There is a lot of dust in the desert
It finds its way into creases and folds. It mingles with rays of light. It is everywhere–on my clothes, in my hair, between the keys I am typing on. And there are different kinds of dust. There is the dust carried by the light winds, the dust unearthed by machines working to expand the desert railway, and there is the worst kind, the dust that hovers all day in the hot sky during Sharav, the heat wave that blows in from Africa.
Once in a while, there is rain. Here, in Israel’s Negev desert, it only rains for minutes, or a half hour at most. They say the rain is toxic and polluted, especially when it first falls. Just south of the city, chemical factories leave their waste to dry up in giant pools. But I don’t think about that as the first drops hit the ground, turning the streets a darker shade of gray. For just a few moments after it stops, the air is clean and moist, the dust is settled, and the desert is quiet.
Each day I cross a bridge over the railroad. For weeks a path of ants stretched at least twenty feet long from the base of the bridge to the train tracks. They carried leaves and dirt from one end of the path to the other, seemingly unfazed by the feet stepping on them, or bicycles cutting through them.
The thirsty roots of the few trees and flowers that grow in the desert quickly absorb most of the day’s rain. The rest is sucked up by the African wind that sweeps over the city. The living ants disappear. The dead ones form a shadow of black where the path used to be. And eventually, the dust rises again.
A week later, the rain seems like a dream. It becomes, once again, impossible to imagine this landscape as anything but dry. A new path of ants has formed. The ants are smaller and the path is shorter, but there they are, pushing on as if they never learned anything. Or maybe they did, but they had no choice.