It was one of those great spring days in the South, when the sky is clear and the breeze is light, but before the sun has become so scorching hot as to make outdoor activity nearly unbearable. I was seventeen and a junior in high school. My friends and I on the Ridgrecrest High School track team lounged in the middle of the football field at Harmon Playfield, picking grass, occasionally wrestling, and doing our best to outdo each other with bawdy jokes. We were there, and not in school, because that day was the elementary school’s Track & Field Day. Very soon kids from kindergarten to fifth grade poured into the stadium to run races, throw Frisbees, jump around in burlap potato sacks, and toss softballs. The high school track team ran the events and timed the races. It was essentially a day out of school for us, a day free from math, chemistry, and English literature, and it felt like heaven.
Last May I traveled to what is, by far, the most desolate and inhospitable place I’ve ever encountered. Twenty minutes east of Jerusalem, it is among the lowest and driest places on earth. It is the area spoken of throughout the Holy Scripture as merely “the Wilderness.”
The climate and topography of Israel are varied. In Galilee, the land is fertile, the climate is mild, and in the mountains there is annual snowfall. In Jerusalem, further south, annual rainfall is actually roughly equivalent to that of London. But just a few miles east of Jerusalem, in the Wilderness, moisture evaporates, vegetation disappears, and life becomes tenuous. The Wilderness is a true desert.