In Weaveworld Clive Barker tells of a desert so vast, so desolate, so utterly barren of anything of substance that to enter it was to expose oneself utterly. To enter was to reveal oneself to the void, and to emerge was to be forever changed. The desert, whether of sand, sea, stone or snow, is a compelling vehicle for reductionism. It has a brutality that is both romantic and unrelenting all at once. Hermits, wizards and sages find their truths in the purity of such minimalism. Loneliness and solitude accentuated. Enlightenment on the cusp of death and in the midst of suffering.
The fight for survival is a purer one, singular in its threat. It afflicts the mind and the body both, a ravaging of the soul that strips away all illusions, all complications, all that is inessential, narrowing the delusive breadth and depth of existence to a more pointed, significant one.
Deserts forge heroes and heroines. They are a forge and a foundry in which time has little meaning, in which the will is tempered. Adversity of the most extreme, impersonal sort, lacking in anthropomorphic or otherworldly agency. They torture, tainting and marking flesh and mind alike. They crush and strip and grind down, by dint of existence and nature. What entered, what journeyed through, emerges wholly different, changed.
They are the ephemeral hint at the incomprehensibility of eternity.
Or so I imagine.
Deserts are as much a canvas for our emotions and whimsy as any other environment. We imagine in them an effect and agency beyond the natural, imbuing them with presence and mystique and an indifferent malice. They are the vehicle for the impersonal conflict made personal, a measure of suffering and progression. Within them is the yardstick of triumph and despair, of failure and pride.
The desert is the mountain is the ocean is the forest is the rolling, endless plain. It is the unwitting architect of the realisation of the profound. In the uncaring, the pococurante and indifferent we find our own lessons and unrealised truths.
The desert reveals to us the depths of our obstinacy and our whimsy. The desert is a metaphor for our aspirations, for dreams of purpose and purity and obsession. In the desert and the journey therein lies the conflict between the mundane and the wistful. It unburdens us of everything that is unnecessary, leaving only the essential. The hero, the heroine, forged, tempered, recast and reborn, leaving behind their former selves to toss and tumble and disappear amongst endlessly shifting sands.