A Journey through the Desert


In 2008, I began to submit articles related to My Own Desert Journey the landscape archetypes I write about in Reclaiming the Wild Soul. My first submission was “The Desert’s Gift of Emptiness." One day, an envelope bearing the stamp of a University Press arrived in my mailbox. Acceptance or rejection?  I opened the letter, barely breathing. Within minutes I was running up the stairs to my husband in tears. The editor of the press, a professor, wrote that I had trivialized the real concerns of how we treat deserts by implying that we treat our inner deserts, those places of silence and emptiness, in similar and equally harmful ways. That I would make the connection between deserts and the soul was ridiculous, according to him. Taking a serious environmental topic, he wrote me, and trying to make it a psychological one, was in his mind not only frivolous but dangerous.

I read the letter over and over. The tone was arrogant, condescending—and it filled me with doubt.

Was I really trivializing the great landscapes of the earth by drawing out their metaphors and meaning? Was I wrong to imply that human nature is deeply embedded in the natural world? Or that earth's landscapes mirror aspects of our own psyches and souls?

And if we are nature, if the outer and inner life are joined, doesn't it also follow that if we harm the environment we are also hurting ourselves—and not just physically, but spiritually and emotionally as well?

After agonizing over the letter for a few days, it occurred to me how strange it was that the professor had taken the time to write at some length. He could have sent me a generic rejection slip. So why hadn’t he?

What buttons had I pressed in him to inspire such disdain and verbosity? What, really, had upset him so very much about my “little” essay?

When we challenge a worldview, we inevitably spark rage and denial.

Our western culture's tenet that humans are separate and superior to the earth allows us to believe that we can solve environmental problems in a purely rational and objective way. We don’t have to admit we’re heartbroken, that our bodies are wracked with grief, or that we are worried that a less vital world is actually impeding our ability to imagine and create new possibilities. That amid all this destruction of life, we are losing some part of ourselves too.

No, much better that we keep humans and the Earth in separate spheres—that we cut ourselves off from our earthy roots. Much better to dismiss any notion that a denatured world might affect human nature. Much safer to put up partitions, to slice and dice and not look at ourselves as part of the whole. And if anyone interferes with that thinking—just let rip and put them in their place.

It took me a week to throw away the letter.

A few days later, I received my first acceptance from a small publication called Front Range Review. 

It was a beginning.