Percy Shelley - David Attenborough TV - Dewey Bennell - T E Lawrence - Wild Arabia TV - Ben and James versus the Arabian Desert TV - Arthur Hugh Clough - Brian Cox: Wonders of the Solar System TV - Isaiah 35:1 - Anne Lamott - Terry Pratchett - India: Nature’s Wonderland TV - Earth’s Greatest Spectacles TV - El Alamein: The Soldier’s Story TV - Alice Morrison: Morocco to Timbuktu: An Arabian Adventure TV - Natural World TV - Gus Casely-Hayford TV - Mankind: The Story of All of Us TV - Jeremy Paxman TV - Hitler’s Disastrous Desert War TV - Living Homeless in the Desert 2022
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert … near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings;
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away. Percy Shelley, Ozymandias
A third of the land on our planet is desert. These great scars on the face of the Earth appear to be lifeless but surprisingly none are. In all of them life manages somehow to keep a precarious hold. David Attenborough, Planet Earth s1e5: Deserts, BBC 2006
Darkness brings huge changes. In the Sahara the temperature can drop as much as thirty degrees during the night. ibid.
The Atacama in Chile: this is the driest desert in the world. Some parts may not see rain for fifty years. ibid.
Lizards are desert specialists. ibid.
Gigantic plagues several billion strong, and as much as forty miles wide. They will consume every edible thing that lies in their path. This is one of planet Earth’s greatest spectacles. It’s rarely seen on this scale and it won’t last long. ibid.
Imagine a world where temperatures rise to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Where’s there’s no escape from the sun, wind and dust. Imagine a world with almost no food or water. These are the conditions in one third of the lands of our planet. To live here demands the most extraordinary survival strategies. David Attenborough, Planet Earth II: Deserts, BBC 2016
It does sometimes rain in the desert. Here in the American West, storms can strike with devastating force. After ten months of drought, millions of tons of water are dumped on the land in under an hour. ibid.
Locusts: an unstoppable force that devours everything in its path. But this devastation is about to get a lot worse. The locusts now transform into winged adults … They can take to the skies … A super-swarm of this scale may only appear once in a decade: this one extends over 200 miles and contains several billion individuals. ibid
North Africa: high in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, Barbary Macaques shiver in the icy cedars. David Attenborough, Africa: Sahara, BBC 2013
The Sahara transformed north Africa; today it covers an area the size of the United States. ibid.
A sandstorm can be a thousand miles across. ibid.
Meet the naked mole rats – these sabre-toothed savages wouldn’t last a day in the desert. ibid.
This is a resurrection plant ... dead limbs absorb water and unfurl in a matter of minutes. ibid.
The temperature of the sands can exceed 70 degrees Celsius. ibid.
The silver ant is the hardiest of all desert inhabitants. ibid.
If the silver ants were our size, they’d be doing 280 mph. ibid.
A constantly shifting landscape of sand. Temperatures that swing from minus 20 to more than 40 degrees centigrade. And critically, almost entirely without rain. Yet, here on the dunes, a Euphrates poplar tree. And it’s not alone. Some of these trees have lived here for a thousand years. David Attenborough, The Green Planet IV: Desert Worlds, BBC 2022
In every desert across the planet plants have found ways to not only survive but flourish. ibid.
Cactii have developed extraordinary adaptations that enable them to not only collect water but to retain it. ibid.
This is Guelta d’Archei in central Africa, a hostile seemingly empty world. There is life here. But it exists at the very limits of survival. For this is a world with almost no water. Lands like these cover over a third of our planet. Here life is forced to do things differently. David Attenborough, Planet Earth s3e3: Deserts and Grasslands, BBC 2023
So desert dwellers have had to evolve in remarkable ways.
A quarter of the world’s people live in arid lands. ibid.
I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name
It felt good to be out of the rain. Dewey Bunnell, lyrics ‘Horse with No Name’
The silent threat of a vast unknown desert. T E Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom
Mud flats are purgatory. Sun reflects from them like mirror flame-yellow cut into our eyes. T E Lawrence, six-hundred mile trek to capture Aqaba in 1917
Men have looked upon the desert as barren land, the free holding of whoever chose; but in fact each hill and valley in it had a man who was its acknowledged owner and would quickly assert the right of his family or clan to it, against aggression. T E Lawrence
The largest sand desert in the world smothers the land. Wild Arabia I: Sand, Wind and Stars BBC 2013
The camel is almost as well adapted to the desert as the oryx. ibid.
Under the clear desert sky the temperature plummets. ibid.
Ten thousand years ago Arabia was green but she’s been gradually drying out ever since. ibid.
Oil and the wealth it has brought has transformed this land bringing the twenty-first century to the desert. Wild Arabia III: Shifting Sands
The Empty Quarter – spanning over two hundred and fifty thousand square miles across the Arabia Peninsula, it’s the largest expanse of sand in the world. Ben and James versus the Arabian Desert I, BBC 2013
What shall we do without you? Think where we are. Carlyle has led us all into the desert, and he has left us there. Arthur Hugh Clough
The Sahara is fifty times wetter than the Atacama. There are weather stations here that have measured one millimetre of rain fall in ten years. Brian Cox: Wonders of the Solar System s1e5: Aliens, BBC 2010
The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. Isaiah 35:1
If you don’t die of thirst, there are blessings in the desert. You can be pulled into limitlessness, which we all yearn for, or you can do the beauty of minutiae, the scrimshaw of tiny and precise. The sky is your ocean, and the crystal silence will uplift you like great gospel music, or Neil Young. Anne Lamott