are signs of life to a patient and observant visitor. Most deserts have quite a bit of life in them. They are just on a different level of activity, and so, when first observed, especially if coming from a lush place, where water is plentiful, and there is greenery all around, or from the mountains, where trees grow in thick forests, the desert seems barren by comparison.
Spending time in the desert inspires a different state of mind. There are more wide open spaces. There’s more quiet. There’s more modesty. In the jungle you see bright startling colors, and hear fascinating, mysterious sounds, as all species compete for a little living space. In the desert it is just the opposite. Everything is low key. Living creatures are often camouflaged, and can’t be seen unless you’re familiar with them, or very close to them. And since your attention is not being appealed to, constantly, there is a tendency to let thoughts linger. One reaches unexpected depths. In fact, the experience of spending a length of time in the desert is something like a long trip on the seas. Those vast distances… looking out at the horizon so far away… is similar in both places.
As a photographer, though, I’ve had my share of disappointments when traveling in the desert. Aside from the storms that can be as upsetting as a storm on the sea, there are also many conditions that can affect visibility. How many times, I’ve been in a beautiful spot, and been fascinated by the nature around me… but then, as I try to compose a picture to represent my experience, I find the visibility too low to satisfy me. Haze and dust are common. The scenery is sharpest and most attractive immediately after a rain. But rain is a rare occurance. A very close friend of mine worked on me for years, teaching me to appreciate a foggy or hazy day. And I’ve improved. I can sometimes see the beauty of haze… and making out the lines of scenery, obscured for the most part, by a dust storm. But the truth is, that I am most excited and enthusiastic on those crystal clear days… when you can see all the way to China.
The difference between an internal scene and the external reality is much greater in the desert too. The sunlight is so intensive, that I we’re often sun-blinded when looking through a window at the scenery outdoors, and many people like subdued light when living in the desert. The shade, and proper ventilation can keep the air very pleasant inside. And this makes the movement from inside to out or from outside in all the more dramatic.
I haven’t yet learned to appreciate air conditioning. But luckily enough, I do like heat. Especially when it is dry heat. In the dry heat of the desert you don’t sweat all that much… and I feel a certain purity, spending time in such conditions. The pictures included in this post, were taken when the visibility wasn’t all that good, and trees seen in a distance have a slightly blurred look to them. I will soon post some desert pictures taken in better conditions. But I have to mention that because of the scarcity, water and greenery are specially appreciated in this environment. And there is water there too. There are underground pools of water, and springs… known to the local residents, both animal and human. You can go through distances of harsh landscape… rocks and dirt with little signs of vegetation, and then come across an oasis and be overcome by the rich conditions.
And I will never forget the wonder of observing colored shimmerings on what would seem like barren dirt hills. Later I found that there were tiny flowers that were able to stay alive on those harsh hills, and when seen from a certain distance, they lent their colors to the scenery.