A nomad I once travelled with told me that love is a way of knowledge.. ‘You can only love what you know,’ he said, ‘and what you don’t love you can never know completely.’ That made sense to me because from the moment I first stood in the desert, breathed desert air, sensed the desert wind on my face, I felt that I already knew it deep inside.
Exploration is seen as a form of conquest, a test of ‘mind over matter’, but it was not that way for me. Civilized humans have tamed, exploited and destroyed Nature, but they cannot conquer it – we cannot conquer that of which we are just an unfolding, and to try is to end up by destroying ourselves.
The desert nomads knew this, which is why their culture had survived for millennia by adapting to the desert rather than attempting to dominate it. From the beginning I realized I must learn what they had to teach, and to do things their way: to achieve this meant seeing the desert through their eyes.
This is not to say that Nature is necessarily sweet and peaceful – the desert can be harsh, terrible and wild: there are times when you need all your strength and determination to prevail. Wind, storms, heat and cold are part of Gaia’s purpose, and there is also beauty in them: as the pandemic has shown us, we cannot evade death by building walls around our lives.
While we continue to separate ourselves from Nature, though, we will never know it completely, and therefore we will not love it. Since Nature is also us, that means remaining strangers to ourselves. The spirit of the Earth can’t be known from a ‘safe distance’ or from a stance of superiority. As the nomads taught me, it is only by humility, by loving the Earth, ourselves, and each other, that we can survive.