September 11, 2015
My day of travel is almost over. I’m currently at Medina airport, waiting for everyone’s luggage to show. The flight over the desert was amazing. The flat, sandy plains almost instantly gave way to dark red hills, with cuts where ancient rivers used to run… Razor-back hills crest out of the sand, like the backs of ancient dinosaurs. Rows of mountains pervade the landscape. I didn’t have my camera on me, so the sights are preserved in memory only. Perhaps, sometimes, that’s the way it should be.
The sparse dots of greenery reminded me of the BBC doc “Human Planet”, which showcased the lives of people that live in extreme climates. One of the communities maintained an orchard in the desert. Here, among the harsh and unrelenting but beautiful desert, it’s easy to be why God refers to Gardens of Paradise; or the story of the two men, one of whom had two dense, beautiful productive gardens, and the other who had none. The rich gloried in his arrogance, despite warnings from his friend not to be boastful and proud. The man didn’t think God would take him to account. And so his fruitful gardens were brought to ruin.
Out here, that wouldn’t just be a minor inconvenience. Your entire livelihood would be wiped out. All you would have left is just sand and dust.
I grew up in Alberta, a province with a spectrum of geographical features. My summers were often spent in the Rocky Mountains in the west; occasionally, my Dad would take me to the desert-like badlands to the south; and dotting the province are rolling plains and thick woods and wide lakes. The only place I haven’t been is the forests in the north. And yet whenever I set foot outside of the province, I’m always fascinated at the wide variety of landscapes that exist on our planet. That’s why I requested a window seat on the flight to Medina.
Flying over the desert in Saudi Arabia was thrilling. When you hear “desert” you think of a wide, barren expanse of yellow sand. But the terrain around Jeddah, Mecca and Medina is red and brown and surprisingly rocky. I spent much of the last hour of our flight just gazing out the window at the terrain below. I marveled at the thought of ancient Arabs traversing the landscape on foot or by camel, having to wind through the crags and valleys of rock that jut up from the sand. Later, when we were on the bus from Medina to Mecca, I remember seeing long mountain ranges stretching into the dusty horizon, and long stretches of land that dipped and curved into the distance. Mecca itself is surrounded by mountains, and even within the city limits there are roads that wind around or up large rocky hills.
This landscape also highlights the hard life of the desert. I touch on this in a later entry, but I came to respect the sanctity of such life-giving things as water and agriculture. In Alberta, I’m constantly surrounded by farmland and greenery and water. But out in the desert, a date palm grove or an orchard is comparatively rare. To see something green among the red and brown is like a sign of life. And with so much riding on the success of your crop, I can only imagine how devastating it would be to lose all of it.