Into the Desert, Leading Camels

(Rick Smolan, 1977)

(Rick Smolan, 1977)

A few days ago, I fell upon a film called Tracks, which depicts a story about the journey of a young Australian woman named Robyn Davidson. Robyn was only twenty-eight years old in 1977 when she set out, on foot, leading four camels into the Australian outback, determined to trek across 1700 miles of desert to the Indian Ocean.

Before her journey began, Davidson spent two years learning how to train wild camels. After mailing a handwritten letter detailing her journey across the hot, harsh Australian outback, National Geographic magazine agreed to sponsor the costs and send along an American photographer to document the ‘Camel Lady’ (as the rest of the world began to call her) along her travels. She went alone, accompanied only by a black dog called Diggity and her four gently plodding camels.

Davidson’s story is both perplexing and inspiring at once. It asks of us what moves a person to set out into the desert, leading camels; what is the endgame of crossing hostile, desolate and terribly lonely landscapes to reach a body of water that looks and feels and tastes a lot like the body of water on the other side? An ocean is just an ocean.

Why willingly put yourself into danger’s way, into geographical isolation?

(Rick Smolan, 1977)

(Rick Smolan, 1977)

The timing of watching this film coincides with a lot of deep reflection on my own choices over the past two years. Why did I up and move to another continent? What stirred me, so deeply, to leave everything and everyone that was comfortable to me?

Was it about escapism? Am I a runaway from my insecurities, my traumas, my mistakes, and my relationship histories in this familiar place? Maybe, yes.

Maybe. Maybe there were loose threads I left dangling, intentionally. Maybe there was an addiction to adventure, a fear of becoming sediment in a molasses-like current, a compulsion for constant change, metamorphosis, for over indulging my instinct for elsewhere.

Maybe…but I just don’t know. I don’t know how to define what caused my choice for movement, nor what caused my choice for writing. Movement and writing; these tools, these creative forces, are so intrinsic to me, coming in waves, and I can never suppress them.

Not for long, anyways.

But it’s funny being ‘home’ again; being in the place where I grew up and the place I’ve spent most of my life. Being home always instills in me this desperate fright that I’ve made all the wrong choices, that not having a lucrative or legitimate job makes me naïve, foolish, a blind romantic traveling in the dark with her heart and hands.

I am all of those things, of course. But in truth, I am also satisfied by it. I feel more myself pursuing something preposterous, something intangible, yet something that feels, I don’t know how to put it, more authentically ‘me’.

An ocean isn’t only an ocean.

And crossing a desert is more than a physical journey.

Davidson’s desert journey turned into a 38-page feature in National Geographic, and after an outpouring of emotional from people around the world, into a memoir. In her book, Tracks, she writes:

“To be free is to learn, to test yourself constantly, to gamble. It is not safe. I had learnt to use my fears as stepping stones rather than stumbling blocks.”

(Rick Smolan, 1977)

(Rick Smolan, 1977)

Her story was a gentle reminder to never stop journeying. To never resign myself to security because, in truth, security doesn’t really exist. There is insecurity here inside these four walls and this silent home just as there’s insecurity out there –

Into the desert I go…

leading camels,

writing books,

chasing meaning


contemplating relationships with people and places

and hoping for more joy than hardship


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