STOIC POETRY | The Desert Father Solitude
Updated: Sep 4, 2021
En route to Siberia ghost town, I’ve stopped for shelter within the skeletal remains of a Route 66 gas station. The wind today is hard and hot and desiccating; and blowing into the desert as all true desert winds should. Deserts are best when we are driven into them not through leisure, or work, or - heaven forbid - society, but through the raw necessity of following the mute, inanimate call of what is real.
As usual, the ghost town is deserted even of ghosts. It’s the heat, I think. As nothing with any sense comes or remains here now. The hot wind masks the dangerous effect of sunlight piling onto exposed skin during hours of open riding in shirtsleeves and shorts. I know the clock is ticking, though I hear nothing of the passing time. Let’s now secure the bike and hike to the writing bridge to begin a productive afternoon of work. I’ll be writing chapter eighteen today, titled The Feast of Offal. Maybe I’ll get another book reading in as well, before sundown and the moonless night arrives. That’s when the real work begins - the labor which is so easily performed here, yet impossible to do anywhere else: after the sun is gone, and the moon hides, and the wind blows, and the silent muse speaks.
Another chapter complete... Time to head home to my family.
I encountered this desert wildfire two weeks back while en route to Siberia ghost town. The fire was moving fast across the desert scrub, consuming dry brush and grass and urged on by a powerful and steady east wind.
This video always marks the start of every new adventure in the California desert. My departure from the gas and watering station at Ludlow - during the day or during the night - always feels to me like diving off a tall cliff into dark and deep waters far below. The entire ride is less than 20-minutes, yet the departure and transition from the safe and familiar place of people and work and plans and drama and distraction and desire to the landscape of The Great Indifference was one which took over fifty years to complete; for even if I'd come to this place as a young man I would likely have been nearly blind to the nothing which I can so clearly perceive in the desert now; though I might have felt at that young age the vacuum pull of what was never there, I would only have recognized this as some inner fear and trepidation regarding the life I did then live, and not the background and setting for the lives we all live, and so vainly claim to understand. Go to Siberia to understand. Only find your own Siberia ghost town. And discover your own void beyond the veil of our every distraction we so cleverly - dare I say desperately - lift to hide the truth.
The "Desert Fathers" once famously haunted the deserts east of Egypt, where they pursued solitude and clarity while seeking oneness and a greater fellowship with the God they believed was real. Such "Desert Fathers" did also occupy the remote islands of the Hebrides in Northern Scotland, as well as the coastal fjords of Norway, and in many other parts of the world where the ascetic life was taken up in favor of the settled comforts of home. Such "Desert Fathers" even exist today, though it's rare to find them as they so often blend in with the more sane and sober seeming citizens of the modern world. I met one such Father during my last trip out to Siberia. We had an interesting talk - though I wish I had spent more time with him than I did. And I wish I'd thought to ask him now if he'd ever experienced anything like The Great Indifference during his long days walking alone through the hot; or while sleeping alone beneath the cold stars, or while thinking whatever thoughts might come to the mind of someone who has decided to embrace what seems like little or nothing in favor of the something the rest of us hold so dear.
As a student, my daughter sometimes asks me to make her "camp coffee" which she appreciates for being extra strong and a good pick me up for long study sessions. Maybe someday she'll decide to join me in the desert for a taste of the real thing under the Writing Bridge.
The Path of Wildness is easy to find... It is the course of a stream, and a beast's track through the woods; leaves blown in the wind, and the direction of our first inclination. I've trekked this Path so many times now in my life that the dark and shadowy places are become less fearful than familiar, less ominous than curious, and always the way I know I must go should I desire more of life than merely living.
Every chapter I write in the desert has a character and distance about it which I could not capture anywhere but within a void. There is a vacuum draw to the imagination when alone and far which delivers better and more correct words when the mind is seeking not solace, or peace, but truth: which is relentless within the void, which towers tall in the daylight heat, and coldly deep at night, and hard upon the gravelly sand, and like desiccating teeth upon the wind and open and vast and dead across the universe's vast face of energy changing to waste. That's why I go to the desert to write. And that's the reason I do always go alone.
On a windy, blustery day alone in the East Mojave Desert I stood and walked and talked and remembered and recounted and critiqued again the objectives and principles upon which my simple life are founded. Handling each idea one after another, holding and considering and admiring and attempting to take apart and perhaps discard. What a very worthwhile user of time it is to challenge the bedrock upon which my life does stand. And what better purpose of living than to reject these feign structures where I find them should they prove unsound or unjust or untrue in any way. Perhaps one day I will be honest enough to leave them all at the doorstep of my safe and sane living and perspective, in order to go alone then into the deeper places where reflection and doubt and love and every effort of life return just one true answer - The Great Indifference.
I'd left Siberia ghost town as the sun went down, departing for a four-hour motorcycle ride into the desert night; with hot wind at my front and the waning intensity of the setting sun upon my back. I left the ghost town with new ideas, a few scrapes and bruises, a bit dehydrated but with rejuvenated motivation to make the best of every day to come. This is the most worthwhile effect of my day and night in the desert every two weeks; in summer or winter the result is always the same: a sense of being well spent, and well worn, and of time well used and passed and a brain chock full of musing sufficient for another two weeks among the sane and sober world where I do call home, and where I hang my hat and pursue purpose and goodness and a still deeper sense of ample yet fully contrived life meaning in a universe of otherwise great indifference.
In Japan, I engaged in adventure. In America, I do adventure as well; though I also do something I call "solitude" which is the dedicated experience of being alone in remote and empty places. The purpose of such ventures is to spend unprotected time within the reality which is incapable of response to our pleading dreams, or our supplicant hopes, or denying protests, or even the madness or tears which truth must evoke in the open mind and open eyes of those who choose freely to go alone.
My name is Kurt Bell.
You can learn more about The Good Life in my book Going Alone.
Be safe... But not too safe.