On one of my last days in Bangkok I ate lunch with the explorer Steve Van Beek
, who told me about the Last Great Explorer, Wilfred Thesiger, who crossed the Empty Quarter of Arabia, lived amongst the Bedouin and finally died four years ago at the age of 93. I'm reading Thesiger's classic travelogue "Arabian Sands" in front of a roaring fire tonight, and went online to post an excerpt that struck me as particularly profound - and I will post it below - but I just went to Wikipedia to confirm the year of Wise Old Wilfred's death and came upon an even better quote that deserves to come first:
"The long-term effect of US culture as it spreads to every nook and cranny in every desert and every mountain valley will be the end of mankind. Our extraordinary greed for material possessions, the ways we go about nurturing that greed, the lack of balance in our lives, and our cultural arrogance will kill us off within a century unless we learn to stop and think. It may be too late."
And now here's the second quote, which works quite well in contrast with the one above:
"In the desert I had found a freedom unattainable in civilization; a life unhampered by possesions, since everything that was not a necessity was an encumbrance. I had found, too, a comradeship inherent in the circumstances, and the belief that tranquillity was to be found there. I had learnt the satisfaction which comes from hardship and the pleasure which derives from abstinence: the contentment of a full belly; the richness of meat; the taste of clean water; the ecstasy of surrender when the craving for sleep became a torment; the warmth of a fire in the chill of dawn."
That's an eloquent articulation of a sentiment that I've been trying to get at in my writing and in my life for a long time. I hope that by transcribing Thesiger's words I can learn to write half so well as him.
Labels: Wilfred Thesiger