The Desert

The edges of his shoes were scuffed and nicked, and a layer of dust clung to them. The sound of a pebble as he scrunched it underfoot made him look down and notice, each step stirring up a small cloud of dust as his feet met the ground, one after the other. It was a dirt road, and he had been on it a long time.

He looked up from his feet and his gaze returned to the horizon, where the road ahead disappeared over the edge where the clouds met the now graying sky. Against the fading light of the day, there were a few trees dark and lonely seemingly scattered at random, breaking the long line of sight that extended ahead to the right and left, endlessly.

His legs were tired from the day’s journey, and his back throbbed slightly from the weight of his pack. Not too exhausted to walk another few hours, but then it would be dark, and harder to find a suitable place to make camp. Better to stop now, and start again before dawn tomorrow.

To his right, past the edge of the road, an endless expanse of flat land. On the left the terrain was pretty much the same, but he could see a few slight rises here and there, the beginning of hills that slowly gave way, in the far distance, to a range of low lying mountains. About a hundred yards off the road in that direction was a large outcropping of rocks that seemed like the head of a giant statue buried neck-deep in the spare and sandy soil. What might have been a nose hung out about halfway up the formation, giving a bit of protection from the sun In its shadow. If it rains tonight, he thought, that might be the driest place for miles.

As he picked his way carefully across the stretch of unpaved earth towards the rocks, he casually gathered what twigs and dry grass he could carry. Standing under the jutting rock overhang, he glanced back at the road, then lay down his bundle of sticks and weeds. Then he circled the rock formation, which was about 30 feet across, three times – looking for signs of animal or insect life, anything that might indicate other users of this spot. Seeing no evidence of recent activity, he returned to his stockpiled fuel, kicked a small circle of earth away to form a hollow in the ground, and filled it with the dry twigs.

04 AUG 2003

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