Last night was beautiful.
Iraqi cities look something like others that I've seen, and the fertile stretches along the river are less impressive than green farmland back home. The desert, though- the desert is different. The sky was clear of dust and haze- we were far past the lights of the city, and the stars shone soft and brilliant. The Milky Way stretched out overhead like a band of cotton. I heard bats launch from their hiding places in the abandoned buildings, and shrill aloft on their hunt for food. Somewhere overhead and out of sight, an owl hooted and stooped for his own dinner.
There's a stark, harsh beauty in the desert. In the daytime, it seems more harsh than at night. The sun beats the dust bone dry, and the wind drives it with a force that occasionally threatens to rip the body into atoms. The night is more subtle- the sand cools, while both the sky and ground come alive with predators. The bats and owl I heard last night are not the only ones- once I saw what seemed to be a herd of scorpions moving blackly across the road, pinchers waving. Camel spiders emerge from holes, skittering impossibly fast in search of those same armored denzians. Scattered across the desert are the moving dirt bumps, the ones that turn into hedgehogs as you approach.
The parched soil rises and falls in abstract patterns laid down over years- the product of men with earthmovers equally as much as of the wind and winter rain. Here and there the lines of hills fall sharp where the dirt has collapsed away to form jagged cliffs; dust pools below the precipice, below the fox holes and lizard lairs.
Somehow, in the midst of the broad, bleak expanse, life continues. The harsh conditions strip away some of the layers of complexity common to other environments. It's a hot or cold, night or day, life or death duality of existence- the yin-yang of the world.
I find myself enthralled by it.