I spent the night with a Berber family in their tent in the western edge of the Sahara. There as a mountain range in the distance, a strangely solid and dark sharp in the sea of undulating dunes. On the other side of that range was Algeria.
The colors of the sand in this part of the Sahara are stunning. Gold, rose, pink, saffron, amber, red. Letting the grains slip through my fingers, the gems sparkle and dazzle as they fall and become sand again.
After dinner, the youngest son gave me a roll of toilet paper and pointed to the blue back dunes outside in the night. He said, “My friend, on the ground, always there. On the dune, gone by tomorrow morning.”
I trudged up the face of the nearest dune, a fifty foot high hulking shadow. When the Berbers walk on the sand in their cheap sandals, it looks like they are skimming on ice. Not me. Each step of mine sank deep, completely covering the tops of my boots and each foot had to be pulled out and freed before the next step. The night was clear and cold, a great emptiness all around me. No moisture, no pollen, no smog, no smells, no sound. The world was scrubbed clean and emptied.
I squatted on the face dune and looked up. The bowl of the night sky was on smoldering with the embers of the stars and planets, the vastness of existence. The slash of the Milky Way was bright, supple. My eyes tried to focus on it as if it were some object just out of reach, like a chair or an ex-girlfriend or a continent. I swayed and almost lost my balance, averting a half naked tumble down the slope, vertigo caused by staring so intently at something that was billions of years old, something that was unattainable, so unknowable that you need higher math to poke at it.
I adjusted into a more secure stance and continued to gaze into the cold reaches of time, the chilly night breeze caressing my butt cheeks.
Someone said that humanity had lost its way with the light pollution of the new world, cities and sprawl and smart phones. We are always looking down, always confident, so self-assured in our importance, so busy with our urgent noise.
When you go to sleep under the stars every night, you are reminded how truly small you are.