Saturday, May 26, 2007
Robert Ryman, "Ledger" (1982)
to the uninitiated, many of the beauties of the desert are difficult to impart. our first year in saudi arabia was wet and the desert bloomed. outbursts of green and color, sleeping beneath the arid beige, were unleashed upon the world for a short span. the rains were overwhelming at times. four members of a boy scout troop, camping in the wadi al-batin, were caught in a flash flood and died. often the winds would kick up before the storm and a wall of sand would sweep across the compound, only to be overtaken by the rain. when this would happen the rain would fall heavy and dark, coating everything in a sheet of mud, while serenading everyone with its virtuoso percussion.
but one could not count on rain. driving through desert, as we often did hunting for stones suitable for my mother's lapidary hobby, we would pass bedouin camps. tents made of heavy material would be planted in the desert, a stalk-like television antenna sprouting out its center, a generator bulging from the side. beside it would be the near omni-present toyota short pick-ups which the king gave to every boy when he reached age. and beside that would be the mercedes benz tank-truck which carried water: the vehicle of life. like the desert itself, they were warm people. the toyota blew up a cloud of sand and approached us, and though we shared no common language we were invited in for tea. the men sat with us as we drank the hot drink; a girl, who was probably younger than i was, brought the pot, while the women sat in another part of the large tent, peering from around a curtain in their black, veiled faces. we talked to each other with a friendly lack-of-understanding, and they smiled, talked among themselves and laughed.
but the real beauty of the desert was in its barren simplicity underneath a sun that stripped everything of what was inessential. in its persistence, light would gradually grind down any shadow and reveal it for the nothing that it was. shadow has no positive reality, it is a lack of light, and the light will not be denied for it is the only thing that is real. in the height of the day, the distinction between heaven and earth passed away, there was no longer any horizon, and we were all one.