When viewed from space, Earth is the blue-water planet. But competing for an astronaut's eye are two other colors, green and brown - places where rainfall is abundant and places where it is not.
Most of us are not likely to spend much time in the brown places, the desert, and certainly not on foot, alone for days at a time.
Freezing temperatures at night, unbearable heat during the day, and moisture-robbing dryness at all times make the desert one of the most inhospitable environments anyone is likely to visit.
David Alloway knows how to take a walk in the desert (page 13). A survival expert, he counsels that mental coherence, even more than water, is the most precious commodity when isolated in arid land.
As a child, I read Bible stories and thought the desert was the only place prophets lived. Isaiah, Samuel, John the Baptist - eating locusts and honey - were no-nonsense men who, after their sojourns, returned with a message that had to be told. And heaven help those who did not listen.
Hollywood added a heroic dimension. Whether it was John Wayne leading a cavalry troop to the rescue in the American Southwest or Peter O'Toole galloping on a camel across the Empty Quarter in "Lawrence of Arabia," any individual who conquered the desert was destined for greatness.
When we first meet the all-wise Ben Kenobi, the Jedi knight and teacher of Luke Skywalker in "Star Wars," he comes out of the desert. He looks like a Franciscan monk, peaceful and solitary. It is a place of contemplation for him.
The desert strips life to its essentials. What little time I have spent walking alone in the brown spaces, I have drunk deeply.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society