"People just like you have died on this trail"

Hot and bothered in the Mojave

In Joshua Tree they scare the bejeezus out of you — and for good reason. Even in September, when most of the rest of the northern hemisphere has dipped towards saner temperatures, this national park remains bone-dry and furnace-hot. Not the best place, in other words, to get lost or run out of water. We did go on two shortish rambles in the park close to sunset, when it was marginally more bearable to be outside. In spite of the desert’s harshness, I loved it — the huge skies, golden silences, tumultuous geology and, of course, those weird plants.

On our last evening in the area, we went on another sunset jaunt (this time by car), to the tiny town of Amboy which serves as a pit-stop for honeymooners driving Route 66 in rented red Mustangs. Suddenly, our nostrils filled with petrichor and, for a few exhilarating minutes, drops were leaping from the metallic sky, spattering across the windscreen. Rain in the desert! There’s nothing quite like it.

Bye for now, ’Merica

As the US government isn’t terribly fond of foreigners who overstay their welcome, I headed to Europe not long after our desert adventure. Portugal (or at least its wild, southwestern coastline) is experiencing an endless, sun-drenched summer of its own. Happily, though, hiking here is less potentially hazardous to your health than in Joshua Tree — thanks to cooling Atlantic breezes and little village snack bars serving up icy drafts of Super Bock beer.

After 111km of walking (and a LOT of bread, meat, cheese, fish soup and hearty red wine) today was time to leave this gorgeous country (and to eat some salad).

In my piece on walking the Portuguese Camino last year, I described a multi-day hike as having the potential to be a retreat-in-motion. As fond as I am of road-tripping, motorised transport often involves a churning up — a clouding of thoughts, feelings and movement. However, when you’re on foot (and alone) for hours at a time, things slow right down; the mind’s sediment settles, allowing for a spacious clarity and sharpened perspectives to emerge.

Craig Mod nailed it when he recently wrote in Ridgeline (his weekly newsletter on walking): “Solo walking extends, I believe, a kind of invitation to the world to reach out and show you things otherwise hidden.” That applies inwardly as much as outwardly. It’s a gift — albeit not always an easy or comfortable one. (Not least because there’s something about miles of empty beaches and windswept cliffs that makes you miss your better half on the other side of the ocean even more terribly. Saudade indeed!)

Books, pods, emails

How to Do Nothing — this terrific manifesto by artist Jenny Odell doesn’t simply bemoan the alienating addictiveness of smartphones: it offers ideas about “resisting the attention economy” and leading richer, happier lives that are more deeply connected to the natural and social ecosystems which we’re part of.

Lie With Me — Philippe Besson’s autobiographical novella packs a punch, precisely capturing the powerful, lingering effect of a short-lived romance

In spite of (or perhaps partly because of?) my own Yeti-sized carbon footprint, I’ve been reading a lot about climate change and the environment lately:

  • I’m a big fan of the fascinating, rigorous reporting done by InsideClimate News, a non-profit environment-focused newsroom, which has a terrific weekly newsletter.

  • New York Times’s Climate Fwd: newsletter offers helpful advice on how to make a difference as well as a round-up of the Times’s climate coverage.

  • The new HEATED newsletter by Emily Atkin also offers interesting coverage of the climate crisis (among other things, she interviewed Greta and investigated the non-recyclability of the freezer bags Amazon Prime Now uses)

Speaking of Amazon, the first season of Recode’s Land of the Giants explores the extraordinary rise of this retail behemoth. At times the podcast feels a tad simplistic, but it is thought-provoking (and a little frightening) nonetheless.

The rugged Alentejo coastline, which is not dissimilar to South Africa’s West Coast.

This dispatch is a monthly round-up of where I’ve been, what I’ve read/listened to, and what I’ve written. Thanks for reading!