They cannot scare me with their empty places
Between stars — on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.
• Robert Frost, “Desert Places”
• • •
One temptation is to think the wilderness is without — a place, a geography, a circumstance. I’m in the wilderness, I say, and immediately I find myself off course. Yes, the place under my feet may be a desert and barren all around. But more likely, even though it is there, I cannot see its fruit or the means it offers for my survival. It may well be that I can flourish in almost any setting. Only the aquifer must be found and I must sink a sturdy pipe through hard dry soil to reach it. That I struggle to do so consistently is the scary part and what makes me view the wilderness as the enemy. It demands from me more than I seem to be able to summons. The barren place without reveals my impotence and lack of creative imagination within.
Therefore, more often than not, I take an easier way made possible by this age of miracles. I go into debt to buy overpriced, mediocre quality groceries. I put the cost of a vacation at the nearest oasis on my credit card, and there I read brochures extolling greener pastures. I fall asleep, drunk on dreams. Then two weeks later I awaken and open my front door, and here I am again in the midst of a trackless wasteland. I squint against the blowing dust that slaps my face and feel myself beginning to sweat. The midday demon slowly chokes the breath out of me. I survive the afternoon, parched and overwhelmed with futility. I twist and turn in perspiration-soaked sheets through the night, both longing for and dreading the morning.
Not in a million years would I have thought, in these days, that my main vocation would be searching for water.